Friday, 3 October 2014

If a Barn Falls on the Prairie...

...and no one is there to hear it, does it  make a sound?

This was once one of the largest barns in the district. Date of collapse unknown. North of Hardy. October 30, 2013.

Saskatchewan is littered with the decaying corpses of barns. There are even more unmarked barn graves. One of the oldest barns in my immediate area was torn down just the year before I began my research. A casual passerby would never know it had been there. The barn was demolished, the debris pushed into a giant hole that had been dug for the purpose, and filled in. No gravestone.

This summer, two big barns on Highway 6 south of Regina blew down in a severe thunderstorm. In both cases, the houses were miraculously spared. But the barns, one of them painted within the past five years or so, reflecting the owner`s care for it, were destroyed in seconds. It was something people talked about. Landmarks, gone. Another barn, a less impressive white gable roofed building, on the same stretch of highway fell sometime last year. It had developed a severe lean and every time I drove past it, I knew it wasn`t long for this world. Now the roof sits on top of the collapsed barn. It was like an old horse that just lay down one day and couldn`t get back up again. I wonder if anybody witnessed the exact moment it happened, and if so, if they felt a sense of loss.

There`s something about seeing a collapsed barn that speaks to the impermanence and constant change of our existence. It also, at a more mundane level, speaks to the constant evolution of agriculture. But it`s more poignant than that. If it wasn`t, people wouldn`t be talking about the destruction of barns that had no personal connection to them in such a sad and nostalgic way, like they did a couple of months ago when I was sitting in the doctor`s office and that was the topic of choice for waiting room chatter.

On my barn hunting expeditions last year, I saw countless barns that had lost their battle with the elements, had succumbed to the fierce prairie wind. Some hang on for years in a perpetual lean, facing off against Nature, the force working ceaselessly to take them down. Some slowly rot from the inside out, their nails rusting slowly away, leaving nothing to hold the barn together. Some, their roofs bare to the sky and the rain and snow that comes from it, collapse into themselves. Still others, like the two on Highway 6, looked strong and sturdy. They had been taken care of, looked after, nurtured in their old age. And one freak wind destroyed them.

The Gothic roof style is still visible. October 30, 2013.

The overgrown trail is a testament to the neglect of this long abandoned farmstead. October 30, 2013.