Friday, April 29, 2005
Pennington corn cribs stand empty at the edge of a field. Once they were filled to the brim with deep butter yellow cobs of dried corn. After the harvest, the corn plant leaves were used for silage, the husks to make brooms, and the cobs were placed in the cribs to dry naturally. These two cribs would have provided enough feed for the livestock to make it through the winter. There are a few still in use...not many.
As robins are the harbingers of spring, so are surveyors the harbiners of destruction. It's a matter of perspective I suppose. Those who are eager for progress would see them as the sign of good things to come, but those who have chosen a quiet path of hard work in the country know it means an end to their time here. They must move on, or adapt to the culture change. This scene is just 9 miles to the east. The farmhouse, barn, oubuildings and two small pasture are all that remain of a large farm. The large expanses that were once cornfields are now carpeted with tract homes, and the earth movers gnaw away at the last field to make was for the construction of a new middle school. I stood for 30 minutes or longer, watching the work, taking an occasional photo, as the huge machinery snaked back and forth, first removing the deep black topsoil and later the ochre colored clay. At this point these dozers moved in and carpeted the edges of the pit with topsoil. I observed something very interesting as the work progressed. The heavy equipment operator never once took his eyes off the green pasture and the horses grazing, oblivious to the noise of his machine.
Thursday, April 28, 2005
Unused for many years, the McGough Road barn has fallen into disrepair. Season by season the barn red paint has worn away, and the unprotected wood has taken on the patina that comes with age and exposure to the elements. It was quiet, a quiet that allows your mind to wander, undistracted by traffic noise. As I walk at the side of the road it occurs to me that all the life and color of the barn have drained out into the nearby countryside, whose vivid greens of spring make the barn appear in an even sadder state. As I look at the image on the screen it seems an insult....and I hit "greyscale".
Wednesday, April 27, 2005
There are plenty of unusual breeds of livestock across the country. This is a special breed, photographed at last years Rare Breeds Show at the local museum farm. This is a Southdown Baby Doll Sheep, a miniature breed. They all appear to be smiling. Although sheep look very soft, the wool is actually coarse and feel oily, due to the large amount of lanolin in the wool.
The storm passes, leaving the rich, black topsoil soaked. The rain has provided the needed moisture to germinate the recently planted seed. City folk may talk about the weather as a matter of conversation, but in farm country the weather affects the very life and livelihood of those who choose to call it home. In the pasture the grass awakens in a startling flash of color, glowing like a rare emerald.
Tuesday, April 26, 2005
Late in the afternoon the wind shifts slightly and the temperature begins to drop. A storm front appears, racing in from the northwest, bearing down on the open land. A farmer across the field struggles to finish tilling one more row before the storm hits. Horses in the farthest pasture turn their backs to the wind and brace themselves against the chilled air. The front moves fast, and soon it's here.
Snow fencing is rolled into large bundles at stacked on end at the edge of a field. It's work, protecting the roadway from large drifiting, is done for yet another season. Someone has removed the fire numbers from the end of the driveway and leaned against the rolls of fence. The property is abandoned, and the old farmhouse was recently demolished. There's nothing left for the volunteer firemen to save here. One by one, the old homestead disintigrate and pass into history. Old timers driving through this area would find their familiar landmarks gone.
Monday, April 25, 2005
Sunday, April 24, 2005
Only a mile from our place an old barn loom up close to the road. From the distance it appears to be a large ship on on the rolling fields. Our small community looked into the possibility of restoring the barn to serve as our town hall and community center. The architect and engineer determined the cost to be prohibitive. One by one, luxury homes are encircling the barn and soon it will be surrounded. And then it will be demolished, old grey barnwood sold off to antique dealers, or burned as a training exercise for the volunteer department. I've thought long and hard about whether I can be there on that day. I've spent many hours, and taken literally thousands of photographs of this old structure, recording every detail. There's no one left that remembers raising this barn, but perhaps someone should be witness to and record it's death.
Each community has an anchor, whether it be in the country or large urban area. It might be a community center, a coffeehouse, a town hall or a church. Rural areas are most often anchored by their church. Each Sunday I will attempt to show the beauty and simplicity of country churches. This is th e Wasco Bible Church, whose community is in a state of flux between rural and gentrified affluent suburbia. They are living in a tenuous balance for now.
