Sunday, September 25, 2011

now for some sorghum photos!

post #54
     Last time I took photos of sorghum making was 35 years ago, with a simple film camera that let in light!  This weekend, when the call came, I took my digital self to the sorghum field, yesterday.  Then, this morning, with the fog still on, to the farm near my home where they are spending the day boiling down the juice squeezed out of the stems to make sorghum molasses.  I plan to return there later this afternoon to take some more photos, including ones of jars being filled.  I use every such opportunity to learn something about this witness photography I do.  Yesterday it was that my 70-300 mm lens, which can make things look closer together, did exactly that when four guys were cutting the stalks.  The result was that they appeared to be working too closely to each other, and with big tobacco cutting knives!  It looked unsafe -- when in reality all was fine.
    Here are some photos so far, from yesterday, and I will do a part 2 next week:
sorghum patch being cut, stalks put on a trailer for transporting to the farm

more cut stalks
the pile on the trailer gets higher!
asking me, do I want to help!!??
the tops (mostly seeds) cut off, some to be used next year, the rest left for the turkeys

      This week's sadness includes the death of two fine friends, both from cancers they tried their very best to tame: Jo Carson, a remarkable and visionary writer living in Johnson City, TN, and John Kelley, married to my close college friend, Liz, living in the San Francisco area.  I don't usually share any personal stuff on this blog but I can't help today wanting to acknowledge their passing, and the fact the world has been much enriched by the grace of their presence and by their courage.  
      May I suggest, please take a photo today of someone you love.  Do it every few years. 

thinking of Jo and John last night, on the lake, and of the ripples of our lives

Sunday, September 18, 2011

tobacco as art, part 2

post #53
     Well, let's get smokin', 'tis the season to cut tobacco and "house" it in a barn!  I am sharing some additional photos today of this crop which was formerly grown by many small farmers where I live in northeastern Kentucky and is now grown only by a few.  I will try to put this week's set in more or less chronological order.  

truck bed with flats holding plants now big enough to be put in the ground (see last week's post for a photo of tobacco being planted)
newly planted tobacco in Donnie's field, a photo whose title is "earthbound book"
This tobacco is overdue to be "topped" and de-suckered....sticky, hot, hard work, with bees for company
I don't usually see tobacco blooms this far along, and, not having to work it, I thought it lovely.
The yellowing means the tobacco is getting ready to be cut and housed, usually in late August or September.
The earthbound book field, in September, with some of the rows cut, the plants left a day or two in the field to dry out a bit before all that lifting to come
Trailers bring the cut and speared tobacco plants to the barn.  The tobacco sticks (see some unused ones lower right) are used as spears, thanks to the cutting cone that gets moved from stick to stick.  Five to six plants each are on a stick, which is later placed on the trailer to be taken to the tobacco barn for hanging.
unloading the trailer and hanging the sticks holding the plants
hanging to cure  (barn built in 1960?)
 The plants hang like possums for a couple of months, depending on the weather, and then the leaves are stripped off the stalks. 

a favorite photo of mine, see my post #7 -- Sandy, Junie and Dorsie stripping their last ever crop of tobacco, two years ago
Donnie spreading the stripped stalks back onto the fields, before winter snows, with his daughters keeping him good company

    My explanations here are very basic.  I hope my neighbors don't laugh at me.  But the amount of labor required is hard to understand without some explanations of the yearlong process. I will appreciate hearing about any confusions, errors or needed clarifications, which I will then use to make this a better post!  
     As always, thanks for your interest in this blog  -- I hope you found some art among the stalks and the seasons.  Too bad the end product of all the work is not as fascinating. 

Sunday, September 11, 2011

tobacco as art, part 1

post #52
Welcome to the coming of fall -- which means our black walnuts have begun to fall onto the deck!  There is random clunking heard day or night; all will have fallen by the first frost.

        Fall, however, is just one of many seasons for TOBACCO, the crop I have photographed over the years because it is so much of this place and so interesting. I am lucky to be allergic to smoke, so I have never smoked. In fact, I disparage smoking.  But for many years we had a tobacco base.  That means we were allotted and allowed to grow so many pounds of tobacco per year.  We didn't grow it ourselves -- we leased it to our neighbor --and we never earned very much, but for a long time having a base that was used yearly made a farm such as ours more valuable if we ever wanted to sell.  Turns out we've stayed here so long that by now the way tobacco is grown, if at all, has completely changed.  
planting tobacco plants that have been grown in a covered bed (the seeds are minuscule.)  Notice a plant being  placed into a kind of chute while the tractor moves slowly down each row.  Several parts of the process are going on at one time.  In earlier times, they were all done by hand!
    Changing economic times, however, are another story, for some other time.  For now, I mostly want to share some of the many photos of tobacco that I have taken over the years, in different fields, with different neighbors, and during different seasons.  Today images are mostly from the months of May, June and early July.

first plowing, in 1997, ammonium nitrate on the field, rare view of 
how things were done "in the olden days"

way back in the woods, an unexpected field of early tobacco

Two years ago I was invited to take photos of this team of mules since it would be their last time doing this annual job.  The spring had been so wet that the tobacco was farther along than usual for this first plowing.  The mules are 21 years old.
side view
back view
"teen-aged"  tobacco plants
reality moment in the tobacco field --  what it is all about...

