(First published 9 years ago. Lightly edited for today.)
We were eating supper with Nancy’s parents. It was the eve of their 60th wedding anniversary, nine years ago. The three of them (Tom, Marion, and Nancy) were talking of places they’ve lived, people they’ve known, farms that have grown (and some that have gone). (Two of those people are now together, but not in this life.)
More than once, Nancy’s dad said, “If only they would have fixed the barn roof.”
Broken barns are wonderful for photographers, with rich textures. They are melancholy. They speak of passion and productivity that once was and is no more. Old barns were built without power tools, without wood preservatives. In the barn my great-grandfather built, there weren’t even nails. It was held together with pegs he carved by hand.
Sometimes barns are destroyed by storm, by fire, by earthquake. Sometimes they are torn apart, reused. Most barns, however, die of neglect more than disaster. They die of unrepaired roofs.
Because barns are full of dry things, water is deadly.
Hay is stacked in the mow, ready to feed the animals for the winter. Straw is pile somewhere as well, bedding for animals (and at least once for a Baby).
Water dripping into hay and straw feeds mold, feeds rot.
Pulleys and gears and chains and hooks run the length of the barn. They allow movement of food and manure.
Water dripping into the steel infrastructure starts rust.
Beams, stripped of bark, shaped, unsealed, hold the structure up, give the building safety and shape.
Water dripping into paper-dry wood, soaks in, starts rot and decay.
Equipment is stored inside, safe from the elements, ready for seasonal use.
Water dripping onto leather and steel, into gears and motors, caught in folds and valleys and boxes, sits. And eats.
None of this destruction is as obvious as a tornado, as tragic as a fire. It happens in decades rather than days.
And it is always preventable. If you fix the barn roof.
Of course, farmers aren’t roofers. Their focus is on the ground or the sky, not the building in between. But being so focused on what seems productive and taking for granted the structure that makes it possible is eventually deadly.
Tom Kies farmed his whole life. When an old farmer says to fix the roof, it makes sense.
Most of us don’t have barns.
But we do have leaks. We have time leaks. We have attention leaks. We have energy leaks. And there are little gaps through which time escapes, stress seeps in.
In your marriage. In your job. In your passionate avocation. In your friendships.
What are the strong but dry beams that support everything but are surprisingly fragile?
What are the seams that could benefit from a few hours of patching?
For Valentine’s Day, for your family and friends and faith and future…fix the barn roof.