Mother Nature tests my patience from time to time. Over the course of the last five years, strong winds have brought down five trees around the house - two chestnuts, a walnut, and a pecan tree, as well as a huge oak out the lane. In addition, the maple tree at the corner of the house at my bedroom succumbed to a mini-derecho that hit unexpectedly in June.
I should add that all these trees fell while I was away, leaving several days of work once I returned back to the farm. It’s always a shock to see open space where big trees once provided cherished shade on hot, sunny summer afternoons. It’s an adjustment but one that quickly becomes the new lay of the land. I adjust, the corgis adjust, the birds and critters adjust, and I work feverishly to relocate cherished plants that will perish without the cover of shade under which they once flourished. Once established elsewhere, the plants and flowers adjust, take root in a new location, and open again to bloom come spring.
In my 42 years at the farm, people have come and gone; farm daughter, Bobbi, was the first; then two little Wilders made lifelong memories on the land, dogs and cats have thrived in the open spaces 30+ acres provide, and wild animals have lived safe from hunters and poachers. Despite the many changes the farm family has experienced over time, one structure has remained a constant presence for all: the beloved barn. Many a morning, I’ve taken my coffee out on the deck to watch barn swallows practice their flight patterns, swooping in, out of, and around the old structure. Our resident indigo bunting has announced sunrise and sunset from atop the lightening rods for years, and Fatty, our farm groundhog, has produced several generations of little ones in her den by the silo. My dad once caught one of her babies bare-handed, infuriating my mother who found Zeb on the ground, unable to get up because of the groundhog he held in his bare hands.
(I found this sketch I did of the healthy barn back in1989. Our chickens lived in the attached addition on the right. This is a south view.)
Built about 100 years ago, the old cattle barn has served as recorder of memories on the farm, witnessing more joy than sadness and remaining steadfast despite the battering of intense west winds, torrential rain storms, the weight of several feet of snow on its shoulders, and the heat and humidity of Mid-Ohio Valley summers. With HOME inscribed across the north end of this humongous structure, everyone who circled around the house was welcomed to a place where they could feel safe. The farm is and has always been “home” to many, and the sight of the barn has always conjured up the sanctity of the farm. The spirit of love and HOME has resonated in the hearts of many “farm kids” as they have traveled around the country and the world, for that is what the farm is - HOME.
Thinking about the barn conjures up memory after memory: the time I turned the corner of the driveway and saw the north end of the foundation had collapsed; watching Mr. Ambrose Arnold jack the entire barn up, put in a cement block wall underneath it and then move the structure back on the foundation with a team of oxen; shooting basketball at the old hoop left on a beam from the days when the barn was the “gym” for the schoolhouse at the end of the lane; sending the kids down to the barn to play on a rusted potters wheel that I confiscated at Marietta High School; watching Eliza and her friend Desiree sneak down to their “special clubhouse” near the silo; feeding chickens in our barn “coop” on freezing winter days, and making many evenings of music in the silo, which could only be accessed by climbing on the feeding stalls underneath. And, I always marveled at the height of the dried Christmas tree fire just outside the barn door as we prepared for a sweat lodge or celebrated New Year’s Eve. Just as I reflect on those times, I’m sure the barn had stories to tell to its seasonal inhabitants about the zany antics of the people who traipsed through it all those years.
Age and the weather began to take its toll on the barn several years back. Boards fell off the west side, leaving it completely open to the elements. Then the east side boards began to come loose, eventually leaving the barn completely open. Regardless, the “bones” of the old girl held on, and she never fell until the back side broke apart this past winter. At that point, the roof began to sag, and signs pointed to inevitable collapse.
Over time, I’ve told everyone who remarked on the fragility of the structure that I’d know when it was the right time to bring our beloved farm barn down. I began to worry every time a storm came through. I had to keep the corgis out of it for fear they’d fall through the floor, and when I mowed around it, I had momentary flashes of the rafters breaking on my faithful mower and me. The last few months were like being on death watch for a friend, knowing I could not wait too much longer and sadly realizing I had to take action.
So on June 18th, two days after I returned home from NC, the crew from Doug Lowe Construction arrived with a huge track hoe to begin the task of bringing her down. My only request was that they try to save the HOME section (which they successfully did). When the hoe made the first hit on the middle of the roof, the structure collapsed from both ends to the middle, and the clean-up began.
I could not have asked for a more thoughtful crew from the (de)construction company. Bill and Jason stood patiently as I said goodbye. I took my sage bundle and smudged in and around the structure, leaving the sage burning inside as the old barn fell to the ground. I shed a goodly number of tears as I watched her crumble, and then to my surprise, I felt a HUGE wave of peace and relief. I was ready to get the debris cleaned up, the ground shaped and manicured, and enjoy my new open space. The silo remained intact - a marker to the burial site of concrete foundation, termite infested beams, pieces of the old tin roof, and the block foundation. It would now become the keeper of memories - those housed by the barn as well as new ones that began as the barn came down.
Bill worked on and off all week, overseeing the massive burn that had to take place before burial could take place. He worked the bulldozer to cover debris, and he skillfully broke up the foundation and retaining wall. Then he began to move dirt and shape the new “lawn” where the barn had stood. He planted grass seed and covered it with straw. Regular rain showers quickly encouraged the grass to come up, and before I knew it, I had a beautiful new view to enjoy - open space into the back field with the silo in the foreground.