If you have ever observed the collapse of a wooden building, you know that the evil begins with a hole in the roof. It is here, as we say, that the rot begins. And from this point of incipient decay, the mischief spreads to the rafters and joists, causing these members to rot, and fail, and by failing to open new and larger holes. As the trusses disintegrate, support is withdrawn from the overstrained and rotting ridgepole, until this unsupported beam begins to sag, and at last gives way, bringing the remains of the roof down with it.
It does not take long for the walls of an unroofed building to fall inward, and I believe the direction of their downfall is the work of the wind. It is true that patient gravity completes the work, but it is wind that gives a wall its fatal tilt. When the wall is squarely braced by sound roof timbers, the wind can only howl with impotent rage against its upright outer face. But once the timbers in the roof have fallen to pieces, the wind puts its shoulder to the wall and makes it move. And each time the wall moves, it is a little less upright, a little less true, and a little more sensitive to the patient pull of gravity.
These were my thoughts as I stood knee-deep in a bramble of greenbriar, not unmindful of the copperhead snakes, by the ruin of an old country church. The back of the church was broken, and it was collapsing into itself. In only a few years, its toppled walls will be swallowed by the bramble of greenbriar; its rotted timbers will be known to none but the copperhead snakes; and men will no longer remember there was once such a thing the Progressive Church.
There is a patch of prickly pear cactus not far from that bramble and the ruin of the old Progressive Church. Indeed, prickly pear is in this patch accompanied by half a dozen equally prickly species, some pricks of which remain lodged in my shins and thighs. A patch of impenetrable ground is hereabouts known as a rough, and this particular rough grew up on a bed of barren sand. The sterile substrate can be seen in yellow mounds that burrowing ants have heaped beneath the thorns.
It was no doubt the sterile sand that made this patch affordable to the Canaan Church, a congregation of poor and rustic Blacks about which very little is remembered. The church building is gone, but hidden in the unwelcoming rough are dozens of desolate graves. Some have commercial headstones. A few are gathered in family plots ringed by low cyclone fence. But most are marked, if marked at all, by stolid shards of petrified wood. Petrified wood is common in these parts, so it is likely that these grave markers were discovered in the digging of these graves. When men and women who had walked the on the face of the earth were buried, these stones that had been buried were raised and set on the face of the earth.
And then all of them were forgotten.
These are for the most part unvisited graves, and when I consider the many thorns, barbs, spines and burrs with which they are clothed, I must say that they seem to prefer it that way. Like the rotted timbers of the Progressive Church that are sinking into that bramble of greenbriar, the graves of the old Canaan Church seem possessed of will to withdraw from the world, to be swallowed by the obliterating brambles and roughs of oblivion.