Friday, December 30, 2005
I think people out in the country appreciate art as much as the next guy, but it's not anytime soon that Christo and his wife will erect giant umbrellas in the soybean fields, or ring the cattle ponds with pink fabric.
We'll have to be satisfied with a home-grown form of artwork - a huge fallow cornfield dotted with McMansions-in-progress wrapped in blue plastic. There are a dozen or so just a half mile from here. The entryways framed in scaffolding and bright blue plastic protecting the tradesmen as they apply any number of decorative stonework touches.
It's a bit jarring to drive around the bend and see all this garish blue plastic in a landscape of white and brown. Maybe Christo would approve, perhaps not ... since it didn't begin as a "concept".
There seem to be an inordinate number of terrible accidents on the rural roads around here. The ubiquitous white crosses are everywhere, some intersections or curves piled with more than a few indicating the dangerous nature of the spot.
Having a Mack truck barreling towards you on a snowy, blowy, slippery day is more than enough inspiration to slow down and pay close attention to your driving. The one car accidents are usually caused by excessive speed, and it's easy to do on a lonely road, tooling along without other cars to set the pace your speed increases, almost unknowingly. That is, until you realize those Holsteins are just a blur as you whiz by.
Wednesday, December 28, 2005
Waves appear on the surface of the Fox River. A closer look reveals that they are frozen in place, the effect of whitecaps are created as the drifting snow nestles on the leading edge.
A large contingent of Canada Geese set up camp on the edges of the still unfrozen open water. Crashing waves, seemingly frozen in mid-air are an awesome sight on the larger Lake Michigan.
Tuesday, December 27, 2005
An old milking shed has long outlived its usefulness. It decays slowly, standing alone in the elements, unheated, uncared for. The building, like some kind of radioactive isotope, loses vitality at a mathmatically determined rate, the decaying processes taking its toll.
Buildings in their prime exude a beauty that comes with usefulness and maintenance, the hand of man shows, caring for the structure. As the shed ages, things fall slowly to disrepair and simply look tired and tacky. The interesting stage comes when it passes into what we'll call desolate beauty, when it's crumbling features take on a beauty of their own, a character cloaked in the silvery patina of old age.
Monday, December 26, 2005
Stopping By Woods On A Snowy Evening
Whose woods these are I think I know.
His house is in the village though;
He will not see me stopping here
To watch his woods fill up with snow.
My little horse must think it queer
To stop without a farmhouse near
Between the woods and frozen lake
The darkest evening of the year.
He gives his harness bells a shake
To ask if there is some mistake.
The only other sound's the sweep
Of easy wind and downy flake.
The woods are lovely, dark and deep.
But I have promises to keep,
And miles to go before I sleep,
And miles to go before I sleep.
- Robert Frost
We've visited this bend in Mill Creek several times before, but I've always found it to be a lovely spot in any season. Here it dons its winter cloak, the large willow clinging to the slim leaves.
As I've mentioned, very few residents of the upscale subdivision bearing the name "Mill Creek" would be aware that there acutally is a creek, which their community was name after. This bend lies north of the subdivision on a dusty gravel road. The condition of the road pretty much assures the loneliness of the spot.
Sunday, December 25, 2005
"For unto you is born this day, in the City of David, a saviour which is Christ the Lord."
This lovely watercolor representation was created by a member of the nearby Christ Community Church. Cheryl Smith is only one of a large number of creative people who lend their talents to the church community. In addition to musical gifts, dancers, videographers and photographers, traditional artists participate.
Once a month a theme is determined and artists submit their work for display. For the christmas season 23 small canvases were distributed and each artist was assigned a letter, the combination of which spelled out the phrase, "For unto you is born.......". It's always amazing to see the different talents and styles.
Merry Christmas to all. May you have a joyous time, however you choose to celebrate this time of year. Many thanks for all the people who view and participate in my efforts. My intention, beyond fulfilling my creative urges, is to present my little corner of the world and promote a better understanding of those in the heartland.
