Only an old willow tree, its stout trunk no longer strong enough to withstand the high gusts, splintered and broken in a windstorm, snapped limbs and twigs all around. Seeing it as I was passing by on my bike, I felt a wave of ineffable sadness. An inexplicable grief. So this in place of words.


River overlook

A 45 minute drive down roads that twist and turn through the woodland hills and patches of farmland to the south, steadily becoming narrower and less traveled, ends with a small graveled parking lot in a little clearing. A short walk to the edge of a high bluff yields to a panorama of the Susquehanna far below, and the thickly forested hills beyond. Just a bit further along a descending trail, a rocky precipice offers even more dramatic views. Turkey buzzards and hawks wheel and soar in the updrafts, and white gulls up from the Chesapeake glide over the dark river, tiny specks in the October afternoon sunlight and shadow. 

In the midst of life's trials, anticipated and unexpected, and in this surreal nightmare season of political insanity, we need reminders that beyond our preoccupation with human events, there is a larger world and a wondrous universe out there, unperturbed by our turmoil.


Stone barn III

Another late afternoon marked by weather calling to be enjoyed while it lasts, and the perfect excuse for me to indulge my infatuation once more with this old barn. The friendly Mennonite farmer is fascinated by my growing obsession and has pretty much given me the run of the property, so today I walked out into a field of sprouting winter rye behind the buildings to better understand the forms and how they relate to each other.

A Brown Swiss cow stood basking in the barnyard sun against a dark open doorway, reminding me of an Andrew Wyeth painting, and his long relationship with the Kuerners and their farm in Chadds Ford. I of course am far from the artist that he was, and certainly lack his patience, discipline, and meticulous hand and eye. Still, the prospect of becoming familiar with this place beyond its mere picturesque magnetism holds tremendous appeal for me. I don't anticipate growing tired of it any time soon.



Stone barn II

Fall days like what we've started the week with here in Lancaster county are to be savored outdoors if at all possible. Mild and nearly cloudless blue skies, the afternoon air just beginning to hint that a sweater might be a good idea, dusk coming sooner with a sharper drop in temperature. A brief period of transition; a time to reflect on the inevitability of change, and how conflicted we feel about it.

I took a break from working at my keyboard on a presentation to drive out for a better look at that stone barn, and to think about what makes it so appealing to me. Today I decided to do a graphite pencil study without any other color, to concentrate on proportion. I tried not to get too caught up in textural detail. What I saw first as I flashed by on my bike on Sunday was a distinctive juxtaposition of powerful geometric shapes. Reductive almost to the point of abstraction. Something elemental and familiar yet at the same time entirely unexpected. One of the things I love about old barns and silos is that they are such archetypal forms, yet each as unique and individual as the people who built them. 

I have to go back again. I've only scratched off the first thin layer. We're just starting to get acquainted. Somehow that soothes me.



Stone barn

Riding into a stiff wind on E-town Road on Sunday morning, I glimpsed this weatherbeaten stone and brick barn as I passed between it and a pen of hogs and sheep on a curving incline. Maybe I noticed it because I was in the open air and moving at a third of the speed I'd have been traveling behind a steering wheel and windshield, but the elemental geometry of that assemblage of forms, and the pattern and texture of the stone, the crumbling brick, whitewash in worn segments on the standing silo and the remnants of a structural tile silo next to it really grabbed me - I made a mental note to go back sooner than later with a sketchbook.

I went sooner. Freed from cooking by an invitation from friends to have dinner at their house before watching the debate on TV, we bundled up and took a chilly open top drive back out there in the late afternoon. Parked in the grass next to the hogs and sheep, who ran towards us thinking that they were about to be fed. Instead they got to watch me sit on the front fender of the MG with my back to them, gazing at the barn up the little hill across the road.

Lancaster county is peppered with hundreds of similar old stone barns. Why this one captivated my attention I can't quite yet articulate, and a hasty sketch done while the wind flapped the page and my fleece jacket tells me only that I need to return. Clarity sometimes only comes with repetition.