A lot of times when I wander through the remnants of old homesteads or buildings, like this broken-down barn in John Day Fossil Beds National Monument, I like to come up with stories for the people that used to live and work the land. I imagine what the buildings looked like before they were abandoned, imagined the lives of the people who built them. In some cases, I seize on small pieces of left-behind scrap, a book left to rot, a chair that’s been claimed as a nest for squirrels, or a lone green glass jug, glittering in the fading light of the afternoon sun.
I don’t know the age of the barn just north of the Sheep’s Rock Visitor Center in John Day, nor can I say whether the green bottle was a remnant of the original owners, but as I wandered the grounds of this old barn, trying to compose interesting photos within its collapsing structure, I noticed the bottle and immediately gravitated to how out of place it seemed amidst the dry grey of the wood, the gold of the surrounding hills.
I developed a whole story around it, that this farm house had been used as a distillery for homemade moonshine back in the day, and this one bottle was all that remained. I imagined illicit parties in the barn, with lookouts posted along the road to keep eyes out for the lone sheriff in the region, and all the ranchers from surrounding farms dancing and drinking until the sunrise. I came up with a rich history for the area and the lives of its people that had no foundation in reality, but added a level of texture to the experience that made exploring the old farm particularly enjoyable.
I realized the reality of the situation may have been far less interesting, likely people like me had hopped the fence and emptied the bottle of whatever it contained only a few months prior, but in developing this story, I was able to create my own unique connection to the place that I carry with me months after leaving it behind. Sometimes its the stories we create about a place that give it lasting impact, the experiences that are unique to our own individual perceptions that make it special.