Friday, December 28, 2012

Barn raising, barn razing, barn reminiscing.

While 2012 winds down, I'm pulling back my focus to look at the big picture (more details upcoming...). But I'd be remiss if I didn't comment upon a recent event that meant a great deal to me - both as in the lead up to and after the fact.

If you've ever admired the old Swedish barn in the background of this blog's old-timey template, you might appreciate a bit more detail. It was built in 1890, primarily by Simon Danielson who was my father's mother's uncle - Granduncle or maybe Great Granduncle...I might be missing a generation in there and I'm not entirely sure of the term to use. Nonetheless, I spent countless hours working and playing in that barn as a kid. From the house I grew up in from the age of 10, that barn was within view. Whenever anyone looked toward the western horizon, there she stood watch - massive, weathered, grayish-yellow-and-brown. I don't know anything about architectural physics, but the weight of the upper levels seems to have tested the lower structure's integrity greatly. It was obvious to anyone who saw her in the last few years that the sideways lean toward the town road had become precarious. To hold the inevitable in check, she was strung through by five load-bearing cables. For a while, the epic, virgin-timber bones of this grand childhood neighbor had moved to a shifted but stayed position.

Well, that is until last week.

With little advance notice, it came to light that four of the five cables had stripped. It had changed from a lingering hope to a possible danger. Luckily, an often well-timed neighbor was using a fleet of agile, land-moving equipment nearby. So rather than letting it dump out and disintegrate on its own, they eased her down.

Over the years, I'd made a habit of taking at least a few pictures of the barn whenever I return to Wisconsin. The one above is from a clear, brisk afternoon less than two months ago. It holds the distinction of being the last one I will ever take of that beloved homestead icon.

Some days are for barn raising. Others are for barn razing. If you're lucky, some folks gather to assist and maybe even help reflect upon the enormity of such things for a farming family. That's basically how she went for mine.

For a number of days before our barn went down, I'd been having trouble focusing on my work. The natural thought was to blame the Holidaze, and how all the details of what came off as a lovely time for us all at that point had hijacked my focus. I've come to see that just maybe there was a different reason behind my recently skewed equilibrium. This surely sounds like rationalization after the fact - I'm hardly one to fixate upon premonitions or the like. Yet I will always believe that I knew something was out of balance. That is, until our barn went down. Put another way, I feel so much better now. In this I'm serious yet oddly relieved - the barn going down was something I anticipated without even knowing about it until after the fact. Did I feel the pull for a chance to move on, even from nearly 2000 miles away? Maybe I did.

With that off my chest...I'd come to this post wanting to talk about the Farm Bill and the infinitely cool new Museum of History and Industry (MOHAI) that I got to preview yesterday before the grand opening this weekend. There will be time for that and so many other areas of deserving focus in 2013. Please check back. I'm leaning forward, after all. If you haven't already noticed.

Thursday, December 6, 2012

Follow the Money? Or the McRib and jokey hunting accidents? Hmmm...

For all the lamentations in the coverage of what Congress does - or does not - do, accurate portraits of those elected to govern seldom appear. In one particular, under-reported post-election character study, I'd very much like to see more. Since so many of us missed it, I'll mention it here.

Rep. Jo Ann Emerson (R-MO) was just re-elected. Convincingly. She (and her deceased husband, who previously held the seat) saw Missouri's 8th District turn reliably Republican. Emerson should be a person worth mentioning in the current political debate embroiling Washington. A Republican woman - some have even called her a "moderate" - with Committee memberships that cover rural issues, financial services, and other budget-y/wonky areas. So kudos to her, take that you nay-sayers and let's get to work, right? Well, she's had a change of heart and will instead be skipping the work part of that job to instead head up the Rural Electrification Administration's lobbying operation in February. Certain cynical people say she's doing it for the money - an annual salary well over $1M versus $174K for a Congressperson. A different criticism would point out that she's leaving the good people of Missouri with the cost of a Special Election to fill her seat just a few months after the previously scheduled one.

More to the point of my own interests that so often skew toward mentioning a national tendency to ignore rural America - how exactly is that sort of salary justifiable for the boss of lobbying for the REA? Most people will never encounter the REA and many surely will be surprised to know that its progeny are very much still around. It began a New Deal program that electrified much of America using Works Progress Administration (WPA) laborers. A different brand of cynics would call that a "socialist" program. Unless that service meant turning the lights on, and eventually bringing phone and even the internet to the farthest reaches of the Nation. Truth be told, I grew up in an area that's still serviced by a REA cooperative. I hate to take it this far on down the road, but the thought of those farmers and folks in the area paying Emerson's salary out of their monthly bills just saddens me. But try putting that on a bumper sticker.

I fully realize that essentially no one will report on this. Not when there are stories big and small so much more entertainingly worthy of attention. Like the reintroduction of the McRib on December 17th. And how Milwaukee Brewer legend Robin Yount recently shot Cubs manager (and ex-Brewer shortstop) Dale Sveum in the back and face while quail hunting in Arizona. Come to think of it...I would rather read both of those stories. Even though I know what I should be reading.