Friday, September 30, 2005
Just like clockwork the Union Pacific coal train passes through the area twice a day, heading east. The empty coal cars head back west each evening.
The railroads were a make it or break it element for many small towns. In one rural area a huge courthouse was built with the thought that the railroad would bring a booming economy with it. The rail line was finally laid down, much further south and the huge courthouse was left as a ghostly monument to a dream that never came to be.
Thursday, September 29, 2005
If you're searching for a good photographic model, look no further than a dairy cow. If you approach within 100 feet, they will turn to face the camera and stand stock still for at least 4 minutes. This allows you to make camera adjustments, change lenses, focus and take plenty of pictures.
At this point they go into motion....slow motion... ambling, sauntering, poking along to where you stand. Perhaps they're looking for a treat, although dairy cows are not normally offered treats in the manner of thoroughbred race horses. When they're determined you have nothing of interest for them, they move on....over to the mud puddle where the hog is wallowing.
In general, they are animals of good disposition, although occasionally one of them will get into a snit. I witnessed one who decided she'd charge across the milking room and attempt to jump through the barn window. What a mess that was. Have you ever tried to pry a cow out of a window frame? Don't try that at home.
Wednesday, September 28, 2005
Summer is officially over and mornings are marked by blankets of crystal clear dew covering the landscape. Sunrise produces the clear and intense light of fall and mists rise from low lying areas.
Soon the dew will transform itself to crystalline frost. There are scenes of incredible beauty all around us. Unfortunately for me, alot of these scene lie in areas inaccessible for methodical photography - - no shoulders on the road to pull off and compose a shot. I am left with what I'll call "stop sign photography", out the side or front window of a car. "Stop sign photography" is somewhat of a misnomer, because many times I'm not stopped. It's a special form of photography involving framing the shot blindly and using a special skill that involves pushing a button with the right hand and driving with the left. Don't try this at home, and as always, do as I say not as I do.
Monday, September 26, 2005
One of the best things about living in rural northern Illinois is the ability to view entire weather systems as they pass through. With nothing but sky from horizon to horizon, it's hard for a thunderstorm to sneak up on you.
Although Montana is know as the "big sky country", perhaps we could be known and the "also pretty big sky country".
This was taken this morning as the sun was rising. Pretty awesome sight to behold.
Sunday, September 25, 2005
Light streaming through windows on the opposite side of the church illuminate the stained glass from the inside out.
The artisans who created windows throughout the midwest are long gone, and intricate glass work seems to be a thing of the past for new church construction, except for the larger and more financially secure faith communities.
Newer churches in the area resemble more of a multi-purpose middle school gymnasium.
Saturday, September 24, 2005
Long before Mickey-D's offered up the concept, farmers operated drive-thrus.
This is a drive-thru corn crib, now abandoned. The farm machinery would drive in one side and stop inside the crib. There were mechanisms that transferred the corn up a vertical conveyor system, and then the tractor would drive straight through and out the other side.
There's still a chair sitting inside, next to the machinery mechanism.....as if the farmer intended to return to his work anytime. Unfortunately this structure will soon be destroyed. Currently it's home to feral cats and raccoons.
Friday, September 23, 2005
I've been told by visitors from a more diverse countryside that our pancake-flat fields of corn and soybeans, reaching from horizon to horizon, can be disconcerting. Someone from Oklahoma told me, after we drove through a gaunlet of 10-ft. high corn fields, "I've got to get out of here, it's way too green!"
I didn't know it was possible to be too green! I do know that when that when settlers reached the edge of the forests and faced the immense expanse of the great prairies, they gave pause before stepping into that great unknown. Some women actually stood their ground and refused to take another step, the great sea of prairie threatening to swallow them up forever.
Any slightly hilly stretch of road is an interesting and welcome break from the monotony. This is a lovely field of soybeans, back when there was some hope that the crops might somehow survive this summers drought.
Wednesday, September 21, 2005
The summer farmstands will be in business through the fall, when they will be selling pumpkins, squash and Indian corn.
All it takes to set up business is some type of shelter, in this case some sawhorses, boards and umbrellas. And of course a truck to get the produce to the market. This stand featured peaches, although they are not grown locally. The operators of this stand were buying at the wholesale produce market. No matter, the peaches were awesome and we finished them before evening.
