In Category: ‘Blog’

We realized beforehand that discovery of fall color in Oregon in mid-October was dicey at best, but we saddled up anyway. It was the only time Pat could take time off from work, and we were pretty well assured that alluring foliage or no, other objects – namely, old barns, old cars, old trucks – not dependent on the vagaries of Mother Nature would be there to capture … assuming that we could find them. Moreover, we figured that even if worst-case scenario prevailed, it would be an enjoyable drive, a chance for the two of us to get away at a time when kids are back in school and highways and byways are less traveled.

There was added inducement as well. Research indicated that within the state’s borders there were covered bridges galore. Although I have shot many covered bridges in the past (see gallery), all of them were – and presumably still are – in New England. I even managed to find online a map pinpointing their respective locations and offering brief descriptions. From the website of the Covered Bridges of Oregon Society (there actually is one) I learned that most were built between 1915 and 1925 and that at one time there were some 450 within the state. For one reason or another – fires, floods, structural degradation – the number has dwindled to 50. Even so, that’s quite a few – probably more than remain in any individual northeastern state.

Pictured here is the first covered bridge we spotted, in an over-the-hill (literally and figuratively) hamlet north of Medford named Eagle Point. According to banners festooned about town, Eagle Point celebrated its centennial in 2010. (Darn, we missed it! Bad timing.) As is true of many others in Oregon and elsewhere, this is a one-lane bridge converted in recent times to use strictly for foot traffic. It spans – you guessed it – Eagle Creek. (Aside: If anyone knows of a TWO-lane covered bridge, I’d love to know its whereabouts.)

dsc 62241 300x198 Fall color elusive, but Rusted Relics and covered bridges pan out

En route back to I-5 and from there westward to the coast, a two-hour drive from Medford on mostly country roads, we stumbled upon our first Rustic Relic artifact, a circa 1950, California-plated Hudson sedan, which hadn’t been in mint condition in some time. It sat in pitiable repose in a ravine under an overpass.

Because access required going onto private property – a nondescript auto body shop – I obliged Pat’s standing albeit sometimes ignored request to ask permission. Dutifully, I parked the car and strode to the front door. A few knocks later, a man appeared.

“Hi,” I said, “I’m a photographer,” a statement probably unnecessary, as the camera dangling from my neck sufficed as my calling card. “I love old cars. That’s a Hudson, isn’t it?”

“Yes.”

“Know how old?”

“No idea. It’s not mine.”

“Mind if I take a few pictures?”

“Fine with me. Go right ahead.”

That I had permission to shoot pleased Pat and me both. Having observed that I was given a free pass, Pat nodded, then returned to her preferred kill-time reading matter, the New York Times. Although the sky was leaden in color, at least it wasn’t raining and for this I was grateful. So was my non-waterproof Nikon. When I got back home and viewed the images on my monitor, it occurred to me that the somber sky seemed a fitting backdrop, as Hudson Motor Company went out of business in 1954 (following a corporate merger of Hudson and Nash, the Hudson name was retained for three additional model years).

dsc 62291 300x198 Fall color elusive, but Rusted Relics and covered bridges pan out

Once finished with the Hudson, we retraced our way back onto the Interstate. From there, we wended our way west, through intermittent rain, ultimately to Florence, situated roughly mid-coast. Preciouslittle to write home about regarding the city, although it does have an attractive historic district. We grabbed a bite and I, of course, grabbed not one but a pair of my “vice” drinks, the cappuccino, both at independent coffee houses. The first was marginal, the second quite good. One for two ain’t bad.

As we motored up Highway 1, windshield wipers flicking to and fro, we wondered aloud why so many coastal towns are so certifiably tacky. Same reason most towns, coastal or otherwise, are tacky: lax (or no) zoning control. My son, Andrew, maintains that one true measure of a given town’s tackiness index is what kind of storefront signage is permitted. If no backlit signs are to be found, it’s two (maybe three) thumbs up, he maintains. Few towns I know of qualify. One is Breckenridge, the well-known ski-resort town in Colorado. Another is Santa Barbara, California. A third is Ashland, in southern Oregon, where two days hence we overnighted after taking in a play.

dsc 6265 300x198 Fall color elusive, but Rusted Relics and covered bridges pan outdsc 6235 300x198 Fall color elusive, but Rusted Relics and covered bridges pan outAided by cellphone GPS reckoning, on tortuous back-road leg between Florence and Salem, we encountered not one, not two, not three, but four covered bridges. The only one not painted white was in the backwater burgh of Drain (I kid you not), population 1,151 and heading down the … you guessed it. The Drain example – officially Pass Creek Bridge, is located between the civic center/library (actually quite nice) and the town’s one-and-only high school. Originally built in 1906 and measuring 61 feet long, it was closed to vehicular traffic in 1981.

Also pictured here – bestriding Myrtle Creek – was the prettiest of those we visited up close and personal. Built in 1939 and like most others, is framed in wood. As I was taking photos, a neighbor buttonholed me and recited in intimate detail the history of the bridge, far more than I cared to learn.

In addition, not more than a half-hour or so past Myrtle Creek we serendipitously encountered an old barn in Cottage Grove. We went there looking for a historic bridge, which we did find, but because it was rebuilt just a few years earlier, I decided it didn’t merit the designation of “historic.” So I passed on it. The barn, shown here, was far more intriguing and far more photogenic. After taking the photo, tight by I-5, I learned from a local that it was slated for demolition and that, as a result, a grassroots campaign was under way in hopes of staving off the wrecker’s ball.

dsc 6270 300x200 Fall color elusive, but Rusted Relics and covered bridges pan outAt the end of this 130-mile leg of the trip we stayed at a nearly empty Hampton Inn in downtown Salem, the state capital, which we had visited once before. Nice town. Clean and green … and, it would appear, at least a semblance of zoning control.

En route to Ashland we stopped in Eugene, home to University of Oregon. The school’s choice of a mascot, the duck, is highly appropriate, as there is no shortage of rain. True throughout much of Oregon, particularly the western half. While in Eugene we stopped at a Verizon store where a kindly sales clerk took pity on me and, in a veritable trice, fixed my contrary HTC Incredible smartphone, which had gone mysteriously haywire that morning. “Operator error,” as fate would have it. No surprise to this card-carrying Luddite.

Preferring to take an alternate route that allowed us to bypass a long stretch on I-5 that we had traversed traveling north, at Roseburg (huge lumber mill) we willingly subjected ourselves to more hinterlands byways, which eventually reacquainted us with the Interstate at – yuk! — Medford.

The first photo op was the fifth and final covered bridge we visited. Like all but one of the others preserved to memory card and unlike the others, it sits on private property – the campus of a Seventh-Day Adventist boarding school. An additional boast of Milo Bridge, opened in 1962, is that it’s the only covered bridge in Oregon constructed of steel and sheathed in wood.   Not much farther down Highway 227 we chanced upon a serendipitous photo op – a discarded, earnestly rusted 1940s Chevrolet one-ton truck. Within spitting distance of it were three other decrepit vehicles — a motorhome, a sad-looking 1980s Ford Thunderbird and a prehistoric tractor of unidentifiable make.

dsc 6342 300x198 Fall color elusive, but Rusted Relics and covered bridges pan outdsc 6360 300x198 Fall color elusive, but Rusted Relics and covered bridges pan outDone shooting for the day, we merrily alighted in Ashland (pop. c. 20,000). Our mid-afternoon arrival afforded us time to find lodging, which we did – a Best Western subtitled The Bard’s Inn, and once you know that Ashland is renowned for its Shakespeare Festival, you understand the choice of moniker. Once unpacked, I picked up the phone and called the box office. I was pleasantly surprised to learn that, yes indeed, tickets were available for the performance that night, “Julius Caesar.” “Good,” I said, “please hold a pair in Will Call.” Reply: “Will do.”

Plans for the evening secured, we walked through the business district. A very charming town, one reason being, you guessed it, NO BACKLIGHTING! It’s one of the nicest little (pop. 20,000) towns I have visited. Cute shops – many of them upscale – no chain stores save for the inevitable Starbucks. And, believe it or not, an independent bookstore with a lovely independent café upstairs in the loft. Wow! My kind of town.

Not surprisingly, given that it’s home to the Shakespeare Festival, it’s an artists’ community. It’s also home to Southern Oregon State University.

Before the play we dined at a little trattoria named Pasta Piatti. The food was terrific and the portions were humongous. Both of us had enough left over for a next-day meal back home.

Ah, yes, the play’s the thing. The performance we saw, one of the last before they closed for the winter, featured a woman in the lead role. A worthy performance she delivered, but I must say – and at the risk of sounding sexist – that it taxes one’s credulity to see a 5’1”, 110-pound female cast as Julius Caesar. In a word, unconvincing. So much so that Pat and I did the unpardonable – we slipped out at intermission and did not return. Well, we were tired anyway from a long day on the road.

Situated just 15 miles north of the California border, Ashland, I later learned from a Wiki search, is renowned not only as home to the Shakespeare festival, but also as home to the – get ready – Bathroom Readers Institute, publisher of the ever-popular Uncle John’s Bathroom Reader series and Brammo, maker of electric motorcycles. (Trust me, I am not making this up.)

Following a “complimentary” breakfast at the Inn, we saddled up again, this time for the final leg back. At the recommendation of a bookstore clerk, before heading out we took a walk through the fabulous, 93-acre city park, designed by the same man who laid out Golden Gate Park in San Francisco. If the presence of the Shakespeare festival, the Bathroom Readers Institute and Brammo weren’t enough – not to mention the absence of backlit signs — surely gaining acquaintance with this park ought to put the town of Ashland on any sane person’s short list of to-die-for places in which to live. It’s definitely on mine, and I do plan to return visit.

Just south of town, off the Interstate, is the Mount Ashland ski area, probably not on any elite skier’s short list of must-visit venues to downhill — peak elevation only 7,500 feet and not a whole lot of snow. Moreover, the vertical descent, a key factor, is only 1,165 feet. By comparison, Mount Bachelor, Oregon’s highest peak, stands 9,065 feet tall and offers a drop of a – yikes! – 2,645 feet. Nevertheless, to give its due, Mount Ashland is eyeball-spinning beautiful. We drove to just below the summit. I got out and squeezed off several late-morning vista photos, one of which appears here.

img 0456 300x225 Fall color elusive, but Rusted Relics and covered bridges pan outAnyone who has driven I-5 knows there isn’t a whole lot of jaw-slackening scenery – not unlike driving on I-80 through, say, Kansas or Nebraska – so I wasn’t expecting to find any come-hither photo ops, particularly since I had done a behind-the-wheel, real-time survey on the way up. With this in mind, we took a back road, which proved fruitful.

In fairness, I shouldn’t say there are no photo ops along I-5, because there definitely are, perhaps foremost of which on this trip was Mount Shasta, a towering, majestic mountain which at 14,179 feet is snow-capped year-round. It ranks as the fifth-tallest peak in California. (Mount Whitney is number one at 14,505 feet.)

Pat requested a pit-stop timeout. While she was in the ladies room, I took a picture of an old farm implement (thus qualifying as a genuine Rustic Relic) sitting behind a menacing barbed-wire fence in a field next to the rest area. Although I have no idea exactly what it is, my eye was drawn to it nevertheless, mainly as a piece of stark, muscular, look-at-me metal sculpture. The backdrop of mountains made it the more pictorially fetching.

dsc 6399 300x198 Fall color elusive, but Rusted Relics and covered bridges pan out

A few hours hence we were back in Lafayette where we have hung our respective hats for nigh onto 13 years. Over a stretch of five days we hadtraversed nearly 1,800 miles. Granted, hardly a Guinness record, but given the abundance of foul weather, it seemed like more. Still and all, it proved an enjoyable excursion, the more so for me because I did return with a prized passel of keeper images. Those shown here are a fraction of the total harvest.

jessica work Holiday in Maine yields serendipitous Rural Americana images

“Hi, Dad,” said the voice at the other end of the phone.

It was my daughter Jessica, the professor at Boston College. “I am attending a conference in Bar Harbor the last two weeks in July and have rented a house. It’s three bedrooms, and I wondered if you and Pat would like to come.” If ever a rhetorical question was asked, this was it. Answer: “Is the pope Catholic? You bet.”

This was in April, affording us ample lead time in which to ferret out a lower-fare round-trip flight to Boston. I filled out the airline reservation online, then did likewise for a rental car in which to scamper about Mount Desert Island and environs, camera ever at the ready, needless to say.

kennedy Holiday in Maine yields serendipitous Rural Americana imagesJessica said she and Cortney would be driving separate cars, as they needed room for baby Kennedy, who then would be five months old, their three – yes, three – humongous Great Pyrenees dogs and all the requisite paraphernalia. Their two cats would stay behind, minded by a neighbor. Whew!

