Dear Barn Owner,
On long, dreary, monotonous drives, while kid joyously entertain themselves with sing-a-longs, pester each other in the back seats, there is nothing quite as exquisite than to see across the field, a wooden barn, still standing. I’m sure it has been nothing short of a labor of foresight, loving care, and downright puritanical responsibility to keep your barn standing despite the high winds, heavy snows on the roof, and countless thunderstorms. Your barn is probably no longer used to house animals, so their heat is no longer radiated throughout your barn. In the past, this heat prevented the heaving of foundation walls on cold nights. This heaving stresses your barn’s frame, twisting it, and breaking and pulling apart the joinery.
Although I never heard them use them, I’m sure that my Uncles had names for the Holstein cows, Bantam roosters, pigs and chickens on my Grandma’s farm. I could tell because of the way they herded the cows and fed the chickens; the way they would look out onto the field at them while they sipped their morning coffee at my Grandmother’s table. Later, when I heard the word “livestock” used to define these animals, I laughed. Stock was something you stored in boxes – not breathing, mooing, cackling, and squealing animals. If they did have names for them, my Uncles never let on. They sat in their office just inside the barn door, writing with their grain elevator pencil stubs on those small rectangular pads of papers. “Working on the figures,” they called it this.
Thank you for repairing roof leaks that have could have decayed and damaged floor joists of the hayloft, which has prevented the collapse of your barn. You’ve also swept the floors clean to make sure decaying hay and pests could not damage the floor joists. Sadly, the deterioration on many barns is so bad now that it is both impractical and too expensive to repair the barn. This usually means a death sentence of demolition. I saw one like that on this last trip to the lake – now gone, in a heaping pile of wood and rubble. When a barn falls, a museum of craftsmanship is lost forever.
I spent many afternoons playing in the hayloft of my Grandma’s barn. There, grains and hay were stored to feed those animals my Uncles lovingly cared for. The smell of hay, the light streaming into the little cupola from the roof onto the floor (which seemed miles away), showed me there were bigger powers in control of this world. My brother and I jumped through holes into piles of soft hay, and played hide-and-seek there. I always felt the same amount of respect and reverence in a barn, standing beneath its tall beams, that I feel today in a Church.
I know that those window and doors are the parts that break the easiest, and require most of your time to repair. Thank you for those winter afternoons you spent disassembling, adjusting the hinges, and replacing screws with longer ones to keep these windows and doors in place and moving.
That wooden cupola on top is a beacon of beauty. I know that because of its exposed location, it is especially vulnerable to weather damage. Thank you for keeping it protected by regular painting. And, even though paint stores provide you with a wide variety of colors today, and we are no longer limited to using the local iron oxide earth pigments that your ancestors used, thank you for still continuing to use the traditional red and ochre paints. White is nice too.
We’re speeding by too fast to see inside, still, I imagine what I would see if I walked inside: Ladders leading to haylofts, low walls at the base of the hay mow, threshing floors, and cow stables and horse stalls, and my favorite — laying boxes for the chicken eggs. I can see that pitchfork standing by the door. And of course, I know the smell.
Thank you, again, for taking care of your barn. It is nice to see them as we drive by.
For Painted Maypole