My Generation

Prairie Pictures

A barn in a field, a farm on a hill. In Illinois, it's the little things that take us back.

I sat in on a book presentation a couple years ago by Larry Kanfer, a Champaign-based photographer who published a book on Barns of Illinois. Kanfer was originally from the northern pacific coast area but has lived in Illinois for most of his professional life. He spoke about the difference in shooting soaring mountains and dramatic coastlines out west, compared to the quiet prairies of Illinois. He talked about serendipity in photography and how serendipity is what makes a picture interesting. Out west, serendipity is found in the soaring mountain peaks and dramatic skylines but in Illinois, he had come to believe serendipity is found in the changing seasons. Something new, something different, not around the corner but in the air. In the leaves on the trees, in the storm brewing in the distant sky.

This past summer, I happened across a lovely barn in the middle of a cornfield.

Someone has cared for it well. A Centennial Farm, it stood in the midst of cornfield that blew with a gusty late-afternoon storm.

I liked its details.

I liked its sign.

I liked the idea that 125 years ago, a settler came along and built this thing.

We are rich with history in Illinois. My 8-year-old and I are minorly obsessed with reading the Little House on the Prairie books, in part because I just can't imagine bumping down a dirt path in a horse-drawn wagon, pulling over and building a farm from scratch. Breaking sod, draining bogs, clearing trees. Sometimes when you drive down an Illinois backroad, you'll see a farmstead, sitting proud on top of a little rise or hill. To know that someone's ancestors carefully selected that spot and built a house, and then a barn, and then some fence. My own grandparents' house and farm sits on a hill, which is just lovely except that it means you're always chasing cows uphill to the barns. Good exercise though, right? That's what Dad always said, anyway.

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