“There is no exquisite beauty…
without some strangeness in the proportion.”
-Edgar Allen Poe
My name is Jim Burnham. I am a US photographer. Follow me on Instagram or Twitter -> @BurnhamArts
I took a hike the other day on the Rock Island Greenway trail behind Glen Oak Park and Zoo in Peoria, IL. It’s a trail that is all but forgotten, covered up by fallen trees, leaves, an occasional car tire, liquor bottle, or grocery bag. Even in Autumn, it is not particularly scenic with only the occasional maple tree dotting the road. The majority of the trees are what I describe as “green to brown to down”.
I am behind the zoo and generally well-kept park, down a back road, next to a residential neighborhood. Its existence seems uncomfortable like someone invited it to a party it didn’t want to be at, but couldn’t leave because it had no way to get home.
At one time in history, this was probably a very popular park to visit. Popular enough that someone took the time and energy to build a concrete sidewalk trail, stone bridges, and steps up the normally muddy and steep hillside.
The stream that flows down the middle probably had a more natural origin in the past, instead of the drainage tile sticking uncomfortably out of the hillside now. The steps leading up the hill at the end of the trail probably led to another trail instead of dead-ending at an eight-foot chain-link fence lined at the top with barbed wire.
In the years following, the sidewalks, broken and covered with soil, now peak out comfortably, almost happy that someone continues to use them after all this time. Two bridges with field-stone walls still stand, probably built so well that they will still be here a hundred years from now, but the tire sitting in the stream tells you that nobody is left to fix this place.
It’s a mystery how a tire could even get here and I start deducing what might have happened to bring it here to the bottom of the ravine. Was it dropped from the road up the hill? Did someone drag it up from the road at the bottom? It was here two years ago when I first visited. Now, it’s like an old familiar friend that you feel sad for. A ghost who never made it to the other side. And I walk by it again knowing I should probably help it move on. Maybe next time.
Up the trail, there is a slab of concrete partly overhanging the creek. Rubble sits underneath and I can guess this was the third bridge at one time, not built to the same standards as the other two, finally succumbing to its fate. Not too far away is the drain tile, feeding the creek with what feels like pity water, as if the creek would be nothing without it.
There is a beautiful fieldstone retaining wall here that holds the hillside back. It sits under a grove of maple trees shedding nothing but their yellow leaves. It probably loves being dressed in something other than dirt and mud. When the leaves dry up, it knows it will again sink back into the landscape. I might come back when it snows when everything is bathed in white to see how it contrasts.
It’s one thing to stand out from time to time. Everyone needs to stand out occasionally. But, some of us “introverted extroverts” prefer silence and being alone. Being alone in a way that doesn’t feel alone. But sometimes we prefer to be alone with other people. One, two, three or four, but NOT TEN! I think this is how this part of the park feels.
I don’t visit this trail because it’s pretty because, in all honesty, it isn’t. It’s perpetually dark and muddy, with color very sporadically found during Autumn and very boringly green during Summer. Trees fall across the trail and are not moved. That’s not important, though. What I enjoy is how imperfect it is and I find it a challenge to pull the beauty out of it.
I don’t normally fix photos that have elements that would be airbrushed out in post-processing. Many photographers will alter their photos to remove these things. I prefer to find a different vantage point to hide these imperfections. Other times I’ll leave the imperfections there. Simplifying a scene tends to lessen imperfections. Same with life.
The distinct irony of life is that perfection may only exist in the imperfect. There is beauty in the tempest.
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Your ‘found’ beauty made me smile. It’s a VERY grey and gloomy day here in my wooded area in this small town in the NC mtns. Your photo essay has reminded me to get up from my computer and go look out my front and back windows to see nearby leaves as they fall. I have enjoyed their wind-dance as they make their way to the ‘floor’ of the woods, and I congratulate them on their well-lived life, pleasing my soul as they’re visible to me from my cozy indoor nook.
Thank you. This was beautiful. I appreciate your unique perspective.