Friday, December 22, 2006

winter fog

Old trees lean towards the east, forced off kilter by years of battering by the prevailing west winds blowing across the farmland.

Winter fog is bad enough, but there is something much worse, a white out. This could have been a white out, which means there's a complete snow cover, winter fog and then it starts snowing! I've been in one really bad event in my adult lifetime and that's enough for me.

The weather turned bad and we left work in an attempt to get home before conditions worsened further. I was hoping to navigate the back roads (empty of traffic) and found myself on a rural road in a white out. Roads, fields, sky were all one shade of white. It was starting to snow heavily and the only visible landmark was the small tops of fenceposts to the right. Mentally I tried to calculate the distance the posts would be from the road and navigated in that fashion.

I finally returned home safely, but it was certainly a white knuckly trip.

Wednesday, December 20, 2006

the oxen team

This nearly life-size team of concrete oxen aren't going anywhere. They represent the pioneers who settled this land. A farmer would never be able to put much food on the table without the help of a team of oxen. They were the literal "horsepower" of the age. To see how they appeared in the day visit the site created by E.T. Wickham's grandson.... Wickham's Stone Park.

If you're anywhere near northern Illinois you can learn to drive a real team of oxen at Garfield Farm and Museum. The class is held in the spring of the year and it's probably one of the "Ten Things I Want to Do Before I Die". Size doesn't matter with oxen, they are commanded not by brute strength, but by voice and body movements. It's a fascinating day spent in the country. Contact Garfield Farm for more information. I'd love to come out and take photos of your session with the team.

Tuesday, December 19, 2006

lambs of god

The two lambs stand at the feet of the large Fatima figure that stands atop a very tall pole at the center of what was once E.T. Wickham's central courtyard.

This site just gets your mind to turning about the once-upon-a-time newness of it all. Someone once said that a garden is the antithesis of nature - that man controls and remakes nature to his plan. But left to her own devices, Mother Nature has reclaimed this place, causing the lambs to grow wooly coats of moss.

In this area, without the reference of photos and commentary of it's history and intention, you are left to fill in the blanks...connect the dots. Some pieces are missing and some are simply missing limbs.

But in the end, E.T. Tanner's place is an awesome look into the mind and creations of a man driven by his passion.

If you want to visit, the park is located in north central Tennessee, outside of Clarksville.

Thanks for traveling along on the Farmers Wife Road Trip and Sixth Sense Tour!

hobbit house

E.T. Wickham's tiny house has been reclaimed by nature. My sister remembers when he was alive and this place was clear of the tangle of vine and sapling.

There are only three rooms and each is not more that 7 or 8 feet square. The room to the left has a fireplace and hearth, all created in a small scale. The right hand portion of the house is log, so it appears that it was the original room.

The experience of visiting here is like coming up a ruins in the jungle.

Sunday, December 17, 2006

raging bull

This is E.T. Wickham's bull figurine. The rider has lost his head, as have most of the statues. E.T. wired this figure with electricity. He installed red light bulbs in the eyes and I can imagine the surprise if someone came upon this standing on the side of the road in the dark.

The construction method remains a mystery to me. I've never seen concrete as a pliable, workable material.

Saturday, December 16, 2006

a magical place

It's hard to understand how an concept such as E.T. Wickham's sculptures formed in his mind. Perhaps he'd heard of Fred Smith and the Concrete Park in Wisconsin.

E.T. was a contemporary of my grandfather and surely they knew each other. Both had the same level of education (6th grade or thereabouts) and both were farmers/carpenters. But E.T. embarked on a creative mission fraught with passion and difficulties and my grandfather was content to spend his later years chewing tobacco and devouring western dime novels.

E.T. Wickham sought to create a permanent statement on his view of history - in concrete. The statues were mounted on bases on which he wrote detailed descriptions. Historical figures he depicted included Patrick Henry, Estes Kefauver, Sgt. Alvin York and the Kennedy's. All the historical figures stood on one side of the road. His tiny cabin and the religious figures stood on the opposite side.

I know that in it's day the display was glorious in scope and scale. Since his death about 30 years ago, time and vandals have taken their toll. Even though those factors have created an unfortunate situation, the work as it currently exists is almost magical, mythical. Nature has reclaimed this place for herself. The large fatima atop a tall pole is intertwined with vines. The lambs of God at her feet are covered in a wooly coat of moss. It's sad and glorious and altogether meaningful in it's decay. It's layer upon layer - the evident beauty of the orginal work, the degradation by man and nature, all combining to create a haunting space.

