Excursion 18 (Cornucopia)

In which our intrepid hero contemplates the passage of time…

For my 18th excursion across Ohio, I decided to head northwest, essentially in the direction of Findlay.  Northwestern Ohio is heavily agricultural and relatively sparsely populated (until you get up to the Toledo area) and this excursion, conducted in mid-September, came at the tail end of Ohio’s agricultural season.  Over recent months I had driven all around Ohio, but typically every week or two, which turned out to create an odd, strobe-like effect when it came to crops like corn.  You’d go out one time, and see seedlings, then the next time young stalks and before you really had a chance to adjust, you were seeing corn in its full growth.  The effect could be jarring, like seeing a child after an absence of a couple of years, missing the interim of wild growth.  Watching in this fashion the 2013 crop come in created a sense of acceleration of time for me, like things were moving too quickly.  Of course, we experience that in our own lives, too.

[Remember that you can click on each image below to see a larger, better image]

It is hardly original of me to observe that as children the passage of time seems glacial but that it accelerates the older we get.  Sometimes it is amazing how much time has passed.  I am 47, as I write, and increasingly I find myself using the word “decades,” as in “decades ago.”  it is astonishing to me to think that I have friendships lasting over three decades, or that it has been “decades” since I saw a particular movie or went to a particular place.  This year I “celebrate” 20 years of having studied extremists in the United States.  Two decades!  It doesn’t seem that long.  I will admit, though, that there are often moments for me when I think that I am aging faster than time—moments in which I feel (psychologically, emotionally) much older than 47, moments in which I feel old.  Time always goes forward, but sometimes it seems as if it is on a rail, and the rate at which it goes forward—or that you, in a train on that rail, notice it—may vary considerably.  The destination is always the same, though.


In my experience there are two types of abandoned homes in Ohio.  There are “tame” abandoned houses, which may be vacant, crumbling or even ruined, but whose property-owners keep the surrounding foliage at least marginally groomed (and often surprisingly well-groomed).  Then there are ‘wild” abandoned houses, houses left to be reclaimed by the wilderness, which at the height of summer are often encased in a green, viney sarcophagus.  Despite some unkempt shrubberies, this house is a “tame” one, thanks to the fixation that so many rural Ohioans have on cutting grass.


There are all sorts of houses in rural Ohio—much more of a variety than in urban Ohio.  Not only does every architectural style—past, present and otherwise)—exist in rural Ohio, but you also see a much higher proportion of mobile homes and pre-fab homes.  And then you have the oddballs—homes built into the sides of hills or geodesic dome homes.  You also have “homemade” homes, homes not constructed according to any plan and probably not by any professional.   Some of these are “patchwork” homes, created a little bit at a time, whenever time and money and materials sufficed.  I can’t quite figure how to categorize this home.  In some respects, it looks like a double-wide or a prefab home, but it doesn’t really seem to be (most don’t have metal roofs, for example).  It may be a “homemade” home—certainly, elements like the chimney suggest this.  But the house gives a somewhat false appearance of that with its siding.  That is not a brick home, but rather a house that has siding on it made to look like brick.  It is actually wood underneath.  Thus the side of the house that faces us, which seems to be constructed of two types of material, actually has two types of fake brick siding.


Since I was out in corn country, it seems only fair that I take some pictures of corn, dammit.  Here’s some late season corn with tassels.  When I was in college (“decades ago”), I had a friend from Iowa, who told me how he would earn money detasseling corn.  This was a grueling job that involved going through a field, removing the tassels from the top of the stalks (they are male parts of the stalk and produce pollen) and throwing them on the ground (this is part of a process that cross-breeds two types of corn).   In states (and Canadian provinces) like Iowa, much of this work is done by kids to earn money, working backbreaking hours thanks to exceptions in child labor laws.  I am not sure what the future of this will be, though, as farm-aceutical companies like Monsanto and Pioneer are developing methods of hybridization using chemicals, which might lessen or eliminate the need for physical detasseling.  I have yet to see detasselers at work in Ohio, but they exist.


Modern corn is planted so densely that it frequently seems more of a texture than individual plants.


I was quite taken by this tiny white house with its greyed metal roof.  It almost seems like something black and white stuck into the middle of a color photograph.  It is well-aged but not yet crumbling.


Here is what it actually looks like all in black and white.


Not too far away from the white house I spotted an unusual bee-themed mailbox.   I stopped to take a picture of this odd little sight.


Once I started the vehicle again and drove to the other side of the residence, I realized the reason for the mailbox.  The back and side of the house were full of bee-keeping accoutrements, such as the ones above.  The family apparently beekeep.  Or used to—I could not find any beekeeping equipment that was actually in use.  It made me wonder if their hives had suffered from colony collapse disorder, which is a phenomenon affecting European honeybees across North America (and apparently in Europe as well).  This is a major issue because European honeybees are the primary bee used to pollinate crops in the United States and their loss can greatly affect agriculture.  In recent years, from 30-50% of honey bees have been lost each year.  What is perhaps most frustrating is that scientists still basically have no clue what is causing this.  Every month it seems, you find a news story in which it is proclaimed that someone has found the cause of colony collapse disorder, each one different from the last and none of them seemingly more correct than any other.  The only silver lining, I suppose, is that colony collapse disorder does not affect native honeybees, which has caused much more attention and research to be focused on those various species (native bees do the vast majority of pollination in the U.S.; European honeybees are largely limited to commercial crop pollination, for which they tend to be more effective).

