With a pole barn, there is no block foundation as with a house. Houses sit on the land like they might decide to get up one day and walk away. Pole barns dig in and hunker down in a way that says they intend to stay. Pole barns start from harvested trees transplanted to a special spot, perhaps a hilltop, where a magical tree house springs up in the fairy circle of those giant mushrooms of former trees. The poles dig into the dirt and merge with it, becoming part of the land. Then the barn is built so that it lodges on the poles, with the weight supported the way Atlas holds the world. Both mystical and sensible, the barn is a special world.
Our barn was where we pulled the milk, warm and foamy with butterfat, straight from the rubbery teats of ourmilk cows. Where we funneled beef cattle from pasture to stable, controlling the gate to direct them to stalls for inspections or inoculations, sending them on to the winter feedlot for morning and evening feasts. Our barn was a storehouse, our only reserve for the fallow season, piled high to the rafters each fall harvest with lespedeza hay in the loft and field corn in the corner bin.
Our barn had a lean-to tractor shed, added later and off to one side, built for our work-mule of a Farmall—as if that tractor was another animal needing sanctuary. Our barn was a sturdy storm house, offering shelter against the downpours of spring and early summer, to shade the high summer so dry, to fight off the puny but days-long drizzles of autumn, and to counter the big blows of winter. Our barn throbbed with movement, sang with unseemly clatter, bawdily invited a feel of its rough textures, and stood proudly with its heavy-laden earthy, musty smells. The barn, not the house, is the center of work on a farm and the cradle of its life.
My barn was the dark, cavernous summer place I had to haul hay into from the fields, stacking it by row andcolumn to the rafters. A place of precious shade, but harboring stagnant air filled with dried alfalfa leaves all sticky on my soggy neck. I’d know all along that once the pasture grass turned brown, come sunup and sundown, I’d be back. Bale by bale and day by day—before the dawn and after dark—I’d be breaking down the stacks to feed the cows all winter. Though filled with barnyard animals, though stuffed with corn in the bin and hay in the loft, my barn was never just a place of work. This barn was my fort that I’d defend with my cousins against all enemies—sometimes space aliens hiding in the haystacks, ready to attack. Sometimes Indians on the warpath, galloping on horses through the wide central hall. Sometimes Communists, invading by parachute in the barnyard. Or it was my secret hideaway, buried deep beneath the bales of hay, with a chain of caverns connected by secret tunnels. This barn was my winter palace place to go to escape a tiny house, to get out of the cold north wind, to contemplate the thoughts swirling in my brain. A barn is a country boy’s best toy. Or the best place to go that’s private to explore and learn about a new toy a boy discovers in his teens—a toy that he has right at hand.