Roar Out The Birdsong

This morning I looked through Jack Spencer’s book, This Land; An American Portrait. The images of Nebraska store fronts, decaying colleges in New York, lone trees in agricultural fields, bending roads, shorelines, the vast American west, wet Georgia forests, et cetera. The book paints portrait of America lost and remembered. The agricultural landscapes empty of people.

Worked on an industrial scale in wide strokes, the house-size combines aren’t photographed, the 14 row planters are absent, but the openness, the design of the fields is for the machines. The only agricultural image that looked bucolic in the perhaps forgotten sense of the word is the one from Gettysburg battlefield, where probably the U.S. Park Service is attempting to maintain historical setting. In that image you see the fields that were walked by man and horse. The fences running this way and that, the tree lines.

My favorite image in the book is the one of the pronghorn. Would that this were the image that captured the spirit of America and graced the cover, but Jack Spencer chose the old buffalo standing alone, crazy-eyed before the craggy Tetons. Rather we were that free, wide-ranging herd, the fastest animals on the continent, sleek grazers. But no, we are the old buffalo. Remembering times that were.

The image “349” sticks in my mind, where someone painted “Made in China” then, presumably someone else, tried to mark it out. I didn’t read all of Spencer’s introduction, I let the pictures speak for themselves, but I did see the words with which he ended it.

“How can the human race maintain itself in an even more intensely dystopian world? Do you know how to grow your own food, build a shelter, and make clothes for yourself and your family? Do you respect the land you live on, and which your very survival depends, as well as that of every last one of your descendents? Maybe the Amish are on to something…”

That’s the end of his introduction, the start of his book, his vision of America. Our country where most of the land is viewed from the air-conditioned cabins of giant towering machines: highboys, combines and tractors. ATVs that roar out the birdsong.

All images by Jack Spencer:

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3 thoughts on “Roar Out The Birdsong”

  1. The local honeyman here complained that ATVs really hurt his bees. That was some 10 yrs ago and ATVs only got worse. Prongorn is being choked out. They just levelled acres and acres of high grass to build another 2000 suburban homes in the valley. It is surreal, you drive on a highway, McDonalds on one side, cows grazing and pronghorns bedded doen next to them on the other side. Pronghorns do not like to cross roads or go over fencing. So they get cut off and interbreed. Like in seed and food, their genetic diversity and very survival is very threatened. I was glad to see huge interest in self sufficiency. Seed school here was filled to capacity, some 40 people. Still, Bill McDorman said only two or three universities in the whole country teach sustainable agriculture anymore. Funding for biotech is $69 out of $70! We have to trust the grassroot movement. We have nothing else left.

  2. To paraphrase Wendell Berry, how can a person think himself free, when dependent upon someone else for everything from opinions to potatoes? And moreover, to quote him directly, what are people for?

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