It’s that time of year again, summer…when the air gets heavy, hot and sometimes sticky. We watch the radar for rain, thunderstorms, and other atmospheric turbulence. This is when the barn cats get lethargic while they lounge on the patio chairs with legs and tails dangling off the edge of their seat. This is when we start packing to go up north. This is when my stomach churns a bit at leaving behind even for a few days what I know for normal. Home, cat, job, plants, steer, crops, paved roads. But I am also excited because we escape into my imagination. Action Figure Pete just happens to be at the wheel and hardly knows where my brain is at. Poor guy. Just ride along with me you hapless soul…
…into the vast primordial ink. Overly dramatic? Yesss. But I do love that we go to a place where there are few people. There are mosquitoes, eagles, toads, moss, ferns and the lonely boat or two. We also go to places more populated. But I’m skipping over that part and going straight to the “let’s all crawl under a rock and stare at moss” place. And ferns. We like ferns. Action Figure Pete wonders why we have so many big ferns in our own yard. This would be why. Because my imagination needs to accessorize with ferns.
So a good part of vacation had me sneaking off to look at a ferns, rocks, moss, or shoes growing on trees.
Maybe the shoe tree falls under the “too many people” category. So let’s get back to the primordial being part of this vacation. We’re alone in the vast wilderness and we can take that canoe and paddle it into the twisting, meandering river and around the curve beyond which we cannot see.
Except no, a storm front moved in and whipped that river into a milky froth from which we would never have survived. So we stayed safe and secure in our cabin that we did not hew from logs as I’d like to imagine. And in fact, a new toilet was installed so there goes the adventure of the outhouse although Action Figure Pete always extends the invitation to use it. Er, no thanks.
Despite frothing storms and questionable outhouses, the skies cleared and so did my rain-drenched eyes. Seeing scraggly pines scratching the skies reflected in endless waterways, and the dark wall of the forest lining the dirt roads, the imagination is ignited, giving my buzzing brain a restful respite until we return to farm, cats, steer, crops, job, paved road, and people.
(psst, there are actually dinosaurs up north. You just have to be real quiet to see them)
We’ve been having a false spring here in the Midwest. That won’t last for very long. Snow is predicted for tomorrow. Never mind that though. While the temperatures were mild, Action Figure Pete swung his sledge hammer high and proud. Unbeknownst to me. This all happened while I was a million miles away at work. When I came home, we had our usual two ships passing in the night conversation that went something like this;
He: “look at the door I took down.” Me: “what door, what?!” He: “in the garage, go look at it”. Me: “why am I looking at a door?” etc. After a little bit more of this shorthand-style conversation I realized it had finally happened. The beautifully decrepit silo vestibule took a hit. And Action Figure Pete saved the door. But the rest of it, phhht. Gone.
I’m a little sad because I loved its decaying beauty. I’m pretty sure there is a word or phrase for it in Victorian gardening parlance but it’s not coming to mind right now. So I shall simply call it Decaying Beauty. Also eyesore and danger zone. Which is why it went down. In its place will be a brand, spanking new structure with a shiny, tin roof. But for now we have this:
Ow. It’s like having a tooth pulled. It kind of hurts. There’s this big gaping hole now. It’s looking kind of raw. So let’s go in for a closer look said I to no one but myself. Now that the shaky roof is down and I don’t need a hard hat to explore, I hopped into the abyss to explore the innards of ye olde silo.
We’re looking at the bottom of an empty silo here. This mechanism currently resting at the bottom would actually raise up and/or down to keep on top of the corn level, and thus shoot the corn out of the silo openings when needed. In the lower section of the photo you can see a couple of the silo doors that closed the openings when the silo was full.
Looking up, we see the interior of the silo. To the open sky. Because somehow along the way, the silo lost its top. Rumor has it that a big wind blew it off back in the 90s. It must have been quite a wind. Can you imagine all that corn filling up that space?
Perspective is deceiving here. What looks like a subway tunnel is actually a ladder going up the side of the silo. Those light-filled rectangles are the silo openings that allow the corn to come out and empty into the vestibule below (where that gaping hole is now). Someone at one time had to climb up that ladder and pull open the silo door to let that corn out. Action Figure Pete calls it a low-tech operation. I call it ag history. Also…scary.
Ah, here we have a view of that “subway tunnel” from the outside if that helps at all. Honestly, I would not want to be banging around on the inside of that.
Traipsing around this demolition site woke up the beast. I must be careful as I tread, for the fearsome barn cat had roused itself from its afternoon nap and was in stalking mode. At least he had the presence of mind to put on some eye liner.
It’s cat time! Here’s Rainy getting his sexy on:
Now Mr. Hans is working it!
These boys are brothers, one litter removed. And like brothers, they bicker and pretend to not like each other at times. But at the end of the day, I’m pleased to see this scenario:
Oh, and the vestibule door that Action Figure Pete saved? It’s in the garage, waiting to be reassigned.
