Ghosts of past lives




A few more images from my trip to the Girl Scout camp in North Dakota last month. This old smokehouse was just outside the camp boundary, and always intriguing to me. It’s the only sign left of somebody’s former homestead although as a kid the basement also remained, holding a few rusty metal bedsprings and pieces of broken ceramic and glass. Just enough to remind you, unequivocally, that it was once a home.

I’ve always been fascinated by the ghosts of past lives. I feel a magnetic pull in my chest from every weathered, falling-down barn I see. It doesn’t matter if it’s abandoned or in a neat farmyard; if it’s standing proud or mostly in a heap; if it’s my first sighting of it or my thousandth. I don’t need to save them, I just want to love them. All.*

I find myself especially fascinated by the ghosts in places like North Dakota, where those past lives really aren’t all that distant. The dam was built and the lake created in the 1950s. How many stories were drowned under the water in the fertile river bottomland and the towns that had to be relocated? Who stewarded all the hills around the lake before the US Army Corps began doling them out for recreation and wildlife?

I know nothing about the past stories that smokehouse holds but when I stand inside and look out over the hills, I can hear the whispers… of life and loss and time and timelessness.


*An example: A few years back when Dean and I were designing our house, we reached a point when we had pretty much settled on the interior layout but were struggling with the overall look/feel of the exterior. So we took a couple drives to tour neighborhoods for inspiration. It went something like this:
Dean: “That’s nice.”
Bethany: “Maybe”
D: “What about this one?”
B: “Meh”

B: “Ooh, I like that!”
D: “That’s a shed, not a house. That’s a shed that is actively crumbling…”
B: “Yeah, I kind of love it…”
Pretty quickly it became clear that I am mostly drawn to outbuildings in various states of disrepair and this was not in any way helpful in the home design process.

2 thoughts on “Ghosts of past lives

  1. Memories for me of the lake in it’s infancy is pretty vivid. My Grandparents Guenthner farmstead is just across the bay from the camp. When my uncle and aunt lived on the homestead we, the cousins and I, would go down the hill, along a draw, to what was a pasture to gather and bring up the cows for milking. That draw and pasture are now under water and people waterski right past were the barn use to set. Most of the land owned by my grandparents is underwater. I believe the smokehouse is on land that belonged to my mother’s cousin or brother-in-law. Memory has faded as to the rightful owner. Geez, this makes me feel ancient. So much history in our state is still only two generations old.

    1. Oh wow. I didn’t realize that you had family connections to land in that area. Although I guess I shouldn’t be surprised… Your description of waterskiing past the the site of the barn, the pasture under water, is exactly the sort of juxtaposition of time that place evokes.

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