Resuscitating the Hay Barn

photo by Nate Gibson

This is the week of the year our barn is at its emptiest, right before it fills up again.  There is something very lonely about a barn completely empty of its hay stores.   Its hollow interior echoes with a century of farmers’ voices, whether soothing an upset cow during a difficult milking, or uncovering a litter of kittens high in a hay loft, possibly shouting orders to a steady workhorse, even startling out loud as a barn owl flies low overhead, or grumbling over a dead tractor battery.    The dust motes lazily drift by in the twilight, seemingly forever suspended above the straw covered wood floor, floating protected from the cooling evening breezes.

There is no heart beat left in an empty barn.  It is in full arrest, all life blood drained out, vital signs flat lined.   I can hardly bear to go inside.

If the weather cooperates before July 4, we’ll be cutting the grass the first day, strewing it about on the field to dry in a process called “tedding” the next, raking it into windrows the third,  and then baling it for pick up by our “family and friends” hay crew.  Suddenly, the barn is shocked back to a pulse, with the throb of voices, music blaring, dust and pollen flying chaotically, the rattle of the electric “elevator” hauling bales from wagon to loft,  the grunts and groans of the crew as they heft and heave the bales into place in the stack.  This often goes on late into the night, the barn ablaze with lights, the barnyard buzzing with excitement and activity.   It almost looks as if it is on fire.

Vital signs measurable, rhythm restored,  volume depletion reversed, prognosis good for another year.

A healthy rhythm is elusive in this modern age of full time jobs off the farm, necessitating careful coordination with the schedule of the farmer who cuts and bales for many neighbors all within the same window of good weather, plus adding in the high cost of fuel and labor.   The farmer races his equipment from field to field, swooping around with a goliath tractor taking 12 foot swaths, raising dust clouds, and then on to the next job.   It is so unlike the rhythm of a century ago when a horse drawn mower cut the tall grass in a gentle four foot swath, with a pulsing shh shh shh shh shh shh tempo that could be heard stretching across the fields. It is an unfamiliar sound today, the almost-silence of no motor at all, just the jingle of the harness and the mower blades slicing back and forth as the team pulls the equipment down the field.  We’ve lost the peacefulness of a team of horses at work, necessitating a slower pace and the need to stop at the end of a row for a breather.

Benjamin Janicki of Sedro Woolley raking hay with his team of Oberlanders

The old barn will be resuscitated once again.  Its floor will creak with the weight of the hay bales, the walls will groan with the pressure of stacks.  The missing shingles on the roof will be replaced and the doors locked tight against the winter winds.  But it will be breathing on its own, having needed only a short rest these last few weeks.

Inside, once again, filled to the brim, life is held tight by twine, just waiting to be released.

photo by Nate Gibson

Miss P’s Vision

Foundations of the 12 foot diameter WWII radio defense tower

When Evelyn Packham,  a well-traveled WWII era Registered Nurse working at Vancouver General Hospital in Vancouver, British Columbia, made a decision to retire, it was not with the intent to rest.  In 1952, she invested in a long stretch of clear cut coastal land and rocky beach on the remote West Coast Road, about 40 miles west of Victoria on Vancouver Island.  There she set up housekeeping with a couple dozen Burmese cats in an abandoned 12 foot diameter radio defense tower that stood near the rocky point of “Point No Point.”   It must have been a lonely life, as lonely as you can be in such a small space with that many cats.   The winter storms can be blustering and brutal, and the summer sunsets bright orange, painting a brilliant pathway on the waters of Juan de Fuca straight to her small spiral staircase leading to her compact living quarters.

photo by Nate Gibson

“Miss P” was apparently not one to dwell on loneliness.  As a gourmand with expertise from her many travels, she set to work having a tea house built inland on her property next to the coastal highway, perched high above the beach with expansive views to the south and west, so she could start cooking lunches and fixing afternoon teas for travelers spending a day or two visiting secluded beaches of the west coast of Vancouver Island.    There they could sit with binoculars in a sunroom with more windows than solid wall, gazing out at the passing orcas and gray whales as they swam by the Point.

She soon had a dedicated following of visitors and began building cabins for people to be able to stay at the Point, wander meandering pathways through the regrowth forest, and spend time on the beaches of the point.  She moved to a cabin herself, and the observation tower was pulled down, leaving only the octagonal foundation to remain covered with weeds.

We met Miss P in 1981 when we stayed at Point No Point for our honeymoon.  She was as formidable as the stories about her predicted, but determined that every visitor receive her personal greeting.   She sold Point No Point to a couple who lived near by who had worked for her over the years, and she remained in her cabin until her death in 1988.  Her ashes were spread out on the rocks of her beloved Point that she preserved with such determination and dedication.

Miss P's cabin
Miss P's cabin

Now when we go to Point No Point with our family, we ask to stay in Miss P’s cabin.  Even though it has been remodeled since her death, I can imagine her presence around each corner and out on the deck.    The bird song of the thrush and the call of the ravens have not changed from the day sixty years ago she arrived at the Point, and the waves crashing against the rocks of the beach are just as steady and unrelenting in their eternal rhythm.

