Monday, October 31, 2005

happy halloween

This pumpkin greet kids from the porch of a beautiful old farmhouse in La Fox. The town area consists of less than a dozen homes, so I don't imagine they'll get alot of trick-or-treat action.

Screen porches always remind me of author Marjorie Kinnan Rawlings home in Cross Creek Florida. Her good sized porch includes a bed (sleeping porch), a table, her typewriter, a small bookshelf and a chair. Marjorie would sit on the porch and write, looking out over an orange grove.

If you're ever in the area around Gainesville, don't miss a visit to Cross Creek. Step back into old Florida, complete with a cracker dog run house out back.

Sunday, October 30, 2005


Beautiful old country churches dot the landscape. Some are simple, some are more ornate and filled with interesting details. To me, the stained glass is always the most interesting element.

I wonder about their design and contruction. Very few are alike, which leads me to wonder who designed them. Certainly this seemingly simple and pleasing combination of three arched windows was not easy to construct. The framing around each had to be a difficult task.

alices place

Tonight at dusk I drove over to Alices Place for one last turtle sundae. Todays the last day of the season and she'll be closed until next spring.

This is one of those small town operations. You can walk up front, order and enjoy your treat at an outside picnic table, or go inside and sit at one of her 8 stools. If you sit inside you can watch her cook at the tiny grill just behind the counter. Space is so tight that she's had to build a small refrigerated storage building out back to house her supplies.

Lots of high school students have worked the summer at Alices, it's a rite of passage and sure beats detassling corn.

With the commuter train coming in from Chicago in December, the nature of the town will change and become gentrified. Alices will give way to something on the order of a Cold Stone Creamery, where a hand mixed designer combination in a hand rolled waffle cone costs somewhere around 6 bucks.

Have a good winter Alice - see you in the spring!

Saturday, October 29, 2005


The open farmlands of northern Illinois would not be the place for you if you're one of those people with a phobia of open spaces. For me fear lies in crossing bridges over open water. The vast spaces of the wide open prairies holds stark and simple beauty.

Two grain storage buildings stand as silent sentinels, stark geometric shapes standing guard at the edge of a thousands acres of corn in Big Rock.

Thursday, October 27, 2005

wind power

Back when wind was a major power source, Batavia, Illinois served as the center of windmill production. Plants hugged the shore of the Fox River and windmills fueled the economy.

The Batavia dam is crumbling and the old factories house newer technologies. Old restored Batavia windmills, and reproductions have been popping up as decor at local restaurants and shopping centers, paying homage to the towns history.

Wednesday, October 26, 2005

blue sky - barn red

Unlike the filtered light of winter, which produces pastel tones of pink and blue, the light of fall is strong and clear, producing saturated scenes. Blood red barns decorate the countryside, competing with the blast of fall colors in the nearby forest. All are putting on a show, one last performance before winter tosses her grey coat over the countryside.

Tuesday, October 25, 2005

organic form

Photographer friends drove out from the city yesterday and we spent the afternoon navigating a corn maze. With civilization creeping closer and closer some of the farmers and businesses are dabbling in "rural tourism". The pumpkin farms have long been successful but some enterprising person planted a corn maze and the craze has taken off.

The day was grey and dreary, not making for good photographs, but I found a while back that when the sky is grey objects under the canopy of trees (or in this case cornstalks) photograph very well. So, I took to crawling around, looking for surprises Mother Nature had created. This lovely form was one treasure.

Sunday, October 23, 2005


All you need to go into the pumpkin business is a small piece of land and some pumpkin seeds. Most small roadside pumpkin stand are on the honor system. This person had the pumpkins marked with little signs, and you simply leave the money in a box.

Likewise, the fresh egg businesses. One farm wife has a refrigerator next to one of the outbuildings. You take the eggs out of the fridge and leave the money in a container. It's called trust - it works.

Saturday, October 22, 2005

lonely tree

It occurred to me that I hadn't yet subjected you to a "lonely tree" photo. Well, it's about time.

This, of course, is technically a "lonely trees" photo, but since their standing with their arms outstretched and holding hands, we'll view them as one entity.

Critics will say of course ..... trite - yeah, don't care.....lacking tension - it's in the middle of nowhere, no tension in this spot.

Please enjoy the trite lonely trees. I love 'em, got a million of these shots. Gotta love a lonely tree.

