Tuesday, July 17, 2012

Backwoods Barns

Have you ever wandered through an abandoned house? There is an aura about it which makes the calmness heavy. The creaking floor boards cut through the silence and the shifting walls can unnerve you. Every step is accompanied with the thought, "Will this step be supported? Am I going to find myself in the basement with a broken leg and spiderwebs all over me?" Stairs are probably the most nerve racking. If the house is old enough, there's no telling how strong the steps are.

I explored such a house a few years back. The front door was locked, but the side door was propped open. I didn't break in. It pretty much begged me to enter. I found old news papers and spilt paint cans. The ratty sofa looked like a comfortable home for mice. I thought I would check to see if there was any beer in the fridge, but was welcomed with a smell that would turn roaches away. I saw half empty ketchup bottles and Tupperware. I wasn't curious enough to see what the containers were harboring.

Climbing the stairway to the second level, I noticed parts of the wall more faded than others. I assumed this is where the family photos hung. Maybe a degree from a pristine university. There were two bedrooms upstairs. One still had a bed in it and another had a mostly empty dresser. There was some cheaply made necklaces and a clothing magazine from the 50's. The carpet was tan with the smell of dust and age. The wall paper was peeling and tired of dangling from the wall. The little bit of glue that still clung to the paint was ready to give up the ghost. I went back downstairs.

I saw the pantry with rice and other bags with holes in the bottom. To avoid having a small furry animal run up my pants leg and bite my johnson, I shut the door just as quickly as I opened it. I hadn't seen a mouse, but I wasn't in the mood to go looking for one. I went out to the barn.

The barn was less than impressive on the outside. It was just like any old barn you would expect to see driving down a country road. Wait. When you're driving down a country road. Not the barn. The paint was chipped. The siding was coming apart. The shingles that were left on the roof were packing their bags waiting for the next big storm to take them away. Then I stepped inside.

The first glance took my breath away. The air was heavy with the dust that doves kicked up when they flew from my arrival. The cracked siding was letting in the late afternoon sun. The golden rays sang through the stuffy air. There were old tools and tractors and hay wagons that sighed at the sight of a human.

"Is someone coming to put us back to work? We've had such a nice sleep, it'd be a pity to go back into the field now. Not sure my gears could take the strain anymore" they seemed to say.

The floors were littered with hay and chains. There was a thick layer of dust coating everything I touched. I could smell the left over stench of cows filtering in and out of the pasture door. Strolling in for milking. Lazily walking out at the end of chores. In and out. In and out. Day after day. More grass. More hay. More milking. Blasé.

Within a couple of minutes I was coughing and sneezing. The joys of air-borne allergies. I headed to the shed.

Inside there were boxes and boxes of old magazines and tape cassettes of bands I had never heard of. I think most of them were country western which I derived from the pictures of the singers. Nothing worth taking home. The tapes were all damaged from moisture and neglect. There was a big fur coat and a denim jacket. There were lamps and tv stands and an old radio and dishes. Everything you would expect to see in someone's garage in the late 50's. I couldn't get to the back of the shed because it was so packed with stuff. I could see a nest in the rafters right next to a wooden canoe. I wondered how difficult it was to lift the boat up there. It must weigh a ton. Then I started looking at the rafters and slowly backed away. Did you know you could start an avalanche with nothing more than a noise? I didn't want to test the theory.

I'm not sure how long the property had been abandoned. It looked like there hadn't been anyone there in decades. It's astounding to think of how much space we have in America that we can have places where people just don't go. There's no reason to go there. I've been in areas of the world where people are stacked on top of each other because there's no room. They can stuff a family of eight into a two bedroom apartment without AC, but I think that's illegal in the States. We have rooms to spare in the rural regions of Minnesota. Places to keep our extra fur coats. We've got space, and we like it that way.

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