Monday, September 19, 2005
We're close enough to major civilization that the backroads have been "discovered" as a venue for bike training and races. Evenings and weekends the backroads are crawling with Armstrong wannabes.
I don't mind if people want to have a hobby but this endeavor, as I have alluded to before, is a tragedy waiting to happen. The speed limits on the roads are fairly high, since it is unpopulated and open, but many of the roads have blind turns and hills and dips..... and there is no shoulder. The racers ride in the narrow roadway and they outnumber deer, coyotes and stray livestock by hundreds to one.
I don't what the answer is, but I feel less than welcoming to someone who puts their life and others in danger.
Sunday, September 18, 2005
Dusk is my favorite time of the day. The setting sun seems to set the fields on fire, and my car blazes a black trail along the edge. Unfortunately, these fields of corn are beyond hope. Harvest would normally take place in late October or early November, but the farmers have given up and are cutting the fields to at least get some silage. Very pricey silage at that. A years crop gone.
The old trail is still visible up to the small grove of trees. This is where the farmhouse once stood. Not many in this nearby community remember the house or outbuildings. They're the newcomers who are the first wave of the 23,000 homes that will be built here in the next few years, and not much interested in the history of the community. That is what I find most sad. Progress will come, development will have it's way, but let's not forget our history. That history is rich and meaningful.
St. Mary's Catholic Church looms over the rural landscape. Flat, flat, flat everywhere you look....nothing but corn and soybeans as far as the eye can see. St. Mary's stands at the edge of the town of Maple Park, which is a very small town. The church seems out of place in its surroundings. The building is on the scale of churches in downtown Chicago.
I've never been inside, but can imagine that the stained glass windows are breathtaking.
Friday, September 16, 2005
Handmade roadside shrines are all too common on lonely country roads. It's hard to understand how so many can lose their lives on such untraveled pathways.
This display seemed particularly sad in it's desolation at the edge of a beautiful field of alfalfa. The crosses are maintained for awhile, flowers left at the site. But years pass, and the crosses are degraded by wind and weather.
My daughters friend Cody was killed 7 years ago on Thanksgiving eve. The tree he struck has returned to it's natural state, the markers are gone. The spot is marked in our memories and when we drive down the road the memories return.
Thursday, September 15, 2005
Pieces of the old country take on new lives as civilization moves in. Visionary people who seek to preserve a bit our history work hard to set aside land, and resources to maintain properties such as Peck Farm Nature Center.
One of the old barns has been converted to an interpretive center where visitors can view a short movie, the beautiful old Italianate farm house has been converted to offices for the overseers, and the old silo is now an observation center.
Three stories of circular staircase carry you to the top which rewards you with a breathtaking view of the area that has been set aside as a nature center. I am thankful for the large community of preservationists who work hard to maintain these properties.
I am also thankful for whoever came up with this photography genre. I like it - - and picked myself up a cheap polaroid in order to experiment. By the way, the view from the top is awesome!
Wednesday, September 14, 2005
There are artists who work in impermanent media, such as native artists who create intricate sand paintings, which exist only for a short time and then are left to wind and weather. You wonder how someone could invest so much work and concentration and then leave the art to certain destruction.
Mother Nature creates her own fleeting beauty. This moonflower vine blooms in my secret garden. An early morning bloom will be shriveled by the next morning. It puts on a beautiful and short lived show.
Tuesday, September 13, 2005
Summer around here means a flurry of festivals in the nearby towns. The "highly civilized" fests are making inroads, such as last weekends Festival of the Vine, a wine tasting/wine selling extravaganza that seemed to be as exciting as a three-day old helium balloon.
The king of festivals around here is still a race between the corn boils/cornfests/corn roasts and the pumpkin fests in the fall. In my book nothing beats a good corn boil.
Here's the food of the Gods from the Sugar Grove Corn Boil a while back. Notice the delectable sweet goodness topped with the just the right topping of butter and salt. The corn boil at the Steam Powered Threshing Bee featured the exotic addition of pepper. My personal favorite is roasted corn, and here's our recipe: Invite lots of friends and enjoy.