Above is pictured the entrance to his place. Check the link to see historical photos of how this area originally appeared. In the days to follow I'll post other photos of his work which can be compared with to those on the sites devoted to his work.

Friday, December 15, 2006

folk art

About a mile from our family cemetery in Tennessee stands one of the most haunting and interesting folk art sites in the United States. It's one of those eccentric, quirky places on the order of Fred Smith's much photographed concrete park in Wisconsin.

I vaguely remember someone mentioning the statues years ago, but I wasn't prepared to encounter them late one evening driving along the country roads in search of a shortcut back to town. Rounding a curve my headlights shone upon what appeared to be an entire crowd of people standing in the woods.

The statues are the amazing work of E.T. Wickham and were started in the 1950's.

The most amazing part is that he created these statues knowing that very few people would ever see them. The location is what I would call the middle of nowhere, one of those spots that either requires GPS coordinates or someone to guide you through the tangle of country roads.

The statues, in their original location, have been vandalized over the years and none have heads any longer and the concrete has somewhat degraded. Luckily there are people who recognize the importance of these statues as a body of work that represents the true folk art tradition. Nearby Austin Peay State University has one of the statues in their gallery and some of the other statues have been moved to the edge of a clearing not far away, surrounded by electric fence.

This statue stands behind the arts building at Austin Peay. Missing their heads the piece nonetheless gives a powerful message. E.T. Wickam was a country farmer who converted to Catholicism, thus the farmer in jeans holding baby Jesus.

More information and images of E.T. Wickam's work tomorrow.

Tuesday, December 12, 2006


Many thanks to my co-worker and scout - Matt. He travels the roads of northern Illinois and eastern Iowa for the company and serves as my scout. He's a student of history and is always on the lookout for interesting buildings and locations for me to shoot.

This is a very unusual stone barn that he spotted heading down I-39. I must have passed it many times myself but it's a smaller building and for some reason I've missed. Earlier attempts at capturing it failed mainly because the very healthy corn crop obscured it from view.

I suppose that stone barns and outbuildings are not uncommon on the east coast, but here in the midwest it's almost unheard of. In fact in all my travels on the highways and byways of Illinois, I've never encountered another one. Limestone buildings are common in the towns that line the rivers - such as along the Fox River or the Rock River, but this is far from those locations.

An interesting fact is that it stands about 3 miles from the center of Troy Grove, birthplace of Wild Bill Hickock.

Sunday, December 10, 2006


We'd planned to depart back to the Chicago area early on Monday morning, but when we awoke my sister and I looked at each other and knew that we would drive back down to Charlotte and make one more attempt to find the elusive cemetery. We knew that logic would dictate the steps to take and that required that we search on a weekday when the courthouse was open.

We figured there must be a historical society in the area and perhaps someone at the courthouse could direct us to those responsible. Well, as luck has it, and as is often the case in small town America - things get done quickly on the one-on-one level. The clerk in the old courthouse directed us across the street to the newer office building, and in the basement of that building we found an archives office whose purposes is strictly to preserve and transcribe the many historical documents of the county.

And as is also the case in small town America, everyone knows everyone else. We stated our purpose to the director of the archives - "We're Robert Nesbitt's great-great-great granddaughters and we're looking for the old cemetery." With two minutes she had the woman on the phone who now lives in the old homeplace, and had secured her permission to access her land. It was a short drive back to the historical marker and the house just beyond. The owner met us out on the driveway and we were pleased to know that her Master's degree was in historical preservation.

It was windy and quite chilly, but we'd come a long way and for resident of northern Illinois, wind not a problem. She directed us to a grove of trees high on a hill overlooking Barton's Creek and Fagan's Chapel on the other side.

It was a challenging climb up the hill, dodging cow pies all the way. The view from the top of the hill was stunning and we rounded a group of three trees to come upon the very degraded remains of many headstones. The elements have not been kind to this spot.

The epitaths are always interesting and this one is the only information left on this woman's stone, save for a partial date of death.

Only three headstone were in any condition to be identified and one of those (a more modern stone) had fallen face down and was impossible to budge. Amazingly, the only two headstones that were readable were the only two we needed to identify this as Robert's final resting place...those of his nephew Allen and his wife on whose property he was buried.