The rental house actually is in Seal Harbor, seven miles from Bar Harbor. This proved advantageous in that it wasn’t overrun with tourists, many of them cruise-ship passengers binge shopping for just a few hours before returning to the ship for other ports of call yet to beckon.

Jessica later learned that the rental property was two houses down from one of the vacation homes owned by none other than Martha Stewart. Her house, I ascertained from an Internet search, a “modest” 35,000 square feet on 63 acres purchased for $5 million in 1997. It was built in 1925 for Edsel Ford, a son of Henry Ford’s and after whom the ill-fated car of the late 1950s was named.

maine Holiday in Maine yields serendipitous Rural Americana images

(The unloved Edsel ceased production after only three years, part way into the 1960 model run. Today, an Edsel restored to mint condition fetches big bucks as a coveted collectible. I probably shouldn’t so confess, but I once owned an Edsel, a 1959 jet-black four-door sedan that at the time of purchase – all of $250 — was a decade old. Then encamped in upstate New York, I was en route to the Baseball Hall of Fame in Cooperstown one weekend when I espied this beauty on a used-car lot. It fairly spoke to me. I needed a second car like a second hole in the head, but, car buff that I am, I bought it on a whim for $250 cash. A year hence I had put maybe 50 miles on the odo and added a solitary tank of gas for $3.50. I sold it “as is” to a local Ford dealer, he an avid Edsel collector, for $500. Doubled my money in 12 months. Dollar for dollar, best investment I ever made.)

 

maine house Holiday in Maine yields serendipitous Rural Americana images

Back to Maine. On the first day after arriving, bags unpacked and hugs exchanged with Jessica, Cortney, the impossibly cute Kennedy and, of course, the three enormous dogs – Sequoia, Gulliver and Darwin – Pat and I headed for a tire-kicker visit to tony Bar Harbor, where many illuminati hang out in addition to literally boatloads of people prowling shops for an afternoon while their cruise ship takes on more fuel … and Lord knows how many freeloading barnacles.

After treating ourselves to yummy cones at Mt. Desert Island Ice Cream Parlor, visited the summer prior by President Obama and family after dinner at Havana restaurant across the street,

grandparents Holiday in Maine yields serendipitous Rural Americana images

Pat and I sauntered about downtown. No shortage of opportunities to spend one’s money, that’s for sure. One thing to be said for Bar Harbor, and it’s hardly an aside, is that it definitely is not tacky. All manner of Mom & Pop stores and – get this – nary a chain store of any kind. No McDonald’s, no Starbucks, no Subway and, mercifully, no Wal-Mart, closest of which lies a 45-minute drive away in the very tacky town of Ellsworth, one of those no-zoning-ordinances, pass-through burghs best viewed with both eyes closed.

Nestled between another ice-cream shop and the town’s lone bookstore was an establishment that caught my eye – Katahdin Photo Gallery. As we ogled the beautiful, framed landscape pictures on the wall, the owner, Steve, who takes all of the photographs, approached us. Was there perhaps anything in particular that we would like to purchase and have shipped? Answer: Thanks-but-no-thanks, even though there were a number I would love to hang on the wall back home. What I was interested in, however, was any tips he might have to offer on where to find photogenic old barns and such in the vicinity. Forthcoming he was.

“I would start with the Old Stone Barn,” he said. “It’s more than 200 years old and probably is the most-photographed barn on the island,” he added, scribbling directions on the back of a scrap of paper. “It’s no more than half an hour’s drive from here, and it’s definitely worth it. I’m pretty sure it’s on the National Register of Historic Barns. It’s out on Crooked Road, off the highway to Ellsworth.”

stone barn Holiday in Maine yields serendipitous Rural Americana images

Ugh, Ellsworth. At least we’d be stopping short of Wal-Martville. So, the day following we were off in search of the Old Stone Barn. After driving along for several miles, I was beginning to give up hope. I’d have had my camera out and ready to shoot but for one “small” problem: An old Mercedes-Benz sedan was parked smack dab in front of it. Rats, I muttered to myself. Then I resorted to a practice that’s not usually part of my m.o.: I actually went to the front door of the adjoining house and knocked on the door. To the accompaniment of a howling basset hound, an elderly man opened the creaky screen door.

“What can I do for you, son?” he asked, tugging on a second Wolverine work boot.

“Good morning, sir. I’m a photographer,” I added, underscoring the obvious, as I had my camera hanging from my neck. “You own this place?”

“Yes, have for the past half-century.”

“As you can see, I’m a photographer, and I was wondering if I might take a few shots of the barn.”

“Go right ahead. I’ll be out soon as I get my other boot on.”

Moments later he emerged, dog in tow.

“Think it would be possible to move the car?”

“No problem, where to?”

“Anywhere out of the line of fire would be fine.”

“How about under the big maple tree over there?”

“Excellent. Thank you.”

Car relocated, I set up to take shots from a variety of distances and angles, using both my 18-55mm short telephoto and my 12-24mm wide-angle zoom.

“You only take pictures of barns?”

“No, I’m also partial to old cars and trucks. Rusted relics is what I call them.”

“I have an old truck inside the barn. Want to see it?”

“Love to.”

ford rural americana1 Holiday in Maine yields serendipitous Rural Americana images

As he pushed open the heavy door, what appeared before my eyes was a stunning, beautifully restored 1929 Model A Ford pickup truck shown here.

Once finished, I handed him my card and, belatedly, introduced myself.

“Thomas F. Black, eh?” he recited from the card. “Rural Americana. What’s that?”

“Mostly old barns and old motor vehicles.

Other things as well, but that’s the bulk of it.”

“If you have a computer, I’d be happy to e-mail you the photos I’ve taken.”

“Yup, got a computer,” he said, handing me a card of his own. It read, “Harry Owen, Stone Barn Farm,” with a drawing of the 1820 building on the front. “If you’ve taken anything remarkable, sure, I’d like to see the photos.”

“I’ll be sure to do it once I get back home to California.”

“California? You’re sure a long way from home.”

“Only about three thousand miles.”

“Any other old barns hereabouts I might shoot?”

“Several other historic ones,” he replied, pointing to a lithographed poster tacked to the wall of the barn interior. The local historical society conducted a public tour of local old barns five summers ago. You might call the Mount Desert Island Historical Society and ask them for directions.”

“I definitely will,” I said. Shaking his weathered hand, I thanked him and walked back to the rented Ford Fusion, where Pat was absorbed in the Sunday New York Times.”

“Get anything good?” she asked.

“I think so,” I answered, scrolling through the images on the camera’s LCD screen.

“Very good,” she replied. “I like the one shot from the side.”

The day following was devoted to a drive off the island and toward the fishing village of Stonington. Lobsters, lobsters and more lobsters. If you like to eat them, this may be as close to heaven as an earthbound mortal can get. I’m not all that fond of them, however, nor is Pat. Too much work for too little reward, we feel, worth the utensil-intense effort only if you slather on oceans of clarified butter. I know, I know, millions of people disagree. I’m from the Midwest, though, and Midwesterners – most of them certified carnivores — are big on steak and potatoes. Even after four decades of living in California an hour’s drive from the coast, I’ll take a Porterhouse, medium-rare, thank you, with a nice baked Russet any day.

En route to Stonington, my cellphone rang. Since the rental car lacked Bluetooth and I’m not a fan of “distracted driving,” I pulled over to take the call.

“Tom? This is Harry, Harry Owen. You were just here at the Old Stone Barn. Glad you gave me your card. After you left it occurred to me that you might want to go to the Seal Cove Auto Museum. There are a couple of very old, rusted cars sitting outside in the yard you might find of interest.”

What a nice man! How thoughtful. I pulled back onto the highway and soon we were in Stonington.

While there, I stopped the car for a savory photo op – an entire outside wall of a souvenir shop festooned with a colorful array of old lobster buoys for sale, $10 each. I restrained myself.

I wasn’t especially interested in acquiring one, but I definitely was interested in taking a photo of them. If there was one, there were easily 75, all hanging on nails hammered into the wall. I squeezed off several shots. Here is one I particularly like. Makes a great screensaver image.

En route back to Seal Beach, motoring along Hwy. 75, I espied in the distance an old car, sitting forlornly in a field. I pulled to the apron of a driveway where an old man sat, fiddling with a rusted bumper part.

I walked over and asked, “That your car over there?”

chevrolet photo Holiday in Maine yields serendipitous Rural Americana images

“Sure is.”

“Well, I’m a photographer,” I replied, holding my camera aloft for him to see.

“Is it a Chevrolet?

“Sure is.”

“What year?”

“’41. Something, isn’t it?”

“Owned it a long time?”

“Just a couple of years, actually. Bought it from a neighbor down the road. Sat in his barn for a long time. I’d had my eye on it for ages, thinking that one day I might make him an offer. The I drug it here on my trailer. Ain’t done nothing with it. Just sittin’ out there. Probably won’t ever get around to fixing it up. I’m too old and I’m running out of gas myself.”

“OK if I take a few pictures?”

“Help yourself,” he said, waving toward it with one hand, caked with naval jelly, a rust remover. He’ll need that and divine intervention to remove all that rust, I told myself.

I had remembered the sunscreen but not, alas, the insect repellent. Within seeming nanoseconds, I could hear the mosquitoes licking their chops. “He looks juicy,” I hear one say to another as they hovered, like so many 17-year locusts.

Although I was wearing long sleeves and a safari hat, my face was unprotected. By the time I was done shooting and had returned to the car, my face had already begun to evidence the results of the airborne assault.

The very next day I went out and bought a homebrewed insect repellent recommended by a pharmacist called Buggle. All natural ingredients, the label read, among them citronella and eucalyptus extracts. It works well, I was to learn, and it actually smells OK.

Heeding the advice of Harry Owen, I called the local historical society. Mentioning the 2006 tour of historic barns, I inquired if there were any posters left that would tell their locations because I wanted to take photographs.

“I don’t think we have any left,” said the man, “but if you have a pencil handy I can tell you the locations and you can Google them. That work for you?”

“Indeed it does,” I replied. “That would be great.” I grabbed my mini-notepad and pencil and started to write down the locations as he rattled them off.

Back home, I conducted an online search of the half-dozen locations he gave me. Only a couple came up, but both looked promising. And, call me Irish, they appeared to be close to each other, perhaps a half-hour drive away.

By now, Pat had had enough of the tag-along routine, and besides, she had run out of the New York Times to read.

Thus I was on my own in seeking out the pair of old barns.

My HTC Incredible cellphone GPS told me I was close, but they still eluded me.

I pulled into the driveway of a house, more or less randomly selected, and rang the front doorbell. Accompanied by a small child, a man opened the screen door and asked, “What can I do for you?”

“I’m looking for the Richardson and Higgins barns. Can you give me directions?”

“You’re very warm. The Richardson barn is right behind us. See the driveway here? Take it all the way back. The Higgins barn is just up the road, same side. Can’t miss it.”

Well, miss it I had, several times.

“Thank you, sir,” I said, “Much obliged.”

No sooner had I gotten back in the car than I saw a couple of prehistoric farm implements off to the side. I got back out and squeezed off a couple of shots. Here they are, a tractor and some sort of a tiller, I’d guess. Heck, what do I know, I’m a city boy.

I drove all the way back on this gravel driveway, past the barn I assumed was my quarry, and to a nice, newly built two-story house. After ringing the bell, a man, 40ish, opened the screen door and poked his head outside.

“Hi. I’m a photographer and I was hoping you might allow me to take some pictures of the barn. Would this be all right?”

old barn photo maine Holiday in Maine yields serendipitous Rural Americana images“You bet. I’d be delighted. In fact, I can give you a hand, if you want.”

“Sure. That would be wonderful.”

As we walked to the barn, maybe 500 yards back toward the highway, he began reciting the history of the barn.

“It’s the original building, built by hand between 1790 and 1800 by Daniel Richardson, my great great grandfather, who came over from Scotland. Been in the family ever since. I’m eighth-generation and there are two more, ten in all. I’m proud of that.”

The barn was pretty badly deteriorated, with blue poly tarps shrouding part of one end. Not all that photogenic, actually, nothing to compare with the fetching Old Stone Barn.

“I’d love to restore it if I could,” he said, “but I can’t afford to do so myself and I haven’t been able to find a Sugar Daddy. It would break my heart, but I may have no choice but to dismantle it and sell the barn wood. I know there’s a market for that.”

“What I think you’ll find most interesting is what’s inside,” he said as he moved aside a 4×4 propped against the entry door.

Once inside, my eyeballs almost bolted their sockets. A veritable trove of old, old artifacts – a hand plough, a horse-drawn carriage, old wooden wagon wheels, a horse collar, ladder-back chairs, a wooden sleigh, several window frames and even more goodies. I was blown away.

