Essays and rock & roll. Looking and listening. Nostalgia versus skepticism.
Friday, May 23, 2014
Confessions of a Rural Slummer
One of my favorite things to do is hop in the car, put my Americana playlist on shuffle, and head in any direction out of town—before long I'm surrounded my farms and cornfields, the horizon boundless, the bends in the road inevitable, subtle and pleasing. It's May, and so the fields are enormous brown squares, freshly tilled; in August, I'll stand on the edge of one of those fields and the corn will tower over me. The sky is enormous, the fields are whisper quiet. I'm usually on the search for empty or abandoned barns to photograph, wary of No Trespassing signs and the roar of semi-trucks behind me. But I'm also on guard against preciously sentimentalizing these fields and buildings. I don't work on a farm—I drive to look at one. My phone's GPS will guide me safely back to DeKalb when I feel hopelessly turned around after one long dirt road too many. I was born and raised in the suburbs, where yards are delimited by
social and civic frowns, but every August my family drove from Maryland to
Coldwater, a small town in western Ohio where my mom was raised and where
her parents lived for decades. Coldwater was—is—surrounded by thousands of acres of
farmland, and something in those annual visits stuck with me. I'll never forget dusks in Coldwater, or a train rumbling along at the edge of my grandfather's yard, and whenever I walk into an old rural garage or see rusted-out farm equipment I'm brought back to infinite Ohioana afternoons. But the deep affection I feel for barn buildings, tractors, the quiet of a corn field at high noon, the breeze at the peaceful, silent intersection of county roads is affection born of the visitor. When farmers are up at five in the morning, I'm sleeping, dreaming indulgently of zooming along corn and bean fields while listening to Drive-By Truckers, the Blasters, or Buck Owens, my romanticizing scored by fiddles and country changes. I'm childishly immune to the economic realities of empty barn buildings and the burdens they may be to the owners. I don't know that my tourist Visa will ever expire, but I'll likely always be a visitor in the Midwest, a rural slummer, one for whom lolling cows and boundless horizontals of wooden fences and vertical, towering grain silos are touching, gorgeous, and mine to mawkishly, stupidly love.