Sunday, December 12, 2010

Outlook to Winter

    Most of us, I fear, look upon winter with some feeling of dread and apprehension. It is to be endured. This feeling is partly due to the immense change that comes with the approach of winter. The trees are bare. The leaves are drifting into the fence-rows. The birds have flown. The deserted country roads stretch away into leaden skies. The lines of the landscape become hard and sharp. Gusty winds scurry over the fields. It is the turn of the year.
    To many persons, however, the dread of winter, or the lack of enjoyment in it, is a questions of weather. We speak of bad weather, as if weather ever could be bad. Weather is not a human institution, and is not to be measured by human standards. There is strength and mighty uplift in the roaring winds that go roistering over the winter hills. The cold and the storm are part of winter, as the warmth and the soft rain are a part of summer. Persons who find happiness in the out-of-doors only in what we call pleasant weather, do not really love nature.
     We speak of winter as bare, but this is only a contrast with summer. In summer all things are familiar and close; the depths are covered. The view is restricted. We see things near by. In the winter things are uncovered. Old objects have new forms. There are new curves in the roadway through the forest. There are steeper undulations in the footpath. Even when the snow lies deep on the earth the ground-line carries the eye into strange distances. You look far down into the heart of the woods. You feel the strength and resoluteness of the framework of the trees. You see the corners and angles of the rocks. You discover the trail that was lost in summer. You look clear through the weedy tangle. You find new knotholes in the tree trunks. You penetrate to the very depths. You analyze, and gain insight.

Sunday, December 05, 2010

The Bailey Farmstead...the Most Important Fact in Agriculture

    Leafing through a copy of L.H. Bailey’s most autobiographical book, The Harvest, I came across a passage on the importance of the home, specifically the home as a farmstead. Bailey wrote that the farmstead, “…is the greatest and most important fact in agriculture…The good single-family farm in the real open country (not in the environs of cities and towns) is one of our greatest social assets…Any estimate of agriculture that misses this situation is defective and of little avail...” I have no doubt Bailey pictured his childhood home in South Haven with its colonnade arches and tracks of orchards.  What are we to make of this bold statement, that Bailey saw the home as the “most important fact in agriculture?” I would have thought that the crops, livestock, commercial output and technical ingenuity would be the important facts in agriculture. Not so for Bailey. It is the home. Happily for us, through the interventions of past generations, the iconic image of the Bailey farmstead/home in South Haven still stands, its longevity supported by its historical significance attachment to Bailey.
    Reflecting on his essay I realized the farmstead/home in South Haven preserves immediately at least two values for us. First, is its historical value. This 19th century Greek Revival home is an important physical artifact of Michigan’s agricultural settlement that, as historian Kenneth E. Lewis unabashedly puts it, shaped the destiny of the lower south Michigan region. Secondly is the value that Bailey points out, the farmstead as the symbol of naturalness and rightness in the place of things. As Bailey puts it in the same essay, “[The home] outweighs the quantities of things, the turnovers and the activities of the produce market. The home is still part of the farm, rearing new generations in the very midst of the realities of life, without make-believe, stage-play, patronage, advertising, go-betweens, or superfluities. It is a twelve month institution, seemingly as native and unremovable as land and trees and ceaseless brooks.”
    I never experienced a farmstead life. My childhood was nestled in the concrete of suburban Detroit bereft of any natural process besides the ritual of public school and Sunday mass. However, my monthly visits to the Bailey homestead awaken some dormant aspect that is connected with the land and its long history, where the dictates of modern life are only a small passing drama. The value of naturalness comes through. As a historian, I am happy to see that the Bailey home still stands. As an individual, however, I am more keenly aware of this deeper value that Bailey realized of this home, sown from the seeds of his youth. It is a good thing to know both.