By B.A. Brittingham
It’s a gorgeous day in early spring. The sun is glorious in spite of the lingering chill of winter; it is just the sort of morning that is ideal for a leisurely drive — and for seeing what small gems the southwestern Michigan countryside holds.
Among my favorite are what I list in an album as “The Barns of Berrien County.” Of course that description encompasses a larger area than Harbor Country, but there are plenty of these aging (and somehow sadly beautiful) structures along the back roads and byways that cling to the eight towns that make up our picturesquely named area.
Once upon a time in the nineteenth century, this was a predominantly agricultural locale. Union Pier was named for its docks from which the town shipped timber for the rebuilding efforts of the City of Chicago in its post conflagration life. Grain and fruit crops were also prevalent due largely to the region’s fine black soil and its extended growing season, a benefit of nearby Lake Michigan.
So the need for barns would naturally accompany the commerce. They come in many styles and degrees of preservation, from maintained and still in use, to abandoned and stalwartly hanging on.
Today, although these venerable buildings seem more of anachronism, they’re still around, dotting the local landscape with their weathered walls often cheerily painted in various shades of red or white. Their modern value often rests more heavily on the use of their planks in the production of rustic furniture, picture frames, household items and the recycling of their metal brackets, fasteners and hand-forged nails. Even a hundred years on, a use is found for them and their beauty.
And that may provide a legion of lessons for us all—young and old.
If you’d like to compile some shots of these tough old structures, let me suggest a few things to keep in mind as you go wandering:
- They most often are on private property; you should always seek permission before you step onto someone’s land;
- If you aren’t able to do this, use a good telephoto lens from the shoulder of the road;
- If you should be accosted by a landowner wanting to know what you’re doing (this happened to me on Snow Road some years ago) remain polite and just assure him that your interest is only in the grandeur of his archaic building—sometimes they are concerned with pending litigation;
- Check before using photographs for commercial gain and if the property owner asks you not to use them—Don’t;
- Never step inside an old barn even if the property appears vacant because the floor may be unsafe; be creative and shoot through a door or window for that ‘framing’ effect.
- Most importantly: have fun with your view into the past!
Like local Barns? Go to: www.facebook.com/EarthPortrait/
About the Author: A former resident New York City she has published in Florida Literary Foundation’s anthology, Paradise; with the University of Georgia Center for Continuing Education; in the 1996 Florida First Coast Writers’ Festival and in Britain’s World Wide Writers. “The Note in the Wood,” was a semi-finalist in the 2003 Nelson Algren Awards and was published in the June 2008 issue of Shore Magazine. “Loose Ends” was a recent publication in eFiction Magazine. Journeys (a novel) was published in 2002 and Fugitive Moment in 2011.