My guide, Eban Richardson, asked me if there was anything in particular I wanted to shoot.

“Just about everything,” I replied, feeling like the proverbial kid in the candy store.

old wagon photograph Holiday in Maine yields serendipitous Rural Americana imagesWith Eban moving objects around to facilitate access for me, I took picture after picture, some with the short telephoto lens, others with the wide-angle. Because it was spooky dark, I used an external, camera-mounted flash. Throw length is up to 20 feet.

Shooting the century-old wagon in the loft, Eban remarked, “Wow, I’m amazed you can get that close.”

I was no more than three feet from one of the huge wheels, and thanks to my wide-angle lens, I was able to get the entire image into the frame.

Handing him the camera, I said, “Look, see for yourself. I got it all in.”

“Wow,” he replied. “That’s some lens. You know when I was growing up, I didn’t want to be a farmer like my forebears. What I really wanted to become was a photographer for National Geographic.”

An hour and more than 100 exposures later, I was done.

wheel photo1 300x198 Holiday in Maine yields serendipitous Rural Americana images

horseshoe photograph1 214x300 Holiday in Maine yields serendipitous Rural Americana images

I gave him my card, thanked him profusely and told him I would send him a link to my website once I got the photos edited and posted. “As a token of my appreciation, Eban, I’m happy to provide you with as many prints as you might want.”
“Within reason, I assume,” he said, smiling.

“Yes, within reason.”

Before saddling up for return to Seal Harbor, I asked him if he’d consider parting with one of the wooden window frames I had had my eye on, pointing to one in the corner.

“I don’t know, that’s one of my favorites.”

“Willing to sell it? How much?”

Stroking his chin, he said, “Two thousand dollars,” then chuckled.

“That’s a bit rich.” I replied. “How about fifty dollars?”

“Sold.”

Pulling my money clip from my jeans, I found only the twenty-dollar bills the ATM machine had coughed up for the trip.
“I can’t come up with fifty,” I said. “Will you settle for sixty?”

“Still sold.”

I ever-so-carefully put the hoary six-pane, 30”x30” frame into the trunk, waved goodbye and soon was back home, where everyone – save for the dogs, of course – was waiting for me to return so we could all go out to dinner in Bar Harbor.

Once back at Jessica and Cortney’s house outside Boston, Cortney and I lovingly packed the prized window in bubble wrap and Styrofoam sheeting, then placed it in a cardboard box purchased at a U-Haul store, wrapped in Kraft paper, then closed it with industrial-strength sealing tape. Within a few days of being back in California, a FedEx driver knocked on the door with my treasure. After gingerly opening the box and peeling away the packing material, I could see that it had traveled some 3,000 miles and arrived with nary a scratch. A high-five to the packers and to FedEx.

A scrumptious dinner at Café This Way, which had been written up in the New York Times, was enjoyed by all, well, save for Kennedy, who had dinner of a different sort back in the car.

barn rural photography Holiday in Maine yields serendipitous Rural Americana imagesThe following morning – after grabbing a to-go dry, lowfat cappuccino at Seal Harbor’s one and only coffee house — I set out in pursuit of the Higgins barn, located perhaps a half-mile down the road from the Richardson’s.

I had been told by Eban that the Higgins barn was owned by a lady named Lois and that she was “very nice” and was certain to welcome me. To tell the truth, I feel welcome anywhere in the field that I am not chased after by guard dogs or by someone with a shotgun. So far – fingers and toes crossed – I have yet to encounter either, although I have been invited to vamoose by a couple of ranchers who, shall we say, were less than thrilled at the prospect of having photographs taken on their property.

Like the Richardson barn, this one was set back from the street, but unlike the Richardson barn, it was not obscured from view. Traversing another gravel driveway, I pulled up near the barn, exited the car, grabbed my camera and headed for the front door to see if anyone was home and if so, would I be permitted to take photographs.

As I approached the front door, a woman emerged from the rear door, smiling and holding a cellphone to her ear. Holding the camera aloft, I asked, “Is it OK if I take pictures of the barn?”

After telling the party at the other end to “hold on a second,” she put her hand over the microphone and answered, “Sure, go ahead. I’m on a conference call. Take all the pictures you want.”

As was true of the Old Stone Barn, this one bore a commemorative bronze plaque declaring that it similarly had been placed on the national register by the U.S. Department of the Interior. It was erected in 1810, a decade or so after the Richardson barn and a decade before the Old Stone Barn.

I took multiple shots of the exterior, including that of an old metal basketball hoop dangling from the front wall, and, around one side, shots of a hatchet buried in a cut-off length of tree trunk and a neatly organized stack of firewood next to it.

As I was walking back to the car, Lois re-emerged from the house, cellphone still glued to her ear. I thanked her, gave her a card and told her, as I did both Harry Owen and Eban Richardson, that I would send her a gallery link once I returned home.

As I was about to drive off, Lois waved her hand. I thought she was waving goodbye, but she wasn’t.

truck maine photo Holiday in Maine yields serendipitous Rural Americana images“Tom, I almost forgot. You mentioned you also shoot old cars and trucks. There’s a very old truck close by. Turn left onto Oak Hill Road when you exit the driveway. Take the first road to the right. It’s dirt. Can’t miss it.”

I heeded her advice, and I’m glad I did. It was exactly where she said it was. The dirt was marked “Private Lane. No Outlet.” However, as is my wont, I chose to ignore it.

Sitting in a thicket of tall grass and weeds, not more than 500 feet in the distance, sat what Lois said I would find, a thoroughly rusted, decrepit delivery van, probably from the 1920s. I looked for an identifying badge, but found none.

bridge maine Holiday in Maine yields serendipitous Rural Americana imagesIn the same vicinity was another object I was eager to photograph, a lovely, white-colored, wooden pedestrian bridge over a little creek in Somesville. Fortunately, it was on the way back to Seal Harbor. It was late afternoon, and the lighting conditions were perfect. Here is what was captured on my 8MB memory card. Not to boast, but don’t you think it belongs on a postcard? I won’t, of course, but it has found a home as a screensaver on my desktop monitor.

The day following, heeding the tip from Harry Owen, I used my cellphone to do a GPS search for Seal Cove Auto Museum. It was an easy drive from Seal Harbor. I’m glad I went, not only to photograph the rusted carcasses in the yard Harry was referring to, but also what was inside, a small but magnificent private collection of vehicles representing the so-called Brass Era, spanning 1895 to 1915. I like to think I’m pretty knowledgeable about the history of motor vehicles, but on the floor were several long-defunct brands I had never heard of.

truck maine pic 300x213 Holiday in Maine yields serendipitous Rural Americana images

farm photo 300x213 Holiday in Maine yields serendipitous Rural Americana images

Outside, partially buried in the ground, was an old Willys Knight, produced from 1914 to 1925, the shell of a Cadillac and a Fordson tractor. The latter two probably are from the ‘teens. Pictured here are the Willys Knight and the tractor.

Before bidding adieu to Bar Harbor, the four of us were able to squeeze in a couple of hikes, one in the Acadia National Forest, and canoeing on the azure blue water of an inlet known as Long Pond. This time I brought not only my sunscreen, but also my newly purchased insect repellent, a locally made, natural-ingredient concoction clevery named Buggle. Thus was I spared both burn and bite.

A fortnight of very relaxing R&R on the Right Coast, Pat and I loaded up our – as Jessica and Cortney did theirs – and headed back to Boston.

bus 300x198 Holiday in Maine yields serendipitous Rural Americana images

bus maine photo 300x198 Holiday in Maine yields serendipitous Rural Americana images

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

On the way out, just past close-your-eyes Ellsworth, I spotted an old school bus nestled in a rush of trees and parked not more than ten yards from the highway. After taking far more shots than I probably needed to – capturing the “retired” International Harvester school bus from every conceivable angle, I was back in the car.

Taking freeways, Cortney and Jessica were back home in five-and-a-half hours. We opted for the coastal scenic route, stopping for lunch in a lovely picturesque seaside village named Camden. By the time we had returned to Beantown, it was nearly dark. I looked at my wristwatch. Yikes, three hours longer than it had taken them. Worth the detour, however. Stunning scenery and who knows, we may never return.

After requisite hugs and kisses – and, of course, more pictures of everyone with Kennedy – Pat and I waved goodbye and headed toward Logan International Airport, where we said goodbye to the Ford Fusion and hello to the United airplane that carried us, safe and sound, back to the Left Coast.

By the time all of us reunite, in California, Kennedy will be eleven months and, I’ll wager, already taking her first steps as a fledgling homo erectus.

tom house Little did I know, wisdom of Yogi Berra extrapolates to photographyAs a photographer I like to think I am adventuresome, ever in search of the road less traveled, literally speaking. In the years my wife Pat and I have driven from our home near San Francisco to our cabin in the mountains we have taken several different routes through the hinterlands north of Lake Tahoe. Here is a picture of it after a dusting of snow.

Unless one has oodles of time to kill, gas prices are low and the tires have plenty tread, there is no practical way out of Truckee save for Hwy. 89. Thus, on our most recent excursion, Hwy. 89 it was, through the sleepy hamlet of Sierraville (pop. 207), perched at the intersection of Hwy. 49. (Sleepy, that is, save for the ever-alert town cop, who routinely parks his cruiser alongside the main drag, radar gun beamed at oncoming traffic in hopes of finding reason to pad the town coffers by virtue of issuing speeding tickets. Trust me, it happens.)

At the T, between the Mexican café and the Sierraville Hot Springs Hotel (neither of which looks particularly alluring), we turn left. Several miles down the macadam it’s a right at Sattley (pop. 715), northbound onto County Road A23, which terminates at Hwy. 70. Once there it’s a left turn and a sprint of a couple of miles to the back road that takes us to our in-the-boonies cabin, 5,000 feet above sea level and, far more importantly, away from the madding crowd. What we savor more than anything else are the peace and quiet … and the clean air. Informed where we live, in the sardine-can-dense East Bay, a local once remarked, smiling, “Where you come from birds cough. Up here they sing.” How true.

Instead of turning at Sattley, however, this time we continued north on 89. Several miles yonder there is a fork in the road. Bearing left takes one east toward Downieville, not on the day’s itinerary. By bearing right one remains on 89, through Graeagle (pop. 730) to Hwy. 70. Just south of Graeagle there is a cutoff, a back road into Portola (pop. 2,227), the “metropolis” closest to our cabin. Like other burghs thereabouts, a century ago Portola was a thriving silver-mining mecca. Population – and economy – heading south, today it is a shadow of its former self, struggling to get back on its feet. Literally and figuratively, it is not a pretty sight.

Turning the steering wheel, I told Pat, “What the heck, let’s try it. The sign does say “To Portola.” Glad I did. After passing through a megabuck gated vacation-home development known as Gold Mountain, I saw in the distance what appeared to be – doggone it, is WAS – a rusted ancient car parked fetchingly in the front yard of a residence. The car qualified as a photo op not only for what it was, but also because it was a) readily accessible and b) the house was off in the distance.

buick rural americana photo Little did I know, wisdom of Yogi Berra extrapolates to photographyThe probability of getting shot at while shooting was remote, I reckoned. So, out came the Nikon D7000 cum 18-200mm zoom lens and, in a trice, I was on my knees, shooting the object of my affection from a variety of angles.

At first glance I thought it was a Ford but the shape of the radiator frame suggested to the contrary. I searched for an identifying badge, but found none. What I did find, however, in lieu of a front seat was a weathered, white wicker settee, which someone presumably had deemed a nice decorative touch. Tacky it was, but not so tacky as to deter me from shooting. After all, an old Rusted Relic is still an old Rusted Relic, hence by definition eminently worthy of posterity photography.

Mid-shoot, the family guard dog – thankfully tethered – began barking so loudly I was certain the next thing I would see was a rifle-toting owner shoo(t)ing me from the property. Luckily, it didn’t happen. I took all the pictures I desired unmolested. Here are two. Note the exposed cords (cotton in those days) in the sidewall of the spare. Had to be the original shoes, I surmised.

buick car photograph Little did I know, wisdom of Yogi Berra extrapolates to photographyIt wasn’t until I got back home and was editing the photographs that I noticed “Buick” embossed on the hubcap of a rear tire. By process of elimination, thanks to an Internet search I ascertained it to be a 1926. Given its sorry condition, my guess is that it wouldn’t fetch much money as a collectible. But as a Rusted Relic artifact, it definitely meets my own definition as a collectible.

Elated that a photo op had unexpectedly presented itself, I put the camera away, thinking that that was it. Not much farther down the road, however, an object looking something like a space-shuttle nose cone came into view. Asking Pat, as I (almost) always do, if it was all right to hop out and take a few shots, she said, as she (almost) always does, “OK, but make it fast.”

