Even though I've been trying to convince my employers to get me an air card up there! It's a little difficult being a freelance journalist these days without internet. No internet connection does not compute with editors.
I do believe in ghosts, but here's my theory, which kinda ties into the story I wrote about the one on the lookout: Old places, especially those made mostly of wood, have the ability to trap sound waves and vibrations from the people inhabiting them over time, as well as from the wind and sun and external environment. In many ways, wood as a substance is like nature's original sound-recording device. My aunt lives in a turn-of-the century plantation house in deep East Texas, and there are nights when, as a thunderstorm is rolling in, and the rising air pressure outside squeezes those old beams and the increasing moisture swells those door jambs, I swear I hear snipits of an old ragtime song playing on a phonograph. Perhaps the former owners of the house used to play an old ragtime record over and over again (the Maple Leaf Rag!) and as the wood structure around them swelled and contracted with changes in the weather, like a giant beast breathing contentedly on a stormy night, the wood fibers were changed on a molecular level by the sound vibrations passing through them, and after repeated vibrations from this particular song, the fibers became grooved, much like grooves in a vinyl record take the shape of sound patterns and reproduce them when the record needle swipes past them. In this way, I believe organic material can "record" sound waves, and possibly even images, if exposed to them for enough time. There is a story about early Indonesian potters, who were some of the first people to discover and master the potter's wheel, whose skill was so precise that their fingers passing over the clay at such a metered speed actually engraved the sounds of the village and jungle around them into the clay. Some of these vessels have survived intact, and when they're spun at the same speed in which they were formed, touching them with a bamboo needle (like the original bamboo needles of phonographs) can actually reproduce those sounds from 10,000 years ago! We can hear, by "playing" an earthen vessel, the sounds of Indonesian villagers and birds in the trees from a hundred centuries ago! (Is my math right about that?). Okay, I haven't taken the time to corroborate this story, but I think it's interesting even if it's not true. Because this is what I think ghosts are: sounds and images recorded by our environment and played back for us when conditions are just right. Much of Sand Mountain Lookout is made from material salvaged from the historic structure that sat atop Whisky Peak in the Rogue River-Siskiyou National Forest for 60 years before it was finally refurbished and given a new home on Sand Mountain in 1989. Some nights in the fall, when I'm socked-in by clouds and the rain is blowing sideways, I hear bootsteps on the catwalk outside, and voices are common on full-moon nights. Like I said, there are secrets buried in that structure, and perhaps voices and images from the past as well, like I'm living in a little music box that sometimes gets wound up and played. Now, if you ask my friends, I'm a horror-movie fan, so sometimes my imagination does run away with me.
Letters From The Lookout: “Phantastic Season”
By Blake Driver, 10-12-07
This is a ghost story. Of sorts.
It’s proof that sometimes the most exciting things that can happen to a lookout alone on a
mountaintop for a summer have absolutely nothing to do with fire. And oftentimes, the
excitement only gets started when the clouds roll in from the ocean with their cold-season
blusters of rain, snow and a whole host of other phantoms, long after the threat of fires
has died down. Perhaps it’s true what they’ve always said, that ghosts are accompanied
by a drop in the temperature. In the case of this friendly Casper that showed up in my
window one evening, his materialization was certainly made possible by the freshly cool
air of Fall outside, but I also realized with some heaviness in my heart that his startling
visage could be viewed as a sort of haphazard record — a log book of chaos manifested
— of all of my activities in that old building this summer and that, as surely as his
features are complete, so my third season up here has come fully to a head.
It happened on one of the first truly cold evenings after the fall equinox. I had made an
early dinner of noodles, and the steam from the pot had condensed on the inside of my
windows since the temperature outside had fallen considerably after sunset. After dinner,
I sat down to play the guitar in the last remaining hours of dusk, and that’s when I looked
over and noticed him, in the window pane closest to the brass handle of the door; a face,
incredibly detailed, conspicuously peering into the middle of the cabin, right in the
direction of the Osborne firefinder in the center of the room.
My heart skipped a little. You could say I’d been fearing something like this for three
years now, reading all that Stephen King alone in the dark. But I wasn’t scared. I was
rather delighted. I had never seen the steam from my spaghetti settle on a window pane in
such a fascinating way. I immediately recognized it as one of those moments in life that
I’ll never have again, when a combination of physics, timing and perception come
together at just the right moment for something like this to happen, the true definition of a
phantasm, a moment when you don’t have to believe or disbelieve in anything to see
what’s right in front of you. Make of it what I would (and I have a wild imagination), it
was still going to be there until I wiped it away (though I was a little afraid to touch it).
I remembered the last time I had washed the windows; I could see the Glass Plus streaks
defining the majority of his face. And then I thought about all the objects I had carried in
and out of that door in the course of the season: backpacks, binoculars, radios, cell
phones, firewood, groceries, water canisters, doormats, books, coffee cups and the list
never ends. How many times (I’m ashamed to ask) did I bump or nudge the window pane
in an effort to open the door with full hands, leaving a tiny spot of grease or smudge of
dust? Whatever the number, all of my comings-and-goings left an impression there, and it
all fell into place in such a way as to create this stunning portrait. On the night when he
appeared, I had made dinner earlier than usual, the light was just enough to backlight
him, and the temperature outside was just so. To my estimation, this is what is known as
a divine moment in time. It could have been an impression of an elephant and I still
would have thought it was special. When the prevention guard from the district came to
give me some paperwork one afternoon, I showed him the photographs. He made me
swear I’d done the portrait intentionally. I only had one thing to say to him: I’m not that
good. He seemed to have no trouble believing this, so then he said, “I wouldn’t stay here
anymore if I were you.”
Now all the nights and most days are cold enough up on the mountain to keep steam
condensed on the windows just from the simple act of my breathing, so I look for the man
in the window each chance I get. Mysteriously, he’s gone. I pay careful attention not to
bump the glass or wash that pane, just to keep him there as long as possible, but to no
avail. In so many ways he was the creation of a summer, a summer as ephemeral and
magical as an apparition, and now all of it a memory.
As I close the door to the lookout one last time this year, it squeaks and groans just as
loudly as it always did. It always annoyed me, but now I only hope to get to come back
and hear it squeak again for another year.