Living in a rural community, I see a lot of barns, many of which are vacant or fallen down and I let my mind wander and imagine the stories that they hold within their weather-beaten boards.
Barns, if they could talk, would have much to say!
They witness birth and death and the never-ending struggle for survival. Their wisdom is the wisdom of life: a calf on unsteady legs.. struggling to its feet for the first time. A kitten catching its first mouse. The loads of fresh-baled hay that are piled high and slowly used up over the quiet winter months. These are the stories that are absorbed into the fading beams of each barn.
I think of my own barn and the thousands of dark mornings I have arrived, flicking on the lights as the cats blink to life and starting the daily routine. The cold, anxious nights where I have sat up with a sick animal or the flurry of excitement when a calf was born unexpectedly in the woods and was ushered into the safety of our barn for the night.
My barn is often filled with the noise of children as they excitedly move through their journey of working with horses. Each day they arrive with their stories and laughter, loud with enthusiasm and innocence, their voices echoing with questions and looking for direction.
When they leave, the barn returns to its quiet norm of routine and peace, waiting for the next feeding time. I have often said there is no place more peaceful than a barn – at feeding time the methodical sound of horses chewing accompanied by the tick-tock of the electric fence is a comfort. Nowhere else can one find the same air of security, feel the same atmosphere or find the same strong but comforting smell as in a barn.
Barns are an institution in themselves – they are places of business and livelihood, while offering solitude and friendship too. You can always find the local gossip at a dairy barn during milking time. The barn is an ever-present marker of farming, possibly the longest surviving occupation of man, at least in North America. There have been some forms of barns for thousands of years, and that they still exist today is evidence of their necessity to the farmer and life in general. No matter how large or small an operation or what kind of animal husbandry, everyone needs a barn!
I have a very, very old barn. It has been in my family for centuries and it shows it age. There is a definite lean to the right and snow drifts in the centre after every storm. It’s barn-board siding has been replaced a few times over with sheet metal but the main structure has survived through the 200 + years mostly in thanks to the fascinating “post and beam” construction.
(“Post and Beam” is a form of building with heavy timbers rather than “dimension lumber” such as 2″x 4″s. Heavy squared-off and carefully fitted and joined timbers with joints held together by large wooden pegs was how many wooden buildings from the 19th century and earlier were constructed. Since access to high-tech power tools and electrical tools was non-existent, this was a very popular and innovative way to quickly and safely create a barn).
My barn is now home to four (how did that happen?!), horses and a few barn cats but it was originally not built for animals. Back in ‘those days’, the livestock barn was attached to the house, like a breeze-way, for convenience and sharing the warmth.
More than likely, our barn housed farm equipment: ploughs, harrows, wagons, harnesses and other odds and ends.
It has a dirt floor and a questionable field stone retaining wall which is more decorative than useful these days. It doesn’t take kindly to the wooden stall floors we have built, and anything with a latch becomes a nightmare when the frost arrives and leaves.
We have a standard tour we give to people when they see it for the first time: we proudly explain how the beams and roof is held together without nails – just simple notches and wooden pegs and demonstrate the meat hanging apparatus which usually horrifies people but reminds us of how everything had a use centuries ago.
I think of how my barn must have been built. There were no tractors or heavy equipment back then. I can picture the group of neighbours, who surely helped each other out time after time, felling big trees and the draft horses pulling logs from the woods to be shaped into the structure that stands there today. It is certainly a far cry from the pre-fabricated barns and metal constructions that being advertised now but, I think that’s why I love it so much. It is a home to many memories and stories to come.