The Living Fence is Back

The Living Fence Returns

Several years ago I wrote about the living fence that would surround our yard every summer. Of course, nearly as soon as I wrote that, the situation changed, and my cousin planted alfalfa, which has provided the scenery around our perimeter for the past several years.

There’s nothing wrong with alfalfa, and I enjoy the changing nature of the scenery over time. And besides - it’s his field, so he can plant what he wants.

But I do especially enjoy what happens as the corn grows. I sit and write this now, in a glider rocker in my dining room, looking out a window facing east.

Dining Room Window

Through that window I can see the old pine trees at the eastern end of the yard, remnants of a previous generation’s tree line. For the past several years, and up until a couple of weeks ago, we could readily see beyond those trees out into the field, a verdant expanse to the horizon. Now the yard clearly ends just beyond that point in a wall of green.

Beyond the tree line

This has the effect of making the back yard a secret garden, a space alone and away from others.

I like to walk the yard on weekend mornings, and occasionally in the evening. The dogs will join me intermittently as I sojourn along through the different parts of the property, checking in and moving on and checking in again. As the corn grows it makes that walk an ever-changing experience, alters and changes the view, the airflow, and the overall experience. It will change again in the fall, when the corn comes down, and opens that expanse again to the horizon.

This is a small thing in the realm of experiences, I suppose. But where others travel and seek experiences in that way, we have the opportunity to enjoy the shifting tableau just by looking out the window or walking out the door.

Closed Concept

Back in November of 2016 House Beautiful published this article on reasons why we (the royal we, one supposes) should stop using open floor plans. And certainly, on many of the home improvement shows moving to an "open concept" is a primary rallying cry. I’d love to see someone do a tally count on the number of times the term "open concept" is uttered - with a Canadian accent, of course, on any given season of The Property Brothers (and I was pretty disappointed to find that no one has, as yet, done a supercut of the brothers saying this on YouTube...).

There’s nothing inherently wrong with this. Certainly if one is looking for a dramatic change to a living space, taking out a wall will do it. For our little family, our prior home was 900-ish square foot, late 1940’s pre-fab home. We chose to take out the wall between the kitchen and the living room, which not only opened up an otherwise cramped space, but added much needed seating in the form of a breakfast bar. It also kept the person in the kitchen from feeling isolated from the rest of home, and allowed more room for multiple people to work in the same space.

The Homestead is a very different story from this, however. Our 1860’s era home was clearly built around the idea of a closed concept. Each and every room is separated from the other, and literally every entryway has a door that can be closed, and which houses a lock (though few of these are functional any longer). To me, this sort of thing is a reminder of how different our modern day lifestyles are compared to those of previous generations. When it’s just yourself and your spouse, and perhaps a child or two, all of whom are away from the home and each other for large chunks of each day, spending time in a large common area of the home, together, can be a much needed opportunity to reconnect.

But for our ancestors, particularly out here in farm country, the story was almost certainly different. The home was also the workplace, of course, and one’s home might well house multiple generations of the same family, as well as extended family and, depending upon one’s resources, possibly unrelated farm hands or other workers. Having a way to separate from others to be alone and have privacy was almost certainly a priority.

And while the lifestyles may be different, the need and relative value is something that one can see after living in it. While we enjoy our time together, it’s clear that each member of our little family enjoys having the option to retreat to a bit of personal space. Certainly our teenager appears to appreciate having a separate room, away from the undoubtedly invasive parental eye; and it allows for the pursuit of personal interests - reading, writing, etc - without intruding upon, or being intruded upon, by others.

Drive Through Country

There is a lot to be said for country life - much of what I have to say about it is chronicled here. The open spaces, the room between one's self and one's neighbors offers a sense of separation, of privacy that cannot be easily found in the city. The connection with nature is enhanced by this solitude.

As wonderful as this is, that sense of solitude clearly can mean something else to people who are passing through it rather than living in it. For some it presents an emptiness that must be endured in order to move from one actual destination to another - drive through country, if you will. For others it reflects an area where one can do things unobserved, undetected.

Infamously, the empty areas of the Midwest can hide meth houses and similar objectionable sites. But while the media presents this sort of thing as if it's rampant, actual sightings of these are relatively rare. What is more common is the use of our countryside as a dumping ground for things one is, apparently, unsure of how to otherwise throw away.

This isn't a new phenomenon - I can recall variations on this theme going back to childhood. But the thing I see more recently, and which is a bit more striking than a bag of beer cans, for example, is this:

TV in the Ditch

Another TV in the Ditch

These pictures reflect two different, large CRT televisions sitting in the ditch, just a couple of miles apart:

TV's on Henkel Road

This road isn't unpopulated - there are several houses within relatively close proximity of both of them. But it has the distinction of being just off of a fairly major thoroughfare - US RT 52 - which one suspects offers just enough access, and just enough privacy, that one feels one can dump them without being noticed.

And dump is the operative term here. Anyone who has ever had to pick up and move a large CRT television knows these now-outdated devices are anything but light. This is a factor, as much as anything else, in why they've been replaced flat screen TV's. All of which is to say: these didn't just fall off of someone's truck. They aren't sitting, smashed, at the side of the road. They are out in the ditch. One of the two - in the second picture - is so far into the ditch that it's nearly to the field. It is also accompanied by a second, unwanted item that appears to be a microwave.

