What Comes Out

With apologies…Morning-pages stream-of-semiconsciousness from 2010-05-30

Chewing his cud. Me too.

Surely there are some standards somewhere on what exact number of: mouse-chewed cardboard boxes full of dun-colored Mason Jars (assorted sizes jelly to half-gallon): feet of galvanized wire–used-kinked, wavy-tangled or fresh-coiled un-used loops; and half bags of concrete fully solidified, lumpish and heavy with powder like compressed gray dehydrated pachyderms.

How many old handles saved standing in a corner missing their metal heads–former hoes, mattocks, picks or sledge hammers. How many old feed sacks that might be good for something some day but probably not. The new woven unraveling plastic sacks don’t even age nice. How many old tables and chairs, tires and wheels, garden hoses, fishing poles, hay bales, chicken feed and how much dust.

There must be some standards out there somewhere that say just what should be left inside make an old barn “authentic” in an unsissyfied and true-country (city-boy hobby-farm relative) sort of way.

And I just have to brag: the chickens have outdone themselves in the dust department. We gave them access to one section that they enter through a missing exterior board and blocked off by two staggered cattle panels from the rest of the barn interior–except for their dust.

It must be an uncommonly good medium for bathing in as chickens and other birds are wont to do, as a way of reducing their ectoparasite load, I think, or maybe just because they can. Out of the weather under the barn’s metal roof for a century or more, full of pulverized and dehydrated animal waste going back to the time of the first automobile, and launched into the still dark air of the closed barn, the dust of the decades now covers everything with a matte-tan powder-cosmetic.

And it is this exotic mix of spores and minerals, microbes, feathers and the shed stuff of chestnut timbers that I have inhaled deeply into my lungs this morning in my attempt to put into less disorder a few years of general neglect, the big barn doors closed covering a multitude of sins inside. Don’t ask, don’t tell.

After an hour inside the barn this morning, it is this ancient broncheolar mud that my body rejects but can’t quite expectorate. I am moving back away from my monitor now lest it be bejeweled by speckles of lung. This may be the way I go from this world.

Thereafter, hang the tools of my time here–my camera and tripod, modem and router, laptop, smartphone and office chair from hooks, like our old farm tools and their tool-less handles, dangled from the loft where the canning jars live. Hang my implements to catch the dust of ages. There, they will weather like old cardboard, solidify like cement remainders, in tangles of salvaged garden wire, molder into fine fragments from floyd, into bits, bytes and pixels, lofted into the air of an imagined generation.

And then will come yet another Strange Farmer of Erewhon to suffer a like destiny two hundred years beyond, to inhale the ashes of my fleeting enterprise in this valley, and on and on, into an infinity of dust and duty, litter and literature, prose poems and pulmonary emboli, forever and ever amen.

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Fred First holds masters degrees in Vertebrate Zoology and physical therapy, and has been a biology teacher and physical therapist by profession. He moved to southwest Virginia in 1975 and to Floyd County in 1997. He maintains a daily photo-blog, broadcasts essays on the Roanoke NPR station, and contributes regular columns for the Floyd Press and Roanoke's Star Sentinel. His two non-fiction books, Slow Road Home and his recent What We Hold in Our Hands, celebrate the riches that we possess in our families and communities, our natural bounty, social capital and Appalachian cultures old and new. He has served on the Jacksonville Center Board of Directors and is newly active in the Sustain Floyd organization. He lives in northeastern Floyd County on the headwaters of the Roanoke River.

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  1. Apparently, one can never have too many of these. I also failed to mention that I have a collection of actual tool heads with old handles broken off inside them such that it would take a jackhammer or foundry-grade heat source to remove the wooden handle-head plus wedges. Still, you can’t just toss these things away, after all, can you?

  2. Fred and Elora, the only standard i know of for categorizing in that kind of clean-up came from the great English arts and craftsman William Morris: “Keep nothing in your house (barn) that you do not know to be useful or believe to be beautiful.” That would cover many of the old tools but probably discard all the contemporary junk. Something about the double negative in there leaves a lot of room for discretion, and in an old barn there’s a lot of room.

  3. Found (on some old metal shelves that were in the house when we inherited it from the hippie commune here prior): several old hand planers–which I think belonged at one time to my wife’s fathers’ father–that I will never use but can’t bear to let rust in the barn. And so on…every item another decision–covered in dust.

  4. The last computer and camera you ever use may very well remain around to be discovered, dust covered, by future generations. I hope you don’t stick your outmoded technology out in the barn, but let it get recycled.