“I was so naïve as a kid I used to sneak behind the barn and do nothing.”
— Johnny Carson
I wasn’t born in a barn. As a ranch kid, though, I practically grew up in one.
Bucking bales. Feeding cows. Karate chopping spider webs.
Driving around Walla Walla country, I see all sorts of barns. Red traditional ones. Weathered ones. Even some that are extremely air conditioned.
Seeing these barns brings back a flood of childhood memories. Summer jobs hauling hay, throwing bales from a truck to a clattering elevator taking the bales to a dusty loft. Winter fun moving 10 tons of bales to turn the barn hayloft into a basketball gym. Leaky roofs. Warped floors. The ball bouncing out a hole and landing in three feet of mud and manure. Mooing cows that were eating my family into bankruptcy.
At the barn, I learned about the facts of life. Hogs giving birth. A cat stuffed with mice cut loose when we moved bales to build a basketball court.
I recall dim-lit interiors with bare, dusty lightbulbs. The smells of old leather tack and baling twine hanging from nails. Ladders to climb from the first story to the loft, where there were endless possibilities for hay forts and games of King of the Mountain. Barn owls presiding over the festivities.
In the front of the barn, swallows turned lofty eaves into dried mud condominiums and as they dived for insects and put on spectacular air shows over the nearby creek. Behind the barn, a chorus of frogs turned a nearby swamp into an orchestra pit.
Our barn was like Noah’s Ark from the Bible, only the barn was stationary and on dry land. All sorts of livestock made their home there, from chickens to dairy cows.
I recall 4-H projects. Sheep. Hogs. A runaway steer towing me like a water-skier with the county fair only weeks away.
Other memories were even more traumatizing. I recall a spring break job during college mucking out a neighbor’s barn, a task apparently ignored since the Truman administration, while friends escaped to sunny beaches.
Any journey through the Blue Mountains region and you’ll see dozens of these antiques dotting the countryside. Each has a story to tell. Barn dances. Barn-raising socials. Ranchers eeking out a living over decades and generations. A kid spooking a barn owl and learning life lessons inside that grand monument of weathered boards.