The owner of the property had stated that it was her understanding that Robert had been buried in the area surrounded by a small stone wall. We stood on the hillside in the brisk wind and studied the valley that was home to these people so many years ago.....just as I had stood at Fort Sumter looking into Charleston's harbor knowing that it was the first view Robert as his ship landed in the new world.

On the way back down the hill my sister stopped to capture of photo of the house in the distance, and then we were on our way. What did we accomplish after all? To us it was a journey to connect to the past, and pay homage to those who did some hard work to establish this country and our communities.

If we could only manipulate space and time and meet those ancestors - how interesting would that be?

Saturday, December 09, 2006

chasing history

With the help of the paramedics we encountered at the grocery store in town we found Bartons Creek. Just over the creek heading out of town is this historical marker denoting the location of my great-great-great-grandfathers original log home (spelling of this name alternates in the records with one or two t's). The marker stands on the highway next to a drive that reaches up and over a small hill. We drove a short distance up the lane and saw the homestead. Sometime in the 1800's a more modern farmhouse structure had been built around the original log home.

It was obviously a private residence and we didn't feel emboldened to rap on the door. The weather was grey and we were tired and hungry so we headed back to town. Our departure back to Illinois was scheduled for first thing in the morning and we sat up that evening reading excerpts from a book written about our family in the 1960's entitled, "West From Edrom". The title refers to the Nesbitt brothers journey from the borders region of Scotland west to the new world. I can't imagine setting out knowing that I would most likely never see my homeland or family again.

They were motivated by the idea of a better life and being able to have some choice in their destiny. A friend who travels in extremely remote regions of the world has noted that many people in this world are prisoners of the lack of opportunity to create something better. He tells a poignant tale of a woman running a frontier-type bar in Nepal, who like a person dying of thirst, drinks greedily on his tales of life outside her microcosm. She reminded him to be aware and thankful everyday that he enjoyed the ultimate luxury.

This was the luxury Robert Nesbitt was seeking....leaving a place where his destiny was dictated by an English king and being a part of deciding who would govern and how we would be governed. And that he did just that, fighting in the Revolutionary War for which his new government awarded him land in the territory which is now Tennessee. Meetings were held in his home to create Dickson county, carving it from two larger areas, and the first court session of the county was also held in his home.

Friday, December 08, 2006

the search

My sister had visited the older Nesbitt cemetery years ago. Time had erased all the details of its location, but she did remember it involved a walk away from the roadway and it was on a hill. We've made half-hearted efforts over the years to find it, but now we've found ourselves in a situation where all the family old-timers have passed away themselves. (Note to self: Never let an opportunity to record oral histories slip away...and record your own oral history).

We do have great-great-great grandfather Robert Nesbitt's last will and testatment and if his wishes were followed he was buried on his nephew Allen Nesbitt's place, high on a hill overlooking Barton's Creek outside Charlotte, Tennessee. One of the older cousins told us there was a historical marker on the road in front of his original homeplace. His home was the place where Dickson County was formed, carved out of two other couties. It was also the scene of the first court held in the county.

So on Sunday we headed out to Charlotte, unaware of the exact location of Barton's Creek. We poked around two cemeteries in town and then headed to the only gracery store to see if anyone knew where the creek location. Luck had it that we ran into the town paramedics who grabbed a detailed map out of their truck....thanks guys! We spent part of the day driving up and down Barton's Creek Road and Fagan's Chapel Road, looking for signs of a old burial place. Even though the leaves were off the trees it was difficult to see through the heavy forest and undergrowth. Barton's Creek Road is not an exceptionally long stretch, but since the cemetery is said to be well off the road and the creek switches back from one side to the other, it could prove difficult to find.

It was a cold day and a Sunday so there didn't seem to be anyone outside to ask - perhaps a long time local would know the spot.

We found this small graveyard called "Lane Cemetery" on Fagan's Chapel Rd. It was on a hill overlooking Barton's Creek and there were several Nesbitt markers and many graves with seriously degraded headstones, but no clues that this might be the spot. In an attempt to mark the resting places someone has erected small white crosses. How unusual is it for direct descendants of the original pioneers to still live close enough to maintain these resting places?

Tomorrow the story of how two sisters refuse to give up the search......

