Excursion 49, Part 1 (Swing around the Circle)

In September 2015, I took a page from infamous presidential accident Andrew Johnson, who in 1866 conducted what has come down in history as his “swing around the circle,” a series of campaign stops designed to influence the upcoming Congressional elections in his favor.  It started off okay but, God love him, President Johnson came to Ohio; Ohioans were vocally none too happy to see him, and it went downhill from there. His trip was widely considered a disaster.  Luckily, my own “swing around the circle” was not at all a disaster.  Rather, I embarked upon a pleasant, meandering circle around the area of Ohio between Columbus and Cleveland, a region rather devoted to agriculture.

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Excursion 47, Part 2 (Ask What You Can Do For Your Countryside)

I grew up in El Paso, Texas, and went to college at Trinity University in San Antonio.  There’s 550 miles of Texas between the two cities.  Over the years of driving back and forth, you come to learn things—traveller’s things, at least—about the places in-between:  Van Horn, Fort Stockton, Junction, Kerrville, etc.  You’d know where you can get gas, which towns or villages had a place to eat—which town had the Pizza Hut, which had the McDonald’s, and which had the “Dairy King.”   That was all driving on I-10, I should note, the same drive, every time, which gave me a very limited view of half a thousand miles of Texas.  Though I drove near it many times, I never once saw the village of Iraan, Texas (“the second largest town in the second largest county in the second largest state”).  Of course, when you have half a thousand miles to cover, minutes become precious.

That’s one of the things I like about being in Ohio and taking my little excursions.  I can explore and see all the things you can’t see from the freeway. I feel “invested” in Ohio, because of this, more than I ever felt invested in Texas.

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Excursion 47, Part 1 (Agrarians and Antiquarians)

Ask two people about farming in America and you are likely to get two different answers.  Or, somehow, even three.  America’s farm economy is booming, but the family farm is in steep decline.  Except when it is not.  So here are some quick facts, or generalizations.  First, the amount of American farmland has been relatively stable for many decades—it has had a steady but slow decline of acreage, largely due to development, which has been more than compensated for by increased production. There are around 2.2 million farms in the U.S., but there are more bus drivers than farmers—and farmers are aging, though there are signs that a new generation of farmers is emerging. Analysts often talk of “corporate” farmers and indeed a relatively small number of farmers account for the majority of farm production, but most farmers themselves are still family farmers, with many of the so-called “corporate” farms still being run by families that have incorporated for business purposes. The size of the average farm is about 440 acres or so, triple that of a century ago—and this is a good thing, as it illustrates (among other things) the disappearance of tiny sharecropped farms. In any case, 440 acres is still a pretty modest average.

In mid-July 2015, I had an opportunity to take a drive through southwest Ohio’s farm country at the height of the growing season and it was a pleasant journey indeed.

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Excursion 45, Part 1 (Where the Buffalo Laze)

I am not a very adventurous type; adrenaline-soaked thrills are not the sort that typically appeal to me. But I do understand the lure of exploring, of seeing something you’ve never seen before—or perhaps even something that few or no other people have seen before. Exploring combines the intellectual interest of discovery with the experience of being there. So when I go on one of my little excursions into the nooks and crannies of the Buckeye state, I always hope to see things I’ve never seen before. On this vernal equinoxian expedition, taken on March 21, 2015, I certainly did see some new things.

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Excursion 43 (Winter is the Loneliest Season)

When I began reviewing these photographs, taken in mid-January 2015, I was struck by how lonely some of the images seemed to be.   The dead of winter conspires against sociability; we have to fight against that natural instinct to hunker down, to hibernate.  As I take many landscapes and photos of ruined buildings, many of my photographs have that desolate look to them no matter what the season is, but winter accentuates that impression.  I am a reclusive person and often deal with feelings of loneliness, but some of these photographs could make anyone seem lonely.  Wow, I’m really selling this, aren’t I?  Actually, this blog entry contains several of my favorite photographs of 2015.

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Excursion 40, Part 2 (Palettes of Past and Present)

Photography is, I am learning in my own novice way, in many ways the study of light.  But it is more than that, too.  It is also the study of color and of texture.  I can’t help but think that this is somehow a metaphor for living life.  Light is the world we live in, the ocean in which we swim.  Color represents those things around us, the things we see, the things we notice, the things we react to.  Sometimes these colors of life are bright and superficial, sometimes darker and more soulful.  But perhaps most important of all is texture.  Texture is richer, deeper.  No matter what the color, it is the texture that reveals the truth of something.  Texture is not so much life as how you live your life—the choices you make, the way the world wears on you—etching grooves deep into your surface.  Colors can change, but texture abides.  And as we live our life, the texture of that life defines us more and more.

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Excursion 33 (The Fire Lurks Below)

Artists, they say, can become fascinated with certain subjects, returning to them over and over again because the subjects are so compelling.  Of course, the same is true for stalkers.  I am no artist, but I do confess that certain sights I see on my excursions manage to exert a certain hold on me, sending out their siren call long after I have departed the premises.  Though I always want to explore and see new things, in the time I have been engaging in this little hobby, a few places have so intrinsically interested me that I have returned to them, sometimes more than once.

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Excursion 28, Part 2 (The Fronts of Things, the Backs of Things)

Here we pick up midway through my trip to western Ohio, hugging the Indiana border closely without accidentally crossing over and touching something Hoosierish.   Actually, on this beautiful April day in 2014, I was just about to start circling back to the northeast.  It was great driving weather, especially since in Ohio April showers are indeed a thing.  Birds were chirping, groundhogs were grunting, and even bales of hay seemed to have their own personal message to me…

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Excursion 27, Part 3 (Home through the Hills)

It is a shame that Appalachian Ohioans cannot replicate some of the successes that West Virginians have had bringing federal money to help their struggling state.  But the problem is that all of West Virginia lies in Appalachia, while only part of Ohio does.  None of the power centers of Ohio, all urban or suburban, are in Appalachia; the region does not have the population to have political clout nor money to purchase politicians’ attention.  With no real economy, plus underfunded and under-attended schools, the region cannot attract money from the state of Ohio, to say nothing of the federal government.  The region is a fairly equal mix of “red” and “blue” counties, but neither party pays attention to them, Republicans because they care nothing for the poor and Democrats because they know and care little about the rural white poor.

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Excursion 27, Part 1: (Return to Mud House Mansion)

It was February 2014.  Cold and brisk, but the weather was fine and it looked like a nice day to take an excursion.  I decided to do something I had been hankering to do for quite a while, which was to return to Mud House Mansion.  I had discovered this fascinating old building located a bit east of Lancaster only the month before, so the landscape (barren, winter) would look pretty much the same, but what I wanted to do was to get there very early in the morning and get some good pictures of the mansion during the pre-dawn and dawn minutes, the so-called “golden hour” of photography.  Well, the plans of mice and men oft gang agley and my exquisite timing was ruined completely when a woman driving a jeep mounted with a battering ram rear-ended by Pilot in downtown Lancaster.  She had a grill guard on the front of Jeep (designed to protect vehicles from deer and such hitting the front of the car), but it was one that protruded well in front of the vehicle and that steel frame ploughed into the back of my SUV, caving in the rear door and doing about $7,000 or so worth of damage.  So much for golden hour.

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