Moats: The Old Barn

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(Host) Commentator David Moats is an author and Pulitzer Prize-winning editorial writer at the Rutland Herald who recently had to take down an old barn. And that got him thinking about the passage of time, and why we save the things we do.

(Moats) I had an old barn behind my house that had to come down before it fell down. Every time we had a lot of snow I’d go out in the morning to see if it was still standing. It turns out it was leaning against a tree so firmly it might have stood there for years, but you never know.

My house was built in the mid-19th century, during the administration of James K. Polk. That means the timbers were hewn from trees that were growing during the administration of George Washington.

I don’t know when the barn was built; but it was a nice, small, functional barn with stalls for horses and enough room to shelter my lawn mower and canoe and firewood. I liked it, and I was sorry to see it come down, but I had to admit it had seen better days.

There’s a lesson here about the passage of time and the fleeting duration of human works.

It’s too bad the barn had been neglected over the decades, but as of 2012 there was no saving it. A researcher from UVM came through a year ago taking a census of barns, and he counted mine. Proving, I guess, that every census is quickly out of date.

As I sifted through the rubble of the barn, I encountered remnants of the past: bits of rusty metal, old fishing lures, plastic toys, golf balls, tobacco tins, a soda can. It all mattered at one time, even the grape soda that came out of that discarded can. I found an old scrap of newspaper from 1974 with a photo of Dick Mallary, the recently deceased former legislator and congressman.

We don’t preserve the past when we preserve these old buildings. It’s not possible. Every day the past gets pushed away, second by second, minute by minute. There’s nothing we can do about it. We preserve the old stuff, as we can, for the sake of the present and the future.

We make the present better when we put a fresh coat of paint on an old house or repair the rotting sill of an old barn. We create a gift for the future of sturdy, beautiful old buildings and towns that work as human habitations. My barn was too far gone, but we’ll build something in its place, a building for horsepower, more than for horses, as well as for my firewood and canoe. A hundred years from now maybe my new garage will be viewed as an antique.

I remember once I stayed in an inn in Austria that dated from the 13th century. Now that’s old, I thought.

Of course, we’re all getting older, every day, every minute, and I suppose everything is relative. I date from Harry S Truman, rather than James K. Polk, but I’ve got granddaughters now, and their smiles repair the world.

Meanwhile, it’s spring, and it’s time to plant. Autumn will come soon enough.

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