The Beauty of Slight Decay
by J.E. Fountain
Somewhere once, I read a curious phrase. A poet, a philosopher, a drunkard, I cannot recall, spoke of “the beauty of slight decay.”
The creative within me thrilled at this phrase; the analyst wondered at its meaning.
In my youth I spent many hours exploring the hills and woodlands that adjoined my home. Deep in the woods were the decayed remains of a small cabin. The roof was completely gone. Portions of the walls still stood but time was taking its toll. Only the stone fireplace and chimney remained fairly well intact. There was no other sign of prosperity or possession. It was one of my favorite spots. I would halt my patient mare and survey the crumbling trace of humanity. Other times I might climb down to sit on one of the logs, or kick the leaves and debris on the floor hoping to discover some token of the souls that once called this home. Hoping but never finding.
I could never discover the history of the homestead. It may have been shelter for a sole pioneer, but I prefer to imagine a young and growing family. I hope the mantle once held stockings on Christmas Eve; that the fire warmed a meager stew which was received thankfully; that the woodland creatures timidly watched and wondered at the strange sounds of laughter and song that sprang from the curious new object of their realm.
I would like to say I could hear their echoes, but my senses are not so keen. They tell me only that some manner of life passed there. Someone with a name, with hopes and dreams, with fears and disappointments, called this home. It may be that elsewhere they left a mark. They may have achieved some distinction and posterity has duly honored them. It may be their names and perhaps even their faces are cherished in family lore; that their story is passed by the very old to the very young.
It may be. I cannot say. It may be this is their only mark and sadly it is fading. Only a year ago I revisited the crumbling cabin. Credit to the builder, the chimney yet stands, but year by year the walls crumble further. If this is their only mark, then I am glad to have marked it. Very little that is beautiful lasts forever.
The beauty in slight decay lies, I think, in the memory of what once was.
© 2015 Joseph E. Fountain