Thursday, February 3, 2011
Sun Setting on Family Farm
This painting is only a slight exaggeration of the light that was falling on this farm. I took the reference photos in December, near the winter solstice, and the sun was just barely above the western horizon. Because of it's low angle in the sky, its rays were sweeping, raking, virtually streaming across this classic Maine farmstead, which is also the embodiement of: 'big house, little house, back house, barn", the continuous architecture that is so common here and evidence of Yankee pragmatism too.
An academic wrote a book on this style of architecture and posited that it was evidence of the brutal winters and farmers not wanting to go outside to get to the barn. But, he's from away, and I have lived here for more of my life than not, and my sense is that it represents the simple truth that when you need more space and want to add-on to existing structures, building three walls is cheaper and more efficient than building four. If it really was a matter of not wanting to go outside to get to the barn, you would see this style of farm all over Minnesota, Wisconsin, northern Michigan, the Dakotas and on out west. But, you do not.
There is a small and intentional irony in the title, of course. The sun really is setting on family farms all over the country. It has become so hard to make a living, competing with the giant agri-business operations, that most small farms have gone the way of the passenger pigeon. The vast majority of farms that I point my camera at, are no longer actively farming. One might say, "Well, if they cannot compete, that's just how it goes." And, I would respond, "We are losing much more than just small farming as a means of food production. We are watching an entire way of life disappear, and the bed-rock values that it embodies are disappearing in many parts of the country too."
People don't want to work that hard for a meager living. They want a degree and a job that pays a salary that allows them to accumulate the 'things' of a middle-class lifestyle. So be it. But, as I look around at our society, I cannot help wonder if the more difficult and less luxurious ways of yesteryear weren't something that was giving us a more honest and clear-eyed perspective on the true meaning of life. I see little evidence that those souls who have become surfeited with material 'stuff' are happier just because of this. In fact, I have met many, many people who have all anybody might wish for, and they are not happy....far from it. The people I meet who do seem to have discovered how to be deeply satisfied with their lives, seem almost unanimously to be those people who are unimpressed with ownership, and are committed to following a path of discovery and service.
That's just what I have been seeing for about the last fifty years, folks.