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Sunday June 22, 2008

Farmhandy

Several months ago I began to put into motion my plan for summer. There’s no point in being self-employed, I figured, unless one exploits the full range of one’s freedom from the constraints of slave labor. To my end, this manifested in an idea to take most of the summer off. Being inside while it’s shorts-wearing, pool-dipping weather outside has always been a form of torture for me; this year, I resolved to remedy it. Winter and spring saw a full plate of new business, and while I wasn’t flush, I also wasn’t destitute, and it wasn’t a hard choice to give up a few new projects for the chance at a couple month of relaxation and travel.

The big travel plans are coming up: the two of us are taking 17 days in July to drive a lopsided circle around the Great Lakes. This left June unscheduled, a gap I quickly plugged with another week-long trip to the farm.

Despite its definitiveness, “the farm” does not refer to one particular place. Two years ago it was the Wormfarm, whose CSA we were a member of (and where, a year earlier, we got engaged). Three years before that, it was the land of some old family friends in Brown County, Indiana. This year, I offered my able adequate muscles to any member farm of Home Grown Wisconsin, the wonderful CSA we currently belong to. Doug of Meadowbrook Farms took the bait, resulting in my spending four tremendously fulfilling days this past week as their farmhand.

Suffice it to say, the experience was just what I wanted, and If I can at all make it happen, I’ll be going back again later this summer. It’ll certainly be at least an annual thing.

I haven’t, until now, stepped back to work out what it is that draws me there. It’s always seemed naturally satisfying. The fresh air, the open sky, the remoteness, the physical labor with a purpose — it all congeals into a sublimity that I rarely ever find living in the city. Yet, as I talk with people about it, I’m finding it necessary to defend the trip. This apparently isn’t everyone’s cup of compost tea.

For me, I think it comes down to two things. One ties into my indecisiveness. The variety of experience that makes urban areas so appealing is the very feature makes them unhealthy for the perpetually choice-anxious. I really do love the city for all the new things I get to try on a daily basis, but it can be exhausting. The country excises all that, and while I may not be able to survive on a monoculture diet year-round, for a week it’s the perfect kind of detox.

The other part is my more recent interest in the lineage of food, specifically the food I eat. No question this is borne from the interest in local food that’s running through the current zeitgeist. For whatever reason, it lit a spark in my brain, leading directly to our growing a garden, joining a CSA, patronizing farmers markets and my asking the occasional restaurant owner or waiter about the genesis of the ingredients in the meal before us. The next logical step for me was a backwards one in the chain, to witness firsthand — and participate in — the planting and harvesting of these foods.

I know that I’m close to over-romanticizing the agrarian lifestyle, while I continue enjoy the privileges of being a full-blooded cityboy. I’m not trying to do that; I know I’m way too much of a pansy to be a farmer. But those privileges are built on layers of industry we don’t often see; it’s simply my responsibility to, at the very least, be cognizant of how they work.

Sunday June 1, 2008

My year in photos, so far

I didn’t set out at the beginning of the year to do a photo-a-day project. I kinda fell into it. It was January 5, and I was posting photos of the trip to Vegas from which we’d just returned. Having taken at least one shot per day on our trip, plus one on New Year’s, it occurred to me that was already four steps down the photo-a-day path. So I decided to turn it into a full-blown thing.


I’d been wanting to engage in some kind of expansive art project for a while. I don’t ever get very far; every time I consider something, the scope seems so daunting that I never get started. This particular project had appeal in that a) it required a small, regulated bit of effort every day, and b) I’d already inadvertently started it.


I’d seen other Flickr photogs engage in similar exercises, and they’d done so with such seemingly little effort that I think it gave me an unwarranted boost of confidence. Had I know how much work it actually is, I may never have started. Taking a photograph a day is tough. For those days when the scenery — home, office, supermarket — hardly changes, it’s a real challenge to find something new to shoot. Despite my willingness to photograph it, the world doesn’t need another picture of colorful produce.


Fortunately, that struggle is also what forces me to become a much more aware — and I hope better — photographer, which was one of my goals in setting out to do this. I’m not kidding myself — I know a good portion of these photographs wouldn’t pass the normal screening process. But I also know that the same sense of obligation that’s forcing me to shoot the mediocre stuff is also the reason I get the occasional gem.


I’m almost halfway done. The dread that comes with that statistic is only offset by the onset of summer. With it comes more outdoor activities, which means more people wearing more colorful clothes doing more photo-worthy things. Oh god, I desperately hope so. Otherwise, we’re destined for another seven months of this:


Sunday June 1, 2008

Road Trip!

It looks like we’re going on a road trip this summer. A real one. The kind where you pack your bags and head out, usually west, and don’t come back for weeks.

We used to take trips like this when I was little, and they were awesome. Yellowstone. The Tetons. The Badlands. Bryce Canyon. The Redwoods. The Rockies. The Grand Canyon. I think we went to a rodeo in Wyoming once. There was a clamshell storage thingie on the top of the car, and its top flew off on the highway. We camped sometimes. I pretended I was Laura Ingalls Wilder.

So, now that I’ve secured work’s go-ahead to take some time off in July, it’s starting to look like we’re actually going to do this thing. Of course, the flexibility of a road trip is a blessing and curse. Without the looming deadline of having to buy plane tickets, we’ve probably put off the planning far longer than we should have. And for choice-averse people, giving ourselves the pick of EVERY STATE IN AMERICA is probably a little overwhelming.

Most likely destinations include the Badlands, Yellowstone, Portland, and northern California. But every couple of days we toy with heading east instead and hitting Toronto, Montreal, Vermont, Maine. Or, perhaps we’ll drive down the Mississippi to New Orleans and back.

I spent some time on Google Maps the other night mapping out possible routes and itineraries. But there’s something so old fashioned about planning a road trip and online maps just didn’t cut it. Tomorrow I’m going to try to track down a road atlas and a highlighter.

Suggestions for must-sees on a 17-day road trip to some part of America and/or Canada?