From time to time, I hear someone comment on what they consider to be the ugliness of the Midwest–the flat, agricultural land that for them holds no beauty or charm. Here, in a photo essay, is my response.
In early summer, the wheat starts to change from green to gold. I remember going with my father to the field to gauge whether the crop was ready to cut. As many of you know, he’d lost his hands in a farming accident when I was barely a year old. He couldn’t snap off a seed head and roll it in his palm to free the kernels and then chew them to see if they were ready to harvest. That became my job. I placed the kernels on my father’s tongue. His lips brushed my fingers. We stood there in the twilight. A communion.
The native grass growing alongside the gravel roads holds a reddish tint as it bends in the wind. At first, I thought this was turkey-foot grass, but now I’m not so sure. Maybe one of you will tell me. Milkweed, foxtail, multi-flora rose, trumpet vine, brown-eyed Susan: all of these and more grow in the fence rows and make a trip down a country road a pleasure.
Young corn plants break the clay soil on a hillside in a geometric arrangement of arcs. Blue sky, the dark green of the oak leaves, the reddish-brown clay worked to tilth, the bright green of the corn plants. By summer’s end, they’ll be taller than anyone who walks their rows. Their yellow tassels, their russet silks. In early autumn, the stalks will yellow and dry, and the ears of corn in their husks will be ready for the harvest. All winter, the corn stubble, bent and ragged, will wait for spring and the plow, and the cycle will begin again.
The honeysuckle is in bloom at the Brian Cemetery in Lukin Township, Lawrenceville, Illinois. My great-great grandmother is buried here on this hill along a gravel road. For long stretches of time, I can be in this place without hearing a single man-made sound. Just the chatter of squirrels, the sound of the wind moving through the hickory trees, a call of a crow overhead. All that, and the intoxicating scent of the honeysuckle.
The George Rogers Clark Memorial.My great-great grandfather and his second wife, Eliza French Phillips Martin, lived on this property across from the Ridgley Cemetery in Lukin Township, where they’re both buried.