"I bring you good tidings of great joy, that will be for all people."
Saturday, December 24, 2005
This oval shaped building is a corn crib, and this particular style of crib is my favorite. This particular crib is a type made of a concrete type substance that is fireproof. Notice the slotted areas which provide air circulation and the iron bands that encircle and strengthen the structure. The feature at the top houses machinery for a conveyor system that loaded grain into the crib.
The grain stored in this crib was used to feed the farmers livestock. Grain for sale is stored in large co-op graineries, usually there's one in each rural town, and a huge regional grain storage facility. This crib stands in the direct path of new development, and farmers in this area have moved on, of those that remain few keep their own livestock.
It would be interesting to think of new uses for some of these building.
Friday, December 23, 2005
Nestled in this windbreak of trees stands the only farmhouse on Swanberg Road. There's a grass roots effort to buy up farmland before the developers move in, creating open space areas. Sounds like a decent plan, but most of the open space land already purchased is lying fallow, the fields empty except for weeds. It seems the groups have not thought about the problem of utilization and maintenance.
Some, wisely, have rented out the land to local farmers for planting, until viable plans can be developed for useage.
One plan did surface that enraged our local populace. One day while driving down Swanberg I noticed a sign had popped up in the field, "Future site of Poyner Recreation Area". It sent the mind to spinning - groomed snowmobile and cross country trails maybe? No........the plan was for 15 baseball and soccer fields - - 15 - - with enough parking to support those fields. And large stanchion lighting for night play. Basically in my neighbors back yard. And the kicker was that usage was only for the soccer and baseball groups from communities about 10 miles away. Our kids couldn't even use this "recreation area".
Certainly not our idea of "open space". It's been challenged, and for now, we've won the battle. Not yet the war.
This was taken at the side of yesterdays lonely road. It is, in fact, quite lonely. This road runs north and south for only about a mile, and it's only purpose is to connect two other rural roads. It also provides access to the only farmhouse on this stretch of road. One house, one barn, a couple outbuildings and unfortunately another item.
Check the photo out carefully. Like the old puzzles where you had to search the drawing for what "didn't belong", this image contains a portend of things to come. There's a small stake in the center, with a piece of blaze orange surveyors tape tied at the top. This is the harbinger of developers.
I my vivid imagination I bring the trees alive, Ents from the Lord of Rings stalk the fields and rip out all of the surveyors markers, temporarily saving the fields from destruction, or development, however your point of view runs.
Thursday, December 22, 2005
As if an avant garde artist, creating a temporary masterpiece, Mother Natures brilliant show disappears as the sun rises towards its apex. The darker surfaces of the tree trunks give up the sugary coating first, as the rays of the sun heat up the surfaces.
As if to rewards those willing to live in the unforgiving cold, Mother Nature rewards us with scenes of unparalled beauty. One of her most dramatic effects is something called hoarfrost. A quick search on the internet could provide a scientific explanation, but that knowledge would add nothing to the experience. Some things are best left to the realm of magic.
In the evening the moon casts it's light across the snow, creating a scene of stark contrasts. You fall asleep in the purple and blue glow, unaware of what will await you the next morning. Rising early you walk to the window and discover that the entire landscape has been blanketed with a white sugary coating - hoarfrost.
Falling snow lands and collects only on the upper edges of the branches, but hoarfrost covers every surface in it's glittering shards of frost.
Wednesday, December 21, 2005
There are no used car lots out here. Don't need them. Just park your car/truck/tractor next to the barn, facing the roadway, put a sign "For Sale" on it and prepare to bargain.
People often wonder why there are so many junk cars on rural property. Where are you going to take the car when it dies? To a junkyard? Well, in some cases that's a hundred miles or more. How are you going to get it there? Tow trucks charge per mile....times a hundred miles. Besides it provides wildlife with some cover.
And don't forget the best reason of all to hang on to the old Chevelle - - because a car restoration buff will give you big money 30 years down the road! And....he'll haul it away.
