The Face of the Fields

April 10, 2014

Stubble in the fields near Collegeville, MN

Stubble in the fields near Collegeville, MN

“The hum of the wind in the tree-tops has always been good music to me, and the face of the fields has often comforted me more than the faces of men.”
— John Burroughs, from The Writings of John Burroughs, vol. 15, The Summit of the Years

I like the phrase, “the face of the fields.”  Here is the stubbly face of the Minnesota landscape near St. John’s University in Collegeville.

Barn with flag

Barn with flag




The Sunset Sky

April 9, 2014

“The grandest picture in the world is the sunset sky.”
— Henry David Thoreau, Journals, July 26, 1852

Sunset at the farm, early Spring

Sunset at the farm, early Spring

“A gorgeous sunset after rain, with horizontal bars of cloud, red sashes to the western window, barry clouds hanging like a curtain over the window of the west, damask.”
— Henry David Thoreau, Journals, July 10, 1851

Minnesota is still in the final throes of winter, a real mixed bag weather-wise.  The week delivered snow, rain, warmer temps, and then freezing cold.  My final evening on the farm was a grace note — a colorful sunset accompanied by a chorus of geese and sandhill crane calls.  Lovely.

Looking east

Looking east

By the barn

By the barn

Setting sun through the bare trees

Setting sun through the bare trees



Pumpkin painting by Eddie Gordon

Pumpkin painting by Eddie Gordon

Gordon Skagit Farms

Gordon Skagit Farms

I suppose some people go to Gordon Skagit Farms for the pumpkins, squashes and gourds (they have over 60 varieties).  Or maybe they make the trip for the U-pick apples or pumpkin patch or corn maze.  Or perhaps they come to see the spooky Halloween dioramas and displays.  But the big draw for me is Eddie Gordon’s art.  His big paintings anchor many of the displays on the grounds.  Last year when I first wrote about Gordon’s (you can look back at that post here), I was totally bowled over by the concept of celebrating art on a working farm.  This year I was even more impressed to see that most of Eddie’s paintings were new.  What an amazing talent and body of work!

Here are some photos of Eddie Gordon’s paintings this year:


















Gordon Skagit Farm

The old farmhouse where I grew up

The old farmhouse where I grew up

“I live here in the realm of predictability.  Each day goes by, a mirror of the one before, a rough draft of the one to come.  The passing hours bring variations in the sky’s coloration, the comings and goings of the birds, and a thousand almost imperceptible things.”
— Sylvain Tesson, The Consolations of the Forest:  Alone in a Cabin on the Siberian Taiga, translated from the French by Linda Coverdale

My father is rooted to the land where he has lived for over 90 years.  The Minnesota farm was his childhood home, and he has observed the seasons passing predictably year after year.  And now in old age, the call of travel and adventure no longer appeals.  From my perspective, life on the farm seems slow and unchanging, each day a “rough draft of the one to come.”

Still, there is a lot of richness in being so rooted.  As Natalie Goldberg says in The True Secret of Writing:  Connecting Life with Language, “Much can be done by doing little — with regard.”

Sylvain Tesson, quoted in the opening to this post, deliberately experimented with finding his inner life by removing himself to a remote, rustic cabin in Siberia.  He found that “Staying put brought me what I could no longer find on any journey.”  Writer Jim Harrison, writes about these same feelings in Brown Dog:  “Come to think of it, the main good thing out here snowbound in this cabin is that nothing is happening . . . I’ve got this personal feeling things are not supposed to be happening to people all of the time.  At least I’m not designed for it.”

If we live to extreme old age, our bodies will inevitably wear out, slowing us down and making us stay put.  I got a taste of this during the two weeks I stayed with my Dad.  The challenge for all of us, regardless of age, is to stay observant to the things that come across our range of view, and to find the beauty in these still images.