Yesterday first thing in the morning, I gathered myself together and pulled on my big girl boots. I had determined that I would chop down the 5 ft. weed trees and long grass that grew along the cornfield by my little, hidden corner of land. I figured it would really open up the space a bit, maybe even allow for a fire pit. So I armed myself with a tree limb cutter and hand shears for full frontal assault. Some of those weed stalks are two inches in diameter so I knew it would take some serious intent. After an hour or so I had made some major progress. Wagon-loads of it.
It really opened up the space quite a bit. Now I’m really seeing fire pit! Maybe even a small pond or water feature. All this used to be weeds, giant, tree-like weeds. Now it’s mine, all mine!
Except for one tiny snag or two….you may have noticed in the first photo, there yet remains a clump of uncut weeds to the right. There’s a reason for that. While I was deep in the weeds hacking away at the tall grass and weed stalks, I came eyeball to eyeballs with a garden spider firmly ensconced in her web. So I figured okay, I’ll leave her alone, I don’t want to evict a spider from her amazing web. So I started to wack weeds from the other side.
That didn’t last long.
There on the other side of the remaining clump of weeds was another garden spider. Well. Can’t cut those weeds down. Thus is born the Sanctuary for Wayward Arachnids. This is now a protected patch of weeds even though that so goes against my obsessive desire to make a clean-cut along the perimeter of the cornfield. Even Action Figure Pete had to drive the lawnmower around the Sanctuary though I’m sure he would have loved to plow through it if I hadn’t been standing there with my save-the-spiders sign.
It seems though that the Sanctuary has an annex for the garden spider that prefers a more light and airy abode. This plump lady prefers to stay on the east-facing side of our house. Not a bad spot, lots of sunshine and not too much wind. I won’t be going there for a while. She owns it.
Meanwhile, weeds. I did what I could working my way around the Sanctuary, and took my wagon o’ weeds to the steers for a nice snackie. They like snacks. It’s gotten to the point that when they see me coming, a yummy salad is usually on the menu.
Er, I think number 39 is getting a little drunk on the greens. Ease up big boy.
Hey! I’ve got some happy spidey news! I checked in on the “Sanctuary for Wayward Arachnids —Side of the House Annex” the next morning, and look at this, someone is having babies!
I guess that’s why she was so plump! Congratulations spider!
If vintage tractors, steam whistles, and all manner of metal parts clacking, whizzing, rotating and spinning are your thing, then the Badger Steam & Gas Show is where it’s at. And that’s where we were one fine Saturday. That is where I get my latent, vintage tractor geek on.
I can hardly stand it. We only have one day to spend there. It is not enough time to take in all the exhibitors, tractor displays, massive flea market, tractor parade, food, and family. Family is one of our big reasons for going. Action Figure Pete’s uncle Rhiny is a long time exhibitor there, so we haul our snacks and drinks and set up shop for the day in the Rhiny family encampment. Excellent! We can sit and chat amidst the clacking metal parts and whistle of pent up steam. It’s a dream.
It’s not all about tractors though, anything powered by steam or gas is on display. Such as this fine Maytag washer, probably the pride of someone’s home at one time. I wonder when my current washer will be considered a vintage piece that others pause to look at in awe. (I mean aside from my cat who seems fascinated by the window of clothes tumbling over and under.)
After rushing around the flea market, we beat back to camp to prepare ourselves for the tractor parade. This is where I drool a little because I know what’s coming. The big behemoth of tractors from the early 1900’s. They are like a woodshed on wheels, serious, bone-crushing wheels. They let out a powerful whistle that makes small children cry, and big girls (me) grin like a nutter! Bring it on…
And they did. Here’s another. Ginormous with all the bells and whistles. It was about time for us to be going home so I kept saying, “after this tractor”, but then another one would come along that I’d have to see. Seriously, please deliver tractor to me forthwith so I can be done with it and go home. I’ll take good care of it I promise.
To tell you the truth, I also love to see the faces of the men and women driving the tractors. Some are serious with intent concentration (very necessary of course), and others, well, you can see that pure glee and pride that comes with being behind the wheel of a tractor that helped drive the course of agriculture.
You know that part of day, when the sun starts relinquishing itself to the inevitability of dark? Dusk we call it. I like that word. Dusk. It sounds just like it is. Not bright, not dark, just dusty dusk. It’s in between. A teeter-totter creep from day to night. It was during that time that I happened to stroll out to a far and isolated corner of our property for what I no longer remember. I call that area the Secret Corner. A few years ago I carved it out by whacking away a multitude of tree-sized weeds and created a whole new outdoor room. And one more area to mow. But I like it. It’s perimeter is defined by the pine trees on one side, corn fields on two other sides, and grape vines on the final side. Within its confines exist asparagus and strawberry patches, manic rhubarb plants and a prolific row of Asiatic Lilies. Within this newly found space, I also planted two red Adirondack chairs with a matching table so that I may dash off to hide and/or read. Or contemplate the cornstalks growing. (Or soybeans in years of crop rotation.)