Roasted Sweet Corn
Large bushel of sweet corn
Large plastic garbage container with lid (NEW)
Empty coffee can
3 lbs lbs of salt
3 lbs of butter
Early in the morning, or the previous evening, fill large container with water, add salt and stir vigorously to dissolve. Add the bushel of corn (un-husked) cover with lid and weight the top down with a heavy rock. Let stand overnight or all day.
Light the grill, and get the coals nice and hot. Put butter in the coffee can and position toward the side of the grill to allow butter to melt. Start taking corn out of the water and allow to drain. Put the corn on the grill and turn as husks get brown.
Peel back the husks, creating a handle to hold the corn. Dip into the coffee can of melted butter. Salt and pepper to taste. Provide lots of hand towels.
Monday, September 12, 2005
Someone once told me, "It's always a sunny day at 30,000 feet", and that's true.
The most interesting thing about flying over the country, especially at lower altitudes, is that you can study the landscape. This trip revealed the nature of farming in South Carolina. Large areas of treed landscape is punctuated here and there with a field tucked in small spaces. Flying over our Illinois corn and soybean fields is another matter. The land is divided into large squares, uninterrupted by any other feature other than rivers and their attendant shoreline trees. Near the corner of each square is a farmhouse and outbuildings, and perhaps another house in the center vertical axis.
It looks open and lonely from the air, the soybean field turning into a piece of rare golden marble, veined with green. It's rich topsoil and a good place to live.
Sunday, September 11, 2005
My thoughts today are for those touched by tragedy and difficulty, either by the hand of man or the hand of nature.
My fear is that it will not take a foreign element..... that we will, in the end, squabble ourselves to death.
I will simply say...I remember the events of the day, they will never be far from my consciousness. I remember.
Thursday, September 08, 2005
The old barn doors hang precariously off the tracks. It's been many years since the lower level has been used as a milking room. The cows were milked twice a day, once very early in the morning and once at night.
Today, as you drive the back roads in the early evening, you can watch the cows in a sinuous line, walking single file back to the barn. It's somewhat of an inside joke in the farming communities that dairy farmers can never take a vacation!
I remember many years ago that friends of ours who were dairy farmers made plans to attend a wedding in another county. They did the morning milking and arranged to have their sons take care of the evening chores, returning late that night. Everything went fairly well, except the cows were upset at the change in their routine, and since the farmer had been absent, replaced by his sons, they gave 1/2 the normal milk.
I've often wondered how dairy farmers fair in retirement, since they've worked the dawn to dusk schedule for many, many years.
Wednesday, September 07, 2005
On a Saturday night in the rural midwest you can find a car race somewhere. The best entertainment of the evening is always the demolition derby.
This Cad-a-wack is leftover from the derby at the county fair. Races run every Saturday night at Bob-Jo's Speedway in Sycamore, Illinois.
Tuesday, September 06, 2005
Our modus operandi when traveling involves striking out from a base camp set up in a large city or town. We enjoy what the city has to offer, but also drive the "blue highways", aptly named by William Least Heat-Moon in his book with the same title. Blue highways are the lesser roads on the map, off the main highways and interstates.
In February I cruised out of Orlando and drove north on blue highways to find Marjorie Kinnan Rawlings home in Cross Creek, Florida. On this trip to Myrtle Beach we headed down the coast to revisit a small town found on a trip 2 years ago. The blue highway headed east into McClellanville, South Carolina, and curiousity demanded an update as to whether the place had been touched by development.
Thankfully, the answer is no.....for now. It is still a sleepy little southern town. There's hardly a human being to be seen, this trip only a gentleman mowing his lawn, protected from the sun by a large hat reminiscent of a tobacco farmer. It appears to be the town that time forgot.
The air is as still as the dead, but thankfully the oppressive heat has lifted and the only sound is the rhythm of cicadas in the trees, with an aria provided by the shrimp boat "Miss Alva", motoring back to the safe harbor behind the town.
Standing on the tiny main street of town, you can imagine Scout swinging on the tire swing suspended from a gigantic live oak. Your imagination allows you to believe that any moment Boo Radley will come sauntering around the corner.
Thank God there are still McClellanvilles and blue highways.