I measured perhaps 30 feet across at the base, and perhaps 30 feet tall. At first I thought it must be a farm silo, but the metal mesh grille at the peak smacked “spark arrestor.”

rural americana structure 1 Little did I know, wisdom of Yogi Berra extrapolates to photography
Thus, I surmised, rightly or wrongly – I think rightly – it was an incinerator. In any case, it fairly begged to be photographed, especially because it was set against a to-die-for blue sky laced with pillowy clouds. Whodathunk, a genuine, authentic spitting-image Rustic Relic replica of a Cape Canaveral nose cone permanently parked on a back road into Portola, not a place that comes to mind when thinking of space-launch venues.

After three very relaxing days later we headed back home. This time we took the usual trajectory – Hwy. 70 to A23 to Hwy. 89 and into Truckee, where we always pick up I-80 for the 3.5-hour drive to Lafayette.

As I approached the turn at Sierraville – where the radar-gun-wielding cop lurks seemingly 24/7 – out of the corner of my eye I saw a house I’d never seen before, not because it wasn’t there in the past, but because somehow it never appeared in my ever-oscillating field of view.

What jumped out, way in the distance was a yellow diamond-shaped road sign, affixed over the front porch of the house, with a prancing deer on it. Or perhaps REINdeer, in which case it might make sense at Christmastime, when Santa is making his rounds.

Poking my way down a dead-end side street, yup, there it was, tucked tight behind a gated fence and, as frequently is the case, a “Private Property ~ No Trespassing” sign. Not to be deterred – my policy is, better to ask forgiveness than permission – camera dangling from my neck, I climbed over the fence and had, well, a veritable field day.

rural americana window picture Little did I know, wisdom of Yogi Berra extrapolates to photographyrural americana swing Little did I know, wisdom of Yogi Berra extrapolates to photography

The house, very old and vacant, was boarded up, as was the attached wood garage. After squeezing off several shots from the front, I walked through the tall weeds to the back, where, to my pleasant surprise, I found not only several eminently photo-worthy shuttered windows, but a rope swing hanging from a huge oak tree and kissing a patch of wild California poppies grown up around it.

Climbing back into the car and finding, as often I do, Pat snoozing, I was reminded of the line attributed to that sage philosopher Yogi Berra: “It’s amazing what you notice just by observing.” A lovely weekend chilling at the cabin, garnished, as it were, by not one, not two, but three photo ops – one Rusted Relic and two Rustic Relics — stumbled upon, as often happens. Correct you are, Yogi, all too frequently do we look without seeing.

Photographs displayed reside in individual galleries within website. Clicking on a given image summons host gallery. Return by clicking on back arrow in upper left corner.

I ascribe it to the luck of my being Irish. It was this past winter when I started pondering the possibility of taking an extended expedition in the South, poking about, as is my wont, for Rural Americana photo ops. Although I went to graduate school in Georgia – back during the Civil War days – I hadn’t spent any appreciable amount of time there since, and none whatsoever to take photographs. No time like the present, I told myself, so I sat down and mapped out an itinerary that would take me to Tennessee, Arkansas, Mississippi and Louisiana. Starting point Nashville, ending point New Orleans.

rural americana french quarter Solo expedition in Dixie proves rich in memories, keeper imagesLooking at the calendar, I figured a good time to go would be sometime in May, when the weather ought to be more hospitable for outdoor shooting and before the hordes of summer vacationers take to the highways. More or less blindfolded, I picked the first full week. Little did I know at the time I booked my airplane reservation that my visit – during which it was mostly sunny – would be bookended by stretches of horrendous weather.

The week before saw a succession of tornados that ripped savagely through the region. The week following the Mississippi River would rise to record levels of flooding, destroying thousands of acres of farmland and displacing more families than one cares to imagine. Total damage would ultimately run into the billions. Like a blessed pinball, I managed to slip unscathed through the “flippers” of Mother Nature at her angriest.

After completing the shoot per se, which spanned seven days and covered 1,800 miles in a rented Ford Fusion (nice car!), I rendezvoused in the Big Easy with my wife Pat, who flew in from San Francisco. During the three days we spent there, we hung our hats at a lovely B&B in the Garden District.

rural americana door Solo expedition in Dixie proves rich in memories, keeper imagesWe celebrated our anniversary by eating al fresco at a restaurant which, if Zagat is to be believed, ranks among the nation’s finest. Was the chow good? Indeed, but probably not sufficiently exceptional as to warrant flying in from out of town, unless you happen to be in the same league as, say, Larry Ellison (who actually might elect to sail in … so as to “make a statement”). Pictured here is part of a French Quarter door.

Was the trip worth the investment of time and money? As for the former, definitely. Not only did I get scores of outstanding Rural Americana shots – including some not found elsewhere – I was to “re-introduced” to the South. Much changed, of course, since I was there as a grad student during the Freedom Rider days, and much appeared to be the same, especially the warmth and friendliness of native Southerners. And the pecan pie and pralines! To die for, unless you happen to be either diabetic or allergic to nuts. Fortunately, I am neither.

Regarding the latter – cost – the jury is out. As I write this, I have yet to receive the MasterCard statement, and I may want to be sitting down upon opening the envelope. Seven days and eight nights of repeated visits to the gas pump (at $3.79 a gallon), lodging and meals.

Still and all – assuming that I am not thrown into debtor’s prison for inability to pay the bills – it was a rewarding experience both photographically and as an adventure. Because I had no set itinerary, it was literally an ad hoc, seat-of-pants, hope-to-find-something-of-pictorial-merit experience. In my opinion, this invariably is the best approach, particularly for someone with camera in hand and with an unflagging desire to augment his collection of Rural Americana photographs.

When I arrived in Nashville, having taken a “budget” connecting flight out of sun-drenched San Diego, it was raining. Rats, I said to myself, worried that the meteorological gods might not smile upon me.

Having consulted the 10-day forecast before leaving San Francisco, however, I tried to reassure myself that a stretch of fair skies loomed. I was proved correct. For the ensuing seven days, nary a drop of rain and mostly sunny skies. As I said, must be Irish.

Having spent the first night at a Hampton Inn on the west side of Nashville, upon checking out I asked where I might find the nearest Starbucks. As anyone who knows me is aware, I am a virtually insatiable java hound, especially of precisely measured, perfectly measured low-fat cappuccinos, topped with Barbasol-dense foam. Although, in my years of experience, Starbucks’s automated machines rarely produce customer award-winning foam, more often than not the cappuccinos (and similar foo-foo drinks) are quaffable.

“Out the front driveway and down the highway to right, about two miles, in the Kroger’s shopping center,” instructed the clerk at the front desk. “Can’t miss it.”

Indeed, I didn’t. Slogging through the rain, I sidled up to the counter and ordered a “12-ounce” dry cappuccino. I always utter either “12-ounce” or “small,” as I refuse to allow the Starbuckese word “tall” pass my lips, strictly out of principle. I also refuse to utter “grande” or “venti.” The pretentiousness of Howard Shultz is enough to make me want to take my business to Dunkin’ Donuts. Well, not really ….

Road map of Tennessee in hand, I boldly walked up to a couple of men seated at a table and asked, “Either of you local?” After hearing both answer in the affirmative, I introduced myself, offering my business card and explaining that I was a professional photographer from the West Coast passing through in search of Rural Americana photo ops. “Rural Americana?” one asked. “Mostly old barns and discarded old trucks and cars,” I answered.

Pointing to a couple of county roads, one of them – Jack – advised that I stay south of I-40, which runs east and west through the state. “I think you’ll find lots of barns in this area,” added Morris, running his finger over the same roads recommended by Jack. “Good luck, and welcome to Tennessee!”

Heeding their advice, I set out for uncharted territory – uncharted for me, that is – a full complement of camera gear in the trunk and a bottle of Starbucks-bought Ethos bottled water in the console cupholder.

Although my thoughts remained as dark as the sky, I tried to assure myself that the sun would soon break through.

After a couple of hours of meandering hither and yon, and finding absolutely nothing suitable to photograph – even with someone holding an umbrella over my head – my spirits began to sag. The thought “What if this trip is a complete washout?” bounced about in my head as the wipers flipped back and forth indifferently, almost as if to mock me.

At the next intersection of two-lane roads, I pulled into Sanders Service Station and Market. I asked the old man behind the counter – the owner, as it turned out – if there were any old barns in the area.

“Well,” he said in a telltale drawl, “there used to be one across the street, but it got washed away in the terrible flood a year ago. Can’t think of anything still standing in the immediate vicinity.”

“OK,” I said, and walked back to the car. As I was inserting the key into the ignition, another man walked up and knocked on the window. Lowering it, I said, “Yes?”

Holding a cellphone to his ear, he said, “I’m Adam Sanders, the owner’s son, and I think I may be able to help you.”

“Terrific,” I replied, “I’m all ears.”

“Matt,” I overheard him say into the phone, “There’s a gentleman here from California who’s looking for barns and the like to photograph. You have any time available to point him in the right direction?”

“That was Matt Votaw, head of the Perry County Chamber of Commerce. He said he’d be happy to show you around.”

“Show me around? Wow, that would be great.”

Ten minutes later and two miles farther down the road, I was at the front door of the Perry County Chamber of Commerce building in downtown Linden, the county seat.

“You must be the photographer from California. I’m Matt Votaw. How can I help you?”

First, he pulled a county map out of his desk and started marking things up with his black-ink Sharpie. “Heck,” he said, looking up, “why don’t I just drive around with you. Easier that way. We can go together in my truck or you can follow me.”

rural americana barn Solo expedition in Dixie proves rich in memories, keeper images“I’ll follow,” I said. “That way, when we’re done, you can come back here and I can head off wherever.”

After wending through the back roads, we entered the gravel driveway of a farm. Matt got out and, as I was emerging from my own car, pointed to a barn featuring a silo. “How’s this for starters?” he asked.

“Excellent,” I replied, even though one had to strain to find any blue in the sky.

When Matt could see that I was done there, he said, “Next stop is a farm belonging to my grandfather-in-law. He has several old pickup trucks you might find appealing.”

As we drove up another gravel driveway, past an archetypal farm house, an older man – presumably the grandfather-in-law – stood, outfitted, appropriately, in coveralls and engineer’s cap.

Rolling down the window, Matt said, “Lofton, this fellow with me is a professional photographer from out of town. I was wondering if it would be OK for him to take pictures of the trucks.”

rural americana ford truck photo Solo expedition in Dixie proves rich in memories, keeper images“No problem. Happy to oblige,” said Lofton, tugging at the very soiled bill of a tattered cap. “Shoot whatever you like.”

Peering through a fence gate, my eyeballs almost fell out when I espied a thoroughly rusted pickup that appeared to have a tree growing through it. As I got closer – hopping across puddles and knee-high grass – danged it if wasn’t just that … a tree enveloping a 1951 Ford truck.

“I drug it over there years ago to get it out of the way. Planned to fix ‘er up, but never happened. That was 30 years or so ago. To tell the truth, I’d kind of forgotten about it.” After shooting it from high and low and giving it a walk-around, I returned to where Lofton and Matt were standing, chatting.

rural americana truck tenn Solo expedition in Dixie proves rich in memories, keeper images“Lived here all your life?” I asked. “Not yet,” he replied, wry smile on his face. “Eighty years so far. Born on a kitchen table over there where the house used to be,” he said, pointing to a vacant field behind him.

Before leaving, I also shot Lofton’s abandoned 1965 Ford truck in addition to another ’51. Good stuff.

Thanking him, I shook Lofton’s hand and offered a business card. “If you have a computer, you can visit my website and see my work.”

“Ain’t got no computer,” he answered. “No interest in them new-fangled machines.”

After leaving Lofton’s farm, Matt drove me to a couple of barns – one far more photogenic than the other – and an ancient vacant house where, said Matt, “a spinster lived by herself until she died last fall in her nineties.” Although I took a few exposures, reviewing the photographs that night on my laptop confirmed my suspicion at the time – hit the delete key.

Matt told me that as I headed west, out of town on Highway 412, I would come upon a back road, not well marked, named Cedar Creek. “You’ll want to be sure to stop there,” he said. “It’s the site of a historic iron furnace – the only one of its kind still in existence – that dates to the Civil War. It was shelled by Union boats and survived.”

Having driven several miles west of Linden on Hwy. 412, I was certain I had missed the road. Then, out of the corner of my eye, I noticed an historical marker inscribed “Cedar Grove Iron Works.”

rural americana license plates Solo expedition in Dixie proves rich in memories, keeper imagesAfter a good 15 minutes of driving the windy road, I wondered – again – if perhaps I had somehow driven too far. Seeing a woman tending her front garden, I pulled to the shoulder, rolled down the window and inquired if the iron furnace lay ahead.