Tuesday, December 20, 2005
Danger still lurks, long after the snowstorm has passed. It's said the Eskimos have up to 40 words for snow, and this would represent the situation after a snowstorm of the variety that is a bit dry and grainy.
Farms and outbuilding or wooded areas along the roadway serve as a windbreak, preventing snow from blowing across the highway. In this case we're just passing a farm that's surrounded by woods and you can see the pavement is clear, but just ahead as the highway passes through open fields, the strong west wind has kicked up the snow, creating a drifting situation.
This can be dangerous especially if you're not familiar with the roads. On a bright sunny day you can come up over a hill, or around a bend to find the road is drifted shut. This can happen as fast as 10-15 minutes after the snow plows have passed through. My husband once drove up and over a small rise only to bury the nose of the car into a 6 foot drift. Now you're in trouble because if there's another vehicle coming up behind they'll plow into you. If you can get out of the car (think about pushing a car door open against chest deep snow) you'll be faced with trudging through deep snow. Some snow can support your weight and some cannot.
This is a situation we rarely face, as conditions must be right for the super drifting to occur. The trunk in winter contains - a blanket, a shovel, a bag of salt (for weight and traction), hazard marker, candy bars or granola bars (honestly, you never know), an old rug. The old rug can be wedged under a real tire to "grab" and get you out of some sticky situations.
I know alot of you live in warmer climates and can't understand it, but i count myself as one of those people who loves winter, loves the snow and loves the change of seasons and variety. To be a dyed in the wool midwesterner, you gotta love a challenge!
Monday, December 19, 2005
My relationship with the old barn didn't begin until after it ended it's life of usefulness. The renters moved out of the farmhouse and it was demolished, the basement filled in leaving no footprint that a house had ever existed.
In the late fall I decided to start photographing the barn. It stands on a small piece of land owned by the Village. The remainder of the land is in development, million dollar mansions being built on the open farmland. The villages' original plan was to convert the barn to a village hall and community center, but when the price tag for renovation came in at well over a million dollars, the plans were abandoned.
It's ironic that an area that will soon boast mega-million dollars in residential properties cannot bear the burden of the barn rehab. Our small community is home to only two businesses, and only one of those, the gas station on Route 64, collects sales tax.
Small communities such as ours represents local government in its smallest garden variety. There are about 750 residents, but certainly that includes pets and livestock. We struggle to maintain the 8 miles of roads that fall to our responsibility. There's no police force or fire station, those services are provided by the county. And so it is that we chose to build a more affordable village hall and contracted a firm to dismantel the old barn.
The Flemish bond brick foundation is all that remains. This property will be a park for our village, and they are hoping to include the foundation as part of the plan.
I'm not sure there are more than a dozen people who remember what this milking room looked like before it was transformed into an empty shell. I'm glad to be one of them.
Sunday, December 18, 2005
The Congregational Church in Fox Mill is silhouetted against a strange looking atmospheric sunrise.
The older churches out in the countryside are small traditional structures. The newer congregations in the approaching development are larger with a modern flair. The smaller churches tend to burn a person out, as there's not much of a volunteer labor pool to keep things running. The new large churches allow you to get lost in the crowd, so to speak.
Some buildings have taken on new lives as places of worship for other religions. When the Lutherans build a new structure on Plank Road, a sect, the Shridi Sai took up residence in the old white church on Route 47. And so the building lives on as a place of worship.
Saturday, December 17, 2005
At some point as a midwesterner you become aware of the wind. Of course on some level you're aware of the wind your whole life, but not in a cognizant way. You never fully realize that the wind is an element of the landscape, as much as the sky or terra firma. It's the invisible element that defines the place.
Usually it isn't until you move elsewhere, or spend a significant block of time away from home the thought creeps in that something is missing. Things seem off-kilter, something's not quite right and you can't put your finger on it. The wind, where's the wind? Where's the driving, punishing enforcer of the weather gods, the force that turns cornfields into valleys of the moon, that pushes snow across the scene like a sandstorm in the Sahara?
