“Barn’s burned down. Now I can see the moon.”
(Mizuta Masahide, Japanese poet, 17thcentury)
This week, I took a hammer and tore into my old barn.
It was a small barn, so small that a woman could tear it down, mostly alone. After awhile, my husband joined me, knocking down the heaviest beams, but for the most part, it was me alone.
My childhood barn was covered with poison oak vines and sagged in the middle. It needed to be removed for fire prevention. During this shelter in placetime, we’ve been cleaning up brush on our property. In the midst of one disaster, we prepare for another, the coming California fire season.
While I smashed at the walls, I cried. The tears weren’t only for my old barn, my long-gone horse, and my carefree childhood days. The tears were from pent up sadness, fear and anger, after three weeks of waiting for the end of the world, while we are all in coronavirus lock down.
It was clear the old barn needed to come down. Another summer is headed our way, bringing more fires that will be searching for fuel. My husband and brother assured me it was time. But I didn’t want to say goodbye. I’m a sucker for nostalgia. The barn is a landmark of my childhood. It is where I spent every morning and evening, feeding and brushing my beloved old, swayback strawberry horse, until it was time to run for the school bus, or to come inside for dinner.
The barn is where I hid out, when I needed time alone, trying to sort out the complexities of growing up, sitting on a hay bale, surrounded by the scent of hay, molasses, and horse sweat.
It is where I lay, the night I broke my shoulder. My brother and I had been riding in the pasture, double, bareback, barefoot, with not even a bridle to steer our steed. Cheyenne, more interested in her dinner than her cargo, headed for the barn in a hurry. We hit the ground hard, and rolled in a heap into the powdery dust. I couldn’t get up, but lay next to the barn, while my brother ran to fetch our mom. I remember it seemed like I was like looking through a kaleidoscope, the colors of the trees and sky blurring together, because of the tears pooling in my eyes.
Before it was my barn, the little shed was my Grandpa’s. He built this barn, for his son’s sheep, over 70 years ago, from virgin redwood trees, sawed in his mill, with his huge, strong hands. My Grandpa built everything: houses, churches, picnic tables and aviaries- a desk for my room, and frames for the pictures I painted. He called me ”Apple,”as in, the “Apple of his eye.”
It was only when I got much older that I realized, with shock, my grandpa’s and my family’s role in the decimation of these ancient, irreplaceable redwoods.
My husband wanted to tear down the old shed by himself-he’s fast and efficient, and likes to get things done. He’s on a roll this week, hacking through the shrubs and trees to make a “defense-able space” around our little house, while he’s got time on his hands. I knew he could do it much faster than me. But he would not be likely to stop for any reverent moment. Why would he? To him, it’s only an eyesore, and a threat to the property.
So, to honor my Grandfather, and those giant redwoods, I would not turn my back and let someone else do the demolition. I would take it down myself. I threw the rotten ones into one pile to burn. Most were beyond saving. But some were not. I piled up a ragged stack of boards, silvery with age, and tinged with algae, but still sturdy. I want to build something new from the old, but I don’t have any idea what this will be. I’m still waiting for light on this subject.
My hammer smashed. Boards fell. Tears fell. Tears for all of our collective fear, and sadness, for the losses so many have had, for the potential losses that may be coming. Tears, for our lost routines, for our lost simple pleasures, for the lost joy of touching and gathering together.
With each board that fell, though, the view opened up. It was a strange revelation, making a window through a wall.
So much light came in. Now, when I stand on the deck of my Grandparents’ old home, there’s nothing to block my view. I see not a wall, but a patch of Easter lilies that my mom planted, fifty years or more ago, in full bloom. I hadn’t noticed them before. It makes me wonder.
I don’t expect a miracle to end to this virus anytime soon. But this not the first Easter we’ve have stood in the dark, grieving. Holding our tools, our salvaged lumber, our sorrow, our prayers, and, without even touching, holding each other, we wait for the light.
Welcome to Streamriffs.com, a place for fellow creek- walkers and nature lovers. Lori Fisher Peelen lives in California with her family.