Monday, July 29, 2013

The Wreck Tree

The Wreck Tree, 2013
(Click on images to see larger)

I’ll be honest. I don’t usually pay too much attention to those roadside shrines people set up in memory of the friends and loved ones who were killed in accidents at those spots. They seem such simplistic expressions of grief for people whose lives were more than the few stuffed animals or ribbons tied around trees, signs and little white crosses.
The other day, though, I stopped to photograph such a roadside shrine, the first time I’ve ever done that. I did so mainly because I was desperate to shoot something and this shrine seemed to be the only thing in sight.
It was along a country road in the rural southern part of our city, along the North Carolina border. This is a low area, much of it swampy, good for raising corn, soybeans and big water snakes. I don’t have any anxiety being around corn or soybeans. But I do shy away from big water snakes, and the area where I saw this little scene does happen to be home to the only kind of venomous rattlesnake we have in our immediate coastal area.
Still, there was something that compelled me to stop. Maybe it was the two crosses, one made from lumber, the other from broken limbs. Or maybe it was the little plastic bicycle or the snack bag that was nailed to the tree. Or maybe it was just that the tree into which the young man whose life this shrine celebrates stuck out at the edge of a little bend in the road, the kind of tree of which anyone who drives past it regularly probably says, “Someone’s going to run into that damned tree some day if they don’t so something about it.”  

You Were Such a Good Kid, 2013

Fastened to the top of the cross is a plastic bag containing a marker pen. I wondered initially whether the deceased had been, or wanted to be an artist. But then I realized the pen had been placed there by someone who hoped the deceased’s friends would leave messages. And indeed they did. The cross was covered with heartfelt messages of grief and hope for a better life in the hereafter.
I don’t know what the circumstances were of this accident. I can tell from the notes written on the wooden cross that it was a young boy named Ian and that he was a student at a local high school. It’s not too hard to imagine a teenager driving too fast, maybe under the influence, maybe even showing off driving in the dark with no headlights on, cutting the curve a little too close, his tires catching in the ditch and…well, the predictable result. Godspeed, Ian.

Can't Believe You're Gone, 2013

 Evidence of a Life, 2013


  1. I thought about doing a series of photos of these impromptu memorials along 13 on the Shore, but realized how dangerous it would be and just how long it would take.

  2. In the southwest some people call these descansos.