The Michigan Road in Decatur County, Indiana Kodak EasyShare Z730 2008
I’m wrapping up a year as President of the Historic Michigan Road Association. My buddy and co-founder Kurt and I alternate years in the job, and it’s his turn. (We are duly elected, but everyone seems to be perfectly happy with this arrangement.)
This was my most do-nothing year as President ever. I’m neither pleased nor proud. But I can’t beat myself up — we had too many challenges at home, and COVID-19 limited everything.
Kurt finished our Corridor Management Plan this year, a document that tells state and federal byway authorities how we plan to protect and enhance the historic qualities of our historic byway. Here’s hoping that in 2021, Kurt and I can move forward with initiatives in support of that plan. I have a couple tasks on my to-do list already.
From time to time I’m asked for a photo of the road. Given that it’s 270 miles long, a photo of the whole road would need to be taken from space. I can’t quite manage that. I always send this, a photo I made just south of Greensburg on a May afternoon in 2008, the year I surveyed the road from end to end. This image does a good job of embodying the very Indiana-ness of the road.
Here in central Indiana, the trees changed colors slowly and dropped their leaves late. It made autumn seem to last a good long time. I know that autumn lasts the same amount of time every year regardless of the trees! But when the trees are bare, to me that’s when winter begins.
We had some good color this year, with strong reds and oranges abounding. I didn’t make a huge number of photos — some of them are on the roll of Fujifilm Superia X-tra 400 sitting here on my desk needing to be sent off for processing — but here are some that show our color this year.
When you buy old film gear, you often find old batteries inside. When you’re lucky, they haven’t cracked open and leaked goo into your gear.
It’s remarkable how many different brands of batteries I’ve encountered in old gear. I guess there were just a lot more battery makers in the old days. This one, Bright Star, got its start in Hoboken, NJ, in 1909. I was surprised to learn that the company still exists, but after a merger is called Koehler BrightStar. They exited the battery business a long time ago to focus on flashlights, lanterns, and headlamps.
Today it’s Energizer, Duracell, and Rayovac, née Ray-O-Vac. (It turns out Energizer just bought Rayovac.) I generally buy store-brand batteries. They might not be quite as good as the big brands but they’re good enough and a darn sight less expensive.
Many old cameras take batteries in what are now odd sizes, like 1/3N, 2CR5, A544, and EPX27. These aren’t available at the drug store, so you have to turn to Amazon for them. There you find the seamy underbelly of battery off brands, all likely made in China. But without them, many old cameras would be inert.
I’ve started sorting through this year’s photographs to find my ten favorite. I do this every year for a post just before the new year. See my past annual posts here.
I made more images this year than in any year before. But a lower percentage of them were good.
In 2020 I have used photography as a distraction from considerable stress. It hasn’t been only COVID — it’s also been family and work stress, at times intense. Sometimes it’s been too much to cope with all at once. Getting out with a camera let me take my mind off it for a while.
I photographed near home a lot; since I’ve been working from home, I’m here a lot. But I’ve also made some short trips just to make photographs. Whether by car or by bike, the trips themselves fill my bucket. I explore and see new places, or familiar places at different times of year. I especially enjoy the scents — the sweetness of new spring flowers, the freshness of mown grass and hay in the summer, the earthiness of fallen autumn leaves. It’s even been interesting to feel the weather: hot sun, cool overcast, rain.
Wherever I stop for a photograph, I spend time with the subject. I get to know it a little by walking around it looking for the best angles. I enjoy it most when I’m in a remote place where others are unlikely to encounter me. I’m so self-conscious with a camera when I’m in public!
I photograph what seems interesting to me in the moment. Frequently when I look at the resulting images I see that the subject wasn’t that interesting after all, or that I couldn’t find an interesting way to see it. But it’s fun to try to find that interesting composition.
