The old red barn on the farm where I grew up

The old red barn on the farm where I grew up

As long as it stands, the old red barn will be the anchor on our Minnesota family farm.  My recent visit was the first time I had returned since my father died more than two years ago.  Now the land has been split into two parts, owned by my youngest and oldest brothers.  The old square farmhouse with peeling white paint has been torn down and in its place is a beautiful new home with lots of windows looking out on the land, spiffy modern appliances, and even air conditioning.

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I am not a sentimental person, so I had no qualms about seeing the new house, and I looked forward with eager anticipation to the changes and improvements that my brother and his wife made to my old childhood stomping grounds. I was not disappointed.  At first I was just a tiny bit disoriented because the new house — while sited in the same spot as our old one — has a larger footprint and extends farther to the west.  It took me a minute to figure out where the old smokehouse had stood, to identify the stump of what had been the tree with the tire swing,  and to recognize the trees still standing next to the garage.  (The old garage has also been replaced by a new, larger one.)  Other trees have grown even taller than my memory of them.  But once I was reoriented, everything felt familiar and comfortable and welcoming.  I realized that, for me, the farm was not the physical buildings, but rather the land, the landscape and its seasonal changes, family ties and memories, and the rhythm of daily farm life.  Those things endure and I love them just as much now.  My visit was a homecoming.

Old barn and new garage

Old barn and new garage

“The eye for beauty is the eye for love.”
— Paul Gruchow, Journal of a Prairie Year

Once again I was struck by the beauty of my childhood home ground.

Fields and woods

Fields and woods

“The landscape seemed increasingly to be a succession of lines — the line of hills, the line of trees, the line of reeds, the line of cattails, the line of water  . . .”
— Paul Gruchow, Journal of a Prairie Year

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One view to the east

 

One view to the south, with woods and wildflower patch

One view to the south, with woods and wildflower patch

“Our language does not distinguish green from green.  It is one of the ways in which we have declared ourselves to be apart from nature.  In nature, there is nothing so impoverished of distinction as simply the color green.  There are greens as there are grains of sand, an infinitude of shades and gradations of shades, of intensities and brilliancies.  Even one green is not the same green.  There is the green of dawn, of high noon, of dusk.  There is the green of young life, of maturity, of old age.  There is the green of new rain and of long drought.  There is the green of vigor, the green of sickness, the green of death.  One could devote one’s life to a study of the distinctions in the color green and not yet have learned all there is to know.  There is a language in it, a poetry, a music.  We have not stopped long enough to hear it.”
— Paul Gruchow, Journal of a Prairie Year

Farm fresh eggs

Farm fresh eggs

My brother and his wife are bringing new life to the farm with animals — chickens, dogs, barn cats, pigs, and they rent the pasture to another farmer for grazing cows.  While the scale is more of a hobby farm, the animal husbandry and stewardship of the land is as hands on as the farming of years past.  Butchering six chickens brought back old memories.  I learned that a farm skill like butchering chickens is like riding a bike — you never forget how to do it!  Farm-to-table meals are not the rare thing they are in the city!

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My brother raises buff orpington chickens for meat, and the few hens lay eggs

My brother raises Buff Orpington chickens for meat, and the few hens lay eggs

 

Watercolor sketch of chickens

Watercolor sketch of chickens

 

Butchering chickens using a chicken plusher to remove the larger feathers.

Butchering chickens using a chicken plucker to remove the larger feathers.

 

Chicken on the spit

Chicken on the spit

 

Cow in the rented pasture. The red ear tags help to repel flies.

Cow in the rented pasture. The red ear tags help to repel flies.

 

Pigs raised for pork

Pigs raised for pork

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My sister-in-law titled this watercolor sketch "Bacon 2017"

My sister-in-law titled this watercolor sketch “Bacon 2017”

In my Dad’s final years, as he grew frailer, he resisted change.  Many things were falling into decrepitude, but changes were deferred for as long as possible so that my father could be in familiar surroundings.  Now that he is gone, it is rejuvenating to see my brother’s and his wife’s efforts to remake the farm into a dream home for their own lives.  It seems only right to me that they move the farm into modern times.  Time to create new memories in this deeply rooted place!

Watercolor sketch of one of the old oak trees on the farm

Watercolor sketch of one of the old oak trees on the farm

 

Watercolor sketch of zinnias in the from garden bed

Watercolor sketch of zinnias in the front garden bed

 

 

 

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

 

 

 

A Spring Day So Perfect

June 11, 2013

View from Samish Island

View from Samish Island

Snow-capped Mount Baker seen from the Skagit Valley

Snow-capped Mount Baker seen from the Skagit Valley

Mount Baker viewed from Bonnie's back yard

Mount Baker viewed from Bonnie’s back yard

Cows grazing, Skagit Valley

Cows grazing, Skagit Valley

Today
by Billy Collins

If ever there were a spring day so perfect,
so uplifted by a warm intermittent breeze

that it made you want to throw
open all the windows in the house

and unlatch the door to the canary’s cage,
indeed, rip the little door from its jamb,

a day when the cool brick paths
and the garden bursting with peonies

seemed so etched in sunlight
that you felt like taking

a hammer to the glass paperweight
on the living room end table,

releasing the inhabitants
from their snow-covered cottage

so they could walk out,
holding hands and squinting

into this larger dome of blue and white,
well, today is just that kind of day.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Tulips, Keukenhof, Holland

