Mice no longer run in a panic looking over their furry shoulders, there is no need, the cats have died and no replacement has been made. Barn cats no longer inhabit the dusty old barn. Stalls once occupied by work horses that stood calm spirited and strong, munching their hay as they rest after a hard days work, stand empty. Harnesses still hang on their wood pegs beside the stalls, dust covered, in need of oil. The children have grown and gone now, only memories remain. Cobwebs hang in scalloped form, from huge barn beam to window sill back to barn beam, heavy with the dust of time, a type of barn décor. There is a strong branch held by baler-twine tied at each end, a make shift chin-up bar that hangs from a barn beam. This is more than a barn its a farm boys gym, where hundred pound grain sacks were once stacked high and dumped into bins, hundreds of bales of hay harvested in the heat of summer built strong arms and a hand shake of envy. Its an old basement barn, cool in the summer, warm in the winter, where once those hundreds of bales of hay were stacked above, the top barn, as the children called it, to insulate while providing winters feed for livestock below. A barn is best kept full, it will last longer they say.
The milk stall stands empty with two stanchions left hanging open, giving the appearance of having just let the cows out, but that has been many years past, these too are covered in cobwebs, like delicate lace. Jersey cows were milked here, rain or shine, in the cold of winter and heat of summer. Gallons of milk, cream turned to butter, milk turned to cheese, the reaping of sowing. There is manure left in this place, by now it has turned to ,black gold. Six years ago my son assured me he would have his sons clean it. But when a son dies his promises hang on the cobwebs gathering barn dust and become memories.
I sit on a plastic chair facing south's open door, the pitchfork ,wheel barrel, and broom rest against the half stall wall in front of me, a welcomed summer breeze passes through the door, and dries the sweat on my face, chest and back. The barn has been called to rest, the passing of time made it so. I work alone, shovel for the last time the horse manure, this time from the saddle horses that are spending their last summer on the farm. Georgia, a Spanish Arab , on loan, will be returned to her original home, to live her life out as a pasture mate. My “heart horse”, Sugarbabe will be put down before the ground freezes. She has lived here for fourteen years, she is now in her twenties. We have learned together the art of true horsemanship. Diagnosed with and incurable bone disease rendering her lame, I have made the most difficult decision to do what is best for her. I have played that day out in my mind endless times. Many animals lie beneath the farms earth, from hamsters to Draft horse, death is never easy. That day a hole will be dug, the vet will be present, I will lead to her to her final resting place, he will give her a sedative, I will whisper in her ear how much she has meant to me, I will stroke her sweet spot, just between her eyes, her forehead, and assure all is well, then the final lethal injection will be given. The death of a horse is heart wrenching, I have seen it too many times. Her legs will buckle and fold as her huge body meets the earth, the air in her lungs will be forced out in a sigh. Silently the vet will listen to her heart, acknowledge it is silent, she has passed. She will be rolled into the hole, dirt will be pushed over her large body until the earth has swallowed up my faithful friend. I will stay, I will cry, my heart will hurt. Sugarbabe will be the last farm animal to have lived on the farm. Another page of my story will have turned, a new chapter must begin.
This barn, the woods that surround our fields, the grass that grows tall will rest. Rest from years of tilling, gardening, logging, and animals that grazed upon it, and the laughter of children as boys became men and girls became strong. Rest. The gift of homesteading it has given in abundance, but now we must give back. Stillness intertwined with resting blows in the wind. Barn doors will stay closed against the elements. Mice will run free with no fear of being eaten by a barn cat. Cobwebs will cloak the inside of those wonderful stalls that stand empty, until, until the next generation looks on in wonder and dreams of what they will do with this old farm.
And if barns could talk what would they say?
Rosemarie Canfield - I am 67, a mother, Grandmother, wife, lover of the outdoors, horses, dogs and some cats. I love to write about what it was/is like raising 9 children and homesteading in the 1970s and beyond. I lost a son five years ago and writing is my safe place, a healing place. For me the written word has become, the language of my soul, I write what I cannot speak. I have been involved with local writing groups and poetry workshops which include public readings of some of my work.