Saturday, February 12, 2011

Magic in the Barn

When visiting my hometown in Northeastern, PA, I routinely stop by an old red barn that punctuates the main road leading up to the high school.  Housed in the front stall, burrowed between uncombed bales of hay, are two tired trackers and a stack of pitchforks.  To the side looms a concrete silo, and in the back is a rutted field where the dairy cows graze.

The spring and summers of my youth were intensified by this splash of scarlet against leafing orchards and verdant fields.  And in winter, when the withered landscape was still and white, my crimson barn was bursting with life.

I was amazed to learn that the barns royal hue was spawned from a homemade mixture of skimmed milk, lime, iron oxide and linseed oil.  And when I questioned why it was painted red (knowing cows are color blind to green and red), I was told it was functional not fashionable, for the color absorbed the sun's rays and kept the barn warmer in winter.

I would walk for miles to reach the magic of the big red barn.  Here I'd bounce on bails of hay, feed the cows handfuls of alfalfa that I borrowed from the local feed store, and giggle at the sight, sound and touch of their enormous, tongues.

The cows were timid at first.  The crunching sound of my keds against pebbled grit sent them tip toeing to the other side of the pasture.  Despite my welcoming wave, their hazel eyes would grow big and they'd belt out a disapproving MOOO.  My best guess was that they saw my hands as weapons, because they didn't like being milked.  

Determined to be their best friend, I ignored the number on their ear tag, and gave them all names - Lucy, Lilly, Lila, and Lulu.  In a calm, gently tone, I reassured them, "No way am I gonna touch your teats." 

I kept no secrets from the girls.  I told them how I'd given both Michael Pope and Jimmy Griffith a key to my bicycle lock and how I loved to watch them race the crowded hallways, down the uneven staircase, to the bicycle rack behind the school.  The winner got to carry my books and walk me, and my bike, back home.

My lady friends were the only ones who appreciated my singing and it didn't have to be farm songs.  They especially enjoyed my version of Creedence Clearwater's Proud Mary.  I was convinced the subtle bob of their head was their way of rocking out as we went "rolling on the river."

Bert was in charge of the cows.  You could tell by his gruff appearance and purposeful swagger, that he lived a hard life.

He watched me from a distance - made certain I didn't do things mischievous children do, like tip a cow or light a match.  I sensed Bert had a wild temper and I was respectful of his implicit rules.

Bert lived alone in the belly of the barn.  Heaps of hay and tattered horse blankets were all that Bert needed.  His diet consisted of unsuspecting moles, field mice and the occasional squirt of fresh squeezed milk.

Years later, I discovered Bert was a girl.  As with most feral cats, the males abandon the barn, returning only to impregnate, and from the looks of it, Bert wanted no part of that.

As I grew older, I continued to visit the barn.  This is where we'd park, on those moon lit nights. We'd make-out until the car windows fogged and his pants grew noticeably tight.

Bert was a reminder of the driving force behind of all the young dudes.      

To this day, I love the smell of stale manure and fresh hay, and I dream of living in a renovated barn - an echo friendly, timber-framed, living space with an expansive, sun drenched floor plan, vaulted ceilings, exposed beams, strap hinged doors and wood planked floors.

Not much has changed since the days of my young.  Four timid cows still roam the beaten pasture.  Bert is long gone, but to my surprise, a herd of cats have taken her place.  Perhaps Bert grew lonely and welcomed a wayward visitor, or two.

I've brought guests with me to the barn.  Most recently, my grandson Jackson, my husband Mark, and my 5 pound pup, Miss Lucy.

Because I now know the negative ramifications of barn cats ingesting vermin, I make certain