When I was in the 6th and 7th grades, I took karate lessons and one day, for no particular reason that I can think of, my karate instructor told me the following joke: Once there was a rabbit who grew up with a buzzard and a turtle as friends. One day, they got together and decided they would start a farm. Each would have certain responsibilities, they decided. The buzzard would be responsible for plowing the fields, the turtle would dig a well for water and the rabbit would get the seeds and the fertilizer. The rabbit left and the other two animals began to work on the farm—and it wasn’t long before they struck oil. By the time the rabbit got back, many weeks later, laboriously pushing a huge cart overloaded with cow manure for the farm, the turtle and the buzzard had constructed a huge mansion. Confused, the rabbit knocked on the door and a penguin dressed as a butler answered the door. “Umm, is Buzzard here?” asked the rabbit. The penguin butler replied, in a haughty voice, “Mr. Buz-ZARD is out in the yard.” “Well, uh, is Turtle here?” inquired the rabbit. The butler said, in the same tone, “Mr. Tur-TELL is out at the well.” Angered, the rabbit threw his hat down and said to the penguin, “Well, you go tell Mr. Buz-ZARD and Mr. Tur-TELL that Mr. Rab-BIT is here with the SHIT!” Continue reading
I don’t know if I have the vocabulary to describe it, but one moment I look forward to each year is the day, typically sometime in October, when I walk outside and it is suddenly autumn. That day is defined by a combination of things, such as its look, with the leaves clearly changing color, to its feel, as the temperature is suddenly brisk, to its smell—somehow, for the first time that year, the day smells like autumn somehow. Every year I experience that day and it hits me like a ton of bricks each time and I feel that sudden sense of exhilaration. Some people call this the first football weather day and fair enough, but to me it presages not merely football but the totality of fall. What a day.
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.
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.
Western Ohio is essentially the stereotypical place that non-Ohioans tend to think of when they envision Ohio: a flat expanse of farmland punctuated by the occasional town or city. Most of Ohio doesn’t actually look like that, but western Ohio does fit the bill. If you like plenty of sky in which to view approaching thunderstorms, western Ohio is your destination. It is not that populated; really, you have Dayton to the south and Toledo way up in the northwest, and that’s about it in terms of cities (Cincinnati is another world). In 2014-2015, I would have opportunity to traverse chunks of western Ohio because I had to travel a lot to Chicago for work. Each time I would go, I’d take another route so that I could try and find some things to photograph. On April 19, 2014, I was travelling in the region on a Saturday, just to see what sights were to be seen.
In which our intrepid hero chances upon the manse macabre…
A is for Amy, who fell down the stairs.
B is for Basil, assaulted by bears.
C is for Clara, who wasted away.
D is for Desmond, thrown out of a sleigh.
Those are the first few lines of the Gashlycrumb Tinies, an alphabet book consisting of 26 different children meeting untimely ends. The Tinies are the work of Edward Gorey, a rather amazing author and artist, whose distinctive visual style was a sort of goth Edwardiana. I first encountered Gorey in high school and fell in love with his dark wit and unique artistic style.
Little did I know that a bit more than 30 years after I discovered Gorey that I would encounter a mansion that looked as if it came right out of one of his books.
In which our intrepid hero looks at the past and the passed…
Death comes to us all in the end, but you never know how news of the deaths of others will affect you. Although I mourned their passing, the actual deaths of neither of my maternal grandparents caused me true sorrow, because in both cases, the circumstances of their passing meant that death, when it came, was something of a blessing. The relief of their suffering outweighed the sorrow of their absence.
The circumstances of death thus play a large role in how deaths affects us.
In which our intrepid hero encounters much roadside lodging of a bygone era…
Every frequent traveler has their hotel stories to tell. One little one of mine comes from a trip to Little Rock, Arkansas, in the 1990s. I walked into my hotel room to discover that there was an agitated bee in the hotel room. That was a little disconcerting. I am not afraid of bees but I respect them and being in the same hotel room as one struck me as being a mite too close for comfort. So I called down to the front desk and told them to send someone up with some bugspray. Eventually a hotel staff member arrived but he didn’t have any bugspray. How the hotel expected him to kill the bee was beyond me. What he did have was bug-eyes and I soon discovered the reason that he was so fearful was because he was, allegedly, allergic to bee stings. “So the hotel sent the one guy allergic to bee stings to come kill my bee?” I asked. “And didn’t give him anything to kill it with?” We saw, eventually, that more than anything the bee just wanted out of there—he kept trying to get out through the window (which did not open). So finally we decided to team up—one of us trapped the bee in some of the window curtains while the other thwacked him with a book (probably the hotel room bible). Final score: Bee 0, Two Idiots 1.
In which our intrepid hero is reminded that the world is always changing…
It’s amazing how very different we can feel depending on whether or not we are going somewhere or returning from somewhere. The leaving is filled with expectation—hopefully a happy, excited sort of expectation, but we all know we sometimes leave towards destinations we dread. The return, though, is usually completely different. Sometimes we are simply anxious to get home and it doesn’t even matter what is around us—we have only that one thought in mind: GET HOME. Sometimes we are more relaxed about it and can enjoy the journey, understanding that at its end is the comfort and familiarity of home. I remember once, when I was in high school, returning home in the darkness from some interminable bus ride from somewhere in west Texas. I had a Walkman with me and was playing Simon & Garfunkel’s Concert in Central Park. When the song “Homeward Bound” played, it hit me like a ton of bricks. As I’ve grown older (and am now pretty close to the half century mark), the song has only become more powerful to me and if I ever hear it while I am coming back from a long trip I get quite melancholic.
In which our intrepid hero is abruptly reminded that not everybody can come and go as they please…
Ohio has over 50,000 inmates in its state prison system, close to its all-time high. Ohio’s prison population is ranked 6th in the nation in size (Ohio is the 7th most populous state). The prison population has grown by about 33% in the past 20 years, during a time when the population of the state itself has increased only slightly. In this, Ohio is representative of a huge problem in the United States: the high rate of incarceration (the highest in the entire world, which is a sad and remarkable fact). It didn’t used to be like this; the incarceration rate was quite low through the history of the United States until the 1980s, when it began to precipitously rise. Longer prison sentences, mandatory minimum sentences, a lack of rehabilitation programs, the heavy criminalization of crack cocaine, and other factors combined to create this serious problem—a problem most people don’t know or care about (if you are interested in prison issues, I strongly recommend subscribing to Prison Legal News). I came across an example of Ohio’s high rate of incarceration myself on this excursion.