Preservation Photos #113

Driving through Vermont's Mad River Valley in August 2011 (pre-flood).

Waiting for snow? Me too. In the meantime, here’s a good summer drive photograph. Maybe next week, I’ll have a few snowy scenes.

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.

Preservation Photos #31

Window of an early 19th century farm building found at the Keese Homestead in Keeseville, NY – part of our end of the semseter preservation field trip.

Not a Flamingo

But an emu… seen on Vermont Barn Census adventures.

It looked mean. They were organized. We left.

It looked mean. There was more than one. They were organized. We left.