Updated: Oct 10
From Comfort is an Old Barn by Amy Calder
I hate seeing old barns sagging and leaning from the weight of time and aging timbers.
Many years ago, as I traveled around central Maine chasing stories, I’d make mental notes of all those old barns I saw, with the intention of one day photographing them and collecting the images in a book.The barns were so beautiful, their gray shingles weathered from sun, rain, and snow. I knew that one day they’d fall away and disappear, and we’d never see them again. I regret that I never photographed them as planned.
The old barns of Maine carry lots of stories, hold many memories, and remind us of the sweetness of rural life. There’s something exquisite about an old barn standing there in a field, a remnant from a time when farmers tossed hay into wagons with pitch forks on a hot summer day, the scent of fresh hay wafting through the air.
Barns were an integral part of my youth; I can’t dream about my past without remembering those magnificent structures where horses stomped around in their stalls, eyeing us curiously as we approached, and cows chewed on feed. The scent of hay was intoxicating. My friends and I would climb up into the haylofts and meander through the bales, hold conferences, and take turns jumping off into hay mounds below.
Barns were great napping places—quiet, comfortable, and safe.
It was never a wasted day, spending time in a barn with the animals—feeding, washing, and brushing a horse; shoveling manure and spreading a fresh bed of straw; or merely sitting on a bucket, watching someone else do it. Sweeping away errant chaff from old barn boards, polishing a saddle, organizing bits and bridles on posts: it was all good work, satisfying work.
I got to thinking about those barns one day while attempting to tidy up and organize my mother’s barn—the barn I spent many days in as a youth. I know every nook and cranny of that old structure, every beam, peg, and hole in the floorboards. The barn still visits my dreams, albeit it has been decades since I played there.
As children, we staged plays and dance recitals in the second-floor loft, assigning seats below to the mothers of the neighborhood kids who performed there. We played house, hospital, hide-and-seek, and storekeeper in the barn, climbing deftly up and down beams like monkeys, never needing a ladder. We had hiding places, cubby holes, and special rooms designated for club meetings. The barn kept our secrets.
My friend Terri got the nickname “Hayseed” from spending so much time there. It was our castle, the place we ran to when a summer shower struck; it was a daylong refuge during a good, hard rain. There’s nothing so sweet as sitting just inside the open front door of a barn during a downpour, watching the world outside from that safe, dry, contemplative place.
There’s comfort to be found from being inside a barn—a sense of being grounded.
Although we sold the family property in Skowhegan after my mother died on New Year’s Day in 2015, I still dream about the old barn where I spent so many happy hours. In those modern dreams, I climb to the second-floor loft where an ancient, dusty canoe lies across the floorboards, chipped cups and saucers we used to playhouse are scattered about, boxes of discarded books and other debris are stacked in corners, and barn swallows are swooping in and out of a broken window at the roof’s peak.
Balancing as if on a tightrope, I step across a wooden plank perched over an open chicken coop below. Although the plank bows in the middle, I never fall in.
Those dreams, I think, portend that all is well, despite what we have lost to time. In those old barns, we learned, discovered, imagined, dreamed fearlessly—and prevailed.
This excerpt serves as the first story within Comfort is an Old Barn by Amy Calder, an award-winning newspaper reporter and columnist, covering city government and everything from murders and car crashes to fires and drug busts. Amy's 34-year career started at the Morning Sentinel bureau in Skowhegan, where she served as bureau chief for several years and chased stories from Jackman to Fairfield and Farmington to Newport. Since 2009, Calder has written a weekly human interest column, “Reporting Aside,” which appears in both the Sentinel and the Kennebec Journal. Comfort is an Old Barn is a curated collection of those columns, which include sketches of the colorful characters, quirky animals she has encountered, and special moments, as well as personal stories that make living in Maine special.