Wednesday, December 06, 2006

tin roof

This photo makes me smile for several reasons. It's the log home built by my great-great grandfather, and just a short distance from the cemetery where he's buried.

It makes me smile also because it is very similar in style and structure to the sharecroppers shack that my mom, my brother and I lived in when my dad was serving in the Korean War. My uncle had offered us the sharecroppers place rent free, allowing my parents to save money for a home after my dad was discharged.

The sharecroppers place differed in that it was built with board and batten rather than logs. But the tin roof was the same and I remember it to be a nice, cozy home. No indoor bathroom, running water only if you pumped it by hand, a beautiful fireplace and lots of chickens making their home under the house. Good memories.

The photo also makes me smile because it reminds me of the B-52's "Love Shack"......

Tin roof.........RUSTED!

Sunday, December 03, 2006


We took a bit of time on our trip to visit and inventory our family cemetery. There are many Nesbitt cemeteries dotted across the land between here and the Charlotte/Dickson area where the four Nesbitt brothers settled after the Revolutionary War.

This is our family cemetery, established by my great-great-grandfather Samuel. We photographed each headstone and made notes and will enter the information on the Tennessee cemetery list associated with one of the Gen Web projects.

The slaves were buried at the bottom of the hill and many of the stones have deteriorated, so our cousin has erected a marker in memory of all the forgotten ones buried here.

My grandfather, an itinerate carpenter, built the resting place for him and his two wives, having lost both due to complications in childbirth. Rest in peace - Newton Larkin Nesbitt, Lena Boone Nesbitt and Edna Britt Nesbitt.

Saturday, November 25, 2006

the sixth sense tour

Last weekends trip to Tennessee could be titled, The Sixth Sense Tour. Apart from the time spent celebrating a second cousin's wedding, we spent alot of time in cemeteries. In reference to the movie, I saw alot of dead people.

This badly weathered stone lies in our Nesbitt family cemetery in the Shiloh/Palmyra area. We are well acquainted with this place as this is my mother's family plot. It was founded and lies on the land that was home to my great-great grandfather, Samuel Nesbitt.

For years we've been trying to ascertain the location of the older plot, where my great-great-great grandfather Robert Nesbitt is buried. My mom and sister had been there years and years ago but couldn't remember the area where it stood.

Using information from a book written about our family in the 1960's, and further digging on the internet provided the area in which the four Nesbitt brothers settled in the 1790's. It lies only about a half hour from this spot. We were on a quest.

All that's left of this old marker tells it all - - born....died. Everything in between is the stuff of which history is made.

Monday, November 13, 2006

glowing fields

A bright sun rises above the horizon and light pours over a hayfield at Garfield Farm. The field literally glows a bright green. The harvest is winding down and the snow will soon be flying across the open fields.

Cornstalk stubble is no longer plowed under at the end of the season. The standing dry plant material catches snow and provides additional moisture as it thaws.

To all my loyal viewers/readers, I ask you to be patient as I'm having some computer woes (again), Photoshop has been affected by that ghost in the machine, and I'm off to Tennessee for some R & R and a visit to the family cemetery plot. There should be some interesting images of the place - graves going back to long before the civil war. We'll be on a hunt to find the original cemetery which holds the remains of the four Nesbitt brothers who served in the Revolutionary War and were paid partially in land - making them some of the first white settlers in Tennessee. Stay tuned.

Sunday, November 05, 2006


There's alot of corn standing in the fields, waiting to be harvested.

I love the dried husks and fields of stalks still standing tall in the field. The snow will soon fly and I'm hoping all the work gets done before then.

Wednesday, November 01, 2006

johnson's mound

Johnson's Mound rises from the flat-as-a-pancake farmland that surrounds the preserve. It's the highest spot that I can think of in all the surrounding county.

The research says it's an ice-age land formation called a kame, but you wonder why all the sediment was deposited in only one spot and not at several locations.

This is the very narrow roadway (one way) that snakes it's way through the woods up to the top of the mound. In the wintertime the eastern slope, which has been cleared of trees, serves as a sledding hill for the kids.

It's a wonderful, peaceful place to spend some quiet time.

Sunday, October 29, 2006

road ends

Lots of decisions like this to make out in the country. Road ends - turn right or turn left....continue to the next one - turn right or turn left. I don't normally turn blindly down side roads because many are simply blind roads leading directly up to a farmhouse.

