Our corncrib hasn't seen an ear of corn in 20-some years. The farm was so badly eroded from overcropping when Charlie bought it in 1983 that he transformed its tilled fields to pasture and started a dairy. The cows provided what cows provide so amply, and the soil began to build as the milk tanker came and went.
The land is by no means rich today, but it is no longer actively washing away and seems to be made for trees and pasture. As for the corncrib, like any unused space, it began spontaneously to fill with an eclectic assortment of artifacts that found no other home. Picture an 8-by-12-foot kitchen junk drawer, and you get the idea.
I'm quite fond of the little building, which lists eastward as if to meet the morning sun halfway, the gaps between its boards drinking in its light. On a winter's morning the cows like to lie against its weathered gray planking. They look at times as if they are holding the structure up. But it stands just fine at its signature tilt when they wander away.
I once thought of converting the corncrib into a play cabin for my young son, who like most children had a yen for a rustic place all to himself. But the prospect of clearing out years of accumulated rural hardware and the odd black snake was too daunting. Besides, where would we put perfectly useful things not of immediate use if not in the crib? How could we ever unload the pickup after losing our heads at an all-day farm auction? And so it has become a little fuller each year.
Harness parts for the draft horses hang from the walls and small loft. The flooring can't be seen for the plow blades; andirons; chicken crate; salvaged doors; windows; chair and pew parts; wagon spokes; scythe; log-rolling rings; and the inevitable buckets of nails, screws, and hooks. One doesn't walk in there without a concerted effort to blaze a trail.
Cluttered and disorganized, yes. But wondrous, too, for what can emerge from the quiet mayhem. When we built our log cabin amid the sugar maples, Charlie remembered an old wooden daybed he'd bought for a couple of dollars years before. Pulled from the crib, cleaned, and painted Shaker red, it wouldn't disgrace the most upscale antique shop. More to the point, it's a comfortable place to stretch out and read. The little poplar dry-goods cabinet on the cabin wall waited for years in the corncrib before it was summoned and nailed up. When we built a timber frame library by the cabin, the corncrib contributed the decoratively embellished entrance door, and another smaller and plainer one for a small broom and boot closet. I think of the crib as a resting place for fine old things between different phases of their useful lives.
It is also gas-conserving, saving us endless trips to town over the years for just the right bit of this or piece of that to repair a sagging fence, broken harness strap, or malfunctioning piece of equipment needed for the evening milking. "I think there's one in the corncrib" are the sweet words of hope around here.
Occasionally, as I sort through its dusty largess in the filtered light, I imagine organizing the booty to make it easier to manage and use. But judging from the speed with which Charlie unearths something he needs, it seems he has every square inch cataloged in his head. Any system that works that well is best left alone.
And anyone who has a corn-less crib like ours - or a kitchen drawer with a bit of everything and the occasional jewel of a surprise - knows that life would be, if neater, a little diminished, a little less mysterious without it.