Sunday, April 17, 2011

Indiana and the Peeling of Rural America

The trip to Indiana (which also featured some time with one of my former advisees and her colleagues) was both wonderful and troubling -- both heartbreak and much-needed nourishment for the soul.  In the heartbreak department:   I spent quite a lot of time driving around in small Ohio and Indiana towns -- the stuff of childhood, in my case.  'Home' once meant places like Worthington, Minnesota, and Sioux Falls, South Dakota, and Little Falls and Royalton, and so on -- places very few people will ever know about, much less visit.  So, when I drive through wide-skied countryside, particularly in spring when everything is full of promise, the trees blushing with baby green and baby yellow, I am taken back to childhood, as if in a home movie.  Take this scene in a small town in Indiana -- the ubiquitous grain elevator, the wood frame houses:

...or these sites -- a typical old Victorian home on a manicured street, and a mile away, at the very edge of town in Harlan, Indiana, this gorgeous, well-maintained post-civil war manor house with its equally stunning, staggeringly huge red barn:

But other discoveries in the same towns or on farmsteads make me want to cry.  I think of it as the peeling of America, particularly in the rural countryside, where young, tired men and women are leaving farms founded by their grandparents, and where once-sturdy homes in tiny towns have been abandoned or stand behind well-worn "For Rent" signs.   Everywhere, paint is simply too expensive, and so the wooden frames and doors and eaves are molting in layers, like feathers or snakeskin.  If you look closely at the woodwork on this 1908 school building in Harlan, you'll see serious shedding -- and have a look at the wooden trim on these typical town houses, now "for rent" (which means, of course, that they haven't sold or, worse, are no longer saleable): 

Once, all of these buildings were the town's pride, the legacy of parents to children, passed from generation to generation as if according to the laws of nature.  No more.

I'll have more to say in another entry.    svb

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