Signs of Time on the Prairie
On the Oklahoma prairie, the relentless corrosion brought by time and the elements is fought like a demon. Surfaces are scraped and sanded, painted and repaired. Old barns are replaced by sheet-metal storage buildings. Bales of hay are sheathed in white plastic cocoons. Weathered, painted billboards are giving way to stretched acrylic tarps and, sometimes, digital signs with revolving video and messages.
But vestiges of the past remain, often so much a part of the landscape that they fade into it, unnoticed. Sun-baked iron, weathered wood and ghost-lettered brick, relics of the time between the world wars, have been stripped of the superfluous, seasoned by decades of red dust, distilled to their essence and worn smooth by time.
Like the people who have lived longest on the land, these walls and doors and signs and fences have developed nuances and facets that come only with survival.
Many continue to serve their purpose. Rusted markers still point the way, old grain bins store a new harvest, blackened barbed wire holds tight between posts, battered mailboxes stand sentry at the end of a long driveway.
Swept by winds and baked by sun, their authenticity shames the self-consciously distressed flotsam of Americana that dangles from rafters of far-off restaurants and bars in search of a sense of history, and inspires would-be designers to invest in another can of crackle in the hope of achieving that well-worn glow.
Their patina is deepened with time, as the alchemy of temperature swings and alternating droughts and deluges coax out the rich colors and surviving words of long-ago dreams and the people who dreamt them.