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A Rural View

July 30, 2018

Rural America fascinates me.  I suppose any rural locale anywhere in the world would have the same effect on me.  Old barns and houses, sheds and shacks, fruit and vegetable stands beside the highway, rusting farm implements… they all draw my eye.  But barns…

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Barns, like old houses, have stories to tell.  Nell photographed the barn above somewhere in Ohio during our recent visit there with family.  There were bales of hay in the loft and the sun poured through the openings and lit the hay up like stacked gold. There was an old metal folding chair beside the big barn door, begging the question: who sat there? Does someone still sit there?  The long shed on the left had all manner of things sitting in the dark recesses, most probably rusted and unused but some perhaps waiting for the next planting or the next harvest.  This appeared to be a working barn and, as I recall, was surrounded by corn fields. I remember seeing one truck and a house nearby.

I grew up in the flat countryside outside of Houston, Texas.  We didn’t have a barn, but we did have a shed which served originally as a chicken coop, and when the chickens were all gone, it served other purposes. We did play inside it… and on top of it.  It wasn’t big, but for us kids it was big enough to be part of a castle fortress that needed defending or part of a fort on the southwestern plains or a hideout for gunslingers hiding from the sheriff.  It depended on what movies were showing downtown at the Majestic Theater.  I sometimes like to imagine what it would have been like to play in a real barn, with stalls and a loft.

We’ve traveled to Ohio annually for nearly twenty-five years, passing through northeast Texas, Arkansas, Tennessee, Kentucky and a lot of the eastern and northeastern part of the United States.  We’ve noted the barns along the way, and on our recent trip we noticed that many of them are once again falling into disrepair.  When I see one that has obviously been long abandoned, with trees and vines almost taking it over, I can’t help but wonder what it was like there when the farm was in its heyday and the barn stood strong.  People worked long hard days there.  Hay was stored, cows were milked, horses were shod… and i suspect in most cases children played with farm cats and dogs and played hide-and-seek in the shadowy interiors of those barns.

My relationship with rural America has been mostly a drive-by one.  The last time I was on a farm was several years ago when we visited one of Nell’s uncles (named Ralph, incidentally) in Virginia.  While Nell and her  siblings visited with him on his front porch, I roamed the farm with my camera.  Around the same time, we stopped to visit some friends in Alabama and I painted at the farm of a lady who has become a collector of my drawings and paintings and a dear long-distance friend.

I love these old places, even at a distance.  There’s just something about old wood and rust that continues to call to me.

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