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Shared Exploration (Part II)

I turned the jeep around and headed back up the sand lane to 84 and continued south, then turned left on to Pritchard’s road. I told Jesse as we drove that the prairie on our right was restored prairie – predominately little bluestem. But where we were going wasn’t restored but just taken out of production, retired from farming and left to do its own thing. I accidentally drove past the grass driveway to the ruins. I forgot exactly where it was until I was already past it. So I continued on to Goose Landing, the parking spot being a better place to turn around than the road. Jesse was surprised it was completely empty. I was too given how full West Newton was and how busy it had been in the winter.

I remarked, “It was really busy for ice fishing.” And added, “This was dredged last summer.”

Again, I didn’t stop driving but turned the jeep around and pulled back on to the road, driving back the way we’d come. Passing some houses, mostly on our right, a few were in the woods on our left. We went around a bend and the left side opened up to flat prairie, the right side opened up into rolling prairie. Then there was a big cluster of red pine trees. Just a little beyond the red pines was the grassy driveway I was looking for. I pulled into the driveway a little ways so the jeep was off the road. We stepped out of the jeep to walk the rest of the way. The little lane was quite narrow; it was only wide enough for one vehicle. This land is now owned by the Nature Conservancy. A sign stands guard saying motorized vehicles are prohibited.

We walked near the pines. There were a few other, small trees along the outside. Although we admired the red pines we talked about the importance of preserving the prairie – a special ecosystem. We hadn’t walked very far before we spotted an animal skull and vertebrae resting on leaves under the branches of a small tree; a couple of leaves lay across it here and there. Of course, we had to get a closer look at it which meant crouching under the branches, snapping some and crunching on leaves. Neither one of us were sure what it was, both lacking in the knowledge of how to identify animals by their skeleton or skull – something I should probably learn. However, we guessed it was most likely a deer. We only lingered a moment before we untangled ourselves from the branches and returned to the grassy lane. The grass driveway wasn’t lush but patchy green with new blades of grass poking up through the brown dead grass. We continued our walk, passing the hill on our right that Larry and I had rested upon to get out of the wind back in March. On our left, the trees gave way to the prairie. Jesse admired the amber grass, “What is it?” he asked.

“Little bluestem,” I replied, “It’s an awesome looking plant.” We continued walking. I was getting hot and a little sweaty from the walk but didn’t want to take off my long sleeve shirt because it was tick season.

Jesse mock whined, “How far is it? Will we be there soon? We’ve been walking for awhile.”

“I guess it is further in than I thought but I think we’re almost there.” We kept walking. I pushed my sleeves up but then remembering the threat of ticks pulled them back down again a moment later.

Noticing a sparrow on the branch of a small oak tree, Jesse asked, “Do sparrows sing?”

“Yes, they sing. There are song sparrows too.” (There were birds singing but I couldn’t identify them.) White flowers growing mostly in the middle of the driveway caught my attention. They grew on a long whitish, green stem. Alternating green leaves which were oblong. The flowers grew in a cluster on the top of the stem. We didn’t know the name of the flowers. (I looked them up later and I’m pretty sure they’re hoary alyssum, which is a non native, a European import and grows in disturbed sites.) We admired a few large oak trees. Once we rounded the trees, there was the stone wall of the old barn, still some yards away. I was really eager to show Jesse the remains of the stone barn and the other buildings. The grass around the barn was quite tall already, so we paused to tuck our pant legs into our socks hoping to deter ticks – it looked silly but we didn’t care.

