From a grassy field roadside, I gather up the picture of a broken barn with history clear tumbling from it’s splintered walls, the jagged boards dark, like the trunks of trees. These planks, hewn from deadwood dragged, shaped over sawdust piles, sanded, treated, painted; nailed sharp, clean, with a satisfied whack—these planks caught the sweat of the arms that lifted them. These once looked all new, once seemed strong and solid, fresh and functional, like we do when we’re young. But now, the barn has settled and spread, becoming a watchful art, an eccentric mosaic, peace and wild flowers, hay heaped sweet, the deep knowledge of life lived full.
I stare at the barn as we pass, gathering in its elegance, thinking about how it now returns to what it once was, not the sleek, polished, conjured thing it came to be early, but the organic truth at the core—the raw dark wood smelling of earth. I can’t look away. Grass grows green in the wall cracks, as though while the structure sinks, the ground rises up to meet it. I can see the grass has gone to seed, and it twists, bending in the breeze. This is the way for all of us—conjured and pristine and fashioned, then lived down to the easy glimpse of soul, something more beautiful if we can embrace our years and everything that comes with them.
A mile or so ago, we rambled past an old plastic monstrosity, rusty, with cavernous fixture hanging, shattered glass and mud-crusted tires, faded letters on the side where someone carried the branding away. I can’t help but think of it now. On the side, flat planks covered over the breathing, light-giving places, spray-painted black with just three words: mad mad mad. Sometimes we wear our anger like those planks, and what we close out for protection might have been our only chance for light and breath and life. So when we pass the barn, I realize it’s not old and worn that makes the carved-out spaces ugly. It’s fabricated. It’s the sleek shell that cannot settle, the hard surface with no open place for growth, destruction without the opportunity to absorb the changing-wind. Plastic only empties. Pretense cannot be reshaped. It crumbles and litters, and the earth does not rise up to receive that which it cannot recognize or embrace as its own. Bitterness only hardens us to fullness and strips away our elegance.
The presence of the barn at roadside creates a stark contrast that captivates me. I want to hold it in my palm, a treasure. A single path winds away from the barn, wide-possible and beaten-smooth so long the grass allows it. Life pops up and flies over the path, the field—flies, maybe, an occasional moth, a bird. I reach with my mind, not quite capturing the untamed things that I glimpse only in an instant. I wish I could stop and take a picture.
I wonder how many voices this barn has held, what the walls could tell of foot fall and laughter, of hiding, of stolen moments, of dung and animal breath and sweet, dank life. All of it matters—all of it gives this place its soul, the easy and the awe, the wonder and the sudden, empty pain, the abundance and the scarcity. Rain has soaked these broken timbers, mingling with sweat and blood and shadow. Even sun-drenched, the walls look fresh soaked, rich like fertile soil. Wind has softened her angles and opened up her spaces, turning worn, empty holes into wild sculpture and freedom. She tears away her shiny cloak and becomes the truth, the raw, stunning God-made truth of salty tears and unchained joy, the truth of sighing and back-aching heavy, of warmth and gathered light. She, this old, weathered barn, sits peaceful strong in a wind-blown field, unafraid. She laughs at the days to come. She has learned the secret of being content. She can do all things, because she knows her Strength. She knows the real source of her beauty. So I gather up that exquisite old barn, carrying her with me down the road as I travel. She is like so many beautiful women who mentor me with wrinkled, silver-haired, life-worn love, wrapping arms about me, shoring me up, showing me what beautiful is. They do not pretend perfection. They sit peaceful strong while the lightening cracks and the puddles widen and breathe the truth about living. And they are magnificent.