Tuesday, January 31, 2006

change of seasons

Last summer I stood in the abandoned building, a large shed that connected the old barn to twin silos. In the darkness of the building the fields seemed to glow in the sunshine. This is the last crop to be grown in this field.

Last fall the huge oak trees snuggled up against the farmhouse were cut down in one afternoon. The huge stumps were reduced to wood chips and the logs were hauled off.

The center building in this photo is where I wast standing when taking the above photo.

About two weeks ago the silos were dispatched, knocked to piles of rubble. The corn crib featured on January 27 was knocked down on Monday afternoon. The large shed was all that remained.

This morning on my way to any appointment, crews were knocking down the large shed. Two hours later this was all that remained. It seems like such a small pile of material compared to the mass of the structure. The farmhouse is the only thing remaining and looks obscene and exposed standing alone overlooking the open fields.

Monday, January 30, 2006


This example of an old concrete silo shows the tension banding that held them together. They are quite beautiful and in this case the light from above filled the inner space with a warm glow.

This silo was destroyed about two weeks ago, along with the other silo and the corn crib. The barn and house will be next.

Sunday, January 29, 2006


A tiny cemetery outside Kings, Illinois, stands lonely against the winter elements. The small collection of headstones seems insignificant in the vast landscape. In summertime the graves are surrounded by a line of cornstalks, stretched as far as the eye can see in every direction. This green army stands watch over the dead, protecting it from natures onslaught and from human sight.

A tiny sign proudly proclaims this as the final resting place of a revolutionary war soldier. He would have been on of Illinois first non-French settlers, the initial tentative wave arriving in 1779.

It's a sacred place in a cornfield. In death, as in life, the settlers receive no mercy from the reality of nature.

Saturday, January 28, 2006


Early this morning I had to run an errand in the larger town just east of here. It afforded me the opportunity to examine the new train station that will transport commuters to Chicago.

The commuters haven't quite arrived yet, as in this case the powers that be decided to finish some of the infrastructures before opening the floodgates to the developers. The station is ghostly abandoned for now, only 3 cars in the parking lot on a Saturday morning (350 car lot).

A short tunnel and ramp system will take you to a plaform that stands in the middle of the tracks, affording an up close and personal look at the diesel engine and long coal train that passes through tiny La Fox several times a day. Tons of coal, more coal that you can imagine exists.

Friday, January 27, 2006


This photograph was taken a short while ago. The inside of the corn crib is no longer accessible, filled with debris from it's own destruction. Crews are systematically demolishing the farm buildings to make way for a new subdivision.

I spent quite a bit of time at this property, recording some of the more interesting features, including a typical ribstone silo.

This system was employed by the farmer in an attempt to keep his tools organized and to alert him if he'd unknowingly left one laying around as he worked. The box is hand constructed and the shape of each tool has been carefully hand painted on the back board. Small nails were driven into the wood and allowed the farmer to hange each tool in it's predetermined spot.

This corn crib also had a chair sitting next to the conveyor system that served to lift and deposit the corn into the crib. Even though the farm had long since been abandoned the chair made it feel as if the farmer might return to work any moment.

Thursday, January 26, 2006

otter creek

A fresh snowfall blankets the ground and only the movement of the water in Otter Creek keeps it from being obliterated from sight.

Smaller portions of the creek disappear under the snow cover, but occassionally the water seems to literally spring from the ground.

The reading of William Least Heat-Moon's book "River Horse" has given me a fascination for the countrysides system of brooks, streams and rivers. Fingers of water connect and move, always headed for the sea.

Wednesday, January 25, 2006

head west

This photo was taken on the first day that the commuter train transported passengers from the tiny village of La Fox to Chicago, a distance of 50 miles.

The indians of this area were displaced by the arrival of settlers heading west. And now the rural farmers, descendants of those early settlers are going to be displaced by the latest wave..... an urban population pushing ever further west.

Is it right, is it wrong? Hard to tell in the wake of local history.

At this point, it just is......

Monday, January 23, 2006


Pioneer women literally stood at the edge of the great prairies, digging in with foot and attitude, refusing to venture another step, fearing they would disappear into the vast sea of grass. The visual itself is frightening - not a tree or building, nothing to anchor yourself. The huge forests of the east stood behind them, family and friends now a world away. The adventure suddenly didn't seem such a good idea.