Wednesday, October 25, 2006


Last fall this was a harvested soybean fields. This year it's the site of frantic construction efforts to create a subdivision of new homes. You can see homes in the distance, creeping northward.

Last year there were barns and silos. Those were demolished in one morning. the oak trees were dispatched in one afternoon. The farmhouse was isolated and eventually moved.

And now, in a most ironic move, the developer has had a windmill delivered. Not the honest-to-goodness workhorse of old farming tradition, but a sleek silver Hollywood movie prop kind of windmill. It's to stand at the entrance of the subdivision to visually complete the sense of why people will be moving here.....everyone's dream to live in the country.

The dream will tarnish a little come next spring when residents start writing letters to the editor about the layers of dust on their cherrywood dining sets when the still-farmed fields to the west are plowed. They'll discuss the smell coming from the field as the farmer spread manure, and howl in objection as their small pets are snatched by coyotes as they allow them to run unattended in their yards.

I've overheard people saying that country life ain't all it's cracked up to be......depends upon your expectations.

Sunday, October 22, 2006

new lebanon

The sun broke through the clouds this afternoon and after a small bit of shopping I decided to head west on Route 72. That took me into Hampshire and snaking my way through town I headed out in search of New Lebanon, Illinois.

Road signs point west stating in effect, New Lebanon this way. I've driven this route before and have yet to find it. A search on Mapquest later reveals that there isn't acutally a town or settlement, although a search through some local history books might reveal that there once was a small settlement named New Lebanon.

This half harvested field stands near the once-upon-a-time site.

Friday, October 20, 2006

seed pod

The wind was biting this afternoon, and the sky was grey and threatening over the patch of restored Illinois prairie where I spent some time walking and shooting photos. A seed pod is nothing in the crazy quilt of dead foliage. It's just one among thousands, perhaps millions of pod that are remants of the growing season.

Photographing the pods among this chaos just didn't seem to do justice to the interesting form. I plucked one of the pods from it's stem and brought it home to place it in a stark setting, so that it's beauty would stand alone.

Seed pod as art form.

Wednesday, October 18, 2006

vintage ride

There are many vintage car owners in the area and hundreds more vintage cars languishing in barns and outbuildings, waiting for the day when loving hands restore them to their former glory.

Car shows and cruise nights fill the local calendars. But the weather is turning and the cars will be stored safely for the winter.

As winter comes the challenge returns - how to find an image a day in a bleak landscape with nothing much going on. The fairs are done for the season, reenactors have packed up as we enter the down time.

Monday, October 16, 2006

the fisherman

Despite a chilly breeze I decided to grab my lunch and head over to the riverbank and eat at a picnic table just below the historic Fabyan Mansion. Fishermen line up at intervals along the banks of the river. This older gentleman was packing it up for the day. The Canada Geese are in town though, and the beggars are always looking from a scrap of food or discarded bait. Unfortunately the geese have been emboldened by years of people feeding them stale bread.

Sunday, October 15, 2006


The little church in Plato Center, Illinois, has been converted to a youth chapel. The congregation has moved around the corner into a large modern building.

I do love the simplicity and beauty of the original rural community houses of worship.

Saturday, October 14, 2006

milkweed pods

Earlier in the season I posted a photo of the milkweed blooms. In the fall the pods form and bust open to reveal the seeds, borne on white fluff. This is at the edge of a restored tallgrass prairie.

It's incomprehensible that pioneers stood at the edge of prairie, as far as the eye could see - and nonetheless plunged in. I do know that some pioneer women planted their heels and refused to enter the landscape, treeless without a single object to anchor to.

Thursday, October 12, 2006


Last years soybean field is home to this years semi-custom subdivision. People are paid to plant thousands of roadside signs every weekend, pointing the way to "Big Homes - Less Money".

Alot of the farmers I talk to seem resigned, but some make their children promise that the last crop planted on their land will not be a housing development. One farmer wanted his ashes spread over the land he'd spent a lifetime farming. His children could not bring themselves to comply with his wishes knowing that they would not be able to stave off those with other plans for the land, leaving dad possibly sitting under someone's powder room or wet bar.

Wednesday, October 11, 2006

soybean harvest

This farmer readies his equipment before resuming the harvest of soybeans in LaFox.

