I grew up in rural Pennsylvania, outside the small village of Bainbridge on a country lane called Locust Grove. We lived atop a hill surrounded by corn fields. The Conoy Indians used to live there  nestled between the banks of the Susquehanna and the Conoy Creek. We sometimes found arrow heads in the corn fields or shards of pottery by the banks of the creek, the only remnants of a population that vanished a couple hundred years before we lived there.
Up the lane, there was the foundation of a distillery from the 1800s. Stone steps led up to a plateau that used to be the distillery floor but was now just covered with tree trunks and dead leaves. There were no walls; it was easy to miss it. Across a small bridge was the Haldeman Mansion. Although the mansion only dates to 1811, parts of the estate date to the early 1700s. Dr. Samuel Haldeman who was born and lived there was a scientist and naturalist who was influential on Charles Darwin as he wrote Origin of Species. Darwin corresponded with him and considered him authoritative. Some of the floors in the mansion had warped floors like a roller coaster thanks to the high humidity in Pennsylvania. Although we entered the property from the lane, old photographs show the original grand entrance faced the river and train tracks.
Walking up the train tracks behind my house I often went to the abandoned stone quarry. It’s now a dive site, teaching scuba in the frigid 400 foot depths. Hurricane Agnes blew some buildings from the quarry into the water in 1972 where they have remained, rusting underwater ever since. A small jetty divides the shallow side of the quarry (only about 100 feet deep) from the deeper side. A two story building is immersed about 15 feet below the surface of the clear green water on the shallow side of the jetty. I used to like to walk down to look at it because it both fascinated and scared me. Braver kids would jump off the quarry rocks and swim there.
Between the train tracks and the river was an abandoned canal. To get to the river bank, we had to walk down through the grassy gully and back up the other side, then amble down a small rocky cliff. Canals like this were a main form of transportation in the 1800s. A complex set of canals was built starting in 1826. These had long been out of use by the time we lived there, closing in 1900, and there was no longer any sign that they had been filled with water. They were just a very deep grassy ravine that made getting to the Susquehanna River more difficult.
“The present is built on the past just as the past was built on the times that went before it.” Adolf Loos
Maybe this is why I’ve been fascinated by history and the traces of the past, the things we leave behind and why. I’ve been collecting pictures of abandoned places on Pinterest. So many people comment things like “Why would someone leave all this beauty behind?” This is particularly true when the place left behind was particularly grand. From history we know that there are many reasons people abandon places.
- Something tragic happens. A murder. A war. A natural disaster. The Great Depression. A nuclear disaster. Genocide.
- Resources become scarce. The source of water dries up. There is a drought. Transportation routes and methods change. A mine runs out of its mineral. A cash crop loses popularity. Another city siphons off resources, making this former location untenable or isolating it. 
- Upkeep is too expensive. This is often the case with abandoned castles. The wealth that was poured into the building lasts for a while, but eventually, nobility is left with its titles and little else. “New money” comes in the form of trade while aristocracy begins to decay, sometimes clinging to its irrelevant past, its glory days.
What happens to an abandoned place is invariably the same. Nature creeps in and reclaims it. Sometimes this new elegiac beauty surpasses the original elegance. Decay is its own form of grandeur.
E. Holland recently implored young people at a devotional in Tempe, saying, “Don’t you dare bail. I am so furious with people who leave this church. I don’t know whether ‘furious’ is a good apostolic word. But I am.” This is the type of frustration people feel when a community reaches that inflection point, when it is past its heyday and sliding into decline. We know it has grandeur and has been a thing of beauty, providing for the needs of a society of people for generations. It was built by sacrifice and love with sweat and tears. Abandoning it seems heartless and unthinkable. We can only contemplate abandonment when there is no viable alternative or when the place has become toxic through war, contamination, abuse or danger, or a realization that progress is only possible through relocation. Even Nauvoo, the beautiful city, was abandoned for the wilderness of the west out of necessity, but it caused the largest schism our church has ever experienced.
When it comes to leaving the church, who is abandoned? Do some individuals feel the church has abandoned them and not the other way around? A recent guest post on Wheat & Tares talked about the feeling that individuals often have that they were the ones who were rejected, not that they rejected the church:
I look at the youth program with new eyes and I am unhappy with what I see. As a youth leader, I noticed that by age 11 or 12, we started to have a slow attrition of young people.
Kids who had always been active would suddenly not be attending primary. As the children grow up and transition into the youth program, I noticed that the children who came from broken homes, part members homes, children with socioeconomic disadvantages, neurological differences, or were simply fat or less physically appealing were not as included socially by their LDS peers and the leaders.
By the time the youth are 16 or 17, the youth that are left are very similar in socioeconomic status and family backgrounds. They are usually a very tight social group. Parents spend Fast and Testimony meetings talking about the wonderful youth of the church. With tears in their eyes, they talk of their children and the wonderful friends that their children have at church. It is easy to look at the youth that are left and be pleased with the tight bonds that they have. But instead .. take a step back and look at who was lost along the way.
