Tuesday, February 28, 2006


After a farm has been abandoned the building suffers one of three fates. The farmhouse and outbuilding decay and collapse under their own pressure, sometimes helped along by a strong wind, they are demolished by heavy equipment or they burn to the ground.

The last fate is sometimes the result of arson, but it can also be burned down as a practice exercise for the local fire department.

The flames spread, licking and catching the interior and support beams. As the wood was reduced to charcoal the weight of the facade caused it to crash in, the whole front of the farmhouse landing across what was left of the first floor. All the floorboards have disintigrated, leaving the lightly damaged wooden structure suspended precariously over the basement space.

Monday, February 27, 2006


The size and shape of this old structure suggest only one thing - an outhouse. A brick outhouse would be unusual in this area, hinting at a level of wealth and sophistication. There is no evidence inside that it was ever used for that purpose, unless the pit was filled in and the throne removed. Today it protects two metal drums which are steadily rusting into oblivion.

Sunday, February 26, 2006


At last a sunny day, but frigid still. The constant movement of the wind dips the temperatures further. Others talk of spring, things blooming in Alabama, but here we're digging in for another month or more of winter.

April 2nd snowstorms... memories of digging out. Even a warm day is nothing but a tease. Annuals dare not be planted until after Memorial Day, before then you're only making the garden center rich.

The blue sky shines through a crumbling barn roof.

Saturday, February 25, 2006


Dusk descends over the farmland. It's still winter, and spring will not arrive for well over a month. Atmospheric conditions create a cherry colored sunset, reminding me of those luscious Rainier cherries, yellow speckled with pinky red.

Deep blue grey clouds hang over the scene, a curtain waiting to drop, as the scene darkens.

Friday, February 24, 2006


A small boat is landlocked behind Alice's Place. It seems to be sailing over waves of blacktop and gravel, far away from a river, lake or ocean.

It's said that the two best days in a man's life is when he buys his boat, and when he sells it.

This boat has been sitting here for at least a year. Going nowhere, waiting for a flood.

Thursday, February 23, 2006

misty commute

There's not much that could be considered much more than a hill in this area, but this particular stretch of road dips to the east. Yesterday morning there was a blue mist over the scene. This is about the extent of traffic jams until you get to the main north-south road.

Those two rounded-pyramid shapes to the right are the highway departments salt storage buildings. In a bad winter, tons of salt are spead on the roadways. They're experimenting with salt that has somehow been treated with molasses.

Wednesday, February 22, 2006


Long horn steer would not raise as much as an eyebrow in Texas, where I once lived. In the upper midwest however, they are an oddity. Remember, this is the land of dairy cows and swine, nary a long horn in sight.

My neighbor keeps long horns as very big and very hungry pets. He was born a cowboy, even though his place of birth was the city of Chicago. From the time he was little he made plans to move out....west and further west, while staying in the general area of the city and his family. He married and set up a small homestead (16 acres I believe) and they've maintained the property and the livestock single-handed for over 50 years. Yes - into his 80's he's still shoeing horses for a living and pitching hay bales.

Monday, February 20, 2006

build it....

...and they will come.

The new commuter station is tucked against the side of the sloping railroad grade. It stands nearly empty in stark contrast to the teeming stations of the New York Transit system as pictured daily on Express Train.

This, in fact, is an example of building the infrastructure before the flood of development descends. Within a week of the stations opening day heavy equipment showed up to strip the black Illinois topsoil from a farm about a mile away. On this visit (a Saturday morning) there were only 4 cars in the 350 car lot.

Soon the spot will be bustling with commuters and coffee shops will pop up like weeds in the spring.

Saturday, February 18, 2006


This large operation outside of Oregon, Illinois has always been a fascination for me. It's a huge jumble of barns, sheds, grain storage, vehicles and animals.

The property started with humble beginnings, perhaps a small cabin or farmhouse, and buildings were added as the operations grew. What stands in the spot now is a huge collection of farming "stuff".

As you travel west on Route 64 the flat expanses of farmland give way to the gently rolling hills leading to the dramatic Rock River Valley. The scale and expanse of the scene is always surprising as you round the bend.

Note: Cows and cattle are notoriously hams. Being inquistive by nature they always turn and look in your direction, in a kind of bored disdain, making themselves the perfect models.

Thursday, February 16, 2006


Since the time it was a twig this willow has grown to withstand the onslaught of wind and weather. It leans heavily towards the north, steeling itself against the power of oncoming storms.

On this day the wind is calm, but ice and frost have coated the graceful branches, creating a fantasy in white.

Wednesday, February 15, 2006


In the fall snow fences are erected along the perimeter of the the farmhouse, barns and outbuildings. This serves as a windbreak and allows the snow to drift up against the fence, leaving the buildings accessible. In the spring these fences are rolled up and stored till the following year.

This small barn, which stands forty miles west of here is atypical. It's the only barn I've seen in northern Illinois with a hex sign. This is not merely painted on, but a decoration cut from wood. It's a very small and beautiful structure, with almost a delicate feeling next to the behemoth dairy and hay barns. I'm always in awe of the beauty of some of these strictly utilitarian buildings.

Tuesday, February 14, 2006


Ten months into the photoblogging experiment known as "The Farmers Wife" it has occurred to me that it might be time to reflect on the experience.

Photoblogging sounds like a fun creative endeavor, and it is, but the "fun factor" wears off quickly and then it's time to get serious or get out. Serious means making a commitment and this requires no small measure of time. It's also a good idea to have a mission statement of sorts, even if it's only in your mind.

