This is The Gilded Drifter Inn, a 118 year-old Victorian mansion in the Sierra Valley. We came here when the recent California wildfires caused the air quality in Sacramento and the Bay Area to plummet to hazardous levels.
Just before we left town I started rereading White Noise. Don Delillo is my favorite writer, but when I started the book I had forgotten (or only subconsciously remembered) that the family in the novel must evacuate their home due to a “toxic airborne event.” It was an eerie and uncomfortable connection.
Rereading the Most Photographed Barn in America passage (included below) also inspired me. I photographed a barn when we arrived in Loyalton.
There were 40 cars and a tour bus in the makeshift lot. We walked along a cowpath to the slightly elevated spot set aside for viewing and photographing. All the people had cameras; some had tripods, telephoto lenses, filter kits. A man in a booth sold postcards and slides — pictures of the barn taken from the elevated spot. We stood near a grove of trees and watched the photographers. Murray maintained a prolonged silence, occasionally scrawling some notes in a little book.
“No one sees the barn,” he said finally.
A long silence followed.
“Once you’ve seen the signs about the barn, it becomes impossible to see the barn.”
He fell silent once more. People with cameras left the elevated site, replaced by others.
We’re not here to capture an image, we’re here to maintain one. Every photograph reinforces the aura. Can you feel it, Jack? An accumulation of nameless energies.”
There was an extended silence. The man in the booth sold postcards and slides.
“Being here is a kind of spiritual surrender. We see only what the others see. The thousands who were here in the past, those who will come in the future. We’ve agreed to be part of a collective perception. It literally colors our vision. A religious experience in a way, like all tourism.”
Another silence ensued.
“They are taking pictures of taking pictures,” he said.
He did not speak for a while. We listened to the incessant clicking of shutter release buttons, the rustling crank of levers that advanced the film.
“What was the barn like before it was photographed?” he said. “What did it look like, how was it different from the other barns, how was it similar to other barns?”