Of Barns and Brownstones

Of Barns and Brownstones

I live in an area where old barns stand among the backdrop. This same area is also surrounded by cities, chock full of concrete, strip malls, and freeways all bursting at the seams! I suppose the certainty of suburban sprawl best explains why I’m drawn to the beauty of old barns, standing stoically among this imposition of youth and the uncertainty of change. Their worn and withered walls echo the anecdotes of evolvement, subtly whitewashed by the hands of time. But, thanks to the people of preservation, what remains of this area’s precious open space is fiercely protected. Now, new neighborhoods nestle up to nostalgia, where orchards and outbuildings adorn crowded corridors. It’s even become commonplace to see stylish, stucco homes, sporting six-figure price tags, neighboring aged A-frames, once home to animals and alfalfa.

Call me shallow, but my infatuation with old barns extends beyond sentimentality and is a case of loving only for looks as it’s their exterior that draws me in. To be clear, I don’t mean literally “in,” as the inside of an old barn is often brimming with bats and bugs. But, despite this minor flaw, I do love gazing at the outside of old barns, as their walls radiate a reminiscence of what I recall as, simpler days. I find myself wanting to wrap my arms around their broken beauty and whisper, “Hang in there a little longer. Some of us are bent too and we’re counting on you to stay strong.”

Staring at these structures makes me feel so good that I always slow the car, often stopping if the romance of good lighting lures when traveling their adjacent roads. This love affair is evident by the labeling on my camera’s memory cards, “old barns, DO NOT REMOVE.” These are the megabytes I can’t muster the strength to destroy with death by deletion. But, I take comfort in knowing there are others who are also afflicted with BGOD, Barn-Gazing-Obsessive-Disorder. These folks are willing to pay good money for artsy photos and paintings of the solitary structures. It’s even become trendy to install a rustic barn door inside of a fancy, upscale home.

Once, while searching the web for beautiful images of old barns, I stumbled upon a site called, The National Barn Alliance. Of course, curiosity captured me as I read, “We are a non-profit organization coordinating preservation efforts to save America’s Historic Barns.” STOP-the-PRESSES! What is this wonderful non-profit and who are these people? The next sentence answered that question with, “our members are farmers and city dwellers, students, historical groups, and lots of folks who just love barns.” That’s when I had what Oprah Winfrey refers to as an “ah-ha moment.” I perfectly match the last part of their description as I am one of those, “lots of people who just love barns.” My eyes were reading faster than my mind could comprehend when they caught sight of something about the NBA. I nearly fell off my chair anticipating an alliance with my favorite basketball players who must also love barns. Images of a shirtless Steph Curry posing in front of a beautifully backlit barn flashed as fast as it became clear that, NBA, is just an acronym for National Barn Alliance. The writers of their website might want to rethink that verbiage. I’m sure there must be others who’ve experienced this same letdown when learning there aren’t any pro basketball players involved in the preservation of old barns. But, despite this disappointment, The National Barn Alliance will be hearing from me in the form of photographs of all the barns in my vicinity that I have the privilege of documenting. http://barnalliance.org/about-the-nba/

Of the many barns in my area, I do have a favorite. I’ll actually drive below the speed limit when approaching its vicinity just to admire the rustic beauty a few seconds longer. Come to think of it, I owe this favorite barn a great debt of gratitude as I bet it’s saved me a few hundred bucks and time spent answering, “M’am, do you know how fast you were going?” I’d be tempted to reply, “Yes, Officer, very fast, and I was making record time before you stopped me to answer this question.”

Sadly, this favorite barn of mine is in pretty bad shape. The front door hangs askew and the interior is exposed so I always succumb to temptation and sneak a peek. Unlike all the others, this is the only barn where what’s on the inside matters more to me than its outward appearance. For it’s there, I may find the ghost of my younger self, playing with a friend, tossing hay toward where her outstretched arms stood waiting. Her parents owned the property where it’s housed, along with the horses and barn animals that went with it. I don’t know what happened to that family, my friend, or the animals. But, I can still see them. Their faces flash in front of me whenever I drive by that barn. And, all barns, for that matter.

I’m cognizant that the hands of time are not constant. So, for now, I’ll stay in the space between past and present, where old barns beckon, and I always hear their call. When pictures really do speak a thousand words, offering comfort and condolences to times long gone by. A place where I accept that there is no cure for my BGOD, yet find relief and contentment in that fact. For it’s in this space where I’ll admire an old barn’s beauty, not only with the click of my camera but deep in my core, in that special space between city and country, that I call home.

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