In hopes of capturing photos of local bikers doing aerial jumps, I went to the dirt field located behind Griffith Avenue in Woodbridge on July 13 to complete my weekly
In the late afternoon, I found nothing more than the leftovers of clandestine parties, eerily ensconced in the branches of spindly pines or half-buried in the ground. I felt like a trespasser in a land of teenage rituals, among the stash of discarded razors, energy-drink bottles and unidentifiable debris.
The silence of a burnt desert and the colors and shapes of the landscape reminded me of Western scenery and the sandstone hoodoos of Southern Utah. Unlike natural formations, the mounds in this field have been crafted over two decades of handmade and hard-won labor by a group of anonymous teenagers.
The structures of these dirt jumps speak of a subtle engineering art: each formation is packed upon old tires, concrete pipes, or wooden crates. I’d like to imagine the boys and girls who planned the shapes, calculated the risk and the distance between each rise and fall of earthy waves, and lost hours dreaming of their own biking bravado.
In this picture I would place a younger version of Martin, a man I met while I was shooting scenery, performing stunts on his bicycle in the early 1990s. No longer willing to ride the jumps, Martin likes to watch others bike.
As he spoke of the heyday of the field in which we stood, he told me what he would do with this land. His ideas, which included managing and extending the area, were reasonable. Potentially, if the community supported such management, the field could once more host a group of biking aficionados. Properly maintained, the field would be free of waste and illicit behavior.
The history of the area is difficult to research. Martin told me of the earlier days of the biking field, but he didn't know that we stood near the former site of a small airport.
From the early 1960s to May 1987, the land surrounding Dillingham Square was known as Woodbridge Airport, built with a single 2,246-foot-long runway perpendicular to Old Bridge Road.
My friend Jim Lucore, a former charter pilot, remembers well flying clients to and from the airport, before housing developments popped up at increasing speed in Lake Ridge. The airport was replaced with the usual trappings of suburbia: a strip mall, a gas station and a few banks and restaurants.
Sometime after the airport's landing strip was parceled and bulldozed –after Dillingham Square shops were built and a parking lot firmly poured into place–plans were laid for the biking field.
No one has been able to tell me who shaped the mounds or exactly when. The genesis of that land seems imbedded in as much mystery as the nearby patch of dirt containing an alarming number of disposable razors and empty medicine bottles.
Perhaps more puzzling is the answer to these questions: Where have the bikers gone? At what point did the balance between ingenuity and recklessness tip towards a teenage wasteland?
On my way home, I had a single thought. The field was a representation of beauty and beast and the divide between Jekyll and Hyde. Yet as I later edited the photographs, it was beauty that moved me: not the prettiness of the wildflowers, but the masterful landscaping of unknown bikers.
Perhaps someone will read this article and tell me that the dirt field is no mystery at all, that the land was planned by middle-aged, paunchy councilmen eager to create a space in which to contain the angst of adolescence. If such is the case, so be it. In the meantime, I will continue to think of the field as a monument to the passions—good and bad—of youth.