Wednesday, July 4, 2012

Abandoned Resort, Active Airfield

Back when I was in college, when I'd be home for winter break I would work at the nearby ski resort as a lift operator.  It was a relatively easy way to make a few hundred bucks in between semesters, money to buy books with when I returned to school.  But they were long cold days sitting in a shack at the top of the 'mountain' (elevation: 1,100 feet), watching skiers in bright suits file past, occasionally stopping the lift to untangle someone's equipment from a chair or extricate a dragging child. 

I remember one day when the wind was too fierce and we couldn't run the lifts, but we were required to stay at our stations in the event that the wind died down; the skiers were waiting, in the lodge drinking hot chocolates and hot toddies, eager to use their new goggles and gloves. That day I sat in that shack and read Jack Kerouac's Big Sur for the first time, thrilled by the somewhat parallel experience of feeling alone while totally entrenched in a weird cultural zone.

Now the resort is closed, the old red lifts drooping and overgrown around the hill.  I drove up to the resort the other day, as I wanted to see the landing strip; there's an airfield next to the hill that is still in use.  I parked the car and walked over to the field. A few small propeller planes were tied down to the ground on a grassy field next to the asphalt runway.  No business jets were in sight; they tend to fly in, drop off mysterious passengers, and then roar off again, maybe Netjets on to other lucrative routes.

But I didn't expect to be taken with the sight of the defunct resort: the hotel with its creepy dark windows and heavy curtains drawn, and the columns of the grand entrance I used to pass through on the way to the lift operators' break room (more of a closet with a permanent micro-plume of marijuana smoke lingering by the ceiling panels), where our uniform parkas hung and where we punched in and out of our shifts. I was caught in a sudden trance, barraged with memories and residual sense perceptions. I turned back to the planes, but the eerie feeling stayed with me.

The airstrip is still in use, though it isn't monitored by a control tower; aircraft simply communicate with one another to make sure no one is in the way when a landing or takeoff is imminent. It's a very short runway, and I'm often startled by the size of some of the planes that cruise in for landing as they arc in over my parents' land, a couple miles away.

After snapping a few pictures of the gang of planes, I was drawn back to the parking lot and I just stared at the derelict assemblage of buildings. Every time I'm home I hear things about the resort, and read angry letters to the editor in the local paper calling for its demolition or rehabilitation.  There was one time when it was rumored to have been bought by a wealthy Scientologist, and that the resort would become one of those infamous compounds where celebrities are secreted away and forcibly de-toxed and re-educated. And who knows? Maybe it is. That would certainly explain the business jets that swoop in and scream off again periodically, extraordinary renditions of the rich and famous.

Then there was some Las Vegas mogul slated to buy it, but the deal fell through because of a scandal of one kind or another.  Small communities thrive on such tantalizing tales and unresolved landscapes.

The hill is actually a natural topographical feature, one of the highest points in the county where I'm from—making it unlike other terraformed ski resorts of the Midwest, where people play on sculpted piles of dirt or trash.  I've always thought it would be nice to see the hill reabsorbed by the surrounding terrain: first sumac, creeping junipers, and wild grape vines...then gradually pines and oaks...and then the huge beeches and maple trees that make up the climax forests of the region.  It will probably happen eventually, one way or another.

I'm writing this as the sky changes from the darkest purple to a faintly glowing slate gray, and innumerable birds are sounding off, reminding me of other flyers.  Somewhere, a private plane is likely filing a flight plan that involves a landing at the airstrip by the ski hill, and the abandoned resort will wait for their arrival.