I knew the farm was to be auctioned, but it wasn't until a year later I learned it was being used as a stripped pine furniture workshop. It had been difficult land, and the barns and outbuildings were in need of repair 20 years ago. But the news came as an uncomfortable jolt. It hurt. The great barn at the top of the yard, is that still standing? Is it now stacked with old pine rescued from other north country farmhouses, instead of sweet, prickly hay bales? Bales bound by an antique baler where we children learned to tie our first reef knots. As the compressed hay was shunted along we were positioned, ready to catch the two ends of hairy string, tie the knots, and wait, watching furtively while tying the next knots, left over right, right over left, to see whether the bale would fall apart when it tipped over the edge. The dreaded jeer of ``a granny, a granny'' was quickly muffled as we kicked the loose hay under the machine before the farmer discovered his children still couldn't tie reef knots. Bales piled onto trailers went bumping up the track, topped by weary knot tiers ducking low branches.
Bales were stashed away in the dark musty barn like bars of gold. As the summer progressed, the inside of the barn changed shape and character. Each day the prospects of higher, more intricate explorations developed until the obvious delights vanished. With bales stacked from floor to ceiling, from end to end, from side to side, there was no room to climb. But closer inspection revealed the tunnels, flaws in the wall of hay that the ever wary cats exploited. Passages to wriggle along, heart thumping in the scratchy, fragrant darkness; darkness suddenly glowing with hostile yellow eyes, the subtle noises of hay joined by a warning growl and a minute mewing.
Pungent, spicy pine, but hard, too hard for sleeping comfortably. That other hay barn across the field, all corrugated and metal, no features to please, no steep pitch of old tiles overlapping mellow brick or weathered boards, has that finally irretrievably collapsed? Or does it too shelter shabby furniture, awaiting renovation, as it once sheltered the enormous mound of hay, where on summer nights we slept? Like the princess balancing on her 20 mattresses we tossed, attacked by tiny hay insects, spikes and prickles, jerked awake by unfamiliar sounds of mouse, owl, and stirring cattle. Sleeping on a haystack brings its special dreams, and hazards. Once, reveling in the joy of flying, unaided by machine, I awoke to find I really was. Well, so it seemed in those first startled moments, until I landed with a surprised thud on the blanket of loose hay at the bottom of the stack. Being too bemused to find the way back up I recurled and went back to sleep reassured that this time all flying would be confined to dreams.
Even then we climbed the wooden stairs to the upper story of the granary barn with caution. Once up there certain planks were avoided. After all, the great Ayrshire bull was penned somewhere underneath. From the machine that filled the barn with throbbing, thudding noise and dust flowed cascades of yellow grain, grain that in its mass was exquisitely pliable. Hands could be plunged deep into the sacks and feel movement, feel the yielding and refilling of spaces.
Is it there the soft corn-colored wood is stripped and refashioned now? Soft it may be, as wood goes, but by its nature inflexible. Yet, running my hand over the sheen of our pine sideboard I see lines and knots that create a special pattern, a particular engrained flowing movement.
Old pine gleaned from other dilapidated farms is keeping our farm alive. Held within each piece of furniture are generations of lives and someone, somewhere is cherishing memories of these old, maybe deserted, homes. Our farm has shifted direction. It has survived and is working. Who am I to load it with regrets?