“I hope,” I said with an apologetic smile, “that I’m not hurting anything? It’s a beautiful field and I just couldn’t resist.”

I’d been driving past this wheatfield since early spring, on my way to work. I’d watched pale green sprouts shoot into sturdy green stalks, frowned as weeds invaded the waving tangles of grain and settled into a kind of contentment as, from the stalks up, the green began to fade into pale gold.

Every weekday I’d seen this field, vowed to photograph it, and never had. Even with that nifty new macro lens—just MADE for shooting grain—I’d left the camera at home.

It begged to be shot at sunrise, in Oregon’s glittery, golden morning light, but I’m about as far from a morning person as you can possibly get. And between GAS, nagging visions of new sculpture, and all sorts of ancillary glass outings, I was getting to bed at 2 or 3 AM. That left very little room for early morning photography.

On Monday, however, I’d noticed that my field’s slowly fading green had completely disappeared into gold. Harvest was coming soon, and if I didn’t get my shots I’d miss them entirely. So that night I determinedly set my alarm clock for the wee hours, groaned my way through shower and dressing next morning and arrived at my field in plenty of time. Sure enough, the light was glorious.

There’s a farmhouse in the middle of the field, and a barn, surrounded by massive oak trees.

Neither building’s been painted in a long time so they’re a weather-beaten charcoal grey. High-tension towers ring the field, with trees in the distance, and occasionally a group of plein air painters set up across the road to do the bucolic farm scene thing.

What I was interested in, though, was close-ups of the grain and its fractal-like patterns (I’m envisioning an entire series of Emergents panels, maybe with small faces evolving from the kernels…).

So I parked at the edge of the field, by a battered old mailbox and an Oregonian newspaper delivery tube. I hauled out my tripod, camera and shutter release and then started shooting.

“Taking pictures?” asked a gruff voice behind me. I turned, and saw a man in denim jacket and overalls; the kind that looked lived-in because they ARE lived in, with no mechanical assistance from Levi Strauss. He was carrying a small plastic bag of groceries and sporting a baseball cap turned sideways. A long white beard cascaded down the front of his shirt, where “Rich” was embossed on a Union 76 nametag, and his tough brown face crinkled as he smiled.

I apologized, introduced myself and we shook hands. “You’re not hurting anything,” he assured me, “It IS a beautiful field.”

We chatted while I shot closeups of his wheat. “This is really gorgeous wheat.”

“Well, it’s oats,” he grinned, “but you’re right. This is one of the best stands you’ll ever see. The soil here’s about as rich as you can get, and we take good care of it. As soon as we harvest, we’ll plant red clover, and when THAT starts to come up, well…you need to come back and take pictures of that, too. When you stand right where you’re standing now, you’ll get this purple haze over the green. Never seen anything to beat it.”

We discussed vantage points for shooting, and Rich looked through my lens a couple of times to approve the shots. We gave a moment of silence to the inevitability of farming in a commercial space—the wheat, er, OAT field is surrounded by commercial buildings, shopping centers and Portland’s busiest freeway. This land, all 32 acres, is for sale and so golden glows and promised purple hazes will soon be gone.

I continued shooting and he headed down the dusty gravel lane toward the barn. A cat greeted him with an expectant meow, and Rich plunked down in the dust for a petting session. I was losing the light, so I finished my shoot, bundled the camera into the car and headed on to work. He waved goodbye.

It was a nice morning.

PS. I mentioned this episode to my colleagues, and that I wanted to come back in the evening and get some slightly different shots in the twilight. “You might want to rethink that,” they warned, “because that guy just bought a great big nasty Doberman and it’s freely roaming that field.”
Hmmmm. Maybe my buddy Rich wasn’t quite as welcoming as I thought.