Others fended off madness locked inside the walls of tiny sod houses, closing in as the winter stretched from November to April, winds howling like demons, no amusements or books to brighten the mind and pass the time.

A small china teapot might be all she possessed that would raise her status, if only in her mind, to that of "civilized."

The cruel reality was that starvation, disease, injury and death was just a breath away.


A mighty tree at the edge of the farm property on Swanberg road is a commanding presence. I'm terrible at determining the age of trees, but this is very old.

This tree has seen many changes. It surely shaded the Pottawatomie, as their hunting parties would have passed through here on their way to the Rock River.

This particular morning hoarfrost has visited again, tipping the edges of the braches with millions of tiny white crystals.

Sunday, January 22, 2006


There's nothing that presents more opportunities for fun than a fresh snowfall. We received a good 12 inches night before last, and in the morning the kids were out in droves doing what kids do.

Just watching them skating on ponds, building snowmen, sledding and the best activity of all - engaging in snowball fights. Teams are chosen, battle lines are drawn and strategies are strategized!

It's such fun as you begin to sweat in all that clothing, the cold air filling your lungs and energizing every cell in your body. Oh, to be a kid again!

Friday, January 20, 2006

farm manager

This young man is the manager at Garfield Farm. It's just a reminder that the country is not defined by picturesque barns and sweeping landscapes. People are the life blood of the countryside.

There seems to be a flood of people following in William Least Heat-Moons steps, traveling the country by car, bike or by foot. Jesse White Crow, another Indian is making the treck. His accounts can be read here:
White Crow Walking

AP writer Calvin Woodward discovered for himself the pulse of rural America when he travel by bicycle, riding from coast to coast in 88 days. I'm not sure if he had a preconceived notion of what he might find, but his conclusion was -
"Over three months on roads less traveled, I didn't hear America singing, as poet Walt Whitman did in his exuberant tribute to a rising nation.
I didn't hear it whining either, as cynics do today.
I saw America going about its business without fuss.
It waved from front porches, fixed up houses, talked about the day and times in little coffeehouses.
Grew field of soybeans and sunflowers, saw the sun come up and go down in the same sky each time, ran trains that thundered and wailed.
Downloaded gospel songs.

Here's the entire story:
Road Less Traveled

Thursday, January 19, 2006

ghost at sunrise

The old American foursquare looks ghostly backlit by the sunrise.

The huge oak trees which once protected the house from the onslaught of weather from the west, have been sawn into logs and chipped into mulch. The family has long since moved away, most likely the last inhabitants were renters. And now the house stands alone to face the elements. Not for long though, the heavy equipment has moved in to assault the cornfields, forging rough trails that will soon be followed by armies of carpenters and plumbers.

They'll make quick work of the home and barns, either with large bulldozers or as practice for the local fire department.

Wednesday, January 18, 2006

the hawk moon

Sunrise....moonset. The moon sets in the west as a hawk preens his feathers. This hawk was a substantial bird, and it suprised me when he landed on the top of a very scrawny sapling. A day or so previous to this I watched a hawk soaring over a cornfield. He presented quite a show, hovering, dipping, moving forward and back. At some point he would make a dramatic sweep to the left, perhaps catching the movement of a field mouse in his peripheral vision.

Tuesday, January 17, 2006

weather station

Years ago I gave up the habit of watching TV news. The same goes for the weather.

Each morning I check the weather station at Peck and Keslinger Roads. The birds tell me all I need to know. On this clear morning they're facing west, which means the sun will hold out and we'll be blessed with some sunshine. If the birds are facing east, a storm is approaching and they have positioned themselves with their backs against the coming onslaught.

Saturday, January 14, 2006

moon dog

In addition to hoarfrost, Mother Nature puts on a nighttime show in the winter. It's something called a moon dog, a glowing ring around the moon. On a clear winters night, when conditions are right you can view the show.

Of course if you search on the web you'll find a scientific explanation, some blah blah about ice crystal shapes.

