Brown embodies barns. Or maybe it’s the other way around. When I find myself in one of the two barns on the Farmette, I smell the distinct odor of brown. One barn was once the carriage house, where hay was stored upstairs and horses downstairs. The other is a pole barn covered in galvanized metal, supported by large creosote-colored poles.
Since we acquired it, the carriage house barn has been in a steady state of repair, bringing it back from the brink. Straightened, given a new foundation, re-sided, it seems almost respectable from the outside. We've hauled away many loads of crap to the dump, such as the metal cooler lined with old newspapers from the barn’s dairy farming era; an entire interior wall on the first floor added at some point in its history; and walls forming a little room upstairs where the hired hand once lived.
But some things escape the dump, somehow. Upstairs, two glass jugs sit near an upstairs window; they haven’t moved in a dozen years. The paper label on one reads, faintly, “POISON.” There’s still a brown (of course) liquid inside. The door that once opened to the hired hand’s room leans against a wall, black doorknob like the eye of an enormous beetle. In the rafters, a set of pocket doors removed from our house. A stack of wooden fruit crates.
On the first floor, a clawfoot tub a neighbor gave us that we’ll never use, piled with all the license plates our cars and truck have had, going back twenty years. A sign for AKC Walker pups, a type of coonhound someone must’ve raised here at some point. A metal tin which held papers about the cows on the dairy farm, including one named Clearland Butterfat Charity. Last year, when Cris was tearing out the boards that encased the ceiling, inside one straw-filled nest, likely belonging to a raccoon, he found a lacy cotton slip.
The pole barn, on the other hand, falls apart. The two sets of doors, which were partially attached when we moved here, have mostly fallen to pieces, blown off in the wind, so that weather and creatures can pass through or stay awhile—snow or blowing rain or skunks or carpenter bees. The whole place has a sort of cozy "eau de railroad ties" scent. In one corner, an old goat pen made from wooden pallets and the frame of an ancient screen door. Inside the pen, my neighbor’s tractor, kept like a pet.
The dog likes to poke around in there, looking for the feral cats who lurk from time to time, knocking the house sparrow nests off the rafters. Sometimes I find on the sandy floor a few desiccated nestlings. In another corner, a pile of wood and the chopping block, where I tock away at logs, making kindling, a few times a week during the cold months.
At the other end, a second tractor, tires flat, and a pile of wire from various garden projects, coiled and beribboned in dead vines. Several cages we’ve used to raise bobwhite quail, wait, uninhabited. In the sandy floor, the little craters of ant lions anticipate ants wandering along.
Barns are built to shelter things—animals, machinery, straw and wood. Because of this, I don’t think of the barns as creepy, despite their dark corners, their spiders and mice, their axe and their wire. They seem as though a person could move in, if one needed to, like the hired hand who lived upstairs with the hay. From inside a barn, the world outside feels raw and bright, like colored glass, a bit brittle against the sky, unbound from warm brown.