Many years ago, in my backpacking days, we occasionally stopped at an obscure place on a winding mountain road between South Carolina’s Table Rock and Ceasar’s Head.
You couldn’t really see Bald Rock from the road. And there were no signs to mark it. You sort of had to be in the know to even know it was there.
What distinguished Bald Rock from virtually every other patch of “wilderness” for miles around was the fact that this football field-sized slab of granite was virtually covered in graffiti.
It apparently had been thus for years. Perhaps for generations
Some years later the property would be designated a heritage preserve by the state of South Carolina. The pressure washers came out. And of course graffiti would be henceforth banned under penalty of jail and a fine.
Long story short, on our way back to Florida on Sunday we decided to stop off at Bald Rock Heritage Preserve. Just for old times sake. Hadn’t been there in years.
Bald Rock is much easier to spot these days, and not only because of the sign. All that separates it from the road is a narrow parking space, a wooden foot bridge and a lovely little creek all decked out in its autumn colors.
Still, what I saw on my return to Bald Rock after lo these many years seemed eerily familiar.
Perhaps it was because it was a misty day and the celebrated view of Table Rock was obscured. But in the gloom, the surface seemed positively aglow with….graffiti.
“State officials once considered closing Bald Rock in response to the defacing of the property, but now hope that cleanup efforts will deter graffiti vandals,” I read in an on-line posting.
So much for hopes and good intentions.
There is something jarring about seeing so much nature surrounded by so much paint. And it’s not exactly a benign pastime.
“Sadly, some visitors believe that painting the rock is a harmless tradition. However, the paint causes harm both to the surrounding plants and the animals that eat them.” This from the South Carolina Picture Project.
If the medium is the message, then the message is spread all over the granite in true Tower of Babel fashion.
Still, there is no denying that there’s something almost hypnotic in the spectacle of acres of scrawls and scribbles set amidst a cacophony of colors.
This may be especially true when a cloud envelops the mountain and renders all of nature’s true artistry invisible.
Honestly, you just can’t help but lose yourself in the spray-painted void under foot.
I recalled the ancient petroglyphs I had seen on the banks of the Colorado River.
And I wondered what an archeologist one hundred years hence would make of all this.
What exactly does it say about us as a tribe? As a culture? As a civilization?
I contemplated graffiti in the mist and wondered what it all signified. Life, the universe and everything perhaps?
Or nothing at all except bad human behavior?
Bald Rock, we are told, is the product of 450 million years of patient, nature-sculpted evolution. Imagine applying a can of paint to such a work of art.