Here is a window to my Dad’s world:
















” . . . everything is always already being lost.”
— Bradley L. Garrett, discussing Walter Benjamin on the nature of ruins, from Explore Everything: Place Hacking in the City

Looking through the living room window at my 94-year-old Dad mowing the lawn

Looking through the living room window at my 94-year-old Dad mowing the lawn

I’ve just returned from two weeks of keeping company with my 94-year-old Dad on the family farm.  I’ve written about my father before, most notably a tribute in honor of his 90th year.  On this recent visit, I was reminded daily of the small, accumulating losses that accompany anyone into extreme old age.  Since my last visit in February 2012, I noticed that my Dad no longer checks his email every day, works on crossword puzzles, goes to mid-week mass, or plans and cooks even simple dinners, much less barbecued chicken.  His short-term memory is going, and it is doubtful that he will be able to continue to live alone in the old farmhouse, even with the considerable day-to-day support that a few of my siblings provide.

And this is going to be a challenge for our family, because Dad will not go willingly to another home no matter how much better a change would be for him — keeping him in physical safety, with good home-cooked meals provided, and lots of other support.  He wants to die at home on the farm.  The loss of his home, a reassuring space, would be heart-breakingly sudden, not like the other losses he has born, some so gradual that he might not even be aware of them.

We cannot stall the passing hours.  There is no promise of preservation.  I see in the slow, inexorable deterioration of the farm house, sheds, and barn — those that will be torn down when my brother builds his family’s retirement home on the land — the reflection of my Dad’s inevitable decline.  In spite of the pain, there is beauty in this collapse of our everyday existence.

Farm house window

Farm house window

East side door

East side door

Linoleum floor with sun and shadow

Linoleum floor with sun and shadow

East side window

East side window

Roof of Uncle Pete's garage

Roof of Uncle Pete’s garage

Interior, garage

Interior, garage

Barn doors and windows

Barn doors and windows

My view upon waking

My view upon waking

Old farmhouse in the morning light

Old farmhouse in the morning light

One Art
by Elizabeth Bishop

The art of losing isn’t hard to master;
so many things seem filled with the intent
to be lost that their loss is no disaster.
Lose something every day. Accept the fluster
of lost door keys, the hour badly spent.
The art of losing isn’t hard to master.
Then practice losing farther, losing faster:
places, and names, and where it was you meant
to travel. None of these will bring disaster.
I lost my mother’s watch. And look! my last, or
next-to-last, of three loved houses went.
The art of losing isn’t hard to master.
I lost two cities, lovely ones. And, vaster,
some realms I owned, two rivers, a continent.
I miss them, but it wasn’t a disaster.
—Even losing you (the joking voice, a gesture
I love) I shan’t have lied. It’s evident
the art of losing’s not too hard to master
though it may look like (Write it!) like disaster.

Ghostly scene in the barn at Gordon Skagit Farms

“From ghoulies and ghosties,
Long-leggity beasties,
And things that go bump in the night,
Good Lord deliver us.”
— Old Spell

I promised a post about the haunted barn at Gordon Skagit Farms, and here it is, just in time for Halloween.

Farmer and painter Eddie Gordon’s artistry is evident in the haunting vignettes he created in the old cow barn.  The scenes are set like little stages.  Very clever.

Scene 1: Awakening

Scene 2: A meeting

Scene 3: A haunting

Happy Halloween!





Pumpkin paintings displayed on the side of an old barn — Gordon Skagit Farms

The highlight of my day trip to Gordon Skagit Farms was the art.  Eddie Gordon, one of the Gordon farmers, is also a talented artist, and he displays his large paintings en plein air.  (He is also offering three prints for sale this year.)  I thought the presentation of art on the farm was delightful.  I’ll show you some photos, but I highly recommend that you make a visit this month to see the paintings in person.

Close-up photo of pumpkin on the barn

Old truck with another of Eddie Gordon’s paintings, a rural landscape

A painting outdoors amidst the pumpkins and gourds

Painting of a rural road is hung over an old concrete watering trough

Another painting set back from the produce tables

Enjoy a painting while you grab a wheelbarrow for your pumpkin purchases.

