What does modern-day treasure look like? Such a word as treasure was the farthest thing from my mind as we trekked away from the highway, following the path indicated by some vehicle’s tire marks. The golden hour was settling in, and The Bear and I, hungry for photographs and adventure, had pulled the Runner over next to a field with an abandoned building.
A fence lined the field where it met the highway and along our side of the perimeter, so we started exploring the surrounding woods, following a decently-worn path. The green quiet around us was lush, and I felt a need to reign in my exclamations. Cardinal chirps accompanied us as we reverently wound our way back and farther back.
Then the clearing opened before us: an old shed, anciently vibrant with graffiti tags on its rusted face; a burn pile surrounded by blackened trees, twisted metal enigmatically thrusting up through its ashy heaps; and the skeleton of an old hen house.
The hinge dangling from the hen house door frame looked like the end of a forgotten garden hoe at first. But I strode closer and discovered its true identity.
The hinge didn’t seem to merit the camera’s attention at first. But something in its quirky character jutted into my mind and called me back.
I snagged the shot, and we moved on to photograph and explore the clearing. That’s when we discovered the end of the fence. The large field – the one with the abandoned structure that looked like the storefront of an old west town – was now trespass-able.
Now, to be clear, we were careful to make sure that we didn’t see any no-trespassing signs. Seeing as there wasn’t even a fence now, we felt practically invited by the lush field and its mystery building quickly getting gilded in sunset.
The stand-alone storefront was newer than we’d expected, but we still had fun taking a few shots of its forgotten skeleton. We probably only spent about 15 minutes there, and then it happened: the story that will go down in our family history as the first proper adventure, the night we miraculously escaped two of Smalltown, TX’s finest.
Flashing lights drew our eyes to where the Runner sat parked. We couldn’t get back to it without first heading away from the road to the place where the fence stopped. All along the way, we were strategizing about the best way to come across as the harmless photographer-adventurers that we were, and praying that they would be gone by the time we got there. Turn left at the fence break, now back through the bizarre clearing with the burn pile. Breathe.
When we finally strode up, two black-and-white SUVs were pulled up, flanking our ride. Putting on our most relaxed, respectful smiles, we slowly approached the first one. Carefully, carefully, we came into view of the passenger window. No one was in the vehicle.
The other SUV was 15 feet away with the driver’s side door open. We walked up to this one the same way. It too, was empty! The officer’s laptop sat blinking between the two front seats. They must have gone around the front side of the field to block us in!
“Well, Little Bird,” said The Bear. “I believe it’s time to get out of here.” Hearts beating with disbelief, we hopped in the Runner, slipped through the gap between the squad cars, and took the first ramp to the highway to spin off the chunks of mud that could leave a trail. Incredulous laughter gripped our insides… and does to this day when we pass by the spot where we had our first adventure together.
The beauty that calls to us hardly ever glimmers the way we’d expect it to.
And when I think of the story, the images we captured fill my mind and add vivid texture to the memory. The hinge especially stands out as my favorite photograph because it symbolizes the truth that the beauty that calls to us hardly ever glimmers the way we’d expect it to. Like treasure hidden in a field, it teaches me to look more closely at the broken and worn, and when the exquisite jumps out and surprises me, to not cast it off in exchange for fools’ gold.
Beauty wraps itself in moments like this one, the atmosphere tingling with the knowing that something is being discovered.