Like so many sophisticated adventure-seekers before us, we were driving around Cattaraugus County, admiring the cows.
There’s a whole lot of ’em.
Restaurants, movie theaters, gas stations, people…not so much.
Eventually, a small sign told us we’d arrived in East Otto.
Apparently, we’d passed through West Otto, and Central Otto, without noticing.
Soon after, my cellphone found a signal again, and could pull up a map.
We discovered that we were southeast of Bagdad, Gowanda, and the Zoar Valley.
And due east of Persia.
Strangers in a strange land.
I hadn’t known our state had these outlandish places, in such a pastoral setting, but I liked the idea of eating cheese from such exotic locales.
Bagdad Brie, Persian Pecorino, Gowanda Gorgonzola.
And yes, as you may have guessed, we’d gotten off the interstate, decided to go home cross-country, no GPS, and were a bit lost.
The endless herds of Holsteins were the only familiar faces we’d seen. It’s possible we’d seen some of them more than once, as we zigzagged around.
The roads wandered through pastures, woodlots, little hills. We passed an old guy cutting hay, wearing a wool plaid jacket in August, and as we went around the bend, and up a little hill, we realized there was something strange about our surroundings.
There were no cows to be seen.
No cows whatsoever.
Finding ourselves in a landscape totally vacant of cows made us uneasy.
And then, as we came over the rise, suddenly there were strange metal objects — tall, mysterious, like alien totems, as if we’d entered the territory of some weird cult.
There didn’t seem to be any roadblocks manned by the Children of the Corn, so we kept driving, and found we’d driven into the Griffis Sculpture Park.
A rusted but fantabulous remnant of an ancient but very groovy time, called “The Sixties”.
The wonderful man who created this place was named Larry Griffis, Jr.
He came back to Buffalo after serving in WWII, and started a business making nylon stockings.
During a visit to Italy, he fell in love with sculpture.
I saw a picture of him on the internet, and he reminded me a bit of Van Morrison. His son, and now granddaughter, have kept his workshop in Buffalo going, and the park in East Otto is now hundreds of acres of fields, ponds, and woods, full of sculptures, by Griffis and other artists.
Some are pretty literal creations, like this giraffe, peering into the woods.
Or this giant mosquito.
The woods are full of meandering paths, with abstract creations scattered about.
A pond is surrounded by flying metal geese, and rusted obelisks, which resemble small cellphone towers, as woven from rebar by a cargo cult — some overgrown, some toppled over, and merging into the undergrowth.
A shrine-like creation, marked “Santana,” held an offering of a dozen half-eaten acorns.
What the world needs now…Peace, Love, Rust-Oleum.
Statues and shapes are cast in bronze and aluminum, but most seem to be weathered and rusted iron.
One group resembles chess pieces, another, industrial elements.
We’d arrived quite a distance from the main entrance, where a series of fields and woods harbors some hands-on creations, that you can climb on, and in.
My favorite resembles the conning tower of a submarine, surfacing in a meadow.
My snapshots only show a fraction of the collection. You could easily spend the better part of a day, hiking around and discovering things.
Some of these creations, as the day got close to sundown, seemed a bit spooky, even foreboding.
But the overwhelming vibe of the place is of whimsical creativity and happiness.
So long for now, from atop the conning tower, surfacing somewhere in the Summer of Love.
Pictures were taken with an iPhone 5s. The Griffis Park really isn’t that remote, it’s less than an hour south of Buffalo, and half that driving north from Salamanca. Take a GPS with you. Hugs to the cows.