My adjustment to living at Dancing Timber Homestead is slower than I imagined it would be. I think it’s because stone and wood speak slowly, in whispers. It’s taken some time, but I’ve begun to hear the barn.
I met a woman whose family may be tied to the history of the farm when we went to a local Mennonite research library. From the stories and bits and pieces of information I’ve managed to uncover in the past year, our home is very PA Dutch German (built) and several Mennonite families lived here and farmed the land. Because they were farmers, this makes their stories nearly silent.
My new friend, who is in her 70’s or so, if I had to guess, has offered to help me dig into the past. Eric wonders why I’m obsessed with the history of the old barn. One of the reasons is that it predates the house by over 100 years. It was built when the area was still inhabited by local tribes, like the Leni Lenape who worked out treaties with William Penn for the land. It existed when this part of the county was still untamed forests fed by the Unami creek and smaller creeks and the trees were so abundant that the first settlers erected saw mills. It existed during the famous tax fight, called Fries Rebellion, where homeowners were taxed by how many windows their homes and barns had. Our stone bank barn still has two walls with rows of windows “closed” forever by packed stones.
Our stone mason, Marc, is a local man. Lives just around the corner and comes and goes as his health allows. He’s the best in the area. Our arrangement is simple. Come when you can. He loves our barn. Tells me it speaks to him all the time. I know exactly what he means.
There is evidence of life here, by people who once cherished this land. It was called The Great Swamp by early settlers because the ground is nearly always muddy. Wood rots easily here. The clay earth is difficult to grow food with. The 1700’s barn is huge, and against all odds of weather and time, still stands. It’s not pretty or elegant. It’s rough, old, dirty, and broken here and there.
Early tax records that Eric and I poured over one day show that all the properties consisted of a log house, if there was a house, and a log and stone barn. Sometimes other buildings were noted. We were told by someone that in those days’ families lived in the barn while building a house. Did they live in our barn? Who were they? Who built the barn? We still don’t know because the old maps that we’ve found aren’t old enough to include the barn. And whoever built the barn likely is not who built the stone house we live in today.
The barn protected its people and animals who depended on it for safety and survival. I feel a responsibility to protect the barn. It humbles you, being inside it. I sweep away spider webs and barn dirt every day. Wait for the water to trickle from the old hand pump. It’s the only source of water in the barn. There are no hoses, unless you count the complicated hose system we created over the summer that runs from the well water access from the house out to where I can reach part of the pasture where I tie up the horse when he needs a bath, or out by the gardens. When an old neighbor was giving away a free water hose, I ran over and grabbed it. I’m a hose hound.
This morning I put up Christmas decorations out in the barn. Nobody who is used to classy life with accessible electrical outlets and insulation would think to put Christmas lights up on crumbling ancient wood on a breezy day while the upper barn walls sway and floor-less sections light my way down below. Manny, the horse, began to eat one of the sparkly gold garlands draped outside his stall, so that had to be adjusted for the toddler who chews on everything. There are several extension wires all hooked to one outlet for the heated water bucket, lower barn lights, and Christmas lights. It is imperfect. Unpredictable. I often compromise. You kinda hook up stuff where you can find an old nail.
You kinda hang up stuff when you find a place to anchor your soul.
I finally heard the barn.