Friday, October 21, 2005

mill creek

The first time I featured Mill Creek, on May 3rd, the willows were leafing out. This is perhaps my favorite spot in the surrounding area. I has almost a storybook feel to it. Streams are usually hidden, meandering along in the massive farmland, only crossing rural roads at a few points. The sad part is that if you mention Mill Creek, 99.9 percent of the population will think only of the huge McMansion community the developer named after the waterway. Mill Creek doesn't exactly lead anywhere, but from the nearby Fox River it would be possible for me to reach the Illinois, and on to the Mississippi and the Gulf of Mexico. That's a lovely daydream for the armchair river runner.

Thursday, October 20, 2005


Nothing says fall to me like shocks of corn stalks. You only see them nowadays bunched around mailboxes in fancy subdivisions, tastefully arranged displays with pumpkins and scarecrows from the local craft store.

Every fall the Chicago Tribune publishes a old piece of artwork called "Injun Summer". In the first frame a grandfather and his grandson look out over the field, with corn shocks standing and a low mist rising. In the next frame it's twilight and the scene transforms. The shocks are teepees and the mist is smoke from the campfire and Indians dance around the fire.

Wednesday, October 19, 2005


Wind and weather work together as natural archaeologists, removing a layer to reveal the original boards of the old barn. Strangely, the vertical boards have no battens, as is traditional in barn building. The horizontal siding is curious and since this is a very large barn, leaves one wondering how many board-feet were required to clad the structure....and why.

Tuesday, October 18, 2005


It's harvest time in the midwest. Many of the fields were plowed under or cut down for silage a month ago. Some of the fields held on and will produce a crop albeit with diminshed yields.

The big machinery scoops the corn between the metal fingers, passing it back along the mechanical guts. Dark golden kernels of corn travel up a conveyer and deposited in a trailer. Then it's off to the silver minarets - the grain elevators.

Monday, October 17, 2005

coal train

No, not the musician, but the real coal train, running east towards Chicago, passing through tiny LaFox, Illinois every morning just before 8 a.m.

Stacked between the tracks are the railroad ties for the new rails on the left. This is the new line bringing commuter trains further west, forever changing a way of life, as did the railroads many, many years ago.

Sunday, October 16, 2005


Another abandoned property, soon to be blanketed with "Big Homes - Less Money!" as the advertising claims.

First appears the surveyors, not far behind the silt plastic fencing running sometimes for a mile or so. Big machinery comes in to scrape off black topsoil, thousands of years in the making.


The First Baptist Church of Geneva has such a burgeoning membership they've created a "west campus". The church building itself resembles, as I've mentioned before, a junior high school building. After finishing the church building and parking lot, workers launched into the construction of the bell tower. The work looked fairly dangerous to me as masons labored on scaffolding that literally reached to the heavens. The bell tower is quite high, and of course it looms over the pancake flat countryside.

At the end of last week the spire lay on its side in the parking lot and it appeared that parishoners were placing something inside - a time capsule perhaps? And then....whoosh, a large crane lifted the structure to the top of the tower.

Friday, October 14, 2005


This is fall in the midwest.

Foggy, misty mornings, sunlight and water droplets conspiring to create a mystical landscape.

This represents my morning commute.

Thursday, October 13, 2005


Most old barns have a tack room, and a place to store implements. There's no reason to get rid of them, and besides where would you take them? There were no dumps back then, and anyway, you never know when the new-fangled equipment might break down.

Each time I enter one of these old barns, I'm reminded of the scene in "Twister", where they seek refuge in the barn, only to find the walls lined with items that look like tools of torture. There were in a way, as hand and oxen powered farming was hard physical work.

Wednesday, October 12, 2005


This is the crew from Big Rock, Illinois, helping to fight the horse barn fire. Out in the countryside most of the fire departments are volunteer. Our small towns and villages do not have the tax base to support the manpower for a fire station. So these people, including farmers, construction workers, mechanics, high school teachers and others put the time and their lives on the line. Fire departments from all the surrounding areas helped on this fire. And just so you realize, there's no source of water except for what they carry in the truck. The high school that was about 2 miles from the fire has it's own water tower and hydrant, so the trucks were ferrying back and forth to fill up. As soon as these guys filled up, the next truck was waiting in line. Using that method you'd be surprised how quickly they struck the fire.

Tuesday, October 11, 2005

fully involved

On the way home from work last week I noticed a slight smudge in the sky. That could only mean one thing - fire. I was headed toward R.F. Houtz's to get my tractor tire repaired and knowing that the only structures in the westerly direction included the high school and some farms, I made the decision to investigate.

