Photo by Ella Arrow
Exploration, Photography, Tiny Stories

Schoolhouse of No Return

One of the things I’ve been promising to do once school was back in session is to go on a photography safari. Not to shoot wildlife, just take a drive for an hour or two and stop when I see something that strikes me in the right way. While I probably could have done this with kids in tow, I worried too much they would have gotten bored, making me feel rushed instead of meandering.

The first place I wanted to go had haunted me for a while. On the way out of Stoughton, almost to the freeway, there’s an old one-room schoolhouse perched on a bit of lawn between the road and a golf course. I’d always found it charming and a bit mysterious. What was its history? Was it still in use for anything? Could I park and hop out and peek in its windows without annoying golfers or the owners of their club?

I parked across the highway to be a bit less obvious and used the golf-cart viaduct to cross under the road to the schoolhouse. The paint is peeling more than I expected, as if whoever owns it has forgotten about the little historical building. A few windows are broken. You can see right into the basement through a square hole in the stone porch, as if a hatch or bunch of bricks are missing. The cellar is piled with lumber; the main room houses old furniture and flags.

I tried to capture the melancholy of the broken windows and fallen slats. I tried to catch the charm of the past in the familiar shape of the building. Many photographers find the same bittersweet beauty in shabby vintage vistas these days, so I mimicked the close-ups for texture and the wide shots for structure. After years of passing it on the road out of town, I was not disappointed.

I wish I knew its name.

I wish I could take care of it. It could be an art gallery, a quiet retreat, or a tiny coffeehouse. There’s an ache about such decaying beauties, an unspoken desire to imagine the heyday, and a slippery slope of enjoying the varying grayscale of weathered boards while wishing you could polish life back into their bones.

Do not disturb the spiders.

I live in a house built in 1885. The dining room slopes decidedly toward the windows and none of the doors are straight. I know how to love time-worn buildings and their glorious wrinkles.

I had no destination after the schoolhouse. I drove through a few little towns I knew, and followed some country roads I didn’t. My other find of the day was a few barns on the verge of collapse, on the edge of otherwise healthy-looking farms. A few years ago my son dubbed these “Jenga barns”, as if the loss of one little piece of wood could cause the whole thing to tumble. I didn’t want to creep around someone else’s property, but I got a couple of shots I liked from the side of the road. I love that you can see the sky through the ribs.

There was a Jenga barn on the road to turn in to my last office job. I loved driving by it every day, thinking about not only what it must have been, grand and wide and sturdy and useful, but admiring the way it sloped and shrugged, losing its shape to the weight of time. Someday I’ll head back there and get more than a snapshot on my phone. Some future safari, maybe.

Anyway, I decided to anthropomorphize the nameless schoolhouse in the photos’ one-sentence story. Hope you like it.

School’s Out… forever.

The dilapidated one-room schoolhouse stands despite flaking paint and broken windows, wondering when summer will finally be over.

When will summer end?

As usual, prints and products of the images are up on my Society6 artist shop, and you can get digital versions on my Etsy store for less than five bucks.

Ella Arrow Author
Ella Arrow Author