Detail of another pumpkin painting by Eddie Gordon









“The last fruit of summer becomes a lantern to guide us.”
— original quote by Eddie Gordon, on a sign at Gordon Skagit Farms

The old barn with Eddie Gordon’s pumpkin paintings, Gordon Skagit Farms

Pumpkins (decorative and edible) for sale

October is a perfect time for a drive in the country.  The charms of the harvest season are evident in the Skagit Valley, just one hour north of Seattle.  The snow geese are returning to their winter feeding grounds near Conway.  Farmers have gathered the bounty from their fields and are preparing for winter.  Apple trees are yielding their fruit.  And this is the month for visits to the pumpkin patch.

I met some friends to see the pumpkins at Gordon Skagit Farms near Mount Vernon.  The two Gordon brothers offer a wide array of specialty gourds and pumpkins, all grown locally on their farm.  During the month of October, this agricultural bounty — decorative and/or edible —  is showcased in strikingly designed displays, and there is a U-pick apple orchard and a U-pick pumpkin patch if you want to get your hands dirty.  The whole presentation is inviting and welcoming, but a definite step up from a gimmicky Halloween destination.  (The Gordons have created a haunted barn, with little staged vignettes, but I won’t spoil your surprise now.  I’ll do another post about the haunted barn on Halloween.)

My favorite aspect of my visit was definitely the art.  Eddie Gordon displays his large paintings outside amidst the farm implements and pumpkins.  It’s like a gallery show en plein air.  I don’t want to overwhelm you, so tomorrow’s post will focus on the art.

Today’s post celebrates the harvest — the pumpkins and the gourds.  Enjoy!

Pumpkins for sale — Gordon Skagit Farms

I loved these turban gourds.

Mini-pumpkins in orange and white. If you have an old wooden pop bottle case, display these little pumpkins instead of pop bottles.

Pumpkin on an old yellow Ford tractor.

A school group in the U-pick pumpkin patch

Decorative Indian corn and straw flowers

Apple baskets

An unusually beautiful gourd — love the color and texture and shape!

Mixed gourds — such variety!

Green striped gourds by the barn — Gordon Skagit Farms

Sneak preview of one scene in the haunted barn. Stay tuned for a post about the barn on Halloween.












The area around Minneapolis-St. Paul from the airplane window -- flat!

Every time I return to Minnesota in the nation’s heartland, I am struck anew by its beauty.  The long flat vistas, the rolling plains, farms and fields are so different from the mountainous Pacific Northwest where I live.

The rural landscape in Minnesota is dotted with these iconic structures:  old barns and silos, small town water towers, and large grain storage elevators.  Here are some photos from my road trips to Alexandria in northern Minnesota and Rochester in southern Minnesota:

Foggy country road along my sister's farm near Alexandria, MN

Foggy morning near I-94 "up north"

Grain storage elevators

I saw more of these elevators than ever before on this trip to Minnesota.

Water tower on the horizon beyond the fields

Old silos -- most are unused because few farmers still raise livestock

Lovely old barn and silos near Belle Plaine, MN

Interesting patchwork colors on this barn and house

More and more old barns, disused, are falling into ruin.

Barn and silo along Hwy 52

Watch out for tractors on the roads! The large, new machinery overlaps several lanes of highway.

September in the Skagit Valley

My friend Carol and I made a day trip north to the Skagit Valley to visit a flower farm, and afterwards we stopped for a late breakfast at the Rexville Grocery Store between Conway and LaConner.  We learned, too late, that they serve breakfast only on Saturdays and Sundays, but we pulled up two stools to the deli counter and ordered sandwiches and coffee instead.  After all, a BLT has bacon, so we considered the sandwich a hybrid breakfast entrée.

The Rexville Grocery is a real find.  This little country store is far, far from a chain store.  It’s shelves are stocked with an eclectic collection of local and international items — a wide assortment of preserves, sauces, crackers, cookies, candy, etc.  I now know where to buy treacle!  The deli sandwiches and coffee were outstanding, and we learned that Sunset Magazine had just named the Rexville Grocery one of 41 Top Road Spots in the West.

I’ve now put the Rexville Grocery Store on my list for a future destination breakfast.  I want to try the smoked salmon frittata!

Stuart Welch, the personable proprietor of the Rexville Grocery Store

Interior, Rexville Grocery Store

BLT sandwich and coffee from the deli counter