The Abandoned Corner

Site of an old gas station—Polly Howells

West Hurley, New York, United States—Site of an old gas station—Polly Howells

There were eleven of us who gathered at the site of an abandoned Exxon station at the intersection of two well-travelled roads in West Hurley, New York, for the Global Earth Exchange, June 18, 2016. We are all loosely connected, friends through the Transition Towns of Woodstock and Saugerties.   The gas station was shut down in the late 1980’s due to oil and gas contamination. There were class action suits by neighbors to remediate their water supplies, which the company did, and then it looks like they paved over the entire site to prevent further leakage when it rains. But cracks in the asphalt are many, and through those cracks beautiful plants, even trees, have appeared.

People zoom around this corner in their cars and motorcycles and never stop to notice what is growing there. Well, there are twenty-foot high flowering catalpas, considered a desirable specimen tree by arborists, as well as several flowering smaller plants, and milkweeds galore. One of our group spied a monarch butterfly.

We began by singing “This Land is Your Land,” and recounting what we knew about the site. Then we spread out quietly and explored the area. The RadJoy bird seemed to build itself, its head the rim of an old tire that was half buried in the nearby wood, its beak a forked stick, and its body and wings leaves and flowers. There was great exuberance designing the bird, and then we gathered to hear people’s experiences. We spoke about the felt deadness of the land and yet the beauty of the new life growing through its asphalt sealant. We spoke about our lifelong addiction to fossil fuel usage, and the conundrum of how we are going to break it. We ended with a Sufi song and circle dance, with guitar accompaniment. Altogether, it was a joyful, heartfelt afternoon.