The most beautiful valley…almost

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Photo by Ben Greenberg

While I love mountains, having lived in and among them most of my life, I also love the corresponding valleys. I mean seriously, can you have a mountain without a valley? A fish without water? A lover without a beloved?

Mountains have their own charm–you can see a lot from a mountaintop, if the air is clear, and you may even feel that you have some kind of mastery over the landscape you survey. The joy is real even if the belief is not.

The third day of my Great Bike Escape, I headed up the Shenandoah Valley, which runs north to south in the western part of Virginia. Here’s a picture of the Shenandoah Valley by a photographer named Ben Greenberg. The valley is wide and green, like so many places in the eastern United States, and there are many farms lying prosperously along Interstate 81, which goes northwards from Tennessee. I was not on my bike at this point. It was on the back of my car. I wanted to get to Washington, DC that day, so biking was not in the plan.

When I got to a small place called Steele’s Tavern, I saw a brown road sign for the Cyrus McCormick Farm, and I thought it was time for a break from driving. I found this.


Cyrus McCormick (1809-1884), the son of farmer and inventor Robert McCormick, lived on the family farm, part of which you can see in the picture. I was there in early June, and you can see for yourself how overwhelming the greenness of the well-watered landscape was. The family’s house:


and mill-house, where they ground the corn and wheat they grew into meal and flour, looked so small. In the rain, I could see the little decorative sunburst that someone, perhaps McCormick’s wife or mother, insisted they put into the walkway in front of the door.



I found the inside of the mill-house to be fascinating; the old mill-works had been carefully reconstructed and in the late afternoon light were quite beautiful.



When you think how much work, care, and effort went into each handmade piece of these machines, you begin to realize how brilliant these people were and how committed to making these things for the common good–and their own, of course. McCormick was a terrific merchandiser. He got patents on many of his inventions, but the McCormick Reaper was what really made him famous, and rich.
This reaping (or harvesting) machine made it possible for a few men to gather grain crops in a short time. No longer would the old slave system, labor-intensive, be necessary, at least if the landscape was conducive to its use. McCormick’s reaper found its most prolific use in the states of the Midwest,where land was rich, plentiful, and flat, and he sold thousands of his reaping machines every year.

This was an important step in the industrialization of farming; no doubt it also helped turn the tide against the slave system of labor.
It is interesting to note that after the Civil War, McCormick tried hard to reconcile the Northern and Southern states.


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