I am not a “Carpenter” either in song or with saw.
Yet, once, I built a shed of old recovered barn wood.
That was in the days before I was taking and collecting pictures of life. So, the images you see in this post are from others who also love old barns for what they are and for their potential in another form.
If you read my last post, you know that Patricia and I are reading to each other at the dinner table . . . and, you know that just now we are reading from Mary Oliver’s most recent book, “Upstream: Selected Essays.”
What you don’t know is we finished Mary’s book last night.
The final essay in the book (175 pages in all) is titled, “Provincetown.” That chapter ends with these words: “I don’t know if I am heading toward heaven or that other, dark place, but I know I have already lived in heaven for fifty years. Thank you Provincetown.”
I encourage anybody living permanently or for part of the time, in Northport, Michigan, to read this book . . . most especially read the final essay . . . for . . .
it is true, we too are living in a place on earth “that is crammed with heaven!” (Elizabeth Barrett Browning). Thank you, Northport.
The place I chose to build that-long-ago-shed was on the slope of a sandy hill leading steeply toward a small little known inland lake in northern Wisconsin. To make a level space for the shed required shoring up the shoreward side of the shed location with pick-up-load after pick-up-load after pick-up-load of big and bawdy rocks of northern Wisconsin National Forest.
I traveled the forest roads and selected rocks and loaded them . . .
ummmmmppppphhhhhh . . . .
Some of them . . .
were mighty and full of the weight of the earth . . .
Even so, I loaded them into the bed of the pick-up.
The pick-up groaned.
More than once she listed this way and that with the weight of all within her.
It was like birth.
These ancient remnants of another time
(and I imagined artfully)
arranged in order to bring a level and smooth place
that could not before have been imagined
I remember my wall-of-resistance-to-the-natural-inclination-of-sand as seven or eight tiers high to make the platform for the shed that was yet to be. It was taller than I am tall. It required a lot of ancient forest rocks, some of them bigger than a fella of my size alone shoulda been hefting into the bed of a pick-up.
But heft I did.
And . . .
then . . .
the flat place was secure.
So . . .
I built the shed.
It was a rudimentary building.
It was small.
It was linear in the way of things . . .
My trusty bubbled level told me all was as as it should be.
It was made of ancient stuff – all of it – the wood, the nails – all of it – except the cedar shingles for the roof which were bought new from the nearby lumber yard.
The little-shed-that-phil-built was made of ancient stuff.
It had no windows,
but it had a door that opened . . .
a door that was hung with the ancient, oversized hinges of a much bigger building.
I loved how easily the shed door swung open.
The floor was sand.
This shed-of-my-creation was roughly made.
It’s only purpose was to store stuff small enough to fit within its walls.
I loved it.
I loved that I had made it.
That was another time and in another place.
I am not sure if the shed is still standing.
It would be awesome if it is.
Yet . . . standing or not . . .
did you you know . . .
taking down a barn in order to make a shed (and some other stuff too) from the ancient timbers of the barn that needs to come down . . . well . . . it is alot of work and it takes alot of hours.
I invited my two youngest children, Noah and Jacob, to help me with the project.
I decided it would take a week.
They said, “yes.”
Sometimes what I decide is not possible .
Be that as it may, we camped in a tent near this ancient farm structure in a field of the earth’s many blessings, the two of them and me. I was dad, cook, bottle washer, crew chief for the dismantling, and the one in awe of these two young ones.
I was the one who was supposed to have a plan and know how all this would work out.
The truth is . . .
it takes more than a week
to take down a barn that has been standing for a hundred years or more . . .
especially if the crew is like the one I assembled . . .
two early teen sons and their father.
Even so . . .
the barn came down.
We took off side boards.
We piled them up.
with the assistance of the pickup, we pulled the old structure to the earth.
Later, after I took these amazing young men back to their mother, I piled and hauled the salvaged lumber and brought it near to the place I hoped to build a shed . . .
Whether or not the shed remains doesn’t matter.
The crew that helped me dismantle in order to build . . .
these two, Noah and Jacob . . .
each in their own beautifully unique ways . . .
have become builders . . .
creative, intuitive, skilled builders.
Builders of . . .
love and structures and sets and pottery and furniture and cabinets and art and life.
These two are now men.
Before the barn came down, we swung on a rope that hung high-and-high in the sky of the barn. With a running leap we would fly off the old barn’s loft, holding onto the knots of rope, and swing out and over the abyss of antiquity.
Noah and Jacob went before me.
It was exuberant and playful and wild.
Ohhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhh the soaring.
They were/are so beautiful.
After them, I took the rope.
I soared . . .
ooooohhhhhhhhhmmmmmmmyyyyyyy . . .
I was free . . .
and . . .
I waited too long at the end of the ride . . .
to let go . . . .
the back of my body careened with the force of flight
into the timbers of the ancient loft that were still solid.
The abrupt stop took all the air out of me . . .
it hurt . . .
as I dropped to the barn’s old floor.
I was the only one of the thee of us old enough to have a drivers license.
I was “the adult.”
I wondered as I slumped on the ground below the loft . . .
having been liberated from the rope . . .
if I was injured beyond repair.
Turned out I was not.
Eventually, my wind came back.
I slept through the night on the ground in a sleeping bag in a tent.
In the morning, we carried on.
The blow of the loft’s timbers to my suspended-in-air-swinging-body,
was just that . . .
We carried on.
Tonight, Patricia read Mary Oliver’s next to last chapter, “Building a House,” from Mary’s newest book “Upstream: Selected Essays.”
Patricia read . . . because she actually built a house in Northern Wisconsin.
The only building I ever built was a small-barnwood-shed-with-no-windows-and-a-door-that-opened-with-ease.
Mary’s essay begins: “I know a young man who can build almost anything – a boat, a fence, kitchen cabinets, a table, a barn, a house. And so serenely, and in so assured and right a manner, that it is a joy to watch him.”
I know two such young men.
Their names are Noah and Jacob.
Long ago with them I swung
on a rope, and soared, in the strawy aura of an old barn.
It was breathtaking.
the three of us,
take the old barn down.
Today they . . .
both of them . . .
Noah and Jacob . . .
both of them . . .
Is the old barn part of that?
I don’t know.
For sure their creativity is part. . .
the of hearing stories at bedtime at night is part. . .
our awe of an ancient old barn in a field we took down is part . . .
ohhhhh . . .
Who knows all the pieces of their creativity.
Together we took the barn down.
I built a shed on a sand hill leading to a little known lake.
They build beauty.
Serene. Assured. Right a manner.
It is an honor to be kin.
4 thoughts on “Once I built a shed”
I add “builder” to “digger, listener, runner…”
smiling at you
I really enjoyed this one, Phil..the whole story took me right along with you and my smile stayed on my face, even through that painful rope swing when you waited too long to let go…You are blessed with your wonderful sons and they are blessed with you as their father.
Oh, my. I am awestruck. I guess that means this essay was awesome! Thank you, Phil. Your stories still weave magic. Thank you.