BACKROADS OF NEW ENGLAND
I like nothing better than to grab the camera, get in the car and start driving. I often don't know where I'm going when I start out but soon I just pick a highway, a road, a direction, and then I choose a backroad and head down it. Things I love: old farms independent of corporate farming with the farmers hanging on. Small farms are a way of life our world seems intent on snuffing out. Often they have barns that are partially fallen down, sometimes supported by four by fours on the sides, or propping the doors closed. Some are fallen beyond repair, maybe enough structure left to store a tractor. There are often old vehicles on the farm that look as if they just quit and were left where they died. Trucks, tractors, backhoes and a slew of old farm equipment once towed by them but now obsolete. The new tractors have glassed in air-conditioned cabs and there are round-balers towed across carefully laid out lines of hay they gather up and roll into perfect bales, but they cost big money. And there are fine old farm houses, many of them abandoned. I'm told the corporates are buying up these small farms and letting the buildings rot while they plant the fields. I have on occasion broken into these farmhouses. I went into one in Hadley and sat on the stairs and let the house talk to me. The way it might groan a little in the wind. Somebody lived there, had children there. There are still marks on a door frame where someone measured the height of their growing children yearly. I feel a powerful sadness there, and respect.
Sometimes when I stop to photograph the farmers come out to see what I'm doing and we talk. I've never been run off a farm. I asked an independent farmer one day what it was like to run a small farm. He said, "Well, you learn to fix everything yourself. I'm a carpenter, a mechanic, and animal husbander, and I know what the soil does. And it helps if your wife has a job in town." There was pride in those statements and a sense that, difficult as it was, it was a life worth having. I'm pleased to see younger farmers sticking it out. They are often college educated and understand soil rehabilitation and permaculture. They produce dairy and crops and wonderful raw honey. This gives me hope.
Today I drove up route 112 North into Vermont, passed one of my favorite farms with its very old spotted horse. He seems to be suffering this winter and I know one day I'll drive by there and he'll be gone. I stop for some photos and move on.