Raw but refined, the barns transport us to places of memory and reverie
An excerpt from The Truth About the Barn (Great Plains Publications).
David Elias is one of over 50 writers, live events and interactive community features at this year’s Winnipeg International Writers’ Hybrid Festival. To watch videos of Elias, prepared specifically for the festival, visit thinairfestival.ca.
The Barn Truth offers answers to important questions about how barns came into being, why they look like they are, why they are worth thinking about, and what possible future they may have. The chapters study the place of the barn in culture and religion, art and literature. The psychological and philosophical implications are explored. Readers are entitled to an occasional recollection of the author’s own experiences with barns.
Exterior charm, interior grandeur …
There is a certain mystique about a barn that lets you experience it in a way that other buildings don’t. For me, it starts with a unique aesthetic: raw but refined, humble but haughty. The place has a certain smell. A certain sound. You can taste it inside a barn. Allow yourself to wander through its dark and cavernous interior, run your hand along a rough wood, climb into the hayloft, linger in the not quite silent darkness, and you feel yourself in the presence of ‘a place with a soul. There is a quiet dignity there which cultivates contemplation, makes agitation indecent. You feel in touch with something. You can’t tell what it is, but its essence is within your grasp. Nestled within the barn, you feel a healthy presence, the reassuring calm of your own organic existence.
Part of that has to do with all that natural wood, the exposed rafters and beams lit by a well-placed sunbeam, a wagon wheel leaning against the back wall next to a few sacks of grain, a wooden ladder along the way. wall, and in the alcove a bucket suspended from a rope above the well. In the cow stall, a straw hat hangs from an ankle above denim overalls, and on the rustic wooden floor, a milking stool next to two galvanized buckets and rubber boots. Through an open door you enter a shop with old horse collars and harnesses on the wall, a workbench strewn with tools. There are shovels, axes and pitchforks leaning against the walls, a testament to the daily chores of milking and feeding and other simple jobs.
Enter a barn like this and you can be transported to a place that is not so much a warehouse of hay and cattle as it is a storehouse of memory and reverie. It might be a sentimental notion, but if you doubt the nostalgia inherent in such an idea, try a little experiment. Ask someone you suspect of having a barn in their past to share a memory they might have, then watch a living memory return, perhaps a carefully preserved childhood memory accompanied by an elaborate anecdote that has a dream element. It is also possible that someone’s expression blurs with the memory of something less pleasant or even traumatic. You never really know what you’re going to get.
Whether it’s a brand new shiny (rare nowadays) all dressed in red and topped with shiny white windows, or a gray and ancient relic along a country road with its weathered roof s sagging gracefully, the sight of a barn catches people’s attention in a way few other buildings do. Each seems to have a character and charm of its own.
Mortality at your fingertips …