Many of these men have been farming their whole lives. Some in the Burlington area were refugees from the late 60's-early '70's development push into Schaumburg. They moved west and now development has followed them once again. Most are at or near retirement age so moving on to another farming community is out of the question.

On Monday evening farmers were out in the nearby field late into the night. They were attempting to get the beans in before the forecasted rain and possible snow. A race against time. Unfortunately for me combines do not stand still to have their pictures taken, but believe me it was a dramatic sight. The combines chugged across the field, spotlights illuminating the rows of soybeans, kicking up clouds of dust and chaff from the plants. Closer.. closer.... to the end of the row, and a perfect turn, heading back up towards the cemetery.

Tuesday, October 10, 2006

fresh coat of paint

This barn in LaFox is part of one of the loveliest properties in the Fox River Valley area, and the original mistress of the farm was the daughter of Timothy Garfield, whose home and inn is a living history museum.

Donna, the modern day mistress of the property, has given great care to maintaining it's beauty and simplicity. Here the barn has been powerwashed and scraped in preparation for a new coat of paint. It's a example of a typical northern Illinois barn.

It brings to mind passages I read in "Slaves in the Family" by Edward Ball. The plantation owners around Charleston, South Carolina were often strapped for enough cash to have the houses painted. These were much less opulent structures than what is brought to mind when you think of southern plantation. The houses and outbuildings would quickly deteriorate in the heat and humidity of the low country. Many times all that would be holding a structure together would be a fresh coat of paint.

That's not the case in LaFox, as this is a well cared for barn. Livestock no longer calls this place home, but it's a beautiful oasis in the middle of advancing development.

Monday, October 09, 2006

new crop

Yesterday I took a field trip out to Paw Paw, Illinois where there's a new crop on the landscape. These huge modern day windmills blanket the landscape, standing amoungst the corn crop.

They do make a sound, kind of a low key whoosh. The energy produced here is not consumed here however. Just for a point of reference, that's a 2+ story silo at the far left of the frame, standing next to one of the windmills in the distance.

It was an absolutely beautiful day. The last time I did some photography here it was bitter cold. I drove along the gravel roads looking for just the right spot to take a photo of a farm on a hillside with the windmills all around. I drove up and down the road looking for just the perfect view. Then I got out and walked, framing the image in my mind - 2 feet in this direction, 3 feet back, over a step or two. After taking a couple shots I looked down and directly at my feet was the lens cap from another photographer's camera. Guess we all think and see somewhat alike.

Sunday, October 08, 2006


Back by popular demand is the Sunday feature, Faith. Thanks to the Porch Sitters who have requested it's return.

This is the tiny church in Lily Lake, Illinois. It stands at the edge of a large cornfield and looks out across the field towards Lily Lake Cemetery. These rural churches were built by the immigrant German and Swedish farmers who inhabited the countryside.

The sky was very blue early this morning, hours before the worshipers arrived.

Saturday, October 07, 2006


These oval corn cribs dot the landscape and are very typical of this area. They're constructed of a concrete type material with spacing to allow air to flow through. The small structure at the top is a space that allows the chain driven system to transfer the corn to the top of the building.

As with the barns, these very beautiful structures are disappearing fast. This crib stands on a stretch of Route 72 which is the area where massive home developments are popping up like dandelions.

It was quite disconcerting when I drove down this road recently, having not taken this route in awhile. I lost my bearings completely as many of the familiar landmarks are gone - as if they never existed.

Friday, October 06, 2006

soybean field

Did you know there are only 2 fields between Chicago and St. Louis? One is corn and one is soybeans.

Just a little inside Illinois farmer joke.

We've seen this field before and you can view the scene yourself if you stand at the top of the small hill that is Lily Lake Cemetery and look north. The last time I photographed this it was Easter morning and the field was covered with the corn stalk stubbled from the previous growing season...corn one year, soybean the next.

The trees are just beginning to turn and the deep golden glow of the dried soybeans present quite a show.

The "Easter Morning" version graces my hand out cards. I'm not in the money making business of photography but wanted a card to hand out to people I meet while shooting in an effort to spread the word and the message of the farmers wife.

Thanks as always for visiting. Wish you were here to enjoy our beautiful midwestern fall.

Thursday, October 05, 2006


Back in the day, people had more than one job. They were multi-tasking, having responsibilities for different positions in their community.