The footbridge to the Point

Miss P bought a place that generations will continue to appreciate and enjoy, thanks to her foresight into the future from a little 12 foot diameter observation tower that had been built for defense purposes so many years ago.

Bless that vision.

Miss P's plaque on the Point far out on the rocks

Enjoy the Point No Point website at

Looking Back at My Reflection

Henry Polis 1968

In acknowledgment of Father’s Day, I pulled out a particular photo album that chronicles my father’s 1968 backyard project.   This was no ordinary project, but like every other project he took on, it was accomplished during the daylight hours after he got home from his desk job and then consumed most of his weekend waking hours.  He had been dreaming it up for a number of years, and then one day, grabbed a shovel and simply got started and didn’t quit until it was finished.

Grouting the tile perimeter

He was determined to build a full size swimming pool, by himself, with his own two hands.  He did use our little Farmall Cub tractor to blade away the first layer of topsoil, but the rest of the digging was by the shovel-full.   He wanted a kidney shaped pool rather than a rectangular one, so he soaked the wooden forms in water to form the graceful curves. The cement was poured by a cement truck, but the sidewalks were all self-mixed in our own little cement mixer that ran off a small engine.  The tile that lined the top of the pool was all hand grouted and placed, square by square.  The pumphouse/changing room was built alongside.

In the very bottom, installing a drain
Pouring the sidewalk by hand

I was 14 that summer, not truly understanding how extraordinary an effort this was, but simply accepting it as another “dad” project like any other he finished through sheer will, stubbornness and a desire to go on to the next challenge.   Now, over forty years later,  as an adult who is plum tired at the end of an office/clinic work day, I marvel at his energy putting in another four or five hours of physical labor when he came home at night.  No wonder he never suffered from insomnia.

I was in a hurry for it to be done...

Once the pool was declared finished, a hose ran water for several days, and it took 2 more days to heat it up to a temperature that was survivable.  Then my dad took the first dive in.

The best dive ever...

Once he had taken that first dive, he was happy.  He swam every once in awhile, but was soon onto another project (reconstructing a steel walled gas station that arrived on our farm in piles of panels on the back of a flat bed truck, so that he could have a full size “shop” to work on indoor projects during the winter).  It was sufficient for him to just to be able to say he had done it himself.

So as I study the look on my father’s face in these photos, I am startled to see my self looking back at me, like a reflection in the water.  I now realize determination and utter stubbornness can manifest in different ways.  I have no mechanical skills whatsoever,  but like my father,  I always have a dream I’m pursuing, and I keep at it until it is accomplished.

Thanks to my dad for showing me how to dive right into life.  The water’s fine.

We Middle Aged Gals Should Stick Together

I’m almost fifty six, well into my middle age.  Aside from the requisite hot flashes of this time of life, I’ve come to recognize a few common characteristics between myself and other women I know who are in my age range in comparison with what I see in the older mares on my farm.  I spend time every day with these Haflinger mares–one age 17+ and the other 19+ (who are not quite menopausal but sometimes act like it.)

For instance:

These mares still have a lot of life left.  They run like the wind when turned loose, their hair flies in the wind and they can buck, kick and fart with the best of them.

These mares know who they are.  There is no identity crisis here.  They are mothers who have pretty much finished their mothering years, and may well be on to their grandmothering years.  They still like to flirt and haven’t given up on the idea that they can still attract attention from a certain fella in the neighboring field.

These mares know their jobs very well, sometimes too well and anticipate what is being asked before it is requested.    They can go for long periods without work but once saddled or harnessed up and pointed in the right direction, it is like they’ve been doing their job every day for years.    No need for a steep learning curve, or reminder lessons.   No funny business or messing around.   There is pride in their work.   They can be a bit out of shape though, with a tendency toward the fluffy side of fitness, so they need a moment to catch their breath once in awhile.  Their muscles sometimes hurt the next day.  They break out in sweat easily.

These mares are opinionated.  There is no question they know their own minds, what they want and how they are going to get it.

These mares are stubborn.  Once they’ve decided something, it takes a sharp whack on the behind to change course.  Once they’ve decided they don’t like another horse, the only way to change that opinion is for the other horse to adopt an attitude of complete servitude and submission, giving way whenever approached and grooming the boss mare whenever asked.

These mares are hungry.   Always.  See “fluffy” above.

These mares don’t sleep much.  There is too much reason not to.  They might look like they are napping, but they are actually meditating on the next plan of action.

These mares are not as fussy about their appearance as they used to be.  The four foot manes have been rubbed down to two foot manes and may have a few more tangles in them.   They stride through mud puddles without a second thought, whereas when they were younger, there was no way a hoof was going to set foot in such dirty stuff.

These mares don’t keep as tidy a bedroom as they used to.  Why bother?

These mares know how to make best friends and keep them.  If their best forever friend is not turned out with them in the field, they will stand at the gate, and call nonstop for an hour asking where she is.

These mares know how to give great kisses and hugs.  Especially if you are hiding a carrot on your person.

Yes, we middle aged gals, human and equine,  do have a lot in common.    Nice to know we can stick together, through thick and …well, thick.