In an excellent Maxwell Institute podcast, Elizabeth Drescher talks about three exit paths of individuals who disaffiliate from their religion. The third path she talks about is one that belonged primarily to the Catholics she interviewed; they felt they had been wounded and rejected by their faith, possibly damaged by an abusive experience, or simply ostracized for being different. Some felt they had no place because they were divorced or gay or didn’t like the church’s narrative for women. Some had been given disastrous advice when they sought support. They didn’t fit the mold, and the mold didn’t fit them. We reject what has rejected us. When we try to make something that doesn’t fit work, I am reminded of Steve Martin’s story Cruel Shoes. 
“If you have abandoned one faith, do not abandon all faith. There is always an alternative to the faith we lose. Or is it the same faith under another mask?” Graham Greene
“It’s very difficult to determine whether this is the fault of the world that has abandoned the Church, or the Church that does not know how to relate to the world.” Angelo Scola
We look at abandoned buildings because we enjoy imagining what these places were like when they were vital. Why were they built? And why did people leave? It’s the missing human story that we are trying to find, sorting through the clues left behind. If we are told the story, it’s likely only part of the story anyway.
whispers line the walls of this long forgotten home
the family moved out, they took their things and the kids have long since grown
this house was abandoned like so many others lining the streets in town
i pray for any soul in georgia who thinks they can stick around
there’s forgiveness in the floorboards yet the ceiling’s seen the sins
that happened just before the darkness took the family in
blood seeps through the cracks and taints the homes’ once strong foundation
evil has stolen the innocence from each person in this nation
this house was once a home now it’ll be left all alone
for all its days it stays in the shadows of our sinful ways
while the darkness takes what it’ll take
Any woman who has given birth is herself an abandoned home. Our physical separation into our own person is a permanent change that can never be undone. We outgrow the womb; we require more than it can provide, and even if the leaving is painful, we must go; we wound in our wounding.
“At the moment of childbirth, every woman has the same aura of isolation, as though she were abandoned, alone.” Boris Pasternak
“The abandoned infant’s cry is rage, not fear.” Robert Anton Wilson
We are constantly in a state of abandoning the past for the present. We abandon who we were to become who we are. We alter our memories to fit our current self-perception.
“Art is never finished, only abandoned.” Leonardo da Vinci
Whether we long for the things we’ve left behind or not, they exist. Part of what we abandon is carried with us, just as we leave our traces behind us.
Beryl Dov, the Smartass Rabbi
Perhaps the greatest unspoken misfortune of divorce or any breakup
is that even your fondest memories of the time must be abandoned
because they’re wedded to someone you now loathe.
So what are we left with? Giant voids in the middle of our lives,
a lifeless desert in the mist of an old growth forest.
As parents, we see the traces of our children in our houses as they leave us, sometimes in fits and starts, coming back, abandoning us again. To them, we are the abandoned house where they keep boxes of memories. To us, they are the traces left behind, the disappearing fingerprints on our walls.
“There’s something melancholy about professors because they’re chronically abandoned. They form these lovely relationships with students, and then the students leave and the professors stay the same. It’s like they’re chronically abandoned.” Josh Radnor
Because our lives are temporal, we are in a constant state of abandonment. When something remains in use, the new story overwrites the old one. As to the victor, the spoils, to the surviving culture, the storytelling. The past may become part of the story, but it’s a dead thing now, a symbol, a piece of whatever we think the puzzle is today. It can’t be what it was. We have built over the top of it. Like a whelk taking over a discarded shell, we have repurposed what we found and made it into our lives.
 I just can’t call them the Conoy Creek Native Americans. That’s not what we called them.
Teens vandalize the store
 Cruel Shoes
Anna knew she had to have some new shoes today, and Carlo had helped her try on every pair in the store. Carlo spoke wearily, “Well, that’s every pair of shoes in the place.”
“Oh, you must have one more pair…”
“No, not one more pair… Well, we have the cruel shoes, but no one would want…”
Anna interrupted, “Oh yes, let me see the cruel shoes!”
Carlo looked incredulous. “No Anna, you don’t understand, you see the cruel shoes are…”
Carlo disappeared into the back room for a moment, then returned with an ordinary shoe box. He opened the lid and removed a hideous pair of black and white pumps. But these were not an ordinary pair of black and white pumps; both were left feet, one had aright angle turn with separate compartments that pointed the toes in impossible directions. The other shoe was six inches long and was curved inward like a rocking chair with a vise and razor blades to hold the foot in place.
Carlo spoke hesitantly, “… Now you see why… they’re not fit for humans…”
“Put them on me.”
“Put them on me!”
Carlo knew all arguments were useless. He knelt down before her and forced the feet into the shoes.
The screams were incredible.
Anna crawled over to the mirror and held her bloody feet up where she could see.
“I like them.”
She paid Carlo and crawled out of the store into the street.
Later that day, Carlo was overheard saying to a new customer, “Well, that’s every shoe in the place. Unless, of course, you’d like to try the cruel shoes.”