My great-great-grandfather was a tobacco farmer and a circuit judge. He traveled the county holding court in different towns. Likewise other men would have served as circuit preachers and farm their own small plot of land. Or farmer/innkeeper as was the case of Mr. Garfield.

My great-great uncle was a physician, but when you take a look at the instruments of his trade in that day it's apparent your health was in dire straights unless it was something that could have been cured with a good bleeding, leeches or thick black salve.

Wednesday, October 04, 2006


In the days when my grandfather and great-grandfather were farming peanuts and cotton in the Florida panhandle the rule of thumb was that a man with a good mule could plow an acre a day.

My friend Ellen quickly computed that it would take a third of a year to plow a 100 acre plot of land, which of course made it impossible for a family to farm large tracks of land. The labor involved in harvest was equally daunting until the invention of the steam engine and mechanized farm equipment.

This volunteer at Garfield Farm Museum is demonstrating threshing wheat by hand. That length of wood has a free-swinging piece on the end that would flail the wheat and separate the grains of wheat from the stalks. The wheat grains would fall to the bottom.

That left wheat grains that needed to be separated from the chaff, which is paper thin and lighter than the actual grain. The wheat would be loaded into this box and tossed into the air. This method depended upon a windy day, which would blow the chaff away, leaving only the grain.

All you had to do was to process enough grain to send off to the grist mill for grinding, and only then could you make a loaf of bread. Oh.....AFTER you gathered the eggs from the henhouse.

Tuesday, October 03, 2006


This lovely young woman was demonstrating spinning at the Harvest Fest, set up under the shade of a large tree next to the chicken coop. She's spinning wool from the Merino sheep raised on the farm. Merino is a more difficult fiber to work with.

These photos are snapshots into the past when life was simpler (simpler....not easier). Day to day living required a trememdous effort with lots of planning and thinking ahead. Laundry, for example, required an entire day, sun up to sun down.

Monday, October 02, 2006

Garfields Inn

Thanks to all the knowledgable volunteers at Garfield Farm & Museum for a lovely and informative day. Jerry Johnson, site manager Patty Kennedy, farm manager Thomas their small army of volunteers continue to amaze me with their dedication and abilities to put together some awesome events. These people are at the forefront of keeping history alive.

This volunteer stands at the side doorway to Garfield Inn, which was the Holiday Inn of it's day. Garfields property sat midway on the wagon route between Rockford and Chicago and for a meer 37 cents you could have a meal, board your horse and bed down for the night.

Sunday, October 01, 2006

chicken fricasee

Don't forget that today is Garfield Farm & Museum's Harvest Day celebration.

This is a photo from last year's event. It's chicken fricasee being prepared over an open fire in a large iron pot. This year archaeologists will be discussing the discovery of the location of the orginal 170-yr. old log cabin. Exciting stuff for the history minded.

Garfield Farm is about 40 miles west of Chicago, just off Route 38.


While I always think of a squall as a storm that blows across open water, my Webster's New World dictionary says, "a brief violent windstorm, usually with rain or snow". So, it seems this quick moving storm would qualify as a squall.

It would be an interesting exercise to confabulate a new word that denoted a brief, fast-moving rainstorm that approaches across a cornfield. Maybe I'll do just that, after a few more cups of coffee.

Thursday, September 28, 2006


Temperatures are dipping and soon the frost will be on the pumpkin. Summer is over, the last county fair has closed it's gates until next year. The steel grey clouds hang over the landscape promising the snow to come.

Wednesday, September 27, 2006


I spotted this young man walking along the State Route this morning. The image of him walking begged for answers. This is not roadway that is friendly to pedestrians and it seems, unbeknownst to him he was just about 500 yards from a walking/bike path that stretches for some 30 miles from east to west, built upon an old rail bed.

The sleeping bag suggests one thing, but the tiny backpack certainly couldn't carry much that one would need to survive on the road.

Instantly I thought of Jesse White Crow who is walking across America. I dream at night about writing as good as Jesse. The images he paints linger on long after the words have faded. I wonder about the people he's encountered and those who tuck his walk card into their wallets.

One day when my daughter and I were driving along, I enthusiatically related the story of Jesse's walk and how the prospect of such an adventure was so exciting and daunting at the same time. Her reaction was certainly not what I expected and I was shocked when she said, "You mean he's walking and mooching off people along the way?"

