Derek Johnson Muses

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What’s Left

Find

Find

I’ve spent a lot of time thinking about this blog, or more accurately, a lot of time forgetting this blog while I write for Huskermax and script videos for USA Today. I can’t even write a decent post about being stumped for something to write about. http://derekjohnsonmuses.com/2012/09/27/stumped/

But I figured I can still share my photograph, buried deep on my computer and my phone. After all, it’s a shame for all that pretty stuff to go to waste, isn’t it? The photo above is from northeast Iowa, somewhere west of Dubuque off US Highway 20. http://derekjohnsonmuses.com/2012/05/04/the-roads-of-dubuque/

Road notes: Iowa and Illinois Soybeans and the Last Production Trip

Earlier this month, my father tasked me with visiting our tasked with visiting our soybean plots in southeast Iowa and western Illinois. Due to my own over-scheduling, I was forced to leave after working at the gallery last Wednesday at five and drive to Ames, the only break being a quick stop at the Corn Crib for dinner. It was a short night, and I barely took time to review my itinerary before crashing into bed. This would be my last work trip of the season, and when it was over, I was relieved.

I rolled out of bed at 4:20 and did the route work on my computer, and once it was done, I went back to bed. Another hour of sleep, I got back up, breakfasted, and conferred with my dad before hitting the road with some rush hour stragglers headed to Des Moines. I followed I-235 downtown, then took Iowa Highway 163 through the mess of burbs into the empty fields of a misty morning.

Soybeans Intertwined with Rogue Grass

Said mist burned off by the time I reached my first set of fields northeast of Pella. They had some weeds, but nothing major. The second plot was only fifteen miles away, and it had a longer way to go until it would be ready to harvest. I made my observations and took the country roads to US Highway 63 to go down to Oskaloosa.

After some circles, I located the Subway on the east end of town and ordered the a chicken teriyaki without onions and was rung up by a jolly cashier who seemed to be very happy in his menial job. I took two attitudes toward this: one, I was really encouraged by his enthusiasm, and two, isn’t kind of scary to be this enthusiastic about cashiering at Subway? Not saying he doesn’t have higher aspirations, he has a every right too. I just wonder.

Failing to find a park, I ate behind the wheel on my way out of town. Having to navigate around a traffic pitfall between Oskaloosa and Sigourney, I took occasion for some extra photographs. I stopped in Sirgourney at the library to text my dad back. I felt like stopping to take a nap, but I waited until I got to Washington to do so, as they had a city park that was right off the highway.

Our soybean fields in Washington were plagued with weeds, as they were when I visted them three years prior, but at least we’d get something out of them. Our grower conveniently lives next to Wal-Mart, so I buy batteries for my camera that has been showing me a diminishing battery sign for a few days now. I end up in another loop around town and have to disobey my GPS to get on US Highway 218 south to Mount Pleasant, then on to US 34 east to Burlington. In a double dose of irony, US Highway 34 goes through my hometown of Seward and goes directly along the Amtrak rail from Chicago that I rode a few weeks earlier.

I gassed up at Burlington (gas is always cheaper in Iowa), stopped by Shopko to buy a razor and Axe Shower Gel (a must to clean up from the fields), and checked the map. My GPS recommended following 34 to Galesburg to get to Peoria, but I checked the map and found Illinois 116, which looked be less miles. I wanted to hit the country roads for my photographs anyway. I cross the spectacularly-suspended white bridge (it looks dingy from the railroad bridge promptly made a wrong turn into Gulf Port, Illinois, where Burlington undoubtedly stashes their organized crime.

The drive to Peoria, once I made my way though Mississippi-mud drenched fields and my own over-correction in the railroad town of Stronghurst, was a brisk half-an-hour. I glided passed harvesting farmers and finally into an industrial park by the on ramp in western Peoria. I drove out to Morton, as it was only ten miles from my first stop tomorrow. I stayed in a new Travelodge, a bargain room with a soft bed with multiple pillows. I ate at Ruby Tuesdays: good food and a good spot to watch an NFL Network game, but the service wasn’t as good. There were a bunch of staff wandering around, and one person actually waiting. I tipped 10% and rushed out afterward.

Close to Harvest

I got up late on Friday, but all my fields were within a twenty miles of Morton. They had the same moderate weed problems as the other fields. I passed through the town of Eureka and briefly contemplated seeing the Reagan Museum, as I’d often passed his growing-up home in Dixon up by I-88. But I just contemplated it. The highlight of my day was meeting one of our growers who had to drive me down to his fields which were at the bottom of a steep hill. He happened to come to western Nebraska to hunt coyotes, a subject that fascinates me even though I have little desire to hunt myself.

