By Mindy Hood
There’s an echo-y otherworld in the cave of country underpasses. It’s a brief, short world, or at least it is when experienced from the inside of a moving car. But on foot, it lengthens and stretches into a patch-work dimension of spray-paint dreams and gravel canyons. Everything here is an echo of the world continuing along the road.
A broken teenage heart leaves “Screw Tommy” written in red on one wall, and beneath it in blue is written “Gently.”
Spread along the pillars, someone has asked, “Will – U B – My – GF?”
Others have painted old hearts, crossed them out, and painted them again in fresh colors.
There is more to see than this. Slip down a treacherous little trail of gravel, into the unpaved miasma of the manmade underworld across a floodwater ditch, and there is another series of walls. These walls are just too far and too shadowed too shadowed to see from the car window well from the car window. In order to see, you will have to get out and take your chances with the gravel and mud.
The quality of the graffiti here has risen from teenage melodrama to its own sort of revelation. Though time and competition has made a layering of words, names and images on most of the concrete, there is one block that has been left untouched since a flock of shadows took residence there. The flock is a wheeling cloud of spray paint silhouettes, carefully caught and individually stenciled on the wall in ashy black. The individual birds of the flock are too small to make out from the pavement and require a pause and a little adventure in order require a pause and a little adventure in order to reach them.
The Venerable Bede compared the life of man to a sparrow flying through a room – a brief respite from an unknowable past and future. Many kinds of actual birds fly through the underpass, just as the people fly through in their cars. Some birds even pause to make nests. This particular flock was born here, will stay here in frozen motion until the underpass is rebuilt, or maybe when it falls victim to a community reclamation project. For now they’re here, and will remain for quite some time. They do not pass through as we do. You won’t meet the artist who created them lingering next to his or her masterpiece, but meeting the masterpiece itself is like having a brief conversation with the maker. The artist is gone, and we come and go, too, but the paint-birds do not.
I assume Bede never expected the sparrow to stop and paint on its way through. He didn’t consider the sorts of shadows that linger in the room and leave flocks of birds fluttering in an underpass.