Looking Up:

Catnaps, Landfills and Soul

By Bob Grindle

The barn is cold this early afternoon in mid-February…it’s a damp and chilly sort of gloominess that can settle in when the lights are off, and the sky is gray. The daylight filtering through the windows of this earth-floored building seems tired and lacking in the energy that bright sunlight usually brings. Still, resting here on a couple of stacked hay bales watching the snow fall, charmingly framed by an open door that faces our warmly-lit house on this day before Valentine’s Day, I feel a cozy, dream-like sense of comfortable satisfaction…almost as if the goats are back. Sitting here staring at the date ‘November 1981’ carved into the cement window ledge, I am transported back to that summer when we built this still unfinished building more than 40 years ago. What triggers our mind to replay these episodic memories with such clarity? …a smell?… a sound?… a vision?… a pattern in, or atmosphere of a place?… Perhaps something less familiar; harder to quantify, an ether of the place?… the ancient civilizations might have offered such an explanation. Something so ethereal and yet so familiar that I wonder how far across a dream can we travel before the curtain rises and we tumble off the proscenium into a reality that challenges our sense that moments and places and things have soul. Many of the indigenous peoples that inhabited the western hemisphere in the millennia before they encountered Europeans had developed spiritual beliefs that viewed the Earth as the mother to all things, and since all creatures and plants depended upon Mother Earth for water, food, shelter and clothing, it followed that we are all bound together as kin. History took another path though and civilization has drawn us away from our roots in the planet.

We built this barn in 1981. Sitting here on the hay, my feet up on the old milking stand as the snow falls, I close my eyes, lay my head back against the stone wall and can see my wife Linda’s concrete smudged cheeks, our 3 year old son struggling with stones bigger than his age, a couple of near-teen nephews who spent that summer of 1981 with us so my sister could deal with a  crumbling marriage and, of course, the cute-as-a-button Nubian goat kid we had just bought locally that would set us on a journey of milking, morning and night, for more than 30  years. In less than the span of a catnap, I relive an entire summer, building a barn that we needed but could not afford…so many trips back and forth to the Hampton/Scotland dump, like some sort of reverse landfill, to scavenge virtually everything but the concrete…we made it affordable. Yes, this place has soul. 

As the Earth turns slowly eastward the afternoon cools, the pulse of the wind quickens and the snowfall slows. I open my eyes. The decades old images and sounds of a temporal lobe in replay mode dissolve quickly into the damp, chill atmosphere of the afternoon and are quickly, safely shelved again in the vaulted recesses of my brain. Heading back to the house, I start composing this piece for the March issue of Neighbors knowing that the brief reverie of how the barn got built will stick with me long enough that I won’t have to stop right away and write it down. Stopping to gather eggs at the chicken house, I turn to look back at the barn as a fleeting thought occurs about whether the swallows will return this year…last year’s nearly unending rain seemed to reduce the success of their nesting…and I feel a certain excitement to think about the coming season. It will feel good to step into the warmth of the house. Yes, this moment has soul.

There has been so little sun these last six weeks that I am beginning to think of the night sky as something of a pen-pal. Even the dawn and dusk transitions have mostly been cloudy with mist, rain or snow present or threatening and this early evening is no exception…as I enter the house I kick the snow off my boots, turn to look to the east where Orion is rising, along with his hunting companions Canis Minor and Canis Major as they chase Taurus across a cloud shrouded cosmic stage. Oh well, there are clear skies to come and perhaps April’s eclipse will dazzle us all. For the time being, though, March is on it’s way with its own streaming service at no charge…Venus has vacated our morning skies, to be replaced by Saturn and Mars, Jupiter will remain in the night sky until Venus reappears late in April as the evening star outshining Jupiter.

If evening skies are agreeable on March 13th, one of the month’s more dramatic sights will be a very brilliant Jupiter and a waxing crescent Moon hanging high over the western horizon about an hour after sunset…that would be nearly 8 pm because, yes, daylight savings time begins Sunday morning, March 10th! And just a week later Spring arrives on the 19th of March. No matter the uncertain vagaries of Spring in southern New England, you can feel our delightful landscape peeling up and out of its layers of winter-time slumber and calling out to each of us to shake off the dust of last year’s not quite completed projects (perhaps finish shingling the barn) and find the energy and joy that comes with the changing of the season. Be well and enjoy the coming change of the Spring equinox, and if there’s a place where you enjoy peeling back the layers that modern life often weighs us all down with, spend a little extra time there.

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