Every place had it's silent element. In areas of the south it's the smell. I can get off a plane, take a deep breath and memories and visions of the south fill my brain. A heady cocktail of sandy soil and pine needles takes me back to the Florida panhandle with an old pickup truck bumping along the back roads, the bed loaded with kids anticipating a swim in the old sand pond.
Friday, December 16, 2005
I like to visit the cemetery in all kinds of weather. It's a place of quiet contemplation, a beautiful hilltop location that looks down a gently sloping hillside to the west. It's interesting that in the tradition of the Indians, all the graves are lined up east to west, everyone buried with their heads facing the rising sun.
My daughters friend Cody is buried here, and I visit when I'm driving by and have the time. It's a matter of respect, for him and his family.
My family cemetery is located on a hilltop overlooking the Cumberland River in northern Tennessee. The maintenance of a cemetery is alot of work, and a labor of love and again, respect for our ancestors. We would help my elderly uncle as he mowed and generallly cleaned the area, which is probably 5 or 6 acres. In the heat of the day we'd sit and rest on the low concrete wall surrounding the graves of my grandfather and his wives, one of whom died in the influenza epidemic and the other died shortly after my mothers birth.
We would sit a spell in the southern tradition, talking about old times and stories about the people who now laid at rest in the Nesbitt cemetery. My uncle is gone and he now rests among the others.
Thursday, December 15, 2005
Perhaps Mother Nature compensates for the cold weather by putting on a show each morning and evening. As the sun rises on the horizon, a sliver of the sky turns a creamy pink. Thousands of miles from the beach on Ambergris Caye in Belize, I'm reminded of the smooth pink interior of the conch shell lying at the edge of the bay.
Morning light bathes the snow in blue light, and I honestly can't say these sunrises are any less beautiful than the tropical variety.
Wednesday, December 14, 2005
No this isn't a photo of Fargo, North Dakota. It's just that everytime I drive a snowy rural road I'm reminded of when the movie Fargo was released.
The critics waxed poetic about the landscape, making it a silent character of sorts. In all seriousness they discussed the exotic desolate landscape as if it was the valleys of the moon. On and on they went until it began to seem silly to a midwesterner. Nah, that's not an exotic dangerous landscape, it's just rural route 43, only dangerous if you slide off into a culvert and are covered by a snowdrift before another car drives by.
I'll tell you right now, you're gonna get plenty sick of snowy-landscape-with-farms-in-the-distance photos. That's all that on the menu these days and it's snowing again as we speak. Perhaps I'll switch indoors and get some shots of the mountains of Christmas cookies we'll be baking over the next week or so.......hmmmmm.
Tuesday, December 13, 2005
There's no island in this part of the Fox River called Goose Island. It occurred to me that this huge congregation of Canada Geese actually made up an island. Thousands and thousands of geese were gathered along the edges of open water, creating an unbelievable sight.
Unfortunately this area of the river is difficult to approach and in flat Illinois there are few points of high elevation from which to capture a broad view. This was taken from a car window as we traveled over the bridge. And no, I was not driving the car (this time).
Monday, December 12, 2005
The morning after the snowstorm, acres of cornfield are transformed by the white blanket. The occasional cornstalk or silo in the distance are the only features as land and sky meld together in a frosty image. The view is not quite monotone as the light of winter creates beautiful pink and blue tones.
This is not acutally a white out, which is a very dangerous atmospheric condition. I've driven in a white out and can honestly say it's the only time in my very long life that I've been truly frightened. A huge snowstorm blanketed everything, making the landscape totally featureless. The roads had not yet been plowed, so it was not clear where the road ended and where the field began. It was continuing to snow and thus the sky was color of the ground snow - - and it had warmed up enough that it was foggy! That's a white out.
Luckily I knew the road very well, and fainty, ever so faintly, I could make out the very top of some fence posts on the right hand side. Mentally I calculated in my head the distance of the fence posts from the road, and driving slowly I was able to keep the car on the road. It's what we call in the midwest "White Knuckle White Out Time".