“Sure is. Just keep goin’ futha down the road and you’ll run into it,” she said, wiping her brow with a red-and-white checkered kerchief. I noticed behind her a tall metal shed bedecked with a multitude of signs – license plates, a railroad crossing sign, street signs and the like.

“I’m a photographer, ma’am. Mind if I shoot those signs?”

“Go right ahead,” she answered. Around the corner, as I was shooting the shed signs, I espied an old Chevrolet Corvair that appeared to have sat idle for Lord knows how long. Probably for nearly a decade, I deduced, as the license plate registration tag read “2002.”

 

rural americana barn interior Solo expedition in Dixie proves rich in memories, keeper imagesrural americana old car Solo expedition in Dixie proves rich in memories, keeper images

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

En route to the iron works was another serendipitous find, a wood barn (shown here) that, like the Corvair, had seen better days. I grabbed some shots of it, both from the outside and the inside, where the sunlight through the slats cast intriguing shadows.

Finally, I found myself at the target destination, the iron furnace. A curious thing it is. Made entirely of native limestone, it measures 30 feet tall and 31×51 feet at the base. It was built in 1834 and ceased operation in 1862, even as the Civil War was very much in progress.

Initially discouraged by the ugly chain-link “security” fence around it, my eyes lit up when I saw that the gate was unlocked.

rural americana Solo expedition in Dixie proves rich in memories, keeper imagesI pushed my way in and, using a wide-angle lens, I took a series of photos – two shown here – that I thought would do it justice … and add some unique images to my Rural Americana collection. By now, the sun had broken through, allowing for a lovely backdrop of azure skies. For the rest of the trip, nary a drop of rain did I encounter. Irish indeed.

Back on Hwy. 412 and heading west toward Memphis, where I had planned to spend the night, I noticed an old Chevy truck parked on someone’s front lawn, not far from the road. I grabbed the camera and scampered out. Just as I was finishing shooting, a young man appeared out of nowhere, standing above me as I was still crouching.

“Anything I can help you with, mister?”

rural americana old truck Solo expedition in Dixie proves rich in memories, keeper imagesHanding him a business card, I said, “Hi, I’m a photographer, just passing through. I like to shoot old trucks and cars out in the field. This one caught my eye. It’s a Chevy, right?

“It is, a 1940, I believe. My granddaddy used it for many years as a milk wagon for local delivery. Been sittin’ there a long time.”

“Plan on fixing it up?”

“I’d sure like to, but that costs money and right now ain’t got no job. Was working as a long-haul trucker, but suddenly there was nothin’ to haul and the truck got repossessed. Nearly new Peterbilt. Cost me 75 grand. Gone. Now, I’m willin’ to do just about anything. Wife and three kids. Times are tough,” he said between puffs of an unfiltered Marlboro, “but maybe things will turn around. Hope I can ride this one out.”

“Me too,” I replied limply. It was the first of many examples of de facto economic hardship – up close and personal — I would encounter on the trip.

The sun was descending, and I wanted to get myself to Memphis, about a two-hour drive from there. As I drove along, it occurred to me that I might want to get myself across the Mississippi River, and for two reasons: 1) I could get ensnared in morning commute traffic, delaying me, and 2) with the water level rising rapidly, it might be a good idea to get myself on the other side before calling it a day.

Once across the river, there was one motel after another, each beckoning me, but they were all on the other side of the divided Interstate, and I didn’t want to have to exit and turn around. So I kept on driving … and driving … and driving, until it “dawned” on me that there might be nowhere for me to stay between there and Little Rock, some 125 miles farther west.

Seated at a Burger King at a raunchy, hectic truck stop, using my cellphone I commenced a Google search for “lodging in Little Rock.” After being told there were no vacancies at three different places, I found one at a Holiday Inn downtown. “I’ll take it,” I said to the person at the front desk. “I’m about two hours away, but I’ll give you my credit card number if you promise to hold it for me.” Bingo, a bed. All I had to do was to get there, and my eyelids were growing heavy.

By the time I crept into the parking lot, it was nearly midnight. Slumped at the registration counter with my camera bag carry-on, I said, “I’m the one who called from the truck stop. You said you’d hold a room for me, did you?”

“You betcha. The room is 312 and here’s the card. Checkout 11:00.”

Within nanoseconds after inserting the key in the slot, I was undressed under the covers. Fearing I might oversleep, I set the alarm on both the hotel nightstand clock and on my cellphone.

The weather forecast called for fair skies. They were indeed fair when I arose the next morning. I pulled the curtains open and voila, what did appear but my good friend, the sun!

Upon checking out I asked the front desk clerk where I might find the Little Rock visitors center. “Right across the street, sir.” Shazam. Must be Irish.

As I arrived, two little old ladies were opening the front door, making me the first inquisitor of the day. I asked if either of them could direct me to an area where I might find old barns.

After staring at each other in silence for a couple of minutes, one said, “Ethel, do YOU know where?”

“When Fred and I go looking, we go here,” said Ethel, running her finger along a road that went north. “Probably your best bet, sir.”

Sir: “Not going to work. I’m heading south, toward Pine Bluff. By the way, how far is Pine Bluff?”

Ethel: “About an hour. All Interstate.”

Although it wasn’t uttered, they might as well have said in unison, “Sorry we can’t shed any light. You’re on your own.” Indeed, I was. Me and my camera, my carry-on and a solitary CD, Paul Simon’s splendiferous new album, “So Beautiful Or So What,” likewise purchased at the Nashville Starbucks.

Before heading out of town, I paid a visit to the Clinton Library. I wasn’t planning on spending much time there anyway, but when I saw it was overrun with schoolchildren, I cut it even shorter. I was in and out within an hour. Certainly can’t do it justice in such little time, but I hit the highlights, including peering into a recreation of the Oval Office. Very cool, although Bill wasn’t anywhere to be found. Or Hillary. Or Monica.

Wondering if the library was an example our “our tax dollars at work,” I asked one of the guards how the project was funded. Answer: “Entirely private donations. Not so much as one tax dollar.” Hooray!

Although I wouldn’t declare it an architectural wonder – pretty much a glass-and-steel box — it’s in a good location, perched overlooking the Arkansas River. They are working on converting an old railroad trestle into a pedestrian bridge that will connect the Clinton Plaza to North Little Rock. I can’t imagine why anyone would want to visit North Little Rock, but before the end of the year, the opportunity will be present for anyone to stroll across the river at that very spot.

After driving around in circles for a seeming eternity, I found I-530 south, toward Pine Bluff. Having seen no photo ops along the way, I exited the freeway where a sign read “Historic Downtown.” Not to be missed, I figured. Wrong. Pine Bluff appeared to be the Arkansas equivalent of Detroit, which of course is hardly a compliment. Many “For Lease” signs slapped on vacant buildings, many storefronts boarded over.

rural americana lanterns Solo expedition in Dixie proves rich in memories, keeper images

Hoping against hope, I thought that maybe, just maybe, I would be able to find myself a Starbucks. Heck, they’re everywhere, right? I would soon learn the answer. As I emerged from the car in front of the Community Services Center, I saw a nicely dressed, beautifully coiffed older woman leaving the building, clasping a lovely bouquet of flowers.

“Hello, ma’am. You local? I mean, do you live here?”

As if borrowing a line from Lofton in Tennessee, she answered,
“Yes, all my life.” Her life probably hadn’t spanned as many years as had Lofton’s, but she definitely belonged in high-mileage territory.

“Do you know if there is a Starbucks in town?”

“Don’t believe so.”

“Well, then, is there somewhere I can get a good cup of coffee?”

“I drink tea myself, but they say the best coffee is at the Exxon station, across from Wal-Mart. You know where that is, don’t you?”

“Sure don’t. Never been here before today. I don’t know where anything is.”

I wrote down the directions she gave me, thanked her, told her how nice she looked, and hopped back into the car in search of the Exxon station where, I was told, one would find the best coffee in town.

Wending my way through mostly deserted city streets, I thought to myself, “This must be some fancy gas station for the coffee to be world-class. Probably an espresso bar inside. Maybe Pine Bluff is a test market.”

I strolled through the Exxon aisles, looking everywhere, and no sign of anything remotely resembling an espresso bar, so I walked over to the cashier.

“Do you serve espresso drinks?”

“Expresso? What do you mean?”

Well, there I had my answer.

What would suffice as an espresso bar was a machine where, at the push of a button, one could draw oneself a “latte” or “cappuccino.” I passed, disappointed but not the least surprised.

Looking at the road map and seeing it was high noon, I figured I could get as far south as El Dorado, a small town not far from the Louisiana border.

I spent some time driving in and around Dumas, a farming community, where I thought I might find a barn or two. In fact, I found one and an old school bus – both pictured here – that had been converted into a marquee of sorts. That was it for Dumas.

 

rural americana southern barn1 Solo expedition in Dixie proves rich in memories, keeper images
rural americana car sign Solo expedition in Dixie proves rich in memories, keeper images

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Between Dumas and El Dorado – several hours taking the back roads, as I did – I happened upon a barn that fairly spoke to me. Although there wasn’t anything particularly extraordinary about it physically, by now the sun was starting to set, bathing it in an inviting, warm light.

Farther down the road, on the outskirts of El Dorado (Dough-RAY-Dough), my eyes lit up when I saw another homemade advertising marquee, this an old Chevrolet perched atop a pole at the entrance to a salvage yard. Since one doesn’t find many of those, I took a photograph for posterity and ambled into town.

rural americana picture Solo expedition in Dixie proves rich in memories, keeper images I was pleasantly surprised to find a lovely, quaint downtown area — nice little shops, public art on the streets, old London telephone booths and, not incidentally, what appeared to be a B&B, one named Guest Quarters.

On the front door – locked – was a sign indicating that the office closed at 5 p.m. Looking at my wristwatch that read 6:15, I thought, rats. Probably have to settle for a cheap motel … if there is one.

The sign also gave an after-hours number to phone. Phone I did.

“Hello,” I said upon hearing a female voice at the other end. “I’m at the front door and was wondering if you might have a vacancy for tonight.”

“Yes, I do. I’ll be there shortly. Don’t leave.”

Within minutes, a Honda CR-V pulls up. This woman gets out, and, walking across the street, smiles and extends her hand.

“Hi, I’m Joanie. Come on in.”

She walked behind a nicely appointed desk in a nicely appointed lobby.

“How many nights?”

“Just tonight. What’s the rate?”

“It’s $129 plus tax. I can put you in back where it’s nice and quiet.”

“Great,” I replied, “I’ll take it.” Then, I thought she said, “There’s a roommate.”

“Unless she’s young and cute, no roommate.”

Chuckling, she said, “No, there’s no roommate. I said Room 8. Here’s the key.”

Gosh, a real key, not one of those ubiquitous plastic cards. She took me around in back and we walked up the stairs together.

“No elevator?”

“No elevator.”

She opened the door to a room that was both huge and beautifully furnished. Ornate ceiling fan, queen bed, sofa, even a chaise.

I slept like a log. In the morning, I threw my Dopp kit into the carry-on, loaded the car and walked next door to a place named Wiley’s Café. “Breakfast served all day. Espresso.”

rural americana guitar Solo expedition in Dixie proves rich in memories, keeper imagesEspresso? Shazam. Maybe, just maybe, I’d get myself a foo-foo drink. It had been two full days since my cappuccino at Starbucks in Nashville, and I wasn’t sure how much longer I could hold out.

Peering through the window I could see a genuine espresso machine. I’m in luck, I told myself. Luck of the Irish?

I told the lady behind the counter I’d like a cappuccino. Frowning, she replied, “Sorry, our espresso machine is down, but we have good drip coffee.”

Rats. “OK, I’ll have a drip to go.”

As I drove down Main Street, I saw several cool street sculptures and a colorful mural in an arcade. Before saddling up for my next stretch – Jackson, Mississippi, was the destination – I took pictures. Technically, they don’t qualify as Rural Americana subjects, I grant, but what the heck, El Dorado, Arkansas, certainly does.

The only things I found that definitely qualified were along the highway in a little town snug against the Mississippi River – another homemade marquee – a huge “Mel’s Market” A-frame sign straddling an old truck, and, within a few feet of each other, a billboard offering a “cure” and a stand where one could help oneself to a free Bible or other religious literature. I couldn’t pass up the photographs, but I did pass on King James and companion propaganda.

 

rural americana sign Solo expedition in Dixie proves rich in memories, keeper imagesrural americana stand Solo expedition in Dixie proves rich in memories, keeper images

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

I stopped at an Arkansas visitor center to inquire whether the rising river was yet causing any troublesome flooding in the area. Told that there was not, I got back into the car and drove across a very busy bridge, entering the State of Mississippi for the first time in my life. I’m grateful I didn’t need to equip the car with pontoons to make it across.

