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Thursday, September 9, 2010

The barn fixin'

Anderson barn

I have always had a fascination with the big old barns of the Olympic Peninsula.
This used to be farm country.  Children were farm machinery.  You could get on a crew bucking hay bales into a truck then piling them in a barn.
That was the hard part. About the time you got a real haystack going it would start tipping over. If the haystack fell down it could take the barn with it since even back then these old pioneer structures were infested with termites, carpenter ants and powder post beetles to the point where they had the structural integrity of shredded wheat.
Every year the storms of winter knock down another old barn. They are relics of another time, when people lived on the land and worked together to grow their own food. Barn raisings were a regular community event.  People helped one another because building a barn is not a one man job. 
The farmer would have all the main beams cut, the poles for the frame peeled with a big stack of hand split cedar shakes all ready to nail over the top once the crew showed up. Did I forget the foundation? That’s because many pioneer architects did not believe in them.
They buried cedar logs as an excuse for a foundation with the firm conviction: “I’ll be dead by the time this rots.” 
Once the barns were abandoned, the wildlife moved in. One day an owner of an historic barn asked me to look at something weird up in the hay loft.
The barn was built before the hay bailing machine made it to the frontier. Hay was cut with a scythe, raked into piles, forked into a wagon that was hauled to the barn. There, a medieval nightmare of cables, blocks and a hay hook contraption lifted the hay up into the loft in a process that must have been fun to watch from a safe distance.
Now the hayloft was empty except for some critter that had made a nest in it.
Something had piled some old hay in a nest about four feet in diameter and here was the weird part. There were elk bones, big ones, some of them with the hooves attached lying in and around the pile of hay.
Whatever collected the bones could not have been too heavy since the boards of the hay loft were really rotten. You could fall to your death if you stepped in the wrong place.
There was a little barn owl up in the rafters but he was too puny to fly around with an elk bone. We climbed back down out of the loft and stood there wondering what would make a huge mess like that.
All of the sudden a big fast shadow swooped in through the barn door and landed above our heads without making a sound.
It was a Great Gray Owl. These are huge birds are not supposed to be here but it was, scavenging the remains of the elk hunting season and flying them home through an open barn door.
The trouble was the barn was falling down. The owls were in danger of being homeless except for a surviving pioneer ethic that got a few neighbors together for a barn fixin’.
Unfortunately, as the official bird watcher, I was unable to participate in the heavy lifting. I did however keep a sharp eye out for any movement of the structure since old barns have been known to fall down once you start fixing them. It didn’t though.
The owl’s have a home for another winter.

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