Wednesday, May 7, 2008
What is it about the great farmstead atop True Mountain that I find so compelling?
Certainly, it is the silence. By that, I don't mean that all is quiet. Especially now, as spring is in full fling, the avian choirs at dawn and dusk are glorious and loud. No, it is the silence inside where the gates and chains in the milking parlor no longer jingle, and the skuffing field mouse along a purlin seems loud. But other farmsteads are similarly still.
It is also the great age of the silence. For a hundred years from 1860 the busi-ness of the farm was handed from father to son: Fields were plowed, cows were milked, horses were shod atop True Mountain, until in 1960 it all stopped. Then the scurrying began. Vines slipped under the brittle, shrunken barn boards. Pigeons nested in the two great silos. Windows slipped and shards of broken glass were found. The rafters belonged to the mudwasps and hornets, the sparrows and bats. The chimneys, through fifty unheated seasons of wet and dry, crumbled without a sound.
It is also the buildings themselves that amplify the silence - so many brittle facades that give form to barn yard and door yard, to the ladies' flower gardens and the men's vegetable gardens. And from the courtyards and gardens old farm roads reach in all directions to the fields and the pastures and the orchards, and water flows in channels and clay pipes carefully designed to fill the cow pond and keep the farm roads dry. The tumble of buildings gives form to the daily routine. I guess at the purpose of each structure and speculate on the activities of the day. On the way from the cow barn to the stable I stop at the blacksmith's shop or peek in at the chicken house. I wonder if more corn is needed up at the farmstand by the road or if the barnyard needs shoveling. When I look again the dooryard has lost all focus, and the barnyard is dry and tidy, the vegetable garden is all weed and the outhouse door is always shut.
Most of all it is the two great wooden silos that hug the farmstead and tower above it. The wind of fifty winters and the sun of fifty summers have dessicated the joists and the planking of the barns since they fell silent. Nails rattle like loose teeth. The great iron belts of the silos fall slack as the boards of the silos contract their girth, yet the great skeletons stand as if almost ready for another day of chores to begin. When I climb inside one of the silos I see stamped onto the frame: "Unadilla Silo Company, Unadilla, NY, Silos & Tanks - Stanchions & Partitions. pat. 228904."
Venerate these old barns, eggshell-thin and brittle,
Even as the season springs its fling, unflings its spring,
and around the crumbling cow stalls green things slither toward light.