Saturday, April 23, 2005
Large round bales line the edge of a pasture. Without anything nearby to provide a sense of scale it's difficult to realize how large they actually are. The green plastic webbing, encircles the bales like a spider web, and glows in the sunshine. They are magically transformed into fancful candy cigarettes.
Thursday, April 21, 2005
With the farmhouse and barns in the distance, a farmer pulls fertilizer tanks behind the tractor, completing one part of the work involved in putting in a crop. The grassy areas are low spots, purposely left untilled. During heavy spring rainfalls the runoff makes its way down to the center of the green spiral and the thirsty grass replenishes itself, allowing the seeded field to take hold.
I'm always amazed by the strong graphic patterns created in the farming process. Sinuous furrows reach to the horizon and the blackness of the Ilinois soil provides a backdrop to the swirling galaxy of green.
Wednesday, April 20, 2005
Up until a few weeks ago, snow hid in patches along the stream, sheltered from the warming sun by trees and bushes. In the spring the melting snow swells the streams that run along the middle of the field. The small concrete bridge I stand on to take the photograph is still in very good condition and it was built in 1949, when I was just a two year old. Some of the bridges haven't fared so well, and are crumbing under the elements. The beautiful blue sky reflected in the stream is a promise of good things to come. This is one of my favorite photos.
Tuesday, April 19, 2005
The farmer retired over 20 years ago, and the dairy herd was sold off. His son stayed and continued to plant corn and soybeans each season, squeezing out a living on the land. When the developers started to buy up land the farm was finally sold. The family stayed for awhile and then made plans to move on. The young farmer sold the hay that filled the barn, working all day to load the bales on the hay wagon. In the heat of the day he hung his work shirt on the line.....and never returned.
Monday, April 18, 2005
Sunday, April 17, 2005
Look at all those toasters! Debbie is a volunteer Emergency Medical Technician, but today she has the job of buttering toast. Rock and the other firemen are serving up the bacon, sausage and pancakes. Things are hopping back in the kitchen, and the tables in the fire barn have been packed since 7 a.m. and will continue till 12:30. It's hard to believe when you drive across the seemingly empty countryside that this many people reside in the area. Wish you could have joined us, the food was delicious and I met some new people!
We left the house early this morning, and drove out to the firehouse. Today was the pancake breakfast, all you can eat for $5. Quite a deal - pancakes, sausage, bacon, scrambled eggs, toast, juice and coffee. Hungry farmers lined up early, so they could return to the fields and start planting. What can I say about the men who wear this gear? As volunteers they train hard and risk their lives to save our homes, our barns and our lives. This is the fabric of rural life - a strong independence woven with support from your neighbors.
Church provides more than just a chance to celebrate our faith, it serves a social function. When you live separated from your neighbors by several miles, it's a chance to catch up on your lives and what's happening in your community. This area was originally settled by German and Swedish immigrants, and most of the old churches are Lutheran, reflecting that heritage. This is the original St. John's Lutheran, built in the 1800's. The congregation has moved across the road into a modern brick building. This building spent some time as an antique store and now it's the Shridi Sai Temple, the spiritual home to followers of the Shri Sai Baba, who was an Indian holy man & healer. Great diversity is the hallmark of a large urban area, but it's a new concept to rural communities. It seems odd to see the saffron colored flag flying outside a traditionally protestant building, out in the middle of nowhere, but no matter, they are good neighbors and we're glad to see the old church is once again a place of faith.
Saturday, April 16, 2005
On Easter morning I left the house early, allowing some extra time to stop at the Lily Lake cemetery before heading to church. I wanted to visit Cody's grave and leave a small bunch of lilies. Someone had been there and left roses. It's good to know that people still visit after 6 years. It's odd that I make the time to stop if I'm driving past. Cody was a good friend of my daughters, but he never really let me get to know him well. I always felt that Sarah was safe with him, as they rode off on their snowmobiles. He was a good little shade tree mechanic and I knew that if her sled broke down he'd be able to fix it for her. A death such as his is such a waste. Alcohol and fast cars don't mix. As I turned to leave, the sun was pouring gold over the field, and the distant farm was bathed in a soft light. I stopped for one more moment, to record the scene and remember a young man who left too soon.
