Death of a Barn

By Nicholas Bogosian (author of the series,  A Life in the Trades)

Tim owns an old barn near Fairpoint, Ohio. We tried reaching each other by phone for two weeks. I was needing some old rotten timbers for a wood conservation project in my advanced materials science class. Tim said he had some lying in a stack.

Dirt road after dirt road brought me closer. My cell phone rang. “Hey, this is Tim – wondering if we could plan a different time. I need to talk to some guy about my bulls. Have you already left?” I had. “Yeah – I’m almost there.” “Well, I can show you where the barn is real quick and come back.”

It’s amazing I found his house: “…a gray farmhouse on the left.” I swerved quick to the left when he waved to me from his silver SUV. Two dogs approached my car – a big yellow lab and a tiny black chihuahua with a pink cast for a leg. I quickly grabbed my gloves, my camera, my moisture meter, and my tape recorder. I got into his car. “The barn’s probably a hundred years old. I really wanted to preserve it.” “So what’s wrong with the timbers? Insects? Rot?” “I’m not sure. They’re laying in a stack. You can dig out what you need.”

We pulled up a steep hill. He paused and pointed off to the right to a wall of thick trees: “It’s right through there. I’ll be back in a half hour.” I got out of the car. I was expecting some expansive hill with an aged barn sitting neatly at its top. Nevertheless, I began walking through the high grass. Slowly, pieces of sun-damaged timbers started showing up, strewn on the ground around me. I finally got past the trees and saw the barn.

Photo by Nicholas Bogosian.

I was not expecting for the stack of timbers to be so large or for the barn to be non-existent. Initially, despite his helping me, I was a little aggravated that Tim hadn’t once mentioned that the barn had fallen down and that this was the “stack” that I was to find my experimental pieces. Green vining plants had overgrown the stack, trees were sprouting through summer beams, spiders had webbed homes in knee braces, hand-wrought nails were breaking off beams like chalk as I stepped over them.

Photo by Nicholas Bogosian.

I looked to my left and saw a tall wall of stacked limestone creating a shoring wall to a plateau of trees. A massive joist had fallen from its ledge within the wall. It was hard to make sense of anything. The debris was so confusing, I would never be able to salvage anything quickly. I continued walking across beams like a high-wire walker looking down to the crawl space beneath me. The slate roof had fallen. It had all fallen. The pieces were scattered like the bottom of a creek bed. They snapped beneath my careful steps.

Photo by Nicholas Bogosian.

I kept waiting for Tim’s arrival – suddenly appearing behind a camouflage of trees. Everything became still. It all felt very quiet except for the bird that occasionally greeted me with an enthusiastic, “Hey!”

I realized I had never seen anything like this before. I remembered Dave’s lectures in our Theory of Structures class and the simple truth that all acts of building are in opposition to nature. We store its members with potential energy when we hew down the logs, when we hoist the timbers, when we hammer the treenail into the joint. But nature works from day one to bring it down.

Photo by Nicholas Bogosian.

And so there I was in the middle of nowhere standing on top of the last remnants of what used to be something. Nature had not depleted the barn of its energy. It still held the memory of before. It was as if the whole thing would have picked itself back up again if it could. But that was not going to happen, and I was not particularly hopeful of it either. Despite the confusion of letting an old barn (more like 160-years-old) get to a state where it could topple over, I was happy that I got to witness its burying grounds, to stand on its beams and feel the rush of memory – that distant memory of peeking inside old abandoned homes as a kid, that respectful hush that falls over us, and the uneasiness of our intrusion.

3 thoughts on “Death of a Barn

  1. Memaw says:

    Hey Nick. Really enjoyed the narrative and the pics.
    I can remember all the old barns I have seen in southern Missouri.
    They were mostly all red albeit a weathered color and the adds painted on the sides and roof were barely readable. I’m sure they are all gone now. Most likely replaced with subdivisions.
    Really sad! Much Love Memaw

  2. Sabra Smith says:

    I had the privilege of taking my 92 year old grandfather back to the farm where he was born. It was a visit that sparked a lot conversation about his life and memories — that was good. It was a visit that shocked his system because nothing was as it was in his memory — farmed fields were grown up woods, the giant mill building, so busy and so much his father’s focus and lifeblood, was gone. The outbuildings were gone. We climbed through some new growth woods and he found the dam breast. Nothing like watching a 92 year old jump from log to log and then teeter like Philipe Petit over the ridge of a dam breast holding back a pond. He led us into the woods behind what remained of the house where he was born. There he came upon a tower of stone that was all that was left of the barn. He remembered the animals that lived there, climbing into the loft to thresh the hay, the work, the sweat. And all that was left was much as you picture above.
    He, too, marveled at how nature reclaims its territory. He became violently ill that night. Attacked by ghosts of memory in the night, I suspect. A few years later, just before he died, they tore down what was left of the old mill. We didn’t have the heart to tell him.

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