A Drive Through The Heartland, Part Two
Transition from West to Midwest
(Continued from the blog post, “A Drive Through The Heartland 1.”)
What I Have Found…
Along the way, on this journey through the Heartland of America, I have now photographed each subject I suggested in the first blog post in this series, except for waterfalls and a shipwreck. The falls I planned to photograph were in the Upper Peninsula of Michigan, in Kentucky and in Tennessee. The southern section of my trip through Kentucky, Tennessee, Arkansas and Texas has been postponed due to heat. If I had traveled up into the Michigan Upper Peninsula, as originally outlined, I would have also visited a shipwreck or two.
Nonetheless, cutting out the southern portion and the Michigan U.P. will allow me to get to a bit of Minnesota, photograph the world’s largest round barn in Marshfield, Wisconsin and find the many historically significant barns in the southeastern corner of South Dakota.
In my now nearly 6,000 miles of wandering through California, Nevada, Utah, Wyoming, Nebraska, Iowa, Illinois, Indiana, Michigan and Ohio, I have managed to run across numerous old mills, historic round barns, rectangular barns, multi-sided barns, one tobacco barn, and even a Swedish Gothic Revival style milk barn listed on the National Register of Historic Places. I have photographed gardens, farm animals, birds, people, children, horses, pigs, hogs, cows, goats, chickens, beaches, trees, forests, two county fairs, one covered bridge, plastic animals, stone animals, diners of various ethnicities, ponds, lakes, grasses, cornfields, old farm equipment, fast cars, slow cars, Ottawa National Wildlife Refuge, abandoned homes, barns and whole farms, renovated homes and barns, relocated barns and the cityscapes of Detroit, living, dying, dead and resuscitating.
How Is The US Doing?
If this trip were like taking the temperature of the country, I would say I have found it very much alive and well in many ways, and deeply sick in others. I have been surprised by the extent of blight, ruin and decay, not just in Detroit or other urban areas, but also in the country, in small towns and large towns. One of the reasons I started photographing barns in the first place is that they are going away, but I have been struck most by how many are going and gone and how fast. Barns are dying, no doubt about it. The whole small-farm way of life is a thing of the past and fading fast in the memory of the aging and dying.
Meanwhile, Topher and Kori’s wedding was an inspiration and party to remember. More on it in blog posts to come in this series. I have learned that love takes on many shapes and forms, unless it does not, as I have had at least three romances on this trip that never became romances… more on them in subsequent posts too.
Round Barns, Multi-Sided Barns, Rectangular Barns, Barns of All Shapes
When I started actually reading the books on barns I bought from Amazon Marketplace, I discovered in A Round Indiana that round barns are extremely rare. Only about 1/5 of one percent of all barns built are round barns. If searching for barns were like playing poker, round barns would be the blue chips.
The author of A Round Indiana, John T. Hanou, wrote that Indiana has more round barns than any other state, but that if as exhaustive a study as he had made were done in Wisconsin, as many or more round barns might be discovered there. Also, there are true round barns and multi-sided barns. I have photographed eight-sided, ten-sided, 12-sided, 14-sided, 16-sided and 18-sided barns.
Western Deserts Give Way to Midwestern Grassland and Prairie
The drive across Nevada and Utah on Interstate 80 goes through some forested high mountain passes, but primarily it runs through a dry, dusty land of the Great Basin and Painted Deserts. Wyoming, along the freeway, is a cross between desert and grassland, a high plateau of boulder dotted baked cattle land. Nebraska feels much like Wyoming, but greener, more like the Midwest. Nebraska hayfields are more productive and plentiful and the woods are more lush and extensive.
The light changes from West to Midwest, generally. Evenings have more glow and afterglow. The light is softer and more diffuse. It is also less harsh and with less contrast, as you travel from West to East. Water becomes more plentiful moving toward the heartland of America. There is more dew, more sweat, more condensation, more mold, more rot, more rust and more and faster decay. Progressing from Nebraska into Iowa and from Iowa into Illinois and Indiana, you find yourself constantly surrounded by lawn mowers and people mowing along the road and around their homes and businesses. The volume of lawns and grass increases as you head east.
