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A place of perpetuity
Hello and welcome back to Place. We hope you had a good week. This week’s letter is about a very distinct space. You’re sure to remember a barn if you’ve ever entered one. But what makes a barn a barn? What makes the feeling it ensues so comforting, yet so different than what we’re used to in most buildings? From the perspective of one barn experience to another, or a non-other, here is your weekend inbox escape. Enjoy!
In my earliest memories, the barn is there.
When it was first built, I walked in through the large white sliding door at its entrance and saw its cavernous insides. The new two-by-fours that made up its skeleton were yellow in their newness, like hard butter, rising up all around me.
The floor was gravel at first, and as you walked in deeper became heavy sand, mixed with leftover sawdust still settling.
There were no stables, no lofts like old barns had. It was just one echoing open space held together by wood and corrugated tin sheeting. One anomaly was the side door that led out to one of our corrals – I ran through it all day, back and forth, pretending to be a horse coming in from the cold.
The barn was red, like the reddest apple.
In the beginning, my Dad trained our new horses in the barn. I sat on the iron corral fencing and watched them slowly lope in circles for hours, my Dad in the center of the ring holding a lunge line or a short whip. Their hooves kicked up dust from the sandy floor, it filled the air and clung to the spaces in between your fingers and behind your ears.
In the winter and early spring, come calving season, we brought the heifers up from the pasture and into the barn, cows who were giving birth for the first time. My Dad could watch them better there, look for early signs of labor, help them if things weren’t going right.
That's where I saw death for the first time. A calf was lying in the sand and straw. My Dad, having just pulled it out of its mother, took off his gloves and wiped the afterbirth from its nose and mouth. Breathed into its lungs, started chest compressions. Its mother, anxious, tail flicking, circled in the dim.
I knew it was dead before my Dad did. He didn’t want to believe it. I ran from the barn, tears blurring everything, fell onto my bed in great heaves.
When calves are newborns their red hide laps up from their bodies in great wet curls. I couldn’t stop thinking of them, the way they bristled up underneath my Dad’s moving palms.
Over time, the barn became more filled with things, as empty spaces do. We stored hay bales in a corner in the back, the bobcat sat up against the wall to the right of the door. A pile of baling twine accumulated to the left of the door. Each time my Dad came back from feeding the cows, he’d add to the stack.
Us kids played in it all year round. In the winter we’d crawl up into the hay bales and hang from the rafters. In spring we’d run around in it’s corral, pretending to be horse trainers, while big slabs of melting snow slid off the roof and fell down to the ground, landing outside with a reverberating thud. When the summer rains came, we’d run in just to hear how they sounded on its tin roof, a thunderous serenade of drops reminding us how nice it felt to be dry.
As an upset teenager wanting to escape my parents, I’d run to the barn to cry or mope. When I was in a good mood, my feet would take me there anyways, just so I could check in on it, make sure everything was in the place it was supposed to be.
While the barn was used for its intended purposes primarily by my Dad, it always felt like neutral ground. It was a space for all who happened upon it, a catalog of objects and memories.
Barn’s aren’t like homes. They don’t have the same spirit, or carry the same secrets. They are spaces of utility, work and dust. Filled with things that are broken, things that can help fix those broken things.
Our barn's walls weren’t soft and painted, but unforgiving, almost clinical. It was a large lumbering indifference that could be whatever you needed it to be.
In two months time, my husband and I are moving back to my family farm. It's a part of the reason why I feel like I may no longer have as much time for this newsletter as I once did. There will be much to do.
Last week, we drove out there for the first time in a while. My husband and I needed my Dad’s truck to move some wood we had bought. Sure enough, after sitting inside unused for a whole winter, the vehicle was dead.
My Dad is gone now, but all of his tools, the things used to fix other things, are in all the same places they used to be. The charging cables were hanging from that nail near the bobcat – the lunge line and the whip still rest on another nail beside it.
While we jumped the battery, I looked around into the barn’s corners, up at its rafters, took a deep breath. It still smells the exact same as it always has – dusty, with a strong dose of hay and diesel fuel. The wood beams are no longer yellow, they haven’t been in some time. The barn has aged, we all have.
In the years since my Dad has passed, the barn has experienced a period of prolonged stillness. Trucks don’t move in and out of it like they once did, nor do horses or dogs or beat up old work boots. The dust has settled and stayed.
Part of me feels like the barn will stay the way it always has been in perpetuity, no matter what new objects my husband and I bring in and out of it when we move in. No matter what animals go through its side door. No matter how much dust we kick up as we begin to rummage around again. It's the same dust that's always been there, the same heavy sand.
Houses change, people change, landscapes change. The barn though, it's unwavering.
As we drove away down the driveway I looked back through the rearview mirror and saw glimpses of its walls through the winter-bare poplar trees.
It's still red as can be, like the reddest apple.
and a trip to the everglades.
Join us next week for another adventure.