It’s a cool overcast morning here on the front porch. Light rain sprinkles down like holy water from the wooly, gray blanket of clouds. It’s hard to give a damn about much on a day like this. I’d just like to crawl up into my head, curl up with my imagination, and take a nap. The way I used to in grade school.
Day dreams are an interesting thing. I think humans must be the only creature to willingly imagine themselves in a reality outside of the one they inhabit. I’ve found no better day dream fodder than the Library of Congress online photo collection.
I could wander for hours through the digital archives, and lose myself in the depths of the photos, and the faces of a forgotten past. Looking through photographs of Minneapolis from the 1880’s-1910’s I am struck by what has changed, and what hasn’t.
The man made world of the 19th century was built on a different scale. The natural world still shows the scars of the rise of the industrial revolution, and the creation of the world that we inhabit. Buildings stand in empty fields like obelisks to a new god, their new bricks shining in the sunlight. Smokestacks poke skyward, and plumes of black coal smoke paint streaks across a cloudless sky. The landscape is still less than one generation removed from a native prairie peopled by Indians.
In the photographs of people, there is no mistaking the changes. People pose awkwardly, as if the clothes they inhabit are foreign. Their fashions, hairstyles, and faces make them look like a different species. Homo-sapiens-victorianus.
Of all the photos, the one thing that doesn’t change is the underlying landscape. The bones of this land survive beneath a different skin. Look at the river then, and now, and you cannot mistake the place. We move like shadows across this landscape, our works no more permanent that the clothes we wear. Time flows like a river, but the land beneath it is eternal.
But enough words. Come with me now, and climb into our time machine.