There's always a camera, or two or three packed in a backpack in the trunk. Unfortunately the "big gun" with telephoto lenses was back at the ranch, batteries being recharged.

From the time I spotted the slight grey smudge until I arrived on the scene was only about 3 miles and 5 minutes time. There was no way getting closer, the small country road was blocked off and starting to clog with small town volunteer fire departments (more about that later). Everyone be in awe of my drive to get the shot. I marched about 3/4 of an acre into a really rough field in really bad shoes.

The corn was high enough (in it's pathetic state) to obscure the large horse barn that literally became this fully involved in about 5 minutes. There are no speculations yet as to the cause of the blaze, but 31 horses were killed. Hay stacked in a barn can reach an inner temperature to ignite, but we will see what the investigating ATF has to say about it.

Fire is a dangerous and awesome, and wickedly beautiful power. I think that man cannot even dream of the power that mother nature is able to unleash. In the days of pioneers a prairie fire was an unspoken terror.

Monday, October 10, 2005

green jewel

This still life study is a walnut. I'm not quite sure if it's an English or Black Walnut and must admit that I knew nothing about how walnuts grew. About 30 of these were lying under a tree at Garfield Farm Museum. A young school-age volunteer grabbed one up and split it open, explaining that inside this hull was a substance that would stain everything black. This is the size of a large lemon, so you can understand why a bag of walnut meats is so expensive.

Thursday, October 06, 2005

gone fishing....again

I'm leaving tomorrow for Maryland. Going fishing for some crab. Or is it crabbing for some crab? This picture was actually taken off the shrimp boat docks in McClellanville, South Carolina one of my other "gone fishing" adventures.

I'm meeting up with some old friends in Baltimore and we're going to eat all the crab cakes that we can find.

Perhaps I'll find some interesting things to photograph out east. You never know.



Here's one good thing about the country. This is R.F. Houtz and he owns the local small tractor dealership in the next town. I had arrived at lunch time looking to have my tractor tire repaired.

Houtz's closes down (well, sort of) around lunch time, to eat and play cards. This local gentleman had dropped in, not to buy a tractor or schedule a repair, but to talk. Sometimes that's how business is done around here. Sometimes it's not so much business as maintaining relationships.

Houtz just came back from a dealership convention, where they told him the secret to future success would be to provide the new customers (a.k.a. multi-million dollar homeowners moving in) with a shiny showroom, clean floors, beautiful lighting and snappy organization.

I don't know.....I've been doing business with Rob for 12 years and his operation is just fine with me. It may look unorganized, but he knows where everything is. He has the patchwork of carpet cleaned every year, whether it needs it or not. The lighting.....mood lighting, I say. And I'm pretty fond of the 1950's lamp on a shelf over his desk. The printer could use a little dusting though.

On the subject of maintenance and repair my thought process runs like this - I don't trust a repair shop that is sleek and sexy. They don't repair things in a place like that, they simply replace "units" or switch out complete systems.

Here's how business was conducted this day.

"Rob, I need this tire repaired."

"OK, pick it up in an hour."

"I gotta get back to work and I don't get off until 5."

"Well, I leave the tire by the front door here...just slip a check for $20 under the door."

"OK, good doing business with you."

Without an aggressive business plan, without dog-eat-dog salemen, without a slick operation, and with locals using his place as a kind of gathering place - many times not buying a damn thing, he's made a living for himself and put a kid through chiropractic college.

I won't belabor the point, but that's why we moved out here. And I can't be happy about the changes that are washing over our area. R.F. will retire, and the tractor dealership will one day resemble a Porsche showroom.

the watched pot

Who says a watched pot never boils? If you put enough wood on the fire it will.

The chicken fricasee looked pretty darn good, but perhaps because we were outside, there wasn't much aroma wafting around.'s near Chicago, you know.

chicken fricasee

It was a very warm Injun Summer day, too warm for cooking chicken fricasee outside in the yard, but that's exactly what this volunteer was doing. I'm sure the chicken in the pot was from the local food store and not one of the museum farms rare breed Java chickens. They were safely tucked in the hen house busy laying eggs.

She did have some beautiful root vegetables displayed on the table, dug up from the small ktichen garden behind the inn.

Wednesday, October 05, 2005

corn sheller

Early settlers could only work a piece of land that was matched in size to their ability to do the work involved. They first engaged in subsistance farming, producing just enough crop to support their livestock and their family.