That afternoon I meandered north along the river, occasionally taking a gander to see if there was any flooding. To my relief – and that of thousands of residents – nothing much below Memphis.

I arrived in Jackson, the state capital, about 5:00 – just in time to hit the commute traffic – and found myself caught up in a vortex of intertwining interstate highways. From high above, it must look like a spaghetti bowl. Reminded me of Los Angeles, though not nearly as forbidding.

Of the umpteen hotels to choose from, I went eenie-meeny-miny-mo and selected a place called the Country Inn and Suites. Looked OK from the outside and the room – equipped with a Jacuzzi, no less – was fine.

I’m glad I stayed there, not so much for the amenities, which were minimal save for free Wi-Fi, but because of the assistant manager at the front desk, Janet, who signed me in.

Explaining that I was a photographer in search of Rural Americana subjects and laying a map of the state on the counter, I asked her if she could give me any pointers. “You asked the right person,” she replied. “I am a native, born and raised in a little town north and east of here named De Kalb.”

Using a highlighter, Janet traced a loop that would take me through Philadelphia eastward to De Kalb, then north to Grenada, and south to Vicksburg and Natchez.

“Give yourself two days to reach Natchez,” she said. “That should allow you time to stop for pictures. If you want to go to Biloxi on the coast, add another day.”

Janet told me to be sure to stop at a grist mill just north of De Kalb. “It’s one of the oldest water mills in the country, and it’s still in operation. I’m sure you’ll find something of interest there.”

By noon I had reached Philadelphia, an old, old town that gained notoriety during the Civil Rights days as the place where three civil-rights workers were murdered in cold blood. Thankfully, race relations are vastly improved there, as they are throughout the South, but Philadelphia will be forever linked to this abominable incident.

I drove around the public square and eyed a place called The Coffee Spot – “Coffee and More” read the sign in the window. Having gone three long days without a cappuccino and feeling gravely deprived, I was hoping that in addition to a sandwich I might actually find the libation I was sorely craving.

Upon seeing an authentic espresso machine behind the counter, I began to salivate. “Can I get a world-class cappuccino here?” I asked, smiling. Frowning, the clerk replied, “Actually, you can’t get a cappuccino of any quality, because the machine is out of service. We’re waiting for the repairman.” Two espresso machines, first in El Dorado, now in Philadelphia, both down. Hexed? I began to wonder if indeed I really was Irish.

“Bummer,” said I, loud enough for the repairman to hear even if he were in the other Philadelphia. “Clearly, my stars are not in alignment with the espresso gods.”

Crestfallen, I ordered a glass of iced water – “no charge for that, sir” – and a chicken salad, and found myself a seat. It was the lunch hour and, because it appeared to be the only eatery on the square, it was busy.

I checked my cellphone for messages – surprisingly, nothing (yet) from the White House — then surfed for baseball scores. Hooray, my beloved, perennial-underdog Indians – they of my hometown of Cleveland – were in first place in the AL Central.

Five minutes pass, 10 minutes. I hailed one of the servers. “Could you please check on my order?” “Will do,” he replied, juggling an armful of dirty dishes for return to the kitchen.

Another five minutes pass. Still no chicken salad and, no less discouragingly, no sign of the server. Perhaps he had taken a lunch break.

Fed up without being fed so much as a tender victual, I got up and went to the counter. Speaking to the selfsame clerk who had taken my order, I said, “I’ve been waiting a good 15 minutes and still no food. I’m sorry, but I can’t wait any longer. May I please have my money back?”

Fortunately, I had paid in cash, so the transaction should have been quick and easy. Not so. Staring at the register, the clerk appeared utterly baffled. Once out of her trance, she turned to a coworker and asked, “How do I open the drawer? This man wants his money back.” Had it not been for the intervention of “Monica K.,” I might still be standing there.

Refund in hand, but belly unsatisfied, I returned to the car and put downtown Philadelphia, Mississippi, in the rearview mirror.

Opening a pack of Wrigley’s Spearmint, I said to myself, “Surely there’s a cappuccino waiting for me somewhere,” not really sure at all.

rural americana trailer Solo expedition in Dixie proves rich in memories, keeper imagesA couple of miles out of town on the two-lane highway that would take me to De Kalb, I whizzed past a mobile home (OK, single-wide) that caught my attention. Draped across the front of it, end to end, was a banner reading “GRAND CASINO Gulfport & Biloxi.” Can’t pass that up, I thought, and spun a 180. Because there was no highway shoulder, I had to park some distance away, at a pullout.

Having noticed that someone was present – unloading an ATV from his Dodge Ram – I knew I would have to shoot stealthily, so as I strode along the edge of the road, I hid the camera on my hip as best I could. Once in front of the trailer, which sat perhaps 75 yards away, I removed the camera from my hip, squared myself, and squeezed off a shot when the man had climbed into the truck cab. I didn’t even look at the LCD screen until returning to the car. Covering the back of the camera to block the sunlight, I could see that it was Mission Accomplished. No espresso drink, no chicken salad, but a keeper photograph of something I had never seen before and doubtless will never see again.

Just past the highway sign that read “Entering Edinburg,” I saw in the distance an object in the road. As I got closer, I could make out that it was a motorcycle, lying on its side, and the rider waving his arms frantically. Good thing that he did, for it was not out of the question that I might not have seen him in time. I stopped just ahead of the downed motorcycle – a Harley – put on the emergency flashers, and walked up to the man, mustachioed and wearing a do-rag (no helmet required in Mississippi) bearing the design of the American flag.

“Need help?” I asked, somewhat rhetorically. “Out of gas? You hurt?” Answer: No and no. “I was making a u-ey and I turned too sharp. The bike went down and it’s too heavy for me to lift by myself.”

I was immediately reminded of the old TV commercial for the First Alert alarm gizmo for seniors. “Help, I’ve fallen and I can’t get up,” says Granny, lying on her side and rubbing her hip.

Together, we got the bike righted and he immediately extended his hand. “Thanks, bro, much obliged. I owe you one. Engine may be flooded, but I’m sure it will restart.”

I got back in the car and, as I drove off, I could see that indeed the engine had indeed restarted, and he turned off onto a side road. Knowing you have played the role of Good Samaritan is always a good feeling, especially when you know that had you not stopped and put on the flashers, he – or at least the bike – could have been flattened.

rural americana structure Solo expedition in Dixie proves rich in memories, keeper imagesIn the hour or so it took to reach De Kalb, I took photos of a barn and several exteriors of the tower-cum-globe of a casino in Choctaw, on the grounds of an Indian reservation. Although these shots hardly qualify as Rural Americana subjects, I couldn’t resist the temptation, if only to show folks back home.

Finally, there came into view another “Entering” sign, this for De Kalb (pop. 916, median annual household income $23,000, 50 percent black) and, not incidentally, the home of John Stennis, the powerful (and staunchly segregationist) U.S. Senator who represented Mississippi from 1947 until retiring in 1989.

Looking at the map Janet at the Jackson hotel had highlighted for me, I made a left turn onto Hwy. 395. “Sciple’s Mill” 10 miles ahead, read a small, weathered wooden sign, tipped cattywampus.

rural americana house Solo expedition in Dixie proves rich in memories, keeper imagesAh ha, that’s the brass ring, I said to myself, recalling that Janet had said I was “sure to find something of interest.”

Indeed I did. More on this in a minute. Just a couple of miles up the road I encountered my first evidence of the tornado damage that had battered Mississippi and Alabama the week prior.

Off to my right was a house, now abandoned, that had been pretty well beaten up, and the vegetation surrounding it had taken a severe hit as well.

rural americana water mill1 Solo expedition in Dixie proves rich in memories, keeper imagesFinally, a third sign, “Sciple’s Mill ~ Turn Right.” Almost immediately I was thrust upon a gravel road, and I got to thinking, this is a rental car, do I want to risk breaking a spring? Answer: Yes, it’s probably worth the risk, so I pushed ahead.

As I crossed a very rickety bridge over a creek, standing off to the left was a wooden building overlooking the water, that I assumed must be the grist mill. Correct surmise. It was.

I got out the camera and took a passel of pictures from various angles and distances, including this “beauty” shot of the mill alongside the river.

rural americana gas Solo expedition in Dixie proves rich in memories, keeper images After I finished with that, I turned around and shot a series of photographs of what appeared to be a small country store – more than a little down in the heel – with two very old gas pumps in front and a 1960s Chevrolet Chevelle, covered with dust easily an eighth of an inch think, in an adjoining carport. On the porch were two vintage Coca-Cola machines, neither operational. On one was a decal reading “75 cents, exact change only,” the same price that showed on one of the gas pumps. How long since we paid 75 cents a gallon? Seventies? Sixties?

As I was putting my gear away, a full-size Ford pickup truck appeared, black lab barking its head off in the bed. The driver rolled down the window and yelled, “Can I help you with anything?” Ordinarily, this language is code for “get the hell off my property, you are trespassing,” but not the case in this instance.

He got out, walked over and, extending his hand, said, “Hi, I’m Eddie Sciple. I run the mill. Been in the family a long time. Have you been inside?”

Inside? How could I have been inside? It’s locked up tight as a drum.

“No, I haven’t.”

“Would you like to?”

“Yes, very much so.”

So, that said, we strode over together – Eddie’s three-year-old grandson Seth in tow and black lab now wagging its tail – to the front door. With a turn of the key, all three of us humans were inside. The dog stayed outside, as if to guard us from potential harm.

I could not believe what I was seeing, a Fibber McGee’s closet of multifarious and multitudinous – and criminally dusty — artifacts hanging from the walls, the ceilings, the rafters. I didn’t know where or what to shoot first.

 

Potatoes1 300x214 Solo expedition in Dixie proves rich in memories, keeper images
Wallace1 300x198 Solo expedition in Dixie proves rich in memories, keeper images

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

In the midst of shooting this, that and the other object, each a museum piece in its own right, Eddie related the story of the mill. It was built in 1790 and has remained in the Sciple family ever since. It is said to be the oldest water grist mill in operation in the country. Eddie himself still runs it, although only on a very part-time basis. His day job is as an instructor at the local community college. Oh, yes, he also has an auto windshield repair business on the side.

As I am about to wind up shooting – a wall-mounted license plate promoting George Wallace as president – Eddie asks, “Have you even seen the TV show “Dirty Jobs” on the Discovery Channel?”

“Yes, I have,” I replied. “I’ve watched quite a few episodes, and I find it interesting.”

“Well, they were here last fall filming, and the segment aired last November 8. I consider it our 15 minutes of fame.”

rural americana business cards Solo expedition in Dixie proves rich in memories, keeper imagesNow outside, I handed Eddie my business card. “Once I get home I’ll post these on my website. I’ll send you an e-mail with the link when they are up.”

“Nice card,” he said, as he reached around and, grabbing a thumbtack from the Lord-knows-how-old bulletin board next to the front door, stuck it in the midst of other, very dusty local business cards, some of which may have antedated Noah’s Ark. It’s pretty obvious looking at this photograph I took which is mine. Pure as the driven snow.

Eddie told me how to get to Lynville, my next and final stop en route to overnighting in Grenada (pop. 14,893). We shook hands, I thanked him profusely, the lab licked my hand, Seth bade goodbye, and I was off, extending my reach into uncharted territory.

rural americana barn1 Solo expedition in Dixie proves rich in memories, keeper imagesA couple of hours north, approaching Grenada (gren-A-dah), I chanced upon an old barn with a sign affixed to it that read 1910. I took several shots, one of which appears here. By now, it was late afternoon, and the shadows were such that they were not photographer-friendly.

Having spent the night at the Quality Inn – very much a misnomer – for $69.95, buffet breakfast included – I continued west on Highway 8, looking for Highway 61, that would take me back south.

An old, rusted car sitting on a trailer, all by its lonesome in a field, caught my eye. I parked on the shoulder, grabbed the camera, hopped a culvert, and made my way through the thicket. Although the yard was surrounded by a barbed-wire fence, I found a hole and crawled through.

rural americana car Solo expedition in Dixie proves rich in memories, keeper imagesAlthough the grille – and many other parts were missing – I reckoned that it was an early 1940s Chevrolet, probably pre-war. Spray-painted on both sides was “For Sale,” in penmanship not likely to win any awards.

I was so proud of myself that no one had seen me prowling about, I realized once returned to the car that this was not the case. Two sizeable – and itchy – welts formed on my face. Unbeknownst to me at the time, predatory mosquitoes had attacked. It felt as though they had drawn at least a pint of blood, and here I am with no Calamine Lotion as an antidote.

rural americana old car1 Solo expedition in Dixie proves rich in memories, keeper imagesA couple of hours and more than a hundred miles later, as I began to feel the gravitational tug of Vicksburg, I spotted an old Ford pickup in a field, behind what appeared to be – and indeed was – an abandoned, dilapidated single-wide. As is my wont, I shot the F-150 from every conceivable angle during a walk-around, which included this image of a partially buried tire.