Water and Greenery
For many generations, ever since we settled California, we have kept up the illusion that California is lush and green like the Midwest or the East. However, California is primarily desert, just like Nevada, Utah and in places if we are lucky, like Wyoming. Nonetheless, we have imported water, especially into Southern California from all over the West, particularly Northern California, where I live, with the idea that we could make Southern California look lush and inviting.
California already has the most interesting terrain, but we wanted it all. We had to have the green too. Now we are paying for this. Now we are rippling out lawns, xeriscaping, reengineering and trying to get back to a more natural version of ourselves because the water chickens have finally come home to roost during the current drought.
Much of the Midwest has been overly wet lately, particularly Michigan, for example. In Michigan and elsewhere in the Midwest, it is still politically ok to run the faucet as long as you like, have a giant lawn and giant lawn mower and the excess just drains away. While California has had the most severe drought in recorded history, bridges are out all over the heartland of America due to torrential rains and flooding over the last few years. The Great Lakes are all at least two to four feet above normal, which is a huge amount of water stored in excess.
Recently while talking to Mark Hursey, the owner of the Smith Round Barn in Ligonier, Indiana, I said, “I didn’t realize you irrigate in the Midwest, but now I see your irrigation ditch.” The watercourse I had noticed was brimming full of water.
“That’s not an irrigation ditch like you have in the West,” Mark Hursey replied. “That’s a drainage ditch. You see that round metal cap in the middle of the field?”
“Yes,” I said.
“That is the well for that field,” He said. “The water from the well covers that field and the excess drains off in the drainage ditch.”
“Because you have had a number of wet years lately, you aren’t drawing down your aquifer like they are in the Great Plains, in Nebraska, Iowa, Kansas, Oklahoma and Texas, right?”
“Well, not as much, but we have had problems in the past with drawing the aquifers down in this part of the Midwest too.”
You will read more about Mark and Laura Hursey, their farm and the Smith Round Barn in future blog posts.
Western Barns Versus Midwestern Barns
Other differences distinguish West and Midwest. With some regional exceptions, people all over the West are generally friendly to strangers, but Midwesterners are generally more easy going and more apt to help and be generous to strangers. Still, just like rural areas in California, Utah, Nevada or elsewhere in the West, a stranger must be careful when approaching a home in a remote area in the Midwest. Farmers and other rural people can be heavily armed and on some occasions may be dangerous. In blog posts to come I will share stories, one in particular, that scared me out of my Chacos Sandals and gave me cause to rethink how I approach rural requests for photograph permissions.
All types of barns can be found in all regions now, but originally, barn types followed the settlement patterns in different areas of the country by ethnicity. The typical Western barn has a roof that is steeper in the center and then decreases in steepness as it goes out toward the edges, whereas the Midwestern barn is the opposite. The top of the roof is typically less steep and the outer edges are the steepest, as in, what is called the Gambrel roof. Also, Western barns usually have the hay hoist up at the roof peak. Western farmers hoist their hay up to the upper floors on the outside of the barn, then lift it through a large opening up under the eave, protected by an extension of the roof called a hood.
One of the reasons round barns became more popular in the Midwest is that Midwestern farmers generally hoist the hay upstairs after the hay wagon enters the barn. In a round barn the hay wagon and a team of horses has enough room to circle the barn moving forward, without having to get the horses to back up to turn around. In the transition states between West and Midwest, there is a greater mixture of types of barns. The transition from West to Midwest is noticeable in the types of barns. For example, Nebraska has more Western style barns than Iowa, but Iowa has more than Illinois and Indiana and so on from West toward the East. The Midwestern state that feels the most Eastern is Ohio. Ohio transitions from Midwest to East. More typical in the East are stone barns, but stone barns can be found all over the US. More on different types of barns and different ethnicities in different areas in future blog posts.
(Continued in the next blog post in this series, “Heartland 3: Starke Round Barn, Red Cloud, Nebraska.”)
What types of barns are typical where you live?