A Change of Seasons

Northern State Hospital's Slaughterhouse
The Slaughterhouse, Northern State Hospital, Sedro-Woolley, WA. Photograph © Jane Alynn.

Whenever there is a change in the seasons something shifts in me. Especially in autumn, a certain melancholy sets in. The air feels different. The morning fog packs a chill. And the light—its low and slanting golden rays—reveals textures and forms of the landscape that seem new.

There is a tract of land, east of me, in Sedro-Woolley, that fascinates me. At one time it was the site of the Northern State Hospital’s sprawling and remarkably self-sufficient facility, including a 700-acre farm with highly productive cropland, a cannery complex, barns, milking houses, and slaughterhouse.

The day before the autumn equinox I walked the grounds to see what had changed since my last visit. The abandoned structures are proceeding to become one with the landscape. Graffiti scrawled on walls is mostly gone, whitewashed, as if to erase the asylum’s grim history, or to efface the stories of resident ghosts. In the cemetery many of the anonymous gravestones have mysteriously disappeared.

I was there to photograph the haunting poetry of the place, the exquisite mixture of pathos and beauty in the decay.

In the long shadow of that afternoon, I realized something else had changed. My muscles ached from trekking the acres and acres of trails, shouldering a heavy tripod and camera, straddling debris and twisting into awkward positions to get the image as I saw it.

I nodded to autumn.

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