When I was growing up, our family had a family friend who dabbled in beekeeping and that was how I got my first taste of honey right from the comb.


I briefly exited the cornfields to enter the hamlet of West Mansfield (population 682, salute!), one of innumerable tiny hamlets and villages dotting western Ohio.  This tiny place has experienced population loss, which is no surprise, but is actually pretty well off, with only 3.4% of its small population below the poverty line.  The hamlet was named after the son of its founder (Levi Southard’s son, Mansfield Southard), but had to add “West” to its title because there is a larger town called Mansfield some ways to the east.

I like taking photographs of the backs of buildings because they are often much more “real” than the fronts.


Here is the back and side of a  building that exhibits a great deal of aging flair.  It also shows the desire by people to make their buildings seem larger than they really are.  Often you see that with false fronts, but here they just made the front of the building needlessly higher than the back, and sloped the roof.


Here is a “tame” abandoned house that seems to have suffered fire damage.  I see a lot of burnt or burnt-down buildings in my excursions, but I only occasionally photograph them because burnt down structures do not resonate with me the way aged or ruined structures usually do.


Corn!!!!   And some flowers, for spice.


Here’s an aged residence (complete with old aerial) dramatically positioned against the clouds.  It is funny how a piece of technology can change things.  Satellite dishes now allow most people (except those living in blind spots) to get full television programming of high (visual, if not content) quality.  In the “olden days,” the best you could do was to erect a large aerial like this one in the hopes of capturing the television signals of some distant broadcast.  I can attest from personal experience that the result was often a grainy, snowy, picture that sometimes you could hardly make out.


Shorn sheep sure should show shame.


My trip across the cornfields of Ohio was interrupted by a paving crew and I had to patiently wait for some time before they passed.


This dilapidated house lies in the tiny unincorporated hamlet (“census-designated place”) of Dola, Ohio.  The hamlet has a population of only 140 (salute!).


Among its few residences and businesses, I did spot this old Chevrolet truck.


All right, Mr. DeMille, I’m ready for my close-up.


“Rules” of photography composition often warn against putting the subject in the precise middle of a shot, but I deliberately violated that rule here, because to me it gave this tiny barn much more of a sense of isolation and loneliness.


I think the barn looks pretty good in black and white, too.


Not far away from Dola, on U.S. 30 just west of Williamstown, Ohio—actually at the intersection of County Road 304 (which is just north of US 30; sometimes the address of this place is actually given as being on US 30) and Township Road 68—I found this tiny ruined motel.  Nowhere could I find a name for the motel, but an Internet search of the address (10984 County Road 304, Williamstown, Ohio) seems to suggest that the motel was built in 1950.   Knowing how many people collect old motel postcards, I decided to do a Google search on “Williamstown,” “motel” and “postcard.”  In about two seconds I was able to identify the motel as the former Bon Air Motel.

Here are a couple of old postcard images of what the Bon Air looked like in better days.


The text on the back of this postcard dubbed the motel “One of the Finest” and described it as “ten large hotel rooms, hot water heat, open all year – Family accommodation, near restaurant – Opened 1950.  Dr. & Mrs. E. E. Rakestraw, Owners.”  Whoever originally obtained this particular postcard never mailed it but kept it as a souvenir, writing on the back that “this place was every bit as nice as the picture.”


Apparently a sign existed describing the place as the Bon Air motel until sometime around 2008-2009, when it was taken down or removed, leaving the place now a mystery to passersby.


I’d guesstimate it must be around 30 years since this motel was in use.  The current owner of this property seems to have purchased it in 2010 for only $7,000.  The building can’t really be refurbished—it would have to be torn down to make use of the property in some way.


The Bon Air was an l-shaped motel, with a drive that went right up and actually through the motel, where you could stop the car and check in, I suppose.  The rooms inside have all been entirely gutted.


For those of you who just can’t stand black and white photographs, here is what the Bon Air looks like in color.


I believe I took this photograph in some hamlet not far from Findlay, but for some reason I did not record the name.  I liked the distinctive lime color of this dilapidated old building.


The town of Findlay (population 41, 202, salute!) is one of the larger towns of northwestern Ohio, greater in population than Bowling Green but much smaller than the city of Toledo.   Weird fact:  Findlay is where touch-tone telephones debuted in 1960.  Unlike many towns in Ohio, Findlay has not experienced population loss and has tripled in size over the past century.   That’s largely because Findlay has had a strong economy, with a number of companies based there (today, its unemployment rate is 5.7%, well below the state average of 7.3%).

I did not linger in Findlay—I took this excursion because I was actually travelling to Detroit for a gaming event—but I did have to take this one fire escape photograph.

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