I've shared plenty here about feral dogs; I have heard people here use the word "feral" because so many of Detroit's strays learn to survive long-term on their own. Feral, used in this sense, means they have reverted to a wild state, as from domestication. Our word feral comes from the Latin root fera, or "wild beast," but it also has a connection to another Latin word, feralis, literally: belonging to the dead.

I've seen "feral" used to describe dogs, cats, even goats. But I have wondered if it couldn't also be used to describe certain houses in Detroit. Abandoned houses are really no big deal here. Some estimate that there are as many as 10,000 abandoned structures at any given time, and that seems conservative. But for a few beautiful months during the summer, some of these houses become "feral" in every sense: they disappear behind ivy or the untended shrubs and trees planted generations ago to decorate their yards. The wood that framed the rooms gets crushed by trees rooted still in the earth. The burnt lime, sand, gravel, and plaster slowly erode into dust, encouraged by ivy spreading tentacles in its endless search for more sunlight.

Like some of the dogs I've seen using these houses as shelter (I followed a whole pack into #9 last week), these houses are reverting to a wild state, as from domestication, a word derived itself from domesticus (the Latin for belonging to the domus, or house). Now these houses are feralis. They belong only to the dead.

This is just a handful of the photos I have of such places. I have dozens more (the lighting conditions were fairly similar in this selection taken over the course of three summers). Among the abandoned houses of Detroit, the lucky ones aren't burned completely or bulldozed, but allowed to be consumed by the foliage once meant to beautify them. This is something that has obviously been fascinating me lately. We might see ghosts of lives lived well within these walls, sentimentalize the structures and feel sad that they have been allowed to go wild. . .

But to borrow from Whitman: ". . .as to you [House] I think you are good manure, but that does not offend me,/I smell the white roses sweet-scented and growing, I reach to the leafy lips,/ I reach to the polish'd breasts of melons."

* * * * *

These images come from the period of 2006-2009, and most of these structures are now gone. Visit this post to see more images of feral houses that were taken in late 2009-2010. To see the full gallery of 100+ feral houses I've documented, visit my portfolio site here.

Buy affordable limited prints of Feral House #7 and Feral House #13 at 20x200.