Fields once inspected, I left to go back to Goodfield, where I’d gotten on the interstate and use their library’s WiFi to upload a blog post. Unfortunately, the library, which was the size of a garden shed, was only open from nine to noon, and over the course of a week, was only open for a few four hour increments. Sigh. I got in I-74 and made a blitz for Galesburg, dodging Peoria’s speed traps the whole way.

Heading toward Galesburg, I saw signs for a Perkins, which didn’t mention that I would incur a two mile detour, first on US 34, then on an another street. Illinois seems made for home-town cafes. I went with chicken soup and a half-sandwich, post roast on Parmesan bread, an inventive combination but poorly executed. There were two overweight managers on-duty; not to be insensitive, but I couldn’t picture how they managed when it was busy. Post-lunch, I grabbed a coffee and donuts at a shop next door, and used their shoddy WiFi to get my blog post up. Unfortunately, I could only get one other podcast I wanted up and had to make a second stop two hours later in Iowa City at the mall.

Traffic between the Iowa City and Des Moines (post 4 P.M. on a Friday) was chaotic, as I passed a number of Huskers and Hawkeyes heading to their respective Saturday games. At least Californians have a certain etiquette to the way they drive. Here in the Midwest, everyone camps out in the left lane like it’s their God-given rite, and if a truck wants to pass, then it’s ten minutes of ten other cars going 60. I delighted in getting to my parents and watching football.

Saturday, I got up early and hit Starbucks for a pumpkin spice latte, an event that required me to purchase a Casey’s turnover in Stuart, Iowa. I glided through the brown fields, wistful that my travel season was done. For the first time this season, I was able to stop at farmer’s market in Omaha and get some fresh produce, a happy coincidence to the end of a good trip.

Bound Railyards

My Fall Photo Show at the Seward Civic Center: Rails and Rural Stuff

I’ve been mentioning it for a while now, but finally, here’s a post on my show at the Civic Center. Big thanks to Clark Kolterman, Pat, Wayne, and everyone else there for allowing me this great opportunity. In addition to the video, there are a lot of barn, silos, old buildings in small towns, a buffalo, and a boat in a field of grass. (I’m not kidding.)

The reception is going to be Saturday, October 6 from 1-3. RSVP on Facebook and hope to see you there!

Really

How I Seek to Decorate: Open my Mind and Heart

There are three photos and one poster in my room that face my bed. The three photos are all of suns low in the sky. The first is of a moss-covered, gangly tree in Florida; the sun is positioned perfectly in between where two branches met at the top. The tree looks like a looming monster. The second sunset is in Wyoming, and is set against a tall, slanting hill covered with pine trees. The third, and most recent, I took on the California coast just north of San Francisco. The sun is balanced against a hill that slants to the opposite way than the hill in the other photos. And beside them is noir-ish, 1930’s poster from Yosemite, featuring two yodelers dancing on the edge of a cliff. I have to have at least one fun picture,

Most days, I barely notice these pictures. They are the ghosts of those moments when I linger between sleeping and rising. But whenever I recognize them, I remember the places I’ve been and think about where I’m going, and what I want my life to be. I travel a lot for work and pleasure, and every time I see those pictures, I thank God for the beauty of His creation.

I house-sit for my parents in a two-story duplex. It’s a great house, with more space than you would think from looking at from the outside. Since I started living there five years ago when they moved to Iowa to start a business, I have sought to fill the empty walls with my pictures from all over the Midwest, and the country as well. Landscapes from Death Valley, the waters around the Golden Gate Bridge, and cliffs by the Mississippi have decked our walls at one time or another. Birds, barns, cattle, and flowers all fill-in space, mostly behind corners or in the bathroom.

My main goal with my photo art is to create space and evoke emotion. It is what I love the most about landscapes and rural scenery-finding the right photo can  make a room feel real in a way that you never expected. You don’t need to find something obvious and loud to fill your walls (not that you couldn’t love a bold painting); likely if it’s your house, you won’t spend hours staring at what’s on your walls. The right picture or painting, you’ll walk by it everyday, and it will change the way you look at the world.

Take, for example the photograph that I have in my foray: an early morning clouded sky at Cabrillo National Monument in San Diego, facing a cliff where the Juan Cabrillo Statue stands. I walk by it a lot, when I come down the stairs, or when I come out of the bathroom. Every time I see it, the meldings of blue, light pink, and gray in the sky draw me into it. I always look for the statue, muted and small on the crest of the cliff. I took that photo on the day when my father and I had come to San Diego to attend the Nebraska bowl game, right after a huge snow storm had hit Nebraska on Christmas eve. I was very thankful to be there.

That is exactly the spirit the take when it comes to hanging things on my own walls: find works that inspire good thoughts. It’s more than just filling space, it’s about creating a culture of beauty and consideration, where even the smallest places can be transformed into a place of meaning that make you go Wow.

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