Last night I dreamed of buildings. In the dream they were on our farm- a church, a small theater, a haunted house we had once looked at before we bought our place. I went from one to the other examining the flaws and estimating for repairs; rotten framing, new coat of paint, leaky pipes that ran inside the walls. I was overwhelmed by the amount of work ahead of me and in each building were groups of people I didn’t know, a cluster of young girls waiting to dance at a recital, college boys gathered in knots by a fire escape, old men and women in recliners on the porch watching the evening sky.
Everyone nodded at me as I made my way from job to job and at one point an old friend I haven’t seen in years asked me to help him move a fawn across a large field to the safety of the forest before someone accidentally hit it with their car. I remember clearly the mood of the dream- it was neither ethereal nor fantastic, but mundane and simple. I was required to fix what was broken, to make the repairs and work while others went about their lives doing what was expected of them. I recall my work clothes and tools, the turkey leg someone offered me to eat, the fact that nighttime was approaching and there was still so much work left undone.
When I came downstairs this morning it was not quite light but you could see the water vapor ascending from the surface of the pond like a pillar of smoke, obscuring the lower pasture in a lavender haze. I made my coffee and thought about my dream while it was fresh in my mind.
A couple of years ago while we were visiting our family for Christmas the barn burned down. The shock of that loss has long since passed, but the memories of what people did for us remains the clearest and most profound artifact of that event. It took me six hours of driving at speeds that should have landed me in jail to reach the smoldering ruin of what had once housed innumerable possessions and lives. The firemen were wrapping things up, a few of them were hosing off the last of the smoking hay bales that continued to burn, and where that beautiful barn had once stood was nothing more than a blackened pile of ash and twisted metal.
When I got out of the car I was surrounded by neighbors who all seemed to want to hug me and hold me as if that would help fix what was lost. It was already getting dark and as I stood there trying to come to grips with what had happened I noticed a steady stream of pickup trucks ascending the hill, filled with hay bales for our animals. I knew some of the people, casually, but most were strangers to me. This outpouring of concern and unfettered kindness continued for days. In the morning there would be casserole dishes and boxes of baked goods left on the porch, notes tacked to the front door wishing us well, checks in the mail from people we’d met only once or twice. That night as the last of the firemen headed off to their trucks my oldest son stood at the head of the driveway and shook each hand, one by one and thanked them for saving our house.
The past month has been busy for all of us. We have spread composted manure and planted grass seed in the new pasture, brought in enough timber to split fifty more cords of firewood and make boards for the new equipment shed. We’ve slaughtered the last of the goats and chickens for the year and filled the freezers. We’ve pickled and canned and hayed and dried more than enough to carry our family and livestock through another New England Winter. We’ve set new fence posts and split oak rails to line them.
Through all of this we’ve managed to celebrate birthdays, go to concerts at the harbor, repaint bedrooms, build shelves together, make models, fire rockets, train the new puppy to the livestock, enjoy visits from friends and neighbors, keep to our Friday date night ritual and enjoy every minute together.Through all of this the things we do not concern ourselves with are what celebrities do, what happened to that plane, that football team, that politician, that foreign country, investments, the economy, McDonald’s annual sales, amnesty for 8, 11, 20 or 50 million foreign invaders or a host of other unpleasant and doomy thoughts. These things will continue apace with or without our input or opinion. Our concerns are local because that is how we live and that is our reality.
I am not unaware of where we are heading and I wish it were different, but one of the few things in life that cannot be altered is the time we are born into. This is the phase of a nation in decline and we are along for the ride whether we like it or not. The only thing we can control is what we decide to do with our time and who we decide to spend it with. Most people aren’t aware of where their food comes from never mind where we are going and they will likely remain that way for the rest of their lives.
Others sense that something is wrong but won’t make the changes required to prepare themselves for the inevitable. Fewer still have done the hard work of examining the details, of studying the data and relating it to the lessons of history in a way that puts things into perspective, but even these people remain tied to the modern world in a death grip, holding on to the things they think will allow them to escape the coming storm without having to change a thing.
Our decision to walk away from our old life was also a decision to walk towards a new one. Our plans are not based on entertainment and escape, but on labor and reality. We no longer depend on other people far away to satisfy our dietary needs, but produce what we eat from our own soil, with our own hands. Rather than be identified as consumers, we think of ourselves as producers. We value the time we spend with our children and each other above all else and it is far more satisfying than any other distraction or purchase could ever be. The time we give to various friends and neighbors to help with things they cannot do alone could never come close to what they have done for us with their casseroles and hay bales, never mind the risks they took when they fought the fire in our barn and saved our home.
The barn contained a lot more than hay and equipment. I had built a small studio where I could paint when I had the time and it contained all the drawings and paintings I had done over the course of the last thirty five or forty years. I had also stored my Mother’s possessions that I hadn’t the heart to go through after her death, stacked neatly in boxes waiting for a time when I could. There were mason jars filled with heirloom seeds passed to me from at least five generations in my family past and all of it is gone now, ashes to ashes. Such is life.
The Sun is up now and sky is clear and down in the pasture near the pond the cattle are grazing, heads down to the sweet grass. There are sounds of my children moving in the house, getting ready for another day and they are happy sounds in my ears. I have more work to do today than I can possibly accomplish, but I look forward to that particular kind of human failing. The old barn is long gone, but we built a new one with timber we harvested ourselves, with the labor of our friends and family and I think it is a fine one. I also think that I understand my dream last night, what prompted it and where it came from and if anyone could ever truly say that dreams come true, I believe that I can.