I've always been struck by how much of our civilization can at once appear to be new and well maintained and completely abandoned. My fiancé and I went for a walk today down the hill along Walnut Creek, where there is a hodgepodge of open space, golf course, and office buildings that appear to have been dropped randomly on an otherwise untamed landscape. It was cold, and the wind made it frigid. The scarf my love made for me for Christmas performed admirably, but even its powers could not contend with the wind forever. Nonetheless, it was a good walk, and we managed to get through half of it before the sun went down and the cold became unbearable. We walked west on the path from the Westview recreation center past scenes of native grasses and golf course greens and the occasional cottonwood, with the sun in our eyes. Despite the sun, it was a little hazy and the slightest wind was freezing, in true January style. But for the occasional private plane overhead and cars in the distance, it was quiet, the plants dormant, the animals absent.
Then we came to the end of the open space and the trail at Simms Street and crossed over to a place I've often driven past but never actually been. To the left there was a stand of trees in shallow, frozen water with many small birds in them, the first sign of any animals we'd seen. And to the right, an empty parking lot and an office building. Two Subaru's parked near the front were the only sign of any human presence. There was a pristine sidewalk between the parking lot and the overly manicured bluegrass that surrounded the facility. I could easily believe that we were the first to ever bother walking on it. Also adjacent to the sidewalk were several small buildings of mysterious purpose. My mate and I both have often wondered just what goes on inside office buildings, but never wanted to find out firsthand. Just then, the distinct feeling was that nothing went on inside this building. These places are like ruins, built long ago by a strange people possessed of unknowable motives. Built, and then mysteriously deserted, left to be watered by automatic sprinklers and guarded by silent robotic security cameras. Just as confounding as and no more lively than an ancient monolith, kept in impeccable condition for reasons beyond comprehension. There were obviously people here once, but why did they build this place, and why did they just as soon abandon it? We knew that on any given weekday you would likely find the parking lot full of cars, yet even then I'd wager you could scan the landscape and not see a single human. The place could have been dropped on the ground by a passing spaceship.
We made our way around the building, picking our way over the unnecessary lawn, which obviously served only to attract geese and store their feces. Behind the building were -- guess what -- stone monoliths! They presided over an eerily empty park-like area for employees. Beyond it the road ended in a useless little circle. A barbed wire fence formed the boundary of the premises. We found a spot where the fence's bottom wire was missing, and slipped under. The creek and an expanse of short-cropped grass stretched ahead, toward grassy hills and the mountains. Ahead and to the right was a building of even more mysterious purpose, which sits shrouded from view by a screen of pine trees planted when it was constructed several years ago. We probably weren't technically supposed to be walking back there, but we didn't see any no trespassing signs. We walked across the field and rejoined the creek, which now had a two-track road running parallel to it that appeared to still be in use. On the creek were more animal signs -- tracks in the snow. The tracks were a few inches across and had five toes -- a raccoon, or a badger perhaps, I'm not sure. The road there made a handsome trail, offering great views of the rolling grassland and mountains as it ran along the creek and passed through a stand of cottonwoods before turning up a hill. I wish it were an official trail open to the public. By the time we reached the bend where the road left the creek the sun was down and the cold was getting more bothersome, but I felt obligated to follow it as far as the top of the small hill, so we briefly went up for a look. Nice view. There were coyote, or maybe fox tracks in the hard patches of snow persisting on the road.
We hurried back, trudging through the biting wind. It was painfully cold. From the back, the office building vaguely resembled a ziggurat, adding to its air of mystery and desolation. I think I've always had a sense of this quality, but I first identified it outside the Standley Lake water treatment plant a few years ago. It can be seen in office buildings, railroad tracks, industrial sites, the empty streets of a suburban neighborhood (especially new ones) and in the deserted and artificial environs of many a video game. I've never known what to make of it.