Virtually every Sunday night since 1977, the families of Christopher Ayres and Stephen D. Hyde have gathered at one of their homes and broken bread.
In addition to their weekly dinner, the men and their families have shared all of life’s most important events. And now, these two friends also share a book.
Ayres, a photographer, and Hyde, a writer, have collaborated on “Between House and Barn: A Rural Interlude.” It is a story about a place and time, a celebration of friendship and a meditation on the importance of community.
Standing Stones Farm Press, which Hyde founded, published the book earlier this year. It’s a collection of Hyde’s essays about rural life with black-and-white photos that Ayres has taken in Pownal over the past 30-plus years. They live on Wilson Road, about three miles west of Bradbury Mountain.
We spoke with Ayres last week.
Q: Tell me about your relationship with Stephen. Explain the circumstances of your friendship.
A: It goes back 70 years, actually. My father was a minister in Waterbury, Conn., in the 1940s. In his congregation were the Hydes. Steve was not born, but he was born shortly after we moved away from Waterbury to Michigan. But the connection was there between both families. In the 1970s, we were both living in Maine, and he looked me up. I let him know that we were looking for a place to live, and he said, “The farm next to me is for sale. You should look at it.” And we did. We bought it in 1977, and we’ve been neighbors ever since. Because of our family connection, we were very close from the beginning. We fell into a routine and ritual that lasts (to this day). We have family dinners every Sunday night.
Q: I would like to talk about the genesis of the idea for this book. It seems equal part photo, equal part essay — a true collaboration.
A: I think it is, yes. I think at its core are the beliefs of both Steve and I. I think it’s a celebration of a unique way of life, a rural life, that is slower but at its core has a sense of place and awareness of the local landscape and the local neighborhood.
We had a neighbor, an old guy named Carl Tryon, who used to refer to people as “outlandish.” I realized what he meant was people from away from Pownal. It was just that local, and he was such a local person. His whole life was rooted in this place. He was a wonderful teacher to both Steve and me, and he gave us this possibility of being open to a local place.
Q: How did you decide theme and content?
A: Steve has been a writer and poet for many years, and I have been a photographer for many years. Through our close connection as two families living next to each other or for whatever reason, he wrote the way I photographed and I photographed the way he wrote. We both influenced each other from the very beginning. We collaborated on articles from time to time. It grew organically from our friendship and our shared experience.
Q: You call this a “rural interlude.” What does that phrase mean to you?
A: That’s Steve’s phrase. It refers to that what we shared was possibly a unique moment in time and space, where old values are disappearing like all the old people in Pownal, like Carl Tryon, who had not much time left. And so there is this rural interlude. But we learned from Carl, and his lessons have continued on.
Q: What is the best part of your life in Pownal?
A: Pownal may be unique in all of Maine. It does not have big mountains, vast open spaces or spectacular scenery that hits you in the face. You could drive through Pownal and not notice anything. There are no second homes, no (major) rivers, no lakes.
But Pownal has the match and beauty of any place on earth. You can see stuff here that is the match of any place on earth. And that’s what’s reflected, that deep richness, in the stories that Steve writes and the photographs that I take, which are local photographs. They represent my surprise and wonder and excitement about what I have seen and what’s there.
Staff Writer Bob Keyes can be contacted at 791-6457 or: