photo: rus vanwestervelt, 8/2/14
There’s an old barn on Deer Park Road in Finksburg, MD, that I have passed over 2,000 times in the past 7 years. It stands rather defiantly, showing the wear of decades of harsh weather. Each time I pass it, I am drawn to its stand-alone beauty against a backdrop of rolling hills of farmland and forest.
In these 7 years, I have breathed deeply in my approach to it. The calm it has brought me, though, has remained somewhat of a mystery. Our drive to Madelyn’s farm is a peaceful one, filled with plenty of natural settings, where the greens and the browns seem a little more saturated against the stirring skies.
Why am I drawn to this simple, weathered barn abandoned on the side of a winding road, a long drive that leads me to Liberty Reservoir, a place hardly lacking in steal-your-breath moments of beauty?
Earlier this year, I felt the call to this barn becoming stronger; the alluring pull seemed exquisite in its own right to slow down even more and see beyond its “macro” beauty. In matters of such callings, I don’t waste a lot of time pondering them. I simply answer them when I know it is time. It’s like seeing an image of a work of art in some magazine; on the page, it captivates our attention and makes a certain statement. To view that same image up close, to realize the power of each stroke of each color just inches from you, is an entirely different experience.
Yesterday, despite feeling a little worn down myself, the affinity piqued; as I neared the barn on my drive back to the farm, I could not refuse its calling. Every board comprising its structure seemed full of life, where colors of steel gray and black pulsed against a marvelous sky weaving a tapestry of deepening blues and purples. I slowed down and really observed the aged details in the wood, the crawl of the ivy along the vertical grooves in each plank, the fortitude of the doors to protect whatever rested in the darkness within.
Immediately I was taken back to the tobacco barns in Calvert County. A quarter-century ago, I spent several years living among them on the rolling spanse of land in Southern Maryland. The outside of these structures bore the brunt of the harsh elements year after year, protecting the precious commodities within its four walls. A quick glance from a passer-by would conjure thoughts of neglect for an antiquated building that should be deemed unsafe and dismantled, board by board, until all that remained was the dusty foundation it rested on for forty, fifty, or more years.
These barns thrived, despite their outward appearance. On some days, when the tobacco was hanging to dry inside, every fourth or fifth plank would be pulled away from the side of the building, letting oxygen and light into the barn like gills providing the necessary ingredients for a fulfilling life. In the few times I was allowed to enter the tobacco barns, the thin lines of light and the hint of a soft breeze was all I needed to know that this place breathed; the outer structure nurtured the hanging tobacco inside like a womb woos the unborn child with nutrients and love.
From the outside, it might not be the most beautiful sight to behold, but in appreciating the inner depth of its beauty, words become mere markers that fall short of capturing something so undefinable. It is alluring in the most inexplicable manner; to diminish its mystery with definitions of individuation compromise the very essence of its beauty.
It is enough to see and feel it breathe, to witness the miracle of its existence in the oft-blurred backgrounds of a bigger landscape.
In my car on Deer Park Road, I stopped. The barn loomed large with its boards towering over me. Before I raised my phone to snap a few pictures, I breathed the air around me; my lungs expanded with a harmony of life and decay, a decadence of life in balance. The swirling curves of crops to its right reminded me of a flow of life that moved beyond the barn in front of me, keeping everything in its rightful place for that longer journey.
But in those few, brief moments stopped along Deer Park Road, I allowed the energy of the barn to fill me completely. I wondered what it was protecting within, still to this day. What was it sheltering from the elements? What kept its boards pulsing with a charge so strong that I could not resist the urge to slow down, stop, and appreciate its beauty, its life?
Just a barn, or so it seems from the outside — at least to those who never slow down enough to feel the communal pulse of something larger within each of us.
I heard the hum of approaching cars, and so with a surge of new energy, I snapped a few pictures before rolling slowly away from the old barn on Deer Park Road. I glanced back at it in the mirror as I made my way around a final bend, and I could still feel the affinity of its calling. This time, though, I acknowledged its mystery with a new appreciation.