Huh? As I said....shock. I've thought about her statement and perhaps she hasn't been beat down by life yet, and hasn't needed to dream those daydreams borne out of the sheer grind of putting food on the table, changing diapers and paying a mortgage. Several years of that will make a solo walk across America seem like a cruise to Tahiti.

Let's just say I believe that Jesse is seeing what people are made of. Some have open doors, open kitchens and open hearts. Others have locked the door and plastered it over with suspicion, distrust and a good dose of all about me.

I check out his site every day. So should you.

dent corn

Fall is upon us and the corn crop is approaching time for harvest.

It's also corn maze time. All over northern Illinois the agri-tourist industry is growing and family farms are creating a little business on the side by offering pumpkins, hay bales, honey, jams & jellies and a chance to make your way through a corn maze.

Last year some friends from the Chicago Photobloggers group make the trek out from the big city to spend a grey and chilly afternoon in a maze in Elburn. It was disappointing because the drought had severely affected the crop which was so short you could see over it. That didn't make for much of a challenge. When the corn crop is it's normal height a corn maze can be very disorienting. For that reason you're given a flag in case you really get lost and panicked.

I remember the scene in the movie Signs, when Mel Gibson's character and his brother go running willy nilly into the corn field. Everyone in the small town theater had a big laugh at that. It's not something you'd do unless you were prepared to spend a couple hours finding your way back out.

Monday, September 25, 2006

for ava

Ava is one of our Farmers Wife Porch Sitters. That's the affectionate name I give to the community of folks who honor me with their presence almost every day. There are lots of regulars and I appreciate each and every person who takes the time out of their day to view my efforts.

It's always amazing to me the paradigm shift in the world of information that has been brought about by the internet. On the right hand side of this blog you'll see a list of link to others, including some from around the world in Iran. I've been meaning to talk to Bavand and Farouk about updating their sites - get with it guys!

The fact is that with a computer, internet access and a half hour of your time, you too can become a publisher. That's exciting stuff for someone who feels they have something to say, whether it be through words, pictures or music. Just this weekend the Chicago Tribune (otherwise known as one of the "big boys") published a story about a woman sitting out on a farm in rural Illinois producing fresh vegetables for the market. Skads of city dwellers read her diaries of life on the farm and find something of value in escaping for just a few moments to a quieter and simpler life.

My hope is that you can escape through my images. Find a calm and comforting place, although I'm not beyond images of the chaos of encroaching civilization.

But back to the music. Ava is my musical porch sitter par excellence. I thought she might enjoy this photo taken at Garfield Farm's Harvest celebration. These gentlemen were providing some beautiful music, accompanied by some off-key turkeys! I do remember one of their tunes, "Whiskey for Breakfast"....not something I would suggest, unless it was homemade sour mash.

Check the list on the right for Ava's blog, Fun for Me, Music for You.

Sunday, September 24, 2006

goat talk

For those of you within driving distance of northern Illinois, make plans to attend Garfield Farm & Museum's Fall Harvest Days.

Jerry Johnson, his staff and army of dedicated volunteers provide a day of fun and education. Last year there was live music, candle dipping, cooking, corn shelling spinning and more. This year Reid Miller, tall tale storyteller, will be there as well as a sheep dog demonstration and other interesting peeks into the way a farm operated in the past.

The exciting news this year is that it appears an archaeological team has located the location of the original log cabin. Some small artifacts have already been discovered. Somone will be on hand to explain the "dig".

Bring the kids, bring a picnic lunch or try the catered food that is offered for a small charge. Look for me, I'll have at least two cameras around my neck.

Tuesday, September 19, 2006


One of the sunflowers has dropped it's head, unable to maintain the weight of the heavy seeds on a dying stalk.

I've lived in a place where beautiful flowers grew year-round. It was boring in it's sameness. I look forward to winter's brings a different magic.

Monday, September 18, 2006


The sunflowers have seen better days. They're looking sad and bare, having lost most of their blooms. Soon the large seed heads will be a wintertime bird feeder.

Saturday, September 16, 2006


The air has cooled in the evening and a quick visit to the garden reveals that the growing season is winding down. Another year completes its cycle.

This beautiful purple cabbage will add color to our dinner salad.

Fall is my favorite time of year. Soon the air will be tinged with woodsmoke and maple sugaring will begin.