Tulips, Keukenhof, Holland

“I suppose there must be one or two people in the world who choose not to like tulips, but such aberration is scarcely credible.”
— Anna Pavord, The Tulip

We came to the Netherlands in April to see the tulips, but this year’s lasting cold weather meant that the tulip season was late.  We were too early for the blooming peak.  Still, we went forward with our plans to visit the famous Keukenhof gardens, and I’m glad we did.  The gardens there were spread out over acres, and it felt like we were walking on a grand estate, with flower beds under a forest of tall trees, a lake, a hedge maze, a windmill, arbors, outdoor sculptures, and several indoor pavilions with bulbs and blooms.  I hope my photos convey the pleasures of this day trip.

Early morning sun through the leafless trees, Keukenhof

Early morning sun through the leafless trees, Keukenhof

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View across the lake

View across the lake

Tulips waiting for a bit of warmth and sunshine

Tulips waiting for a bit of warmth and sunshine

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Nearby fileds in Lisse starting to show color

Nearby fields in Lisse starting to show color

View of the adjacent flower fields from the windmill at Keukenhof

View of the adjacent flower fields from the windmill at Keukenhof

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Indoors at the Willem-Alexander pavilion the display beds were in bloom for all to enjoy.

Indoors at the Willem-Alexander pavilion the display beds were in bloom for all to enjoy.

A photographing frenzy

A photographing frenzy

Still dressed for the cold in mid-April

Still dressed for the cold in mid-April

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View of fields near Lisse from the tour bus window

View of fields near Lisse from the tour bus window

Last look at Holland from the airpolane window, my last day

Last look at Holland from the airplane window, my last day

"Tulip" by Ellsworth Kelly, 1984 from the book, Plant Drawings

“Tulip” by Ellsworth Kelly, 1984 from the book, Plant Drawings

In the tradition of art training, this is my attempt to copy Ellsworth kelly's tulip drawing

In the tradition of art training, this is my attempt to copy Ellsworth Kelly’s tulip drawing

Watercolor and ink sketch of tulip "Schoon Solffer" copied from Bratholomeus Assteryn (1607-1667) found in Anna Pavord's book, The Tulip

Watercolor and ink sketch of tulip “Schoon Solffer” copied from Bartholomeus Assteryn (1607-1667) found in Anna Pavord’s book, The Tulip

Watercolor sketch of tulips

Watercolor sketch of tulips

Another watercolor sketch of tulips

Another watercolor sketch of tulips

Skagit Valley daffodil field

Skagit Valley daffodil field

Washington’s Skagit Valley is well known for its tulip fields and the tulip festival which runs during the month of April.  But the bulb farmers there also plant fields of daffodils, which are coming into bloom right now.  One of the big growers, Roozengaarde, makes a bloom map available online each year.  It’s updated almost daily to show which fields of daffodils and tulips are currently in bloom.

Old weathered barn next to daffodil field, Skagit Valley

Old weathered barn next to daffodil field, Skagit Valley

Old barn with daffodils

Old barn with daffodils

Following the bloom map will take you past scenes like these.  It’s pretty spectacular, even on a rainy day.  My Midwest mind is always tickled by seeing fields of bouquet flowers rather than corn, soybeans, and oats.

Mud in the daffodil fields

Mud in the daffodil fields

Daffodil in the Roozengaarde display garden

Daffodil in the Roozengaarde display garden

Old shed with daffodils

Old shed with daffodils

Nodding buds and blooms

Nodding buds and blooms

Daffodils from the Roozengaarde display garden

Daffodils from the Roozengaarde display garden

Daffy Down Dilly
by Alice C. D. Riley

Dear little Daffy-down-dilly
First flow’r of the spring,
Dancing away with the breezes,
Gladness and sunshine you bring.

Daring the cold of the March winds,
Braving the forests and the snows,
Filling the woods with your glory,
Loveliest flow’r that blows.

Watercolor sketch of daffodils

Watercolor sketch of daffodils

 

Hay bales in the field, Skagit Valley

“Thus harvest ends its busy reign
And leaves the fields their peace again
Where autumn’s shadows idly muse
And tinge the trees with many hues.”
— John Clare, “The Shepherd’s Calendar”

Successful marshmallow harvest!!

The final hay harvest of the year

I was captivated by this Skagit Valley field in the late afternoon light.  The plastic-wrapped round hay bales look so much like giant marshmallows!  Delightful!

 

 

 

” . . . work is not an expression of the desire for praise or recognition, or prizes, but the deepest manifestation of your gratitude for the gift of life.”
— Stanley Kunitz, The Wild Braid: A Poet Reflects on a Century in the Garden

Tractors in the fields, Skagit Valley

Today’s quote is food for thought on this Labor Day holiday — work as a manifestation of gratitude.  I do believe that some of the most fortunate people are those who have found work that offers meaning and pleasure.  The kind of work that you never want to retire from.

Parenting is that kind of work.  As is farming and gardening, teaching and construction.  Nurturing life.  Creating beauty and usefulness.  How lucky are those who have found work that feeds the soul.

Harvesting lavender, Lavender Wind Farm

At work in the flower fields, Jello Mold Farm