Saturday, December 10, 2005
There's nothing better than a snowy evening, when you know there's no where to go and nothing to do but light a fire and doze off by the light of the Christmas tree.
It's snowing heavily and firing up the tractor to plow the drive will wait until morning. For now it's a good book and a glass of wine.
Stay safe everyone.
Thursday, December 08, 2005
Here's Christmas in LaFox, a tiny community about 6 miles from my home. I'm not quite sure how many people would be counted into their census, but in the "town" area there are no more than 12 homes. It's a very historic little town with lovely old homes and one large barn. The people in LaFox have set up a Christmas tree sale at the barn.
This lovely, lovely town breaks my heart every morning when I drive through. This is the last little La Fox Christmas. The commuter train station is located just a few thousand feet down the tracks from the center of the small community - no town really, just a post office and a quilt shop. In January the trains will begin to bring commuters to the station. The developers already are in place with a sales office set up in the old one room schoolhouse. Soon the charm of La Fox will be transformed into one of those make-believe Disneyfied versions of what the town is and was. Baristas will set up shop to be close to the commuters needing early morning coffee and charm galore will be manufactured.
Wednesday, December 07, 2005
As promised yesterday, I dug into the archives in the computer and found the photo that was used for last years Christmas card.
This was one of my favorite barns and I loved to pass by in all seasons. The fact that the fairly modern ranch house was abandoned and boarded up should have been a clue that the developers were moving in. I didn't however, see any surveyors or blaze orange surveyors tape anywhere in sight.
I pulled up into the driveway one Sunday morning to take some photos. It was very quiet and I imagined the teenagers shooting some hoops on the small basketball court on the west side of the barn, after they finished their chores. The barn was once filled with hay and dairy cows.
I pass this way at least once a week. A couple months after this photo was taken I rounded the curve on my weekly trip and was shocked to see nothing. The barn had been razed or dismanteled, the house demolished and the entire area looked bare and small.
Tuesday, December 06, 2005
This is the same farm where we watched corn being loaded into a truck for transport to the grain elevator.
The farmhouse and outbuildings cozy up to the side of a hill. The crops have all been harvested and a fresh dusting of snow makes everything look fresh and clean.
It's unclear what I shall find to photograph in the next few months. Daylight is just breaking on my short drive to work, but it's pitch black when I leave. Grey winter skies do not make for good shooting conditions. So we shall see how disciplined I can be about grabbing enough shots on the weekends to fill in during the week. Perhaps I'll resort to trolling the archives of unpublished photos buried deep in my computer.
Monday, December 05, 2005
No farmer could make a living off selling Christmas trees, but it does provide a little extra money in the wintertime.
Most of the cut-your-own tree places around here were actually planted by the older farmers many years ago, and the operation "given" to their kids as a way to make some extra money. A few acres were set aside, planted and the trees were allowed to mature. Only a certain number may be harvested each year, allowing the others to grow for the following year.
Unfortunately with liability insurance issues and droughts, many of the Christmas tree farms have given up selling to the public.
This is Zieglers, on McDonald Road. In the summer time they sell regular trees and perennials.
Sunday, December 04, 2005
Members of The Little Home Church by the Wayside, in the small community of Wayne, Illinois, gather each year to decorate the santuary in a time honored traditional called the hanging of the greens.
This church was built by early settlers and resembles houses of worship in New England in it's simplicity and design.
Mrs. Richardson and her friend sat in the back pew for as many years as I can remember. Her friend has passed away and Mrs. Richardson, who turned 100 years old this year, rarely attends church anymore. But the traditions that her generation and those before her instituted, live on with a few new twists.
Everyone who wishes to participate is given a task, and even the children help out. On the evening of the Christmas pageant, live animals (sheep, goats and occasionally a donkey) inhabit the creche just outside the door. One year the donkey brayed loudly through the entire pageant. The littlest newborn in the congregation serves as baby Jesus as the children reenact the Christmas story on the altar. Younger boys serving as cherubs look forward to the day they can move up to being shepherds.