Monday, September 14, 2015

The Cattle Barn

They tore down the cattle barn. Nobody asked my permission.

Not that permission would have been mine to give. I was a twelve year old kid who couldn’t be said to own much of anything. But the barn had belonged to my family for years and years, standing tall on our acres of rolling hills that were covered in forest and meadow, sprinkled with creeks, ponds, and sink holes. Until Grandpa had a another heart attack, and had to sell the farm to strangers.

He’d given my father a small corner of the property to build on a few years back. I would tiptoe over across the ravine sometimes to play on the “neighbor’s land”, even though I wasn’t supposed to anymore. I figured nothing had changed but the imaginary thing called “ownership”, and nobody could see you from the house in most places anyway. I trusted the deer not to tell.

I hiked over, down the ravine and up the other side, to sneak around back of the cattle barn. I crowned the steep hill panting, thinking of climbing hay bales behind the barn.

And it was just gone. Where the barn should have been, there was solid nothing. A hundred cubic meters of it, gaping wrongness ripped out of space and time. They might have seen me from the house, but I couldn’t care. I couldn’t breathe.

I staggered into the wreckage, chest tight and cheeks hot, burning with betrayal. Dust puffed up around my bluejeans as I fell to the earth and sat in stunned silence, breathing hard, surrounded by the shattered remains of memories a century older than I was. My throat ached, and water filled my eyes, blurring the lack of walls or feed troughs, as the reality of my loss swam into view at last. A sudden deluge.

I thought of the Middle Meadow, where the absent cattle had grazed. God, that meadow was drenched in sunlight, like nothing else I’ve known. The smell of morning dew rising from freshly cut hay, soaking into my socks around my ankles. Honeysuckle wafting down from the hills no matter which way the breeze was blowing. Sweet tartness of wild black raspberries well worth the bite of multiflora rose thorns, which always seemed to guard them. Lying in the sun on a pillow of grass, like nothing could ever change but the shapes in the clouds.

I thought of the creeks, bubbling up from icy springs, where Dad taught me to hunt for fossils. Plunk-splash of a heavy boulder lugged into the swimming hole. Shocking turquoise on black of a skink’s tail, scurrying beneath a new rock for cover. Wet grit washing from my hands into clear water. Damp and earthy musk of the ancient oak that gradually decomposed, having fallen across the stream before I was born. Its rough bark under my bare feet as I ran across, sat, and stretched onto my back, limbs spread over its solid enormity, gently expanding my torso on curved surface. Lazy swaying of the younger branches above us, rustling their leaves, whistling and creaking in the gusts. Gurgling water falling in a dozen pitches, echoing in deep hollow caverns or tinkling sharp against shards of shale and limestone.

I thought of the forests, feeding fertile soil, reaching up toward the sun. High call of the redtailed hawk who’d nested in the tallest tree at the top of the tallest hill since Dad was sixteen. Tracing the lines in the scarred bark at its the base where his initials, and those of his high school crush, proclaimed their love. Spongy crack of a morel mushroom plucked from beneath its leafy mayflower umbrella. Tag with my brother, dodging and climbing, swinging from thick grape vines. Smoke in the cold evening seeping into our clothes as we traded ghost stories and laughter around a camp fire. Singing folk songs in harmony above the symphony of crickets and spring peepers. Warmth of the fire at my feet as I burrowed deeper into my sleeping bag, just my nose poking out chill in the open air. Stars twinkling through the treetops. The grownups speaking in hushed whispers, pretending not to know we only pretended to sleep. The scent of Grandpa’s pipe.

My right hand shifted, and I felt the prick of a splinter. The ground was covered in shards of wood, everywhere I looked. I imagined gathering them all up, carrying them home, and gluing them back together, one by one. Restoring the whole from every sacred piece.

I pulled the splinter from my hand, and pocketed the shard it came from. Then I stood, wiped my face on my sleeve, and walked back across the ravine for the last time.

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