Cows and sawdust in the parlor

When we built the hay shed behind the house in 1996, it eased our workload wondrously. Instead of hoisting bale after bale into the barn loft and building great pyramidal stacks of the overflow outside, we simply drove tractor and wagon under the shed's broad overhanging eave and downloaded.

My son, just 12 when this new method presented itself, delighted in gravity as friend rather than foe - pushing the bales from the stacked wagon to the shed's floor was infinitely easier than wrestling them up to the hot, stuffy loft. As the stacked rows rose up to the level of the incoming wagons we had only to roll the new bales atop the old. Only the last few tiers had to be built upward from the wagons, and the entire summer's harvest - some 4,000 hay bales - would be safely under cover.

The shed naturally replaced the barn as the place to feed the cows, which soon learned to gather at the deep racks along its south side. At intervals we simply nudged a few bales down from the stack, popped the twine, and asked ourselves why we hadn't built the place years ago.

As it was, the hay shed's days as such were short-lived, since we stopped commercial milking just a few years after its construction. We began to use the barn loft again for the much smaller summer harvest that now sustains our few remaining cows. Emptied of hay, the shed became a place of new possibilities, serving in turn as a wedding chapel for Charlie's youngest daughter, workshop and storage for a neighbor's timber-frame construction venture, and housing for planers, saws, and workbenches; bikes and tractors; skis and toboggans; drying lumber and furniture in various stages of restoration.

But large parts of the shed remain empty. The other day Charlie took a break from one of his woodworking projects and sat in an old upholstered chair we keep out there. No longer house-worthy, it is nevertheless perfectly comfortable. Once the inevitable film of sawdust is swept from its cushion, it offers a pleasant seat overlooking a pasture blooming now with chicory, purple-top, and Queen Anne's lace. Joining him, I looked about for a bucket to overturn and sit on.

"What we need," Charlie suggested, stretching his legs into the feeding racks, "is a sofa out here."

As if on cue, one presented itself the next day. In a Dumpster next to an apartment building, Charlie found a clean and comfortable-looking davenport with an easily repairable broken back leg. A worn rug, a lamp from a thrift store, and an overturned crate for a table completed the furnishings in our airy "parlor." As a final flourish, I tacked up an art print.

Now we carry our coffee, newspaper, and books down to the old sofa, kick off our shoes, stretch our legs into the hayracks, and gaze out at the landscape folding down to the stream valley. Our dogs flop on the rug, relishing the new accommodation. Come dusk we can click on the lamp. If the breeze wafts a bit of sawdust about, if the cows drop by, thrusting their heads through the slanted openings of our feeding-rack footrest, so be it. We never intend to entertain upscale company here.

The neighbors who dropped by the first day were, in fact, charmed by the easy-going air of our hay-shed lounge. Mark, a local councilman who'd spent the afternoon at political meetings, collapsed beside us on the third cushion of the couch with a sigh of contentment invoking a five-star hotel.

Distractions from worldly concerns were all around us - butterflies, wrens wheeling about the trees; the cool, unfiltered breath of evening; and the faint, ever-present ambience of fresh sawdust. We shooed off a fly or two and gradually forgot the cares of the day. A parlor that down-home can't help buoying one up.

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