So there I was, in that dusky world walking beneath overgrown vines and under the sweep of darkening pine trees. Stillness. No breeze. Just the quiet approach of dark. I could see the billowy shapes of the asparagus plants that had now gone to seed. Within that cloud of asparagus, I could just make out a shape. Thinking it a random clump of leaves that the wind had previously placed there, I made to go forth and pluck it out. But wait…what I thought to be leaves took shape and revealed itself to be a Black Bird. But how? Could the wispy branches of asparagus hold a bird? It seemed improbable so I quietly stepped closer. Yes. Black Bird sitting in the middle of the asparagus cloud. It didn’t move nor flutter. It looked north and up. Still not quite believing this, I circled once and then twice. Black Bird. It did not flinch nor move though I was only a couple of feet away. Could it be dead? Then wouldn’t it drop to the ground? I circled a third time.
It was still as a stone. Always looking north and up. And dusk was pressing in. And it was feeling a little unnerving. On my third pass I decided that as much as I enjoy a little creepiness to my dusk, this was just too weird. So I decided to leave and head back home, light the lamp and stir the coals. I’ll return in the morning to see if there is a bird on the ground. But that image of the Black Bird sitting stone still in watchful wait as dusk descended remained burned in my mind.
I’ve been trying to sketch out that image because it won’t leave me alone. I’m not at all there yet with the initial sketch. And there are plenty of Black Bird drawings out there so why bother? But I want to bother, because it was such a strange thing to see in such a strange time of day, and somehow I want to draw it and define it for myself. It may fall short of what is burned in my head, but at least it’s a reason to get charcoal all over my hands once again.
The next morning, in the clear light of day I went back out there to the asparagus patch. There was no bird.
Between sustaining winds and buckets of rain, we do squeeze in a nice summer day once in a while. Yesterday was such a day. Still a little windy, but at least I didn’t have to chase tumble weed cats as they bounced across the cornfield. In fact, Mr. Hans slept in. Can’t even get all his eyes open he’s that sleepy.
So I guess I’ll leave him alone. Who else can I bother? Oh yeah! The chocolate milk cow!! Oh yum. We all know that chocolate milk comes from brown cows. Right? Problem is, this here is a steer. So technically, no chocolate milk here. But he must get friendly with another brown cow to get pure chocolate milk. You heard it here first. Tell your kids. Next Easter we’ll talk about brown bunnies and chocolate eggs. It all relates. Somehow. Don’t worry, I’ll make it relate. But for now, look at #41. He’s one handsome dude.
I’ve bothered Chocolate Steer enough, so what next on this fine summer day? Before I could get much further I nearly stumbled across this large rectangle of straw plopped in the middle of the drive. What ho! Shredded Wheat! Why is it whenever I see one of these giant straw bales, I have the urge to grab a spoon, a bowl of milk, and start eating that bale? It’s the Shredded Wheat syndrome. I grew up on that for breakfast, well, between the not-so-healthy Frosted Flakes and Lucky Charms I suppose. It’s such a visceral response whenever I see a straw bale. Man, I’ve been wanting to admit to that for so long! I feel better now.
Let’s put the fork down and walk away from the straw bale. Oh look!! Pears! The pears are back. Why am I always amazed? I’m so proud of this tree. We always get so much from it that I’m always happy to share the pear. Last year I pruned it back a bit so it will be easier to get at them. It really is cool to watch those nubby little things fill out and develop into a full-fledged, edible fruit. I’m seeing pear bread in the near future. Carry on little pears.
Speaking of fruit, let’s say hi to the grapes. I pruned those back too last year. Now they are acting all like “Whaaat! Can’t prune me back, we grow girl!” And they do. Fast and full. The leaves unfurl, and the vines seek the nearest object on which to grasp and curl. Little by little tiny green orbs hidden between the foliage will become big grown-up grapes. And jam. Which I can have on toast along with my Shredded Wheat. For now though, they are little grape babies. Grow big and fruity my little grape babies.
As much as I think that I’m helping things along by pruning, weeding and fertilizing, things grow despite what I do or don’t do. I’m not an expert, more like an accidental gardener still learning. I hope the plants have patience with me and don’t slap my silly face when I forget or neglect to do something. They will still grow with or without me. Case in point, a few weeks ago we finally tackled an eyesore of weeds and grass only to discover underneath it all were six Peony bushes blooming. How many years were those little bushes reaching out to be seen, never giving up despite years of neglect? Next year, they will bloom and be seen! I hope for that even long after I am gone. Grow on.
Whitewashed, glass-tiled, cool in the summer, cold in the winter. That is the milkhouse that has become my studio where I hope to get back to my basic roots of drawing, painting, and at some point, printmaking.
And just in case you think this is all about my artwork, I'll be posting about daily life on a small, working farm as well. And since I didn't grow up on a farm, and have no idea what to do in many cases, you may find a few amusing anecdotes as I grow accustomed to life here.
This will be an evolving, and in all probability, ever-changing site as I figure things out. So stick around and let's see what happens!