"The ring that appears around the moon arises from light passing through six-sided ice crystals high in the atmosphere. These ice crystals refract, or bend, light in the same manner that a camera lens bends light. The ring has a diameter of 22° , and sometimes, if you are lucky, it is also possible to detect a second ring, 44° diameter. Thin high cirrus clouds lofting at 20,000 feet or more contain tiny ice crystals that originate from the freezing of super cooled water droplets. These crystals behave like jewels refracting and reflecting in different directions. "

Personally I find it interesting to understand how things work....... in some instances. In the case of a Moon Dog it somewhat destroys the mystery. So in my book - -

It's magic!

Friday, January 13, 2006


It's hard to understand that anyone would consider that rural northern Illinois, in the middle of January, is a viable place to start training for bike races. But, yes, the bikes are on the road again, and not just one rider. Packs of them were traversing the back roads last weekend.

The temperature was balmy - maybe 30 degrees, but as always in Illinois the wind was clipping along at a good 20 miles per hour. I'm sure there's a mathematical formula to translate the effect of the wind speed, creating a wind chill number. I'm mathematically challenged and much too tired to spend time searching for such a computation. Suffice it to say that it was cold.

My previous suggestion to find a way to enjoy the northern outdoors in winter does not include the possibility of bike riding in skimpy costumes. But then, it could just be a cultural thing.

Thursday, January 12, 2006


There's not much that can stand up to the scale of broad farmlands. Small buildings look insignificant and even large structures are dwarfed by the open spaces that spread from horizon to horizon.

This small shed was once part of a farm. The farmhouse which stood about 300 yards from here has been razed. Newcomers to the area don't see the hole where the farmhouse once stood. I see the hole.

The curious little shed and the surrounding fields are now owned by a man who lives a distance from here. He's holding on to it until the developers move closer and at that time the sale price of the acreage will skyrocket.

The odd feature of the building is that it has two mailboxes attached at the front of the building. I'm not quite sure why, but it's plenty ready for mail.

Wednesday, January 11, 2006


Nine miles from here the outer edges of a 40 mile urban sprawl reaches from the edges of Lake Michigan to the rural countryside. The clash of suburban and rural surprisingly hasn't created much of a spark, but the contrasts are dramatic nonetheless.

I've mentioned before that this is probably one of the only places where a Coach handbag store lies within two miles of a livestock feed store. There are no glitzy 24 hour fitness centers in the country - farming is a physical endeavor - no need to pump iron. Kids get exercise doing chores and playing in the barns and on the property.

But just nine miles from here children are pushed along in "burleys". Out in the country burly means stocky, stout, hearty. I'm not saying either culture is better than the other. They're just different and it seems to me that we're able to abide each other. We must remember though that Illinois farmland is black gold and has taken thousands and thousands of years to develop - once lost to development will never be recaptured.

Tuesday, January 10, 2006


The large pile of sticks alongside Stony Creek can mean only one thing - beavers have been busy at this spot. It's not clear to me whether a human element has dismantled the dam because the pile lies directly next to the spillway from the lake. The spillway represents the beginning of the creek flow.

It seems odd to me that the beavers would stack things up to start construction later.

This is an inaccessible spot for photography - the road are very, very narrow with no shoulder and there's no place to park a car and walk unless you want to park in someones lane and walk a mile or so to the spot. So the mystery will remain for now, but I will return to see what's become of the mountain of saplings.

Monday, January 09, 2006

barn side

After more than a week under a dead grey cloud cover we were rewarded with one day of sunshine. The light seemed to be absorbed by the saturated barn paint and then fed back to the cameras eye as a deep blend of color, form and texture.

Barns were places of shelter, protecting livestock, machinery and harvested crops from the elements. They are, in my opinion, a wonderful example of beauty, form and function. I can't say that I've ever seen an ugly barn, although some fall into the status of curiousities. There's a barn west of here that I call the "ship". It was enlarged over time with odd additions and from a distance the appearance is of something out of Mad Max.

This has a fairly fresh coat of paint, and many say the paint is what hold the barn together. My favorite are those that have weathered to a silvery grey over time.

Saturday, January 07, 2006

these hands

When I was young, like most young people, I valued perfection and beauty. But the older you get the more you understand that beauty lies in character. We've seen these hands before, hands that have worked hard for many, many years. Hands that are now adorned in celebration of a life lived well, not well-off, just well lived. These hands scrubbed kitchen floors with icy water, before they had indoor plumbing. These hands have hauled a thousands tons of hay out the animals. These hands have prepared endless meals. These hands continue to work in the old fashioned way.....with paper and pen.

