by Tim Gilmore, 8/8/2014
A small red pickup truck rattles along the pocked road, and its few-toothed driver, sweating beer fumes, brakes to look up at what he thinks is one fat, enormous, spear-tipped missile. If you dropped that on some bad guys, it would take out half of whatever country he thought disseminated bad guys.
It’s a 78,000-pound Space Shuttle fuel tank, barged through the Atlantic Intracoastal Waterway and St. Johns River to its temporary resting place beside the former Southern Dry Dock building on the Green Cove Springs waterfront.
The fuel tank is situated perfectly in the exhausted and catastrophic psychogeographics of the Clay County Port at Reynolds Industrial Park.
Wandering the dockyards at Green Cove Spring offers more oxidized red than eponymous green. Old fishing boats settle into the dirt. Elephant-sized dredging scoops, an open clamshell dredging bucket, and clam cages on pontoons weigh into the earth like saurian ocean-floor exoskeletons.
You can come here to find out what the things we make become after we abandon them, what they are of us, what they are apart from us. You can find out what the things we’ve made and abandoned are on their own, of their own, absent us. You can find out what the things we’ve made become when they no longer have anything to do with us.
Without its crew, its life at sea, is former purpose, the Arctic Discoverer ages and burdens itself against the pier to which it’s tethered, its deck rotting and sprouting weeds, its portholes dripping rust into the water.
The former Canadian fishing vessel was marooned here after a marine engineer named Tommy Thompson led a crew and an underwater robot named (what else?) Nemo to recover three tons of gold from the 1857 shipwreck site of the S.S. Central America. The Victorian steamer had been traveling from Panama to New York with nearly 15 tons of gold (although one book claims as much as 21 tons), and ever since it sank 150 years ago, treasure hunters had speculated on its whereabouts.
But after the Arctic Discoverer reclaimed its small portion of the sunken gold–the rest is still down there!, Tommy Thompson himself disappeared, his last known address a trailer park in Fort Pierce, Florida. According to a 2006 article in Forbes magazine, Thompson convinced 166 investors to help him raise a total of $55 million to finance the treasure hunt. Later, Thompson somehow arranged to sell the gold without investors or crew members apparently seeing any of the profit. Only insurers received a small percentage, and that took 21 years of legal fights after 39 insurance companies laid their claims in court in 1987.
Now the Arctic Discoverer slowly deteriorates alongside the Green Cove waterfront. A recent auction resulted in its buyer leaving it tethered here but taking it apart a piece at a time to sell for trophies or scrap. It fits in well in this wharfside dregscape.
For as far as you can see, forgotten pieces of hydraulic machinery, enormous sections of pipe, dirty concrete and weathered wood, faded brick buildings with broken windows and doors and skull-and-crossbone warnings extend from the water.
The Industrial Revolution has always zombified itself. We put the clanking, wrenching, banging, whirring mechanisms of the world in place, but they attain their own life outside of us. They exclude us, though they show back to us the intentions with which we built them. Living Dead, they are born of us but emptied of us. Incongruous, they become the Worldwide Industrial Uncanny.
And here in America, we build things but too rarely maintain them. We plan for the present. So our landscape breaks, buckles, molders, collapses in on itself, aging much more quickly than the country.
The landscape this nation has manufactured into and across this continent is, paradoxically, older than the nation itself.
What we’ve made and abandoned fills the World. It’s more alien and inhuman than the natural Earth. It seems to have a sentience, but that sentience is only absence. Far more than nature–which always can easily kill us, but of which we are part, and to which we harmonize when we are most healthy–the things we’ve made and abandoned suggest that human beings are always outsiders.
Nothing we’ve started ever ends. The World goes on without us, leaves us behind, and in its devastated neglect, shows us it never cared for us at all. But the Earth always absorbs the World back and accepts us too at the end of our time.
Meanwhile (and that’s always what time it is), you can come out here and walk amidst these hulking dredges, old boats, and sodden broken rooms, and watch the whole World sink back into the Earth, and marvel that the Earth is that radically egalitarian.