I'm feeling now kind of like I did back in the day when we'd all load into the family Chevy and drive the 105 miles up Route 11 to grandma's house...all those homemade berry pies and a big stuffed turkey and about 29 other heaped-up "side dishes," the family all gathered around an impossibly long and not exactly plumb mission oak table in assorted mismatched chairs and bad hairdos.
While it isn't quite Thanksgiving I am giving thanks in my own way for I'm in NYC headed for the place that's home in my heart...wild, wonderful Wales. In not so many days I'll be hearing hounds in full cry, watching them streak across the moors, seeing that menacing eagle owl soaring overhead, chatting with all my old pals in their refreshing tweed caps and waxed coats and yes, probably getting more than a bit damp out in the weather all day. But never mind. Yep, I'm full of anticipation for another fine winter in the UK and if you stay tuned here you'll be reading all about it and maybe even seeing some photos from my travels. This is the time of year when I put most things bluegrass to the side and go back, in a way, to an earlier time.
I've just driven nearly 1000 miles from the great prairieland of Illinois and though it surely would have been easier to blink my eyes like Samantha and instantly be in sis's cozy house in the Catskills rather than watching every mile go by on a series of interstates the drive definitely provided its pleasures. Though I lean toward older times and simpler things it's nice to have a CD player in my truck and I take advantage of the miles by listening to all the new CDs I acquire during my travels to points all across bluegrassland. This trip I had several more listens to the new music by JD Crowe 'n'em, Marty Raybon, The Grascals, David Davis....all GREAT music, and of course I reverted to some old chestnuts and middle-aged ones too that never stray too far from the player...the Cooke Duet, several Stanley Brothers cds, Nashville Bluegrass Band, the Traditional Grass, the Blinky Moon Boys, the New Ballards Branch Bogtrotters....well, it was just quite an enjoyable music-filled 1000 miles. Since I travel alone I'm able to concentrate fully on the music and a little on the road as well and solo travel allows me to crank it up as much and as often as I please. I like to feel engulfed in the music not straining to listen to it from some distant point. Occasionally a stray thought enters my mind but mostly I'm dwelling in musical la-la-land in between the sights of Canadian geese heading south and swarms of leaves buffeting the hood of my Toyota.
I was blessed with sort of greyish skies, easier on the eyes, but in the late afternoons the sun broke through now and then and the patchy light created some superb instances. I found myself wishing to stop and haul out my camera gear and capture those moments but the voice of experience told me to just enjoy that light as it passed....by the time I pulled over, got out and got everything going those highlights would have changed and passed. So I just enjoyed the fact that I was blessed with such beautiful vistas - and on an interstate, no less!
Sometimes I believe that having a strong desire to capture a moment but being unable to because of the situation actually helps me be a better photographer. Probably there's no way to test that theory, but it's a belief that I hold. And I can't complain. The summer has been very good to me - there have been several moments where all things were right and I was able to get a nice shot or two during the last few months. What more could I ask?
There were the covert shots of Amish men of the land about their harvest. I stood on a very narrow road out near Arthur, IL using the car as a sort of blind as well as an elbow rest to help support my ridiculously heavy new lens (be careful what you wish for, you just might get it!!) with my friend Judy sort of cringing in the front seat as I photographed the farmers in their fields toiling behind their horse-drawn harvesting equipment....not to worry, I know they are not keen on being photographed face-on, so these are sort of distant shots but you'll get the idea if you see my photos. The weather was lovely and I just had this euphoric feeling like what would I rather be doing than this????? Well, perhaps hound exercising in Wales on a bicycle somewhere on a narrow lane going over an ancient bridge, but these Amish scenes were just a notch below that dream.
Later on in the fall I caught some American farmers with their John Deere kit bigger than your house - combines that stretched clear across roads (25 foot headers) and the like. This is massive prairie farming, not for the weak of heart. More than one of them stopped to check out what I was doing and say hello and so I learned some things about the non-Amish farming ways. I must say I prefer the nostalgic SIGHT of the Amish approach, but after spending so much time in Wales it's just a plain joy to be out on the land, period. I get all misty-eyed when I get out in the countryside and see farmers ploughing, working down the soil, planting, combining, baling....I guess I could skip the dusting and spraying bits, but the rest takes me back across the pond!
And another thing. When I first saw the prairieland of Illinois I thought "ugh" and all those things any right-minded person from upstate New York would think. I don't take easily to flatland and the absence of forests. BUT...after spending several months out in the midwest this summer I've got to share with you that the prairie has its own kind of charm and on a good day it has a spectacular kind of beauty much different to that of the hardwood forests of the northeastern mountains but no less wonderful. Several times I was privileged to watch the harvest sunset over scenes of ant-like industry as combines, tractors and trailers scurried across massive open fields to get the grain in before the light fell away.
One night I was driving up yet another interstate (note to self: more backroads please) and the gloaming had passed and the harvest moon was stretching out over the farmers toiling in the fields....that's one of those indelible images that I'll carry with me from now on. It's a good life!
But I digress....I started out talking about going back to Wales, the place that feels most like home to this wanderer, and about those times around grandma's dinner table that linger in my heart and seem to grow stronger with passing years, and about my growing passion for farming - or well, being around farming. This summer provided me with many new opportunities and I met some great folks along the way, came to appreciate the unique beauty of the flatlands (talk about seeing for miles, the farmsteads in the night like oases (oasises?) in the desert...how much I would have missed if I never left my hometown.
On to Wales!