Fully aware of the potential consequences of the inexorably rising Mississippi River on the leg of my travel back south through the state and, ultimately, into Louisiana, I had called ahead from Grenada for road conditions. The only reported washout was of Hwy. 465, a two-lane road across the river north of Vicksburg. Other than that, looked like clear sailing.

rural americana water sign Solo expedition in Dixie proves rich in memories, keeper imagesAs I approached a road sign reading “Vicksburg 10 miles,” I saw at a distance, off to the right, flashing lights, a road blockade no Kenworth could penetrate, and a state trooper cruiser, roof lightbar flashing through the setting sun.

Beyond the blockade, maybe a hundred yards off, was a sign – metal post engulfed in water – that read Dead End. Dead end indeed. This was Hwy. 465, flooded and now rendered navigable only by waterfowl and swamp boats.

Out of the car and with camera in hand, I accosted the trooper. “How long closed?” I inquired.

“Several days,” he replied. “The Yazoo River is backing up and there is no stopping it. Two weeks from now, when the Mississippi is predicted to crest, where we stand will be under water, as will be hundreds, perhaps thousands, more acres of farmland. They say this will be as bad as the record flood of 1927, maybe worse. You from these parts?”

“No, I’m from California, and we never see damage from Mother Nature like this.”

“Don’t tell me that. You get those awful earthquakes.”

rural americana flood Solo expedition in Dixie proves rich in memories, keeper images“True, really bad ones every century or so. I do not envy you folks the predictably terrible weather you get year in and year out from flooding, tornadoes and hurricanes.”

“We’ve learned to deal with it. Most of these people have been through this before. Their spirit and fortitude are amazing. They’ll rebuild. Always have in the past. Likely no different this time.”

Having taken several posterity photographs of the sign under water and the center line of Hwy. 465 receding into the water, as if it were a boat ramp, I got back behind the wheel and put pedal to the metal. I was growing tired. Hanging my hat in Vicksburg was the goal when I saddled up in Grenada that morning.

rural americana house abandoned Solo expedition in Dixie proves rich in memories, keeper imagesOn the outskirts of town, I saw an old, ramshackle house – unmistakably vacant – and pulled to the shoulder. Peering into a window, I made certain that it was in fact vacant.

The window screens were torn, a bicycle cable secured the front door, and I can’t imagine when, if ever, the grounds were last groomed. Detritus of all manner all over.

What interested me in particular in addition to the full street view “in-context” perspective shown here, was the front porch, where several old chairs, a broom and dustpan, and scythe had been left behind.

rural americana porch Solo expedition in Dixie proves rich in memories, keeper imagesThere were three straight-back wooden chairs and one upholstered chair with a gnarly mustard-yellow cushion. Although it hardly beckoned forth as a place to sit, it did stand out as a photogenic artifact of Rural Americana.

Figuring that I wouldn’t be returning to Vicksburg (or anywhere else in Mississippi in this lifetime), I followed the road marked “This Way to Port.” It was a narrow, two-lane road and as far as the eye could see, was bedotted with a nearly solid queue of dump trucks, inbound and outbound. Hmm, I said to myself, and drove on to another sign reading “No through traffic beyond this point.”

Although I wouldn’t learn so until checking the news on my laptop that night, the dump trucks were all carrying sand, employed in a frantic effort to shore up the levee protecting the city.

En route back to Hwy. 61, I stopped to take pictures of a one-of-a-kind “establishment” that one would find only in the South – a crudely built “house of worship,” consisting, among other things, of a cinder-block “church” attached to an empty single-wide, a Lego-like cross, and an abandoned bus. To say it was colorful is gross understatement.

 

rural americana south Solo expedition in Dixie proves rich in memories, keeper imagesrural americana bus Solo expedition in Dixie proves rich in memories, keeper images

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

There was no sign of the resident Baptist pastor, but there were plenty of signs, all hand-painted and definitely the worse for wear.

Concerned that if I were to overnight in Vicksburg, by morning I might need water wings and sonar to find my car in the lot, I pulled into a gas station. I needed to refuel anyway. Compared with sky-high West Coast pump prices, gasoline was cheap for the duration of my trip. I never paid more than $3.95 per gallon and as low as $3.69. My most recent fill-up in California had been $4.25.

Grabbing a Snickers – I swear, the only candy bar I ate the entire trip – I asked the counter clerk how far Natchez was. “About 75 miles, hour and a half, give or take.”

Even though my eyelids were drooping, I decided to push on. I knew that Natchez was on the watch list for flooding, but there was no serious threat for another week or longer.

Having had good luck in the past with Hampton Inns, I pulled into one on the main drag. At the front desk I inquired, “Any vacancies for tonight?” Yes, there were. “I need a no-smoke room and one that is quiet, away from the elevator and any ice machines.”

Tapping the computer screen, she replied, “Sorry, sir, the only smoke-free room available is right across from the elevator. That’s it.”

“Anywhere else in town you think might have vacancies?”

“There’s a Best Western and the Grand Soleil, recently remodeled. It’s nice. Try there first. It’s just down the road, at the foot of the bridge.”

Bingo. The Grand Soleil was entirely smoke-free, save for the bar, and there were numerous vacancies. I repeated what I had said at the Hampton, a quiet room, away from the elevator and ice machines.

“I can give you Room 421. It’s the top floor, and both the elevator and the ice machines are at the ends of the hall.”

“How much? I have memberships in AARP and AAA.”

“With the discount, $109.”

“Sold,” I answered, handing her my now-abused MasterCard.

“Any restaurant recommendations?”

“If you want fish, best place I know of is the Sandbar, just across the bridge, in Vidalia.”

Already I could taste pan-fried catfish, which I hadn’t had in a veritable coon’s age, mainly because my wife abhors it. The very thought of whiskers sends chills up her spine. She’d sooner have a mystery-fish sandwich at McDonald’s.

Aptly named, the Sandbar stood no more than a stone’s throw from the edge of the Mississippi River. The full parking lot meant I had to park a couple of blocks away, on the street, but it probably also meant that it was a good place.

Parties of one are never popular with hostesses. “How long?” I asked. “If you want a table, 20 minutes minimum. Or you can sit at the bar.”

I sat myself down on a stool, order the pan-fried catfish, visions of which had been dancing in my head, and a Sierra Nevada, brewed in California. I knew it was a safe bet, and, besides, I like it.

On my way back through the hotel lobby, I heard the desk clerk ask, “How was it? What did you have?”

“Catfish, and it was terrific. Best I’ve had in 20 years.” Truth be told, probably the only catfish I’ve eaten in the two decades, when I last visited the South.

On my way out in the morning, I followed my routine, asking at the front desk, “Anywhere nearby I can get a good espresso drink? Or even a not-so-good one?”

“There’s the Natchez Coffee Brew House downtown, not more than a ten-minute drive and they are open Sundays.”

En route I passed by a couple of old frame houses that appeared to be, or have been, private residences. One was being refurbished, hence not Rural Americana material. The other was very ratty and, surveying it from the sidewalk, I surmised that no one could possibly be living in it.

After helping myself to a couple of pictures of a come-hither side window, I walked back to the front of house, preparing to shoot a beaten-up front window. Just as I had it in focus, the front door opened and who should emerge but an amply proportioned young man, waving his arms.

“No pictures, no pictures.”

“Ah, OK, sorry. Didn’t think anyone was at home.”

I slunk back to the car, and, knowing it would soon be redeployed in Natchez, slid the camera under the driver’s seat. Consulting my HTC Incredible smartphone’s GPS, I summoned directions to the coffee house that had been recommended to me by the Grand Soleil front desk clerk.

In a trice I had found it, located in a small area – maybe six to eight blocks square — that constituted the historic district, which is nice. As for the rest of Natchez, don’t bother.

Snagging a copy of the Sunday Times-Picayune from the street box — $1.50, quarters only – I tucked the paper under my arm, swung the door open and proceeded to the counter.

“Is your espresso machine in working order?” I asked, hoping against hope that the answer would be in the affirmative.

“Yes, it is. Why do you ask?” countered the counter clerk.

“Well, I’ve had a run of bad luck with espresso machines of late, and I was thinking that maybe the odds were with me this time.”

Seeing that people were queuing behind me, I cut the superfluous small talk short and ordered the same drink – or kind of drink – that I had last ingested at the Nashville Starbucks – small (i.e., 12 ounce), lowfat (2%), dry cappuccino to go.

“That will be $3.35, sir.”

I couldn’t wait to fetch the money out of my pocket. Miracle of miracles, a cappuccino was actually being prepared for me. I must be Irish, I said to myself. Indeed, there must be a God, or at the very least a supreme being looking out for us java junkies.

Last night catfish, this morning cappuccino. Life is good.

As I headed out of town – goodbye, Natchez – I drove past a string of beautiful old houses that must have been 150 years old, give or take. Talk about life is good. If you have the money and don’t mind the threat of annual floods and tornados and hurricanes and, not incidentally, lethal mosquitoes, there definitely are worse places to live.

I hopped back onto Hwy. 61. An hour or so later I had crossed the border into Louisiana, due north of Baton Rouge. Wanting to stay off Interstates – not preferred for seekers of Rural Americana photographs – I hung a left onto Hwy. 10, which took me west through Louisiana and back into Mississippi.

 

rural americana tractor Solo expedition in Dixie proves rich in memories, keeper images
rural americana bottles Solo expedition in Dixie proves rich in memories, keeper images

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

In the roughly two hours it took me to traverse the distance, I encountered several subjects I deemed worthy of immortalizing with photographs – a prehistoric tractor, an old Plymouth decked out in LSU school colors and a window inside which old glass jars were displayed.

At the same site where the Plymouth and window beckoned, I found a passel of old glass telephone pole insulators, all stuck in the mud. Since no one was around and the building sitting beside them had a sign taped to it reading “For Lease,” I told myself that St. Peter probably wouldn’t be too upset if I were liberate a few for myself as souvenirs. After all, glass telephone pole insulators have not been used for eons and thus are considered collectibles.

Sorting through them one by one, looking for chips and cracks, I sticky-fingered a half-dozen and made a beeline for the car.

rural americana car picture Solo expedition in Dixie proves rich in memories, keeper imagesAfter carefully placing them in the trunk – spacing them so they wouldn’t clink against one another – I closed the lid, asked for forgiveness from God and sped off, leaving the Plymouth in the rearview mirror and hoping that no CSI forensics specialist would pour plaster into the footprints I left as a first step, if you will, toward tracking me down and throwing me in the clink.

Now back in Mississippi, I crossed I-59 and, not long thereafter, saw the sign for the junction of Hwy. 49 that would take me south to I-10, which, in turn, took me to Biloxi/Gulfport (basically one town) on the coast. I knew that there were casinos there – after all, had I not observed the “Grand Casino Gulfport & Biloxi” banner draped on that single-wide outside of Philadelphia? – but I had no idea that, to all intents and purposes, it was Las Vegas on the water … and so windy one needed divine intervention to stand erect for more than half a minute.

The beach is beautiful – miles and miles of white sand – but the water was far less inviting. Thanks to the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina six years earlier, the water was still an off-putting grayish color. Then I got to thinking, yikes, maybe the catfish I had relished in Natchez had been plucked from the Gulf of Mexico. In retrospect, the restaurant menu did read “Kat-rina” fillet. Should have raised a red flag, I reckon, but it didn’t.

Now nearing six o’clock and seeing that the sun was about to go down, I started looking for a place to spend the night. I pulled into a Hampton Inn, parked, and, at the front desk, inquired about the rate.

“Eighty-nine dollars,” said the clerk. That was the least I had paid since a $69 one-night-stand at the Quality Inn in Grenada. Definitely had my attention. Then I asked, “Are there any restaurants nearby?”

Answer: “Not really. People eat in the casinos.”

Exit Hampton Inn. Figuring it was the same story at all of the other hostels on the strip, I retraced my steps, heading back through Gulfport toward I-10.

I elected to bunk up at a Holiday Inn, where the rate was $109, but at least it had a restaurant. After downloading the photographs I had taken that day into my laptop, I took the elevator down to the restaurant and had a decent meal – pot roast and mashed potatoes. Not exactly a Southern dish, but it served to please my native- Midwestern palate.

Fully aware that I was to meet the aforementioned Pat at the New Orleans airport the following afternoon, I asked the night clerk how much time I should allow.

“Give yourself an hour and a half. That should be plenty.”

To be on the safe side, I allowed myself two hours. To get myself to Louis Armstrong International Airport I basically retraced the trajectory that had taken me from Natchez to Biloxi.