When Larry and I explored the former farmstead in March we didn’t get up close to the remains of the barn though I had desired to, I had wanted to walk in it, touch the stones – just feel it. Now with Jesse I had the opportunity to do so, he also wanted to get up close to the crumbling stone walls. Jesse and I both have explorer spirits in us, minus the desire to claim, conquer, and exploit what we discover, but the desire to explore, to experience and learn and, at least for me, to step outside myself and connect with the timeless wonder of nature and experience the divine. We approached it from the northeast corner. The two stone side walls were mostly intact as was the north end which looked to have a large doorway. I peered into a hole in the wall which at one point held a window – I was trying to imagine what I’d see peeking into the window when the barn was new or at the very least still whole and in use. Jesse moved on ahead of me along the east side wall. I placed my hand on the stone in the window space – it was cool to the touch. Following Jesse to the southeast corner, we paused to check out the silo, just a ring and a hole. Brambles grew in the silo pit. Someone mistook the pit for a trash bin, we saw several broken old toys down in there, mostly from the mid – 1980s to mid – 1990s. A standard brown rubber bear, sitting up with a red bow painted on – it seemed like every household with kids in the 80s and 90s had one of these, both of our families did. Another very standard toy of that time, a small, hard plastic airplane. It’s wheels were made out of a different grade of plastic – my brothers had a few of these. I can only remember green and blue ones but I’m sure they came in more colors. There were a few other things as well. The bear was still in good condition. Jesse asked, “Do you want to take it home?” mostly joking. I often have nieces and nephews at my house.

After considering it for a moment, I replied, “No, I won’t take it home.” I had been standing on the edge of the ring, looking down into the hole. Jesse asked what the brambles were called – I told him I wasn’t sure what species it was but I took a picture of it so I could have it identified by someone who knows plants. He moved on first, walking along the south end of the barn, examining what was left of the south wall. I also left the silo ring; however, I went at a slower pace, pausing first to take in the end of the east wall. I contemplated and was delighted by the varying textures and colors of the stones in the structure. Some kind of cement like mortar held the stones in place. A wooden beam stuck out the end a couple feet above ground level which filled me with curiosity as to its role in forming the structure. Jesse stood several feet away from me, lost in his own thoughts, wonderings, and examining the remains of the barn. I loved the earth tones of the wall, it was like looking at a cutaway of the side of a bluff with different layers and colors, with only the beam to give away the fact it wasn’t a bluff face I was looking at. The entire south wall lay on the ground, a pile of rocks with grass and brambles starting to grow on it, with a nice cover of leaves here and there. On top of the pile of stones was a piece of an old wooden beam. I joined Jesse where he stood. We both speculated the purpose of the wooden beam at the end of each wall. Jesse thought perhaps it was to attach a wooden wall on the south end to the stone walls except that there was the remains of another stone wall lying on the ground. Perhaps to attach a wooden door to the structure? The stone walls weren’t very tall, maybe eight – nine feet. There probably had been a loft with wooden floor and walls for holding hay. What was left of the roof was leaning on the outside of the west wall, wood decaying. The interior walls seemed to have been covered in some sort of plaster, which had sloughed off in some places. We stood looking into what remained of the barn. Several young maples trees of various size and age were growing there. The floor was covered in grass that was becoming lush in the mid spring warm up. A few brambles grew near the south end. A tree grew very close to the doorway on the north end. A few different pieces of metal, sheets and pipes, rusted with time lay strewn here and there.

Imagining the barn in its former glory, I remarked, “This would have been the main barn used for housing animals. They probably milked cows in here.” I pictured piles of hay, cows tied up on one side, horses in stalls on the other. Dimly lit, dark; not bright like it was today. The air would be filled with the sweet smell of hay, musty smell of straw, rich smell of manure, mingled with the stale breath of animals. Spider webs would dangle from the nooks and crannies of the ceiling, glittering like precious stones in shafts of sunlight filtering through the dim and dusty windows. That same sunlight would illuminate the dust particles floating through the air. Cows would munch contentedly on hay and grain, and then chew their cud. A cat or two would patrol the place keeping the rodent population to a minimum, and perhaps be rewarded with a little fresh milk when milking time rolled around, early in the morning and late afternoon.

Jesse added, “Yeah, there’s a faint indent where a gutter could have been.” Once he pointed it out, I saw it too. I wondered about the history of the farm – who were the people who lived here? How had they seen the land? How had they experienced this place? There were still some wooden frames in the windows, but if there ever had been glass in them, it was long gone. I walked into the barn, not quite down the whole length of it but nearly; I wanted to feel it, to experience it, to try to get a glimpse of the life it had had – to be transported back in time. My imagination and experiences of other barns would have to suffice. Jesse remained at the south end while I was exploring the interior. All these thoughts and musings, and exploration through time took less than ten minutes though it had felt longer. I rejoined Jesse at the southern end, we then moved on from the barn to explore more of the abandoned farmstead.

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