        Speaking of reality, a mention here of the national upheaval this weekend while the world observes the tenth anniversary of 9/11.  I am clearly sorry for so much loss of lives.  I am also sorry for the way this tragedy seems to make it even harder for too many people to think with nuance.  Instead there is a rush to an either/or, good/bad, right/wrong way of thinking.  That's when sound bites have way more power than they deserve, as we give up our right to figure things out for ourselves.  Democracy's challenge and strength is to be inclusive, which requires we use our brains and facts to be informed and therefore to keep it strong.   
     Next week I will share some more tobacco photos --for now, two more, taken last week, with my new little waterproof camera which I am trying to learn to use correctly.  The first shows a field (and a bit of a barn) waiting for the rain to stop before getting cut, and the other a recently cut field with some of the cut tobacco visible hanging in the barn.  
     Tobacco is still happening here, but each year there is less and less grown.

Elliott County
Morgan County (still learning about my new camera settings...)  Here the plants have been cut, and stacked in the barn.  The section of the side of the barn is open, as well as the barn doors, to give more air for the drying of the plants.  Too much rain can produce mold on the plants.  Tobacco requires day by day tending.

     I feel this is a good example of holding two truths at once....I hate smoking and all that it does to people I love, but it has provided an on-going honest and honored living to many families I know.  For small farmers, it requires hard work every month of the year.    However, I can't resist a final clarification: I took many of these photos BECAUSE they show something unusual or interesting or disappearing, but NOT because I believe in the big profits corporations have been making off of the addictions caused by the cigarettes they produce.  Stay well everyone, and thanks again for reading to the end!

Sunday, September 4, 2011

before fall -- follow-ups

post #51 presented us millions of bloggers with a new look this week.  I believe the changes will only show up behind the scenes of what ends up published.  But, just in case there are some surprises,  I'll use their shift as an incentive to finish up some of my loose ends.  I will start on my new series -- making art out of tobacco -- next week.
    SO, early one morning, the very day following my second spider post last month, I just happened to notice the largest spider I have ever seen in my non-zoo life ON THE FLOOR, actually on the carpet, in front of where the TELEPHONE is, and I was bare-footed!  But since it didn't then rush off, I decided to try to scoop it up.  I chose the largest, sturdiest glass I could find and bravely and calmly (!) lowered it over the beast, who seemed to be carrying a soft whitish roundish item under its belly.  In case this amazing visitor decided he or she would hide if I took time to search for shoes, I was still shoeless. 
    Then, as happens, I reminded myself that I was a photographer now, unlike when years ago my husband and I came across a recently vacated bear bed on Kodiak Island in Alaska.  We didn't even think to take a photo before starting to make lots of noise and skedaddling away from there.  Anyway, I positioned the assemblage on a kitchen counter by scooting a piece of thin cardboard under glass and spider before moving it.  The spider -- which my laptop and I figured out was a wolf spider -- never let go of what's now confirmed as an egg sac.  
      Here is "Wolf Spider under glass":
At first I didn't realize one leg was caught... I also found a way to let some air in.

      Hours later, after my husband had a chance to see the creature as well, we took it outside.  Here is "Wolf Spider let out far away from the house, still with egg sac":  

I was wearing shoes by now, but didn't have my tripod, so the two closer legs are out of focus.  Big Mama!!
      One of the descriptions of this voracious insect eating monster is that it is harmless but nonetheless very disconcerting to home dwellers who occasionally encounter one..... I'd say!!  I hope the spider family didn't suffer from my curiosity.  Really, I felt admiration.  (Last week I saw a reference to a wolf spider in a children's novel I am reading.  I figure the author must have seen one, too.)

     Another unexpected fascination was this large fungus/mushroom that appeared one day, and was gone the next.  I am so glad I didn't put off taking a photo.  I know nothing about kinds of mushrooms, and I never dare to eat one.  But they do make me think of fairy tables or shelters in the woods.
side view of a porch overhang?

      A favorite Kentucky wild flower of mine (and of hummingbirds) is out.  I took this photo of some cardinal flowers along the edge of the pond.  The red is harder to make work in a photo than I like to admit:

Three final bits
      1. BTW, I can now report that the blogger folks did make some improvements.  A couple of tools available as of today make the process go more smoothly and are not at all intrusive. THANKS.
     2. I am giving a link to a basic article on CNN about photo journalism tips -- there is usually something helpful in another photographer's experience.   Even so, I have to learn stuff by doing.  I don't seem to be greatly skilled at taking advice.  (Sweet family, please do not laugh.) Note: here's a September 6 deadline for some submission to something.
      3. I am not much of a gear geek, but this week I finally bought a waterproof point and shoot, my first.  I haven't liked not being able to take photos when it's wet out.  I had hoped to share one of the new photos tonight but am having some Mac vs PC issues.  Therefore its planned grand debut for this blog will have to wait.  Stay viewed!!  

    Instead, here is one last photo from the summer: hollyhocks along a neighbor's fence.  I like the unusual location for the hollyhocks, and the recently mowed field in the background, with contrast between the straight and the curved.