New inventions allowed them to reduce the time needed for each chore, and this increased the size of land they could farm and crop they could process, creating a surplus. The surplus allowed them to move from subsistance farming to the marketplace.

This young volunteer (you gotta love kids that get involved in history) was operating a corn sheller. The whole corn cob was fed into the top, the wheel turned by hand which stripped the corn, feeding it into a box, and tossing the bare cob into a barrel.

I had my eye on those corn cobs. I'm fixing to whip up a batch of corn cob jelly!

red hot

Clank....clank.....the blacksmith's hammer make a distinctive sound as hammer strikes red hot metal. This seemed to me to have an element of danger, the heavy hammer and the glowing metal capable of causing harm. The blacksmith and his assistant were engaged in a conversation about how they would never shoe horses because of the danger! I had to laugh at that statement in light of their occupation.


No, he's not barbecuing bratwurst. This blacksmith works his trade at Garfield Farm Harvest Days. Heat and muscle transform a piece of metal into matching gate hinges. He was using coal as a fuel and had an assistant who was cranking a hand operated bellows.

Tuesday, October 04, 2005

evoking the past

Accompanying the young musician with the fiddle and mandolin was this man, using the simplest of instruments, a small flute. I know nothing about these things, but this sounded like those Irish flutes you hear in celtic recordings. It was lovely and simple and seemed to harken back a to a time when immigrants brought their music culture to their new homes. Many thanks to this volunteer for giving of his time and talent.

whiskey for breakfast

The young musician was playing an especially haunting tune. The blacksmith's assistant, working just to the right said, "I can play that tune, it's Whiskey for Breakfast." I'll take his word for that. Garfield Farm Museum is a large operation, lots of livestock, barns and outbuildings, gardens and the Inn which is a museum house. All this is run with only two full-time employees and as you can imagine, an army of volunteers. Some of the volunteers commit to daily tasks, and some volunteer for special occassions. The music was very lovely and simple... old tunes performed using only two instruments. It's a very clean sound. Simply lovely.

Sunday, October 02, 2005


For the next week or so I'll share the photographs taken today at Garfield Farm Museum's Harvest Fest. This wonderful operation is run by two full-time employees and an army of committed volunteers. There were lots of wonderful photo ops, and hopefully I captured some of interest.

This gentleman was dressed as an acultured Pottawatomie indian. I was quite surprised to find as this man walked away from me, that his upper legs were actually naked. He was wearing a loin cloth and some very different half-pants.

Indians, including my great-grandmothers tribe the Seminoles, acquired bits of culture as they were exposed to white settlers. They pick and chose which dandy clothing items to incorporate into their wardrobe. In the case of the Seminoles, who were originally Creek indians, included bits of Caribbean and Cuban elements, since they traded heavily with those people. Seminoles sported turbans and silver gorgets.

This gentleman wears a hat, a Christian cross, silver coins and more. The Pottawatomies inhabited the Fox River Valley before being forced west by the advance of settlers.


The steeple of the Congregational Church is silhouetted against a stormy sky. This is a newer church, larger in design and scale than the small country houses of worship. It stands at the edge of community of upscale homes. These churches have large congregations and are financially able to support the large buildings. The small country churches continue to struggle with maintenance and upkeep.

Saturday, October 01, 2005


The thing about living in a small town is that you know just about everyone. That can be good and that can be bad. There's an intertwining of personal stories, a complicated interweaving of lives and relationships. Even if you don't know a person, chances are there's only one or at the most two degrees of separation.

It was a clear, beautiful morning, and on my way to run some errands I stopped at the Lily Lake Cemetery which stands at the top of a small rise at the edge of our small town. The highest point is at the back where the narrow paved path turns to curve back down to the road.

I stop and visit Cody's grave now and then. He was a high school friend of my daughters who was killed in car accident. I walked around and looked at the names on the headstones, all familiar - Eckstrom, Hanson and other names that represent founders of this farming community.

I spotted "Sportsman". I didn't know that Garry was buried here in Lily Lake. He was a co-worker of mine, a wonderful man. Garry was one of those guys who worked with a smile on his face (he was the maintenance man at our office building). He never complained, and was what you would say a quiet, simple man.

And here on his headstone was something I never knew about Garry. He served in VietNam and earned a Bronze Star. He was an honest and hard working man.....and he is missed.