Not more than an hour later I was on the bridge across Lake Pontchartrain, which, I was soon to learn at the Basin Street Visitors Center in New Orleans, is the second-largest inland saltwater lake in the United States, behind Great Salt Lake.

Carefully following the road signage the entire way – didn’t want to get myself lost and have Pat waiting for me, steamed at baggage claim, I saw a sign reading “Cell Phone Lot.”

We had made arrangements for Pat to call me when she got off the plane – excuse me, “deplaned” – so I was fully aware where I was to plant myself while awaiting the come-get-me call.

There was nary a shade tree within a hemisphere of the Cell Phone Lot, however, and by now the temperature was nudging 90. Never mind the Cell Phone Lot, I told myself, and parked the car under a huge oak tree on a side road. There, HTC Incredible powered on, I awaited the call from Pat.

“I’m here at the baggage claim curb,” the voice on the other end said. “Fine,” I replied, “what terminal?” “What terminal? I have no idea.” With this as surefire dead-reckoning assurance, I wended my way through the serpentine access roads to the first baggage curb I encountered. There stood Pat, waving with one hand and clutching her carry-on with the other.

She threw the bag into the trunk, hopped into the passenger seat, and – God’s truth – we kissed. After all, the whole point of the arranged rendezvous in New Orleans was to spend a couple of days celebrating our 27th wedding anniversary.

In the ensuing 48-plus hours, we had a grand time, mainly walking the French Quarter and, on our last evening, had a wonderful celebratory dinner on the patio of Bayona, the Zagat-rated restaurant where we had made reservations weeks earlier.

Twenty-four hours later we touched down at San Francisco International Airport, where we summoned a taxi, which for a mere $120 transported us back home to Lafayette.

In all, a terrific, fruitful, nine-day trip – Nashville to New Orleans – and with literally hundreds of Rural Americana photographs to “prove” it was worth the cash outlay. Oh, what the heck, it’s only money. Memories are what really counts, and they were rich and abundant. Plus a nice, romantic interlude with Pat. Indeed, the good life. Must be Irish.

We were zipping along Highway 101, just south of San Jose, when out of the corner of my eye, in a field off to the right, I espied what I optimistically thought would prove my first bingo photo op of the day – a very old, very rusted pickup truck.

I was driving too fast, maybe 70, to notice the make, but the very sight of it made me start salivating. “Perfect,” I said to myself, “perfect.” I did not expect to stumble upon so fine a Rusted Relic candidate so close to a major metropolis and so close to the highway.

The challenge presented was twofold: 1) Leave the freeway at the next exit and circle around on country roads, and 2) Once subject spotted, to make my way to the vehicle, camera in hand, and, as always, scanning for any possible interference, such as, say, a snarling canine and/or having a shotgun wielded by a snarling rancher aimed at me. To date – knock on wood – I have been so fortunate as to avoid both.

I circled around and, aided by my lynx-eyed navigator wife, Pat, espied it off in the distance. Bumping along a dusty, pocked dirt road, we slowly crept up to the ranch house. In the distance, I could see the truck. So close yet so far. I grabbed the camera from its bag in the trunk, swung it over my neck, and, before it could settle to gravitational rest, two men had approached. The younger, perhaps the son, I surmised, looked amiable enough. “Slam dunk,” I figured. Not so fast there, Mr. Photographer. The older man started waving his arms, yelling, “No pictures.” I hadn’t even mentioned what it was I wanted to shoot, but he must have known. Sixth sense, ESP, whatever. I reckon I wasn’t the first camera-wielding stranger to request up-close-and-personals of his prized possession (I never did learn the make or year).

“Why?” I asked, incredulously. I say incredulously, because – God’s truth – no one in the past had ever told me to take a hike. Well, first time for everything. “I just don’t want anyone near the truck,” he demanded. From the tone of the voice and the remonstration, it was immediately apparent that there would be no room for negotiation. “OK,” I may have said, or, more likely, I may have just muttered it inaudibly, to myself. In any case, much as I regret admitting it, I struck out. For the day, batting .000.

Tail between legs, I slunk back to the car, put away the camera and retreated, defeated, back to the freeway. If I said anything to Pat, I was too steamed at the time to be able to remember. How dare I be denied such delicious, low-hanging fruit! Clearly, my stars were not in alignment.

So, white flag of surrender held aloft for the whole world to see, back to Highway 101 we trudged. Destination: Santa Barbara, to spend the weekend with an old high-school classmate of mine and his wife, likewise named Pat. Disappointed as I was, I wasn’t about to let this rude incident spoil our much-anticipated visit.

santa barbara barn photo Weekend Trip to Santa Barbara Filled With Fun, Two Choice Photo OpsThree hours on, we had reached Paso Robles, a rapidly growing town, and growing mainly because of a booming wine industry thereabouts that in the past decade has come into its own as a major player in California and beyond.

The clerk at a tasting room we visited just off the public square – Clayhouse – told us that the Paso Robles vicinity today is what the Napa Valley was 30 years ago. Already, there are literally hundred of vineyards, with more being planted as we speak. If you haven’t tried wines – white or red – bearing the Central Coast appellation, do yourself a favor and uncork a bottle.

(Just wondering: How many wineries in California – or elsewhere in the U.S. – do you suppose turn a profit? Corollary: How many winery owners need or even want to turn a profit? As is well documented, many of them are filthy rich people in seeking a tax shelter. Ah, yes, the luxury of sipping one’s way to handing over less money to Uncle Sam. Must be nice.)

After sampling several varietals, buying a case of one of Clayhouse’s signature wines – Adobe White – we joined the wine club, stowed the case in the car trunk, and walked around the corner to a restaurant named Artisan. I specifically wanted to go there because, having visited originally last summer (when it was beastly hot), I knew how good the chow was, and I wanted Pat to get in on a good thing. A good thing it was. Two thumbs up … from each of us. Later would I read that the chef in residence had been nominated as one of the best new chefs of 2010 in the entire nation. No wonder the taste buds were so enraptured.

We stopped again in a lovely hamlet off the beaten path named Los Olivos. The Clayhouse clerk had assured us it was worth the detour. Indeed, a charming place – proverbial wide spot in the road – and consisting mainly of more tasting rooms, several restaurants, the famous Fess Parker Inn and Spa and – what appealed most to me at this juncture – a coffee house that, according to the sign behind the counter – “proudly serves Peet’s Coffee.” If you haven’t tried Peet’s, you should. Best gourmet java in America, and you can quote me on that. Started in Berkeley in 1966. Now coast to coast. Nowhere near as many stores as Starbucks has, but the brew is not-even-close superior.

SB old barn picture Weekend Trip to Santa Barbara Filled With Fun, Two Choice Photo OpsRoughly nine hours after we had pushed off from our home in Lafayette to the north, we rolled into the driveway of the Hansons. They greeted us at the door with huge smiles and open arms. A wonderful weekend with two wonderful people was to unfold.

The Hansons treated us like royalty. Two scrumptious dinners at their house – one of which was what we from the Midwest call a cookout (not, wash your mouth out, a barbecue. Someone fetch the Fels Naptha).

Taking advantage of a beautiful day – sunny, with temperatures rising into the 70s (in early February, mind you) – Gary and Pat gave us a grand tour of the area. We drove past a manse owned by the one and only Oprah, walked about the Santa Barbara mission (overrun with photographers from Japan), strolled the bustling pier.

“Catch anything?” I asked one angler. “Nope, but there’s always hope.” Perhaps benefit of a warm, sunny day when most of the rest of the nation is shivering is enough. Certainly would be – indeed, was! — for me, recalling all too vividly the nasty winters Gary and I endured growing up in Ohio.

Sunday morning. Light breakfast shared with our hosts. We hugged one another, said our goodbyes and let’s-do-this-again-soons, and saddled up for our respective destinations – they to church, we back whence we came.

Knowing that there would be few if any photo ops along 101, we slipped off onto Highway 41, which runs roughly east and west through San Luis Obispo County. Ah, yes, more of what I am always looking for – ranch and farm land, hills, vistas, seen-better-days sheet metal.

We weren’t more than a half-hour into our side excursion when I spotted what proved to be the first viable, doable photo op of the trip, a barn, off in the distance. I grabbed my camera, and, using a fence post as a surrogate tripod, squeezed off a number of frames, several – two of which you see here above – with cattle as what Hollywood euphemistically refers to as “atmospheric personnel,” better known to the layperson as “extras.”

sb old truck photograph Weekend Trip to Santa Barbara Filled With Fun, Two Choice Photo OpsSatisfied with what I saw captured on the LCD screen, I was putting the camera away when I looked across the two-lane. What did I see? Shazam! Must be Irish. A rusted old pickup truck perched high up a hill on another cattle ranch.

Like the proverbial chicken, I walked across the street to the other side. As I had done in taking pictures of the barn, I helped myself to a fence post to stabilize the camera, which, outfitted with a long telephoto lens, was beginning to feel a little heavy.

Off in the distance yet within shouting distance was a man, working alongside his truck, whom I presumed – correctly, as it turned out – to be the ranch owner. Waving my arms and holding my camera aloft for him to see, cupping my hands to my mouth, I bellowed, “Hi. I’m a photographer and would love to get closer to the old pickup if I may. Mind if I come onto the property?”

Although I couldn’t hear the answer, I was pleased to see him get into his Dodge Ram and head toward the main gate, securely padlocked and operable only by dint of keypad.

Sticking his arm out the window and pointing toward the keypad, he clicked his remote, and, voila, the gate started to swing open. I walked up to the driver door and introduced myself, handing him one of my business cards.

sb truck picture Weekend Trip to Santa Barbara Filled With Fun, Two Choice Photo Ops “I love to take pictures of what I call Rusted Relics,” I explained, “and the one behind us is a beauty. What make and year is it?”

“1940 Ford, sitting where you see it when I bought the ranch 20 years ago,” he replied. “Been meaning to move it, but I never seem to get around to it. Too much else to do around here.”

He added: “Drive around behind the shed and park there. You can walk up the hill and take as many pictures as you like. I’ll leave the gate open for you. How long do you think you will be?”

“Twenty minutes, I’m guessing,” I replied.

“Fine. Take your time. Nice to meet you.” Gazing at the card, he inquired, “What is ‘Rural Americana’?”

I explained as best I could in my two-minute, elevator-speech description of my subject matter. Seemed to satisfy. Or maybe not. The conversation concluded with my saying, “Visit my website and you will see. The address is on the card.”

I parked where he had suggested, behind the shed. As is her wont when accompanying me on my road shoots, Pat immediately reached for her novel as I reached for my camera.

After hopping over a gulley, I clambered up the hill, ogling this prize as I put one foot after the other. Upon arriving, I surveyed the truck and thought, wow, it’s perfect – old and rusted and with many coats of paint deliciously weathered over seven decades.

After shooting the rear and sides from varying distances and angles, I strode around to the front. Eyeballing it from maybe 20 feet away, I thought to myself, “Why the heck is there a canoe draped over the front?” Upon closer inspection, I saw that it wasn’t a canoe, but rather the hood, “slightly ajar,” as is evident from one of the images offered here.

sb truck closeup picture Weekend Trip to Santa Barbara Filled With Fun, Two Choice Photo OpsLying on the ground and concentrating intently as I squeezed off shot after shot of the front end, suddenly – and with no warning – a big, black dog was standing over me, clearly agitated and panting.

“Oh, oh,” I muttered defeatedly to myself, “the jig is up. After all these years, finally I meet my Waterloo – eaten by a hungry lab.

Well, I wasn’t eaten, not even so much as bitten. “Saying ‘nice boy, nice boy” as I rose to my feet, expecting to have to fend off a vicious attack from the four-legged security guard, the dog actually came up and licked my hand. OMG. Must be Irish.

As I reached out to pet him – foolishly, perhaps – I heard his master’s voice in the distance. “Boomer, get back here, right now!”

Boomer turned around and before obliging the command to return, he paused for a second, then dashed off. Luckily, and seizing a moment never to be repeated, I took a couple of exposures of paused (pawsed?) Boomer, one of which you see here.

sb tractor photo Weekend Trip to Santa Barbara Filled With Fun, Two Choice Photo OpsFinished with the truck and grateful that I proved not to be Boomer’s dinner, I eased back down the hill. Off to the side was a thoroughly rusted tractor, which, from appearances, may have been sitting there since before The Flood. I grabbed some shots of it – one shown here – put the lens cap back on the camera, placed it in the bag, closed the trunk, and, with a big smile on my face, we made our way out through the gate, which clanged closed behind us. Six hours later, we were back home. What a nice weekend, satisfying in every respect and, on the whole, most memorable.

Reminiscing with an old chum, seeing the sights, chancing upon a couple of come-hither photo ops. To borrow a phrase, “Life Is Good.”