Wednesday, January 04, 2006


I've mentioned before that if you're going to live up north you simply must find a way to enjoy yourself in the great outdoors. Sledding is a fun activity. Not the sled of your childhood, but a very fast grown up sled.

We sold ours off last year. Snowmobiling around here is not very good around here because the truth is, we don't get enough snow. That's right. We would take our sled up to Lac du Flambeau, Wisconsin, where there was always plenty of deep snow and safe, groomed trails. There's nothing in the world like flying over a frozen lake at night, the moon lighting the path.

One afternoon we decided to take off on a new trail. About two miles into the ride the trail took a gentle curve to the right. A breathtaking sight lay just around the bend. Thick evergreens lined up on each side, heavily laden with fresh white snow which bent the branches. They looked like courtiers bowing as a royal entourage passed by. Heavy snow deadened the sound of the machines and we literally crawled through the green and white tunnel. On the other side we let loose the powerful sleds and headed towards the tavern.

........the trails don't actually lead anywhere, just lead you from tavern to tavern - warming sheds with food and drink.

Tuesday, January 03, 2006


Finding anything of photographic interest will be a challenge as we enter the grey zone. The light is gone, the entire landscape smothered by a thick and oppressive cloud cover. The sky is dark and grey, the snow is dirty. Well, actually the snow all melted yesterday in a wierd January thunderstorm!

We live on the remembered beauty of the hoarfrost, and the promise of a pristine snowfall or the fragile beauty of a ice storm.

But for now we hunker down and sit under the dark pall.

Monday, January 02, 2006

passing through

There's no reason for you ever to visit our village. It's not a destination. To call the dot on the map a village is truly a stretch of the imagination. You do have to slow down, though, as the speed limit on Route 47 dips below 55 as you pass through. The old joke is, "don't blink, you'll miss it". These adages are based in truth and the truth is, if you blink you'll miss it.

After you pass the old Lily Lake Grade School you've pretty much seen the best of it. There's not one stop sign or traffic light, no stores, no post office, no taverns, no police station. We do have a heating and air conditioning guy that keeps an office, and a gas station/mini mart, but it's questionable whether that's actually within our boundaries. The gas station possibly occupies the last inch of ground that's considered our turf. There's one cemetery and two churches.

Anything considered civilization - liquor, food, dentists, libraries - are at least 9 miles away. If you glance out the window of your car on your way somewhere else it doesn't look like much. A bit worn around the edges. But it is something. It's elbow room. It's privacy. It's nature. It's creekbeds and deer. It's quiet. It's slower. It's land as far as the eye can see. And best of all it's home.

Sunday, January 01, 2006

midnight clear

Good advice to anyone moving to the midwest is to find a way to enjoy yourselves outdoors. Pick an acitivity - if you have the need for speed there's snowmobiling, skiing is available on small hills that sadly pass for "mountains". Cross country skiing will bring you closer to nature and you would be surprised at the diverse wildlife you'll discover while swishing along the trails.

You might ask yourself what happening in this photo. The gentleman with his back to you in the foreground is dreaming of hitting the trails tomorrow with his new snowshoes. Everyone has gathered in the 26 degree night to celebrate the New Year in our tiny community.

What is it? Why, it's the Corn Drop!

Our neighbor Bryan is a transplanted Long Islander. Years ago he was missing the famous "ball drop" New Years celebration in New York. Being a creative sort he devised the now famous "Corn Drop".

In his workshop he fashioned a five foot tall ear of corn, wrapped in thousands and thousands of yellow and green lights. The corn is mounted on a 35 foot pole and we spend a couple hours indoors eating, drinking and awaiting midnight. About 15 minutes before midnight we don our coats and stand out in the frosty evening, contemplating the year past and thinking about what the next year might bring. I mentioned to Bryan that in order to be authentic he would need to rotate the crop, corn drop one year, soybean the next. (It's an inside farmers joke folks). Bryan claims he wouldn't know how to fashion a proper soybean.

The best thing about living here is that we know our neighbors well. We pitch in when they need help, we celebrate birth and death together. We disagree, we work it out or we just leave it be.