When I was working on my business website way back when, I sent the designer photos I’d taken. These were photos that, in my mind, linked to the subject on each page. In the intervening years, one, maybe two people at most, got the connection, the same connection I’d made. Photos are like that. They can be read into. They can tell stories. They can mean different things to different people. A little like the Rorschach inkblots. Well, sort of.
Last week, skimming through Facebook to while away the 45 minutes it would take my green tomato chutney to cook, I hit on a photo that I’ve not stopped thinking about since.
Taken just outside of Anacortes, Washington, near the Swinomish Casino, I’ve lost myself in it. The abandoned truck parked facing a river. The grey sky. The dead tree. The river bend and the bridge. All so evocative. [Aside: The name Anacortes is an adaptation of the name of Anne Curtis, wife of early Fidalgo Island settler Amos Bowman.]
I’ve spent the last few days thinking about it. Not all the time, mind you. But when my mind wanders, it wanders to that truck outside of Anacortes. I find myself wondering who drove the truck that far and simply abandoned it? It could be a 1940’s Ford. Was it someone shipping overseas, to Italy or France? Was it some gung-ho 18-year-old who figured they’d pick it up when their tour was over, but they never came home? Was it left there by someone who had come to the end of their road, dogged with a series of bad luck that left them homeless, jobless, and feeling hopeless?
I could hear Springsteen’s Johnny 99 in the background and thought the photo would make a great album cover.
I had debts no honest man could pay.
The bank was holdin’ my mortgage and they was takin’ my house away.
Now I ain’t sayin’ that makes me an innocent man.
But it was more than all this that put that gun in my hand.
And it’s not lost on me that the car factory in Mahwah was a Ford plant.
Maybe it’s not a Ford, though. Maybe I’m confusing Henry Ford with John Ford. My musings were punctuated with flashbacks from the Grapes of Wrath. I wondered if any of the families the Joads met on their way to California had taken a wrong turn and ended up in Washington.
The truck faces a narrow tract of water that’s known locally as the Swinomish Slough. This runs alongside the original Swinomish Slough, renamed the Swinomish Channel after heavy lobbying in the 1950s because the term slough, according to the Seattle Times, lacked dignity. The Channel is an 18 km (11 mile) stretch of saltwater than connects Skagit Bay and Padilla Bay. It’s the smallest of the three entrances to Puget Sound, after Deception Pass and Admiralty Inlet. Back in 1937, during the Great Depression, the US Army Corps of Engineers dredged and diked the waters to make a channel that boats could navigate. Did one of them leave the truck behind?
Maybe it was driven by a young girl with an unwanted pregnancy getting ready to leave town rather than face her parents or the father? Or was there a secret assignation? Did an eloping couple only need one set of wheels and so left this behind?
The bridge in the distance is the Berentson Bridge (aka the Twin Bridges). It connects the Skagit Valley flats to Fidalgo Island and is named for Duane Berentson, an Anacortes native who was a Washington State legislator from 1963 to 1980 and Washington State Secretary of Transportation from 1981 to 1993. That truck must have watched it being built as construction didn’t start until 1979.
I read that back in 1940, a car was pulled out of the Channel, near the bridge. And that set me wondering some more. Was there a drag race? Did one car hit the river and the screech to a halt? Did the driver, unable to face what had happened, just walk away? Or was this where the truck finally gave up the ghost. Nothing sinister. No great story. Perhaps it just stopped working. Like we all will, someday. But in this instance, there wasn’t the money or the wherewithal to get it going again. It was left to languish in the mudflats, looking across the water to the other side of plenty.
I asked the photographer, 31-year-old Kyle Williams, why he’d taken it.
I’d seen a picture of an old abandoned truck another photographer had taken and thought it was cool. I just happened to be walking down this trail taking pics and saw this truck…
Using his Samsung Galaxy J2, Williams photographs what interests him, what resonates. He started taking photos when he was 12 working on a purse seiner in southeast Alaska during his summers. He’d like to take a class to hone his technique with a view to selling some of his photographs. And when he gets around to it, I’ll be first in line for a signed print of this photograph. I have a wall just waiting for it. He hasn’t titled it. Playing with Sally Mann’s quote
Photographs open doors into the past but they also allow a look into the future
I’d call it
Looking back on tomorrow
I’m grateful this week to have happened upon this photo. I’m tired of the deluge of fake news and bad news and downright scary news flooding my social domain. It was nice to sit in that truck, by the mudflats of the Swinomish Slough and just be. Again. And. Again. Each time imagining something new.
P.S. Wasn’t it Ansel Adams who said that a photograph is usually looked at – and seldom looked into? Glad to be a seldom, Ansel. Glad to be a seldom.