I grew up in what my grandfather called a faceless house in an utterly nondescript subdivision. The whole town was nothing more than a bedroom community for big-city workers, equally and oppressively faceless.
The house was at the edge of that town, close to the farm fields to the south and west. Out my window, I could clearly see the Niagara Escarpment, which town parents were constantly telling us was the same cliff that Niagara Falls tumbles over. We all oohed in the right places and secretly hated that dull rock face for being the only thing of interest in this mundane town.
At one time it had been a vibrant farming community, but cheap imports from Mexico and the southern States eventually took their toll. Once grand farms were abandoned and left to rot. Twenty years later they’d become even grander subdivisions, remarkable for their utter lack of character, but for now thousands of acres and dozens of abandoned homesteads dotted the countryside.
A mile south of our house was the closest abandoned farm. Unlike most, this one was still in possession of a silo, tucked up close to a small barn and almost hidden amongst overgrown trees. The round dome-like roof of the silo could be seen peaking out overtop. It had suffered damage from one of the many wind-storms that frequented the area. Maybe a third of the dome had been torn off and tossed down to the ground below.
When things would get bad at home, I’d escape there with sketchbook in hand, to draw or just lay back on the uneven plank floor and watch the sky wheel over my head. I found the silo compelling and mystical. I felt drawn to it, as if I were part of some grander plan when I was there. When I couldn’t sleep I’d sneak out at night to climb its rusty ladder and number the stars. I’d try to smoke cigarettes and read books, oblivious as any nine-year old to the dangers of both fire and cancer. I found Shakespeare up there, when King Lear and I were first introduced.
It was my secret place. Long before anyone else had heard of it, long before anyone had thought to make an uninspiring movie about it, I had read of Burnett’s secret garden. In the silo I had found not a walled green space but an ivory tower to call my own.
I was careful to keep it clean. I had managed to drag a derelict and splintery lawn chair up to the top, along with several boxes to use as end tables. In a rough and strange way, the silo was more home to me than the house of my parents. My room at home was a typical child’s disaster, but the silo was my sanctuary.