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 46, Part 2 (They Took All Their Things And Never Came Back)

(with apologies to Tom Waits)

Abandoned houses seem to the the theme of this set of photographs and accompanying rambling commentary.  The block on which I grew up in El Paso did not have any abandoned houses; indeed, I’m hard-pressed to think of any in my childhood neighborhood. Of course, El Paso was a rapidly growing city and our house was located in the direction of greatest growth. It wasn’t until I moved to Columbus, Ohio, that old abandoned residences first made an impression on me—not that Columbus had any great number of them, but any older center city residential area will have at least some.

In more recent years, thanks to the great recession, abandoned homes have become such a big thing that squatting in them has also become a big thing, including by some of the extremists I study professionally in my “day” job. But the old homes pictured here are not recently abandoned, at least in the majority of cases.  They are older homes and many were clearly abandoned decades ago. Why?  In some cases, the buildings became decrepit and new houses were built on the same property. In some other cases, new owners may have bought the land—for farming or grazing—but did not need the house on the land.  In some cases, houses fell into decay during the owners’ lives and became more or less unsellable in that state, especially in small towns that might have suffered significant population loss.  There are a lot of ways homes can become derelict and I may have seen all of them.

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Excursion 46, Part 1 (The Stern Girl and Other Stories)

Over 17,000 years ago, on the dark, damp walls of a cave in Lascaux, France, a prehistoric artist left paintings of the animals of his or her time.  Today those images still have the power to amaze and to transport those few people lucky enough to view them (access is extraordinarily restricted) back to an ancient bygone era, at least momentarily.

It would be thousands of years before humanity began to construct permanent buildings, at remote places like Göbekli Tepe in Turkey (9,000 to 11,000BCE), but when they did, they put images on the pillars and surfaces of those buildings as well, just as their forebears had done on caves.

Buildings and artwork have thus served, from the very earliest periods of humanity’s existence, as our most potent time machines.  And they function as such even in the small-towns and back-country of rural Ohio.

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Excursion 45, Part 2 (Castles of the Countryside)

A couple of years ago, I was inspired to see if I could find a house listing for my childhood home in El Paso. To my surprise, I found it on newspapers.com, a 1970 listing for a tiny (probably around 1,100 sq. ft.) 3-bedroom, 1-bath house listed at $13,750.  That year, 1970, was the year my parents moved from Pennsylvania to El Paso, Texas, and bought the house. I was four years old.   About 34 years later, after many years of rental living, I bought my own home.  Just a few days ago, I mused at the fact, because it hardly seems I have been living in my home for a dozen or so years now.

I mention these facts because this excursion—actually the second half of a long excursion that took place on March 21, 2015, features a lot of houses, of many different kinds, and they were all homes to one or in some cases perhaps many families. Many of these houses now lie abandoned and ruined—at some point they ceased being homes and reverted to being mere structures again. For some reason, that makes me sad.

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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 44, Part 2 (The Cold Never Bothered Me, Anyway)

We pick up the narrative again in relating a frigid February 2015 expedition into the snow-covered hills of northeastern Ohio Appalachia.  As I write, a year later, the weather outside my window is not so different from what we see here, so I am channeling my inner Yeti.  I’ve been finding taking photographs in snowy conditions is rather interesting; snow can really change the character of a photograph, whether landscape or otherwise.  It has both a visual effect—the addition of so much white into a photo frame—and a psychological effect, creating distance, loneliness, sometimes purity. 

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Excursion 44, Part 1 (Every House a Home, Every Home a Haven)

So a dozen or so years ago I bought my first house.  I had lived in a series of apartments for 16 years and was sick and tired of not having enough room for my books (of course, back then I did not quite realize that I was on the hoarding spectrum and would accumulate books to fill any space).  Plus, after a long period of financial travail, I had finally gotten out of a huge amount of debt, everything from credit card debt to student loan debt to tax debt, while my job situation seemed to have stabilized.  It just seemed like the time to do it.  It is hard to believe I have lived in this house 12 years; it really doesn’t seem like it.  In fact, I never did fully unpack from the move.  I guess it is that way with most people.  But somewhere along the line my house became my home.  This excursion, taken on a very cold and icy February day into the wilds of northeastern Ohio, has a lot of photographs of houses—and homes, if you take my meaning.  It is a very building-intensive entry, but it’s worth the effort.

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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 41, Part 2 (The Cashier)

Even when I was a child, I always wanted to “go down in history” in some fashion—hoping that some part of me would live on, even if only as part of people’s memories.  Today, many years later and pretty much in the throes of a mid-life crisis of sorts, it seems obvious to me that my chances of being remembered will be slim.   But it is interesting how people are memorialized and how they are chosen to be remembered.  We’ll see an example of what I mean, bye and bye.  The photos here are from the second half of an excursion that my friend Tsuki and I took on a bleak day in late November 2014. Continue reading

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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