This is another type of prairie burn, called a community burn. Out in the country, we don't have a budget to hire the professional company, so we conduct the burn ourselves. The community gets together on a hopefully calm day (it's very windy in Illinois), and set a line burn. We ring the field with buckets of water and wet brooms to maintain the perimeter. This photo is from last year and this prairie hadn't been burned in about 3 years. It was choked with dry grasses. The seed heads provide quite a show, as they pop and spark like small firecrackers. This isn't quite as dangerous as it appears, because the surrounding area is new green growth which is not flammable. If we don't burn the prairie, mother nature will, with a lightning strike. This way, we can burn the prairie before the grasses become so choked that an out-of- control fire dangers our properties.
Friday, April 15, 2005
Parcels of farmland in this area are being restored to native prairies. Volunteers harvest seed in the fall and plant new prairies in the spring. The established prairies are burned every other year. These controlled burns helps to remove the dry grasses and stimulate new growth. The one I photographed today was done by a company that contracts their services to towns across the U.S. This particular type of prairie burn is called a flank burn. Instead of setting a wide fire line, these men ignited the grasses at intervals. The grass burns outwards and the result is there are small patches left untouched. These patches serves as shelter for birds and small wildlife until the new growth appears. The workman is not attempting to extinguish the fire, but to simply control the outer edges, preventing it from spreading towards the nearby farm. The burnt ground looks like a wasteland, but in a little over a month, this will be green and lush.
Thursday, April 14, 2005
The sign reads, "Posted - Private Property. Hunting, fishing, trapping or trespassing for any purpose is strictly forbidden. Violators will be prosecuted." This farm has been abandoned for years. The farmer has retired or moved further west. This is on the edge of an area that is being gobbled up by developers. The farmhouse is long gone and all that remains is the barn and a few outbuildings. Although it is abandoned, it's still someone's property and so it is an unwritten law to respect that. I stand behind the orange rope that's been hastily tied around old fence posts. There's nothing on the sign about taking photographs, but I keep my distance. It's a good practice because these properties can be very dangerous. Old wells might be hidden under vegetation, and no matter how sturdy the old barn looks, they are very unstable. This barn depicts what I refer to as beauty in decay.
Wednesday, April 13, 2005
Sometimes out in the country, a cemetery may only be 6 headstones in the middle of a cornfield. This cemetery lies just outside Kings, Illinois (population estimated at 40). There's a revolutionary war veteran buried here, and it is, in fact, in the middle of a cornfield. One thing is for sure, if you stay with me for awhile you will see this cemetery again and again. I photograph it in every season, and every time of the day, whenever I have the time to drive the distance(1 hour). In the late spring the cornstalks begin to encirlcel the small plot and at the end of summer the space is claustrophobic, surrounded on all sides by corn reaching for the sky. In the winter it's a cold and bleak scene, and as snow clouds skitter across the sky you wonder how these people came to be buried in such a lonely place.
Tuesday, April 12, 2005
Lines of trees were planted as wind breaks after the devastating dust bowl of the 1930's. It was an attempt to stop erosion from the strong winds that blow from west to east across the prairies. Some farmhouses lie a half mile or more from the main road and before the trees leaf out in the spring, the tangle of branches arched overhead present a foreboding image like something out of a Brothers Grimm fairy tale. Enter at your own risk, as the sign at the end of the gravel road states
"Posted - Keep Out".
Monday, April 11, 2005
Throughout the year the countryside provides a tableau of patterns and colors. In the early spring bright green corn seedlings wind along in lines following the contour of the land. In winter a light snow will collect on the edge of the mounds of soil creating a white version of the scene. And in the early spring we find that even the tractor tires produce an striking pattern as the farmer turns at the edge of the field, in the turnaround.
The weather has taken a final turn into spring and it's time to start tilling the field in preparation for the new crop. The remnants of the last corn harvest are disked under. Fertilizer will be applied and seed will be planted. I was driving along County Line Road one fall and witnessed a fantastic sight. A farmer was turning the soil, which was still warm under the surface. When the warm black topsoil was exposed to the cool air, it created a cloud of steam, which rose from the field in a mysterious shroud. I had a realization at that moment, that I needed to learn to use a camera and make an attempt to capture some of the beauty of rural America.
Saturday, April 09, 2005
Welcome to The Farmer's Wife. It's day one of the photoblog, and it's my hope that you will find my images interesting enough to return again and again. Take a minute to bookmark this page and travel along with me, down the back roads of middle America. Watch the crops being planted and harvested, and the seasons change. The unused barns will crumble under the elements and we shall find some beauty in decay. I'll promise you'll love the ride, and If you stay awhile, I'll bake a pie!