There are no luxuries in photoblogging - time is not on your side. Like a newspaper, a deadline looms each day. There is no luxury of waiting for the perfect sunset, the perfect season, the perfect storm, the perfect lighting or the perfect moment. It's making a silk purse from a sow's ear, finding beauty in the commonplace, and looking at your world through a strangers eyes. It's thinking outside the box or reveling in cliche's. It's whatever you say it is.

It's a daily ritual - a meditation on life.


The boards and battens of the barn exterior have aged to a silvery grey. Protected from the weather the interior woods glows with it's natural color.

Sunday, February 12, 2006

ashes to ashes

Bones are arranged in a stark natural tableau near the old barn. Their position in a open field tells me that the animal, probably a skunk, might have been caught in the open by a predator. But the bones present a mystery.

The remains are neatly arranged, a representation of the animal in mid-stride. It appears as if the fur and flesh simply fell away, revealing the underlying structures. Death undisturbed, bones are not scattered, undivided by possible predator and scavenger alike. You can, with a little imagination, picture the entire process playing out before your eyes, a slow motion movie of gradual disintigration.

Life and death are all around us, the natural ebb and flow of things. Death, viewed as a natural progression can be an interesting lesson and not at all a morbid fascination.

Friday, February 10, 2006


How many of us long to answer our wanderlust? We dream of walking away from our jobs, leaving behind mundane tasks and heavy responsibilities, hitting the road and filling days with exotic locales and experiences.

Personally, I never seem to tire of the tales - William Least Heat-Moon has forged a career out of road trips. Some, like AP writer Cal Woodward convince their bosses to underwrite the adventure in return for producing a story. Nice work if you can get it.

My photographer friend Ron has, in his words, "sold all his junk" and is hitting the road with his dog as company. He will head out of Chicago in the next couple of weeks to head across America in search of cool experiences and more junk (he's an antique dealer).

If he stops in my neck of the woods on his way out of town, I thought I'd treat him to dinner at Chick-N-Dip - just because broasted chicken is the best. Perhaps we can take in a high school basketball game, visit the Schramer's Black Angus beef operation or poke around an old barn. I need to give some thought about what would best represent my countryside.

Tuesday, February 07, 2006


At this point in the midwestern winter it's difficult to conjure up a creative molecule, much less any creative juice. It's hard to remember why you choose to live in this place. So hard to remember the rows of corn the color of emeralds.

It's grey. Day upon day of grey. Overcast skies, heavily laden with the hue, smothering any color that might be impertinent enough to break through. It muddies landscape and erases the edges, everything puddling together

The book that Pablo suggested arrived in the mail today - "Giants in the Earth", by O.E. Rolvaag. It is promised to be a tale of Norwegian settlers gone mad on the prairie. I can read along as my mind deteriorates steadily in a soup of grey. The book was only a penny and a couple bucks for shipping. It's a paperback and the pages are aged as if the book had been steeped in a vat of strong tea.

Outside grey. More shades of grey than you ever knew existed. I list them in my head and soon I feel like I'm reciting the midwestern version of Forrest Gumps shrimp soliloquy.....

Grey the color of steel, squirrel pelts, mercury, an old felt hat, nickels worn with age, West Point cadet grey, glazed pottery, grey tinged with brown, stainless steel - no, that's refreshingly shiny. Grey the color of dull headaches. Grey upon grey, piled up in suffocating layers like heavy wool, making it difficult to breathe or even think. And so it goes.

Perhaps delving into the book about settlers gone mad will calm my soul. At last, someone worse off than me.

Sunday, February 05, 2006

the dark side

One of the problems with living in a rural area is that people outside the community think since it's sparsely populated no one will notice when you dump a refrigerator on the side of the road.

Well, we do notice. And inanimate objects are only a part of the problem. One neighbor rescued two boxes of dumped kittens (totally 12) and two dogs, all of which were dumped on her rural road in one week!

Another friend, with property in central Illinois has discovered that drug operations have reached the heartland. After the passing of some of the older farmers families are leasing out acreage to the larger grain operations. This is the case with our friend. He works closer to the city and visits the property only occassionally to hunt. On one visit he discovered some disturbing garbage and called the local sheriff to investigate.

It seems a portion of his land, well hidden from the main road by distance and a large grove of trees, was used as a parking spot for a mobile meth lab. It's difficult to relate his level of anger over this one. Kittens and meth labs. What's this world coming to?

Friday, February 03, 2006

rural life

It's still the dead of winter in northern Illinois. Six more weeks says the groundhog. We awoke this morning to a special kind of grey - rain, dark, grey, definitely depressive.

I simply could not abide another photo of the current atmospheric conditions here in the farmland. So, my decision was to reach into the archives and bring you an example of what we will call "Farmers Wife Travel". Even in the travel area, the apple doesn't fall too far from the rural tree. We mostly choose rural or rustic places to visit, or at the very least sparsely populated.

This is a very rustic, "rural" site. It's just outside our thatched roof casita on a beach on the north island of Ambergis Caye, Belize. No phones, no roads. Travel is by boat or bicycle. The locals travel during morning rush hour riding up from the south island, crossing the spit by hand pull ferry.

Paradise? Yes. I've watched many a Type A transformed in this setting.

Thursday, February 02, 2006

leaning silo

The truth is that the day to day operations on a farm have changed over the years, and some of the buildings are no longer used for their original purposes. Maintaining the strutures is an expensive undertaking and not always possible with the slim operating margins.

At some point the buildings become a danger. Just this past month a milking shed and an entire barn collapsed during a bad wind storm. This barn actually looks structurally sound, but as you can see the silo has taken on a pitch.