Maybe it’s just gravy when I nail a composition. I get so much pleasure out of simply using my cameras — the ones I’ve kept, anyway, after thinning the herd. I’ve shot my Yashica-12 a lot this year, and the more I use it the more I love it. Given that it’s a TLR, it’s a big brick in the hands. But its form factor fades away as I work the silken controls to control exposure and make the subject crisp, as I look through the magnifier built in over the focusing screen.
I’ve also shot the Olympus OM-2n often. I only got it this year and am still getting to know it. But that’s fun, too, when something about a new-to-me camera delights me for the first time.
I love it when I get a roll full of beautiful images. But even when I don’t, if I enjoyed everything about all the previous steps, I have no reason to be dissatisfied.
My bike at Windswept Farm Pentax IQZoom 170SL Fujicolor 200 2020
I put away my bike for the season the other day. It’s grown too cold for me to want to ride anymore.
I rode longer this season than I normally do thanks to Three Speed October. It’s an event put on by the Society of Three Speeds to encourage those of us who love three-speed cycling to cycle more in this autumn month. It’s not an onerous commitment: three rides of three miles or more, during any three weeks in October. The Society even defines October loosely, to include most of the last week of September and the first day of November.
I’m sure I would have given up riding sooner this season without Three Speed October. A few of my rides were a little chillier than I normally put up with! But I was determined to finish the challenge.
One of my usual routes takes me by this yellow barn. I had film in the Pentax IQZoom 170SL so I brought it along just so I could make this image.
It wasn’t that long ago that Hamilton County, Indiana, was mostly farmland. When I moved to central Indiana in the mid 1990s, if you drove north from Indianapolis into Hamilton County, city rapidly gave way to corn and soybean fields.
Today, it’s all developed. The Hamilton County towns of Carmel, Fishers, and Noblesville have annexed a great deal of the county and, one by one, farmers have sold their land to developers. Office buildings line the major roads now. Everywhere else you’ll find homes, ranging from inexpensive vinyl-village subdivisions, to gated communities of stone and brick homes, to sprawling estates. You’ll also find the suburban shopping centers that follow residential development.
Jesse and Beulah Cox foresaw this all happening. They bought the farm of original Hamilton County settler John Williams in 1958, and by 1974 they had built their dream home on the property. In 1999, they donated their property to the Hamilton County Parks and Recreation Department to preserve their land, to “create an oasis in a sea of homes,” Jesse said. Their farm, now known as Coxhall Gardens, is a sprawling park. It’s also one of my frequent photographic destinations.
Williams began farming this land in 1855, and built this house on it in 1865.
As you drive by, this house is largely hidden by a row of trees. When the Coxes bought the property, they lived in the Williams house at first.
The Williams’ barn still stands near the house.
Looming behind the barn is the mansion the Coxes built in 1974. (But first, they built and lived in a single-story ranch in what looks like limestone. It still stands, but I’ve never photographed it.)
I was surprised to learn that this large, solid home was built so recently. It looks like something from a hundred years before.
I especially enjoy the mansion during the warm months, because it is lushly landscaped.
I don’t know the significance of this statue, but I like it and have photographed it a number of times.
I’m partial to this photo of my wife on the mansion’s steps.
Not far from the mansion is the ampitheater. The rotunda-like stage is large enough only for a small performance, such as a musical quartet.
Many times I’ve found people here making wedding photographs. This would be a lovely setting for an outdoor wedding.
This monument to the Coxes, featuring their quote about the “sea of homes,” stands at the back of the ampitheater.
When you walk behind the ampitheater, you find yourself on a bridge over a large pond. From there, you can easily see the park’s two large clocks.
Here’s one of the clocks from a little closer. I don’t know what their significance is, but they are a defining feature in the park. Notice the bells below the clock. I’ve never heard them ring.
This is the bridge behind the ampitheater.
Finally, there’s a little “wild west” village in a back corner of Coxhall Gardens, which I imagine might be fun for children.
You’ll find the entrance to Coxhall Gardens on Towne Road, just north of 116th Street, in Carmel, Indiana.