Thursday, October 29, 2015

Off the Beaten Path

            We like to travel off the beaten path. Sometimes we simply need to get where we are going, but often, given the luxury in travel time that comes with retiree status, we can veer off the Interstate onto back roads. That’s where you can find barns.
            How can we capture the beauty of barns? Part of their beauty derives from an air of sadness that surrounds them because many are in a state of decay. The feeling is akin to the Japanese idea of wabi-sabi, which refers to the poignant sense of imperfection brought on by time. For some reason we have come to appreciate this idea as we age.
            We also love barns because of the stories that are attached to them – whether we know the stories or not.


            On our drive from Michigan to Florida we sought Ohio and West Virginia barns painted with ads for Mail Pouch Tobacco.

The woman who owns this barn in northern Ohio inherited it from her grandfather.

She bought the sign for $400 at an auction and hung it on her barn.

East Harbor Fruit Farm in Lakeside, Ohio, owns this barn, not far from Cedar Point Amusement Park.

This is located on the historic Seeley-Palmer farm in central Ohio.

The owner, Bob Liss, hopes to restore the barn, though several other projects might have more immediate priority. His story involves a failed chicken farm and a 1900 farmhouse in need of restoration.

Bob gave us this oil pitcher.

This Ohio barn stands beside a busy four-lane highway. We did not learn its story, but we are sure there is one.

Same barn from a different angle.

Farmers used to cut openings in their barns for the Barn Owls, who helped control the rodent population.

Barns, even old ones, are not unoccupied, as these three demonstrate. 

And sometimes neighbors come to visit.

Bob Bolen, Jr. told us that his father painted the sign as a gift to his wife. He is looking for someone to repaint it.

Most of the barns we saw in West Virginia, including this one, were within a few miles of each other on County Road 21. We saw a disturbing number of Confederate flags on this otherwise beautiful stretch of road.

We photographed this barn in the early morning sunrise in the West Virginia hills.

Old buildings have a story. The story of this one would answer the question, "How is it still standing?"

All painted barns do not advocate tobacco. 

We photographed this West Virginia barn on a previous trip.

But the majority of them were steadfast advocates of chewing tobacco, most of them hand-painted by Harley Warrick, who estimated he painted 20,000 before he retired in 1992. 

We met a man calling his cows ("Hooooo! Hooooo!) scattered on the hillside. We wanted him to move an old truck into the picture, but he did not own the farm or the truck.

Sometimes a window or a door on an old barn captures the melancholy beauty of decay.

            When we hit the South, the barns gradually disappeared, and so did some of the South Carolina roads and bridges, thanks to the heavy rains of early October. As we doubled back on roads southwest of Columbia, we found this abandoned grocery store.

The woman living across the street told us that it had been empty for a long, long time, and that the owner had died, and several years ago it had passed into the hands of family living in Connecticut. We saw that years ago it had been important to the farmers and others living nearby.

In contrast, note this modern grocery store in Sandyville, West Virginia. We asked the girl behind the counter if she had grown up here. "No," she said, "about fifteen miles away."

Just past Davis' Grocery we found what we thought to be an abandoned barbershop.

Inside, it was far from abandoned.

We were with these men for nearly an hour as Kim charmed them and they charmed us. Their story was one of relaxed friendship. We imagined that Jackson had been cutting hair there for years, and the small barbershop became a social center on Congaree Road in South Carolina.

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