I'd like to say that this was striking enough to take a picture of because I've never seen such a thing before. Unfortunately, that's not the case - I've seen this same sight multiple times over the time that we've been out here - large, tube televisions tossed in the ditch. I suspect this occurs in part because disposal of old TV's is becoming more and more challenging. It also comes to mind because we have our own departed TV to dispose of.

The state of Illinois does maintain a list of electronic devices and materials that must be recycled rather than sent to a landfill, as well as a list of organizations and business that will recycle electronic devices and materials. This looks pretty hopeful when you see that Wal-Mart is at the top of the list - after all, they are everywhere. However, the big-box giant's website indicates that they only accept smartphones and tablets, along with a short list of other devices, none of which are televisions.

Staples offers a laudably longer list, but limits its program to items that could be considered office equipment, such as monitors and printers. Goodwill will accept a number of electronic items, but any mention of televisions is carefully absent from their site. The Salvation Army is listed as a recycler as well, but specifics about this are either not listed, or well hidden, on their site. A regional site - Stockpiled Electronics Recycling appears on a search with a Facebook page as their business site (folks, Facebook should never be your primary business site... but I digress), but it was posted in 2013, and the number to call is a scam line to sell you a Caribbean cruise.

So it's extremely challenging to find a home for that old TV. With all of those negatives, I did find this positive:

Best Buy will recycle a lot of electronics for free, and will recycle your television for a $25 fee. Best Buy is not a company I particularly love, and stores are few and far between in this region, with the nearest examples requiring an hour or so in the car or truck. Still, the company deserves kudos for stepping up here where others will not, and driving a bit to allow for proper disposal is far better than being a waste of human biomass who dumps his TV in the ditch.

The Fog

Today has been almost entirely cloaked in fog.

Early in the day it was cloudy, but otherwise clear. As the day progressed, the fog gathered and encroached, closing us in. It was warm for early January - above freezing in to be sure. Still, lack of visibility prevented any thought of venturing out.

When I was younger I always thought of fog as a thing of stillness - low lying clouds that wrapped around, laying against the earth. No wind was welcome, as one would assume that it would move any cloud coverage away.

Either my childhood experience was lacking, or my memory was poor. The plains of Illinois beg to differ on this point, providing dense cloud cover in the face of considerable prevailing winds. It is possible to be unable to see where you are going, and yet to be struggling against a headwind or treacherous cross wind.

The Midwest is a place of weather. Other regions and latitudes offer consistency, predictability, in one direction or the other. Here, each day offers the interest and excitement of variability. Have you ever seen freezing fog? It's an amazing thing that the Midwest has to offer you.

It's possible, in this weather, to feel locked in. Certainly Stephen King has had that experience. But it also offers an opportunity to exercise flexibility - to pivot with what Mother Nature has to offer. A day like this presents a good opportunity to stay inside with family and relax. Curl up with a good book, tv show, or iPad and enjoy.

Out of the Woods

For a large portion of the past three weeks or so I've been home sick with one ailment or another. When cold and flu season rears its ugly head apparently it can take anyone down, even if he's had a flu shot...

I was finally feeling up to moving about at the end of this week, and fate put me in Rockford with an afternoon largely untethered, so I headed out to Rock Cut State Park. With temps in the 40's for the past couple of days the hiking trails offered an... interesting mix of surfaces for the hiking boot to address. It turns out that the combination of ice and snow plus dirt in temperatures above freezing may not be the ideal recipe for traction.

Fortunately, I only fell on my ass once, and that event did not appear to occur in front of people.

I've made reference to Rock Cut here a couple of times. For a person who spends time in Rockford IL, and is looking for a bit of woodsy nature to take the edge off, it's a reliable port. Taking the opportunity to work one's way back into the deeper part of the woods during a melt does not disappoint, even with the risk of an occasional slip and fall.


I sent the picture above to MLW a few seconds after I took it. She asked if it was a picture from Walden, and I thought, more or less, yes. Rock Cut is not remote - there are few parts of the park in which one cannot hear traffic on nearby streets, even when one seems to be deep in the woods. But then neither was Thoreau's site at Walden Pond. He was within just a few miles of his own home and, if memory serves, living on land owned by a friend. It wasn't an exercise in harsh survivalism, just in retreat to nature.

It illustrates to me the differences that context can make. I've watched the snow and ice melt here at the homestead over the past few days, and mostly what it makes me think of is the mud with which we will be, and are, contending. At home it's a problem to be dealt with. Walking through through the trees at Rock Cut its an inconvenience to be tolerated, and this despite the fact that I'm much less likely to slip and fall at home.

Our homestead is a beautiful place most of the year - we have trees, and open space, and privacy. Still, one of the things the prairie offers very little of is anything that one might truly refer to as woods. There are stands of trees that one can see if one looks off in the distance. However, these are often narrow patches a couple of hundred yards wide, framing a stream of one sort or another - not the sort of thing that allows one to feel truly lost and removed from all else. Besides that, these are typically private property, most notably not mine and, oddly, not everyone is enamored with the idea of strangers marching around on their land.

There are actually similar options in the area. Just south of Mendota is a small, wooded park called Snyder's Grove. This was the site of many scout trips and picnics in my youth. The Little Vermillion River runs through it, and the park has hiking trails. The travel time to this location from my home is similar to the time that it used to take me to wind my way through the traffic and stop lights of greater Rockford to get to Rock Cut. And, of course, given all of that, how many times have I gone there in the nearly seven years that we've lived at the homestead?

That's right: zero