The neighbors must have wondered why a stranger in her Sunday best was picking through the rubble where a barn once stood. Weeds and tree saplings had grown where stanchions once held holsteins, and granite field stones were scattered where they had broken free from the mortar and tumbled from the collapsing walls.
She hiked up her skirt and tip-toed down the center of the cement foundation amid nail-laden and splintered boards, where barn cats and an old collie named Butch used to drink fresh, warm milk given to them by a little farm girl.
This farm girl.
Nearly 40 years had passed since I stepped foot inside that barn, or what was left of it. Now, instead of looking up to see expansive rafters that supported thousands of hay bales in the hayloft, I saw puffy clouds above me with windows of blue.
I navigated my way to where the milk house had been. Despite the lumber being salvaged from the rest of the barn, the wooden door remained. I wrapped my hand around the rusty door handle and envisioned my seven-year-old fingers pulling on the latch to swing the door open.
This is where my love of the land and nature was formed at a young age. This is where I fed calves, climbed wooden ladders, and skimmed cream from the bulk tank for hot chocolate and fresh butter. This is where I’d run out the back door and across the muddy field in spring to that magical forest where trilliums, bloodroot, and trout lilies beckoned me.
My heart mourned the destruction of the once beautiful structure. This barn had built me in a way, and seeing it crumbled to the ground felt like a piece of me crumbled with it.
I kicked aside a rock with my sandal, a rock that was likely picked from the surrounding fields 100 years ago to lay the foundation. I stooped to pick it up and held it in my hand.
Then another. And another.
I gathered dozens of large stones and placed them in a pile, as though they were an altar built to remind me that even though the barn was gone, the memories remained. The current owner was kind enough to invite me, my mother, and sister into the home where I grew up, and said I could take whatever I wanted from where the barn had been.
I gathered the rocks and loaded them into the truck. When I got home I arranged them in one of my perennial flower beds to serve as a reminder of where I came from and where my love of gardening began.
To others who may pass by, they look like ordinary rocks. But to me, there’s a story in the stones, a story that is as enduring as the glaciers from which they were scattered into the fields of my childhood.