The View from Mary's Farm
January 1, 1970Hello, subscribers,
Again, I'm sorry the essay has not been sent out more regularly but hopefully we are on track again. Short of help, I guess is the simple explanation. Thank you all for your messages and enthusiasm over my new collection of essays, available through the website and at select bookstores.
I hope you had a good Thanksgiving, warm and filled with good food and good friends.
Happy holidays and read on for the November essay.
The Approaching Cold
It is always interesting to unpack the contents of an old building, bits of history spilling out like clues to a shapeless mystery. What is this broken plow doing here? Why would someone save a three-legged chair? Questions like this pop up as I begin the task of emptying the old barn for its demise.
It wasn’t that I hadn’t tried to save the building. I had investigated every avenue I could think of, queried every possible grant and historical site, but no savior came. To its disadvantage, the barn was not particularly distinctive, but it was indeed a barn of great age, and the posts and beams were blonde and fair and imposing, the pins as big around as a giant’s thumb. The roof leaked, the sides leaned as if they were up against a steady wind. I was told it would take $30,000 just to put it back to rights and then what? I have no animals to house.
Up in the haylofts, there are still a few bales of hay – how old, I wonder? The wide center loft sags with boards and old doors, evidence of the Yankee thrift I still suffer from, always imagining that someday that door will again find a doorway to fill, that the molding will find a room that needs trim. It is as if whoever put those boards up there was thinking my same thoughts, as I gaze up into the loft and cringe at the idea of pulling all of this down, carrying it to the center of the hayfield and lighting it on fire. So I don’t.
But I have to deal with everything down below, as it all needs to be moved out before the barn comes down. The boats come out first. Friends help me lift them bow and stern and walk them out onto sawhorses set beside the woods. Next the old picnic table. I think of the many outdoor meals shared on this pine table over the years but none since the screen porch was added onto the house. Dust and bird droppings cover the tabletop. Out it comes, into the brisk autumn air, where we set it next to the boats. The men will be here any day to begin the process of dismantling this big old building so there is tension in the air, mixed with the chill of the approaching cold.
In the horse stall, a fine porcelain sink rests on the old bed of hay, so surprisingly thick and fresh, it seemed one could lie down on it and sleep peacefully. I stashed it there when the renovations were in progress, thinking it might be right for the bathroom. Just looking at it, I feel my back ache. We heft it up into the truck and drive it to the dump, where we set it down gently, hoping someone will rescue it to another life.
And so the days go by, a parade of old stoves, rickety chairs, picket fencing, all of it too rusty or too rotted to really consider doing anything with but throwing away. Some things – skis, a doghouse, boat hardware, lime spreaders, rakes, cultivators, and so many different styles of shovels I feel I could start a museum all my own – I add to the pile for the yard sale, the great American recycler. A few things, like the broken plow, I keep.
As I carry all of this out from under the big old shelter, it occurs to me that these old barns are like temples now, a place of hope and prayer, where the pieces of our past can be placed, safe and dry, awaiting resurrection. I see then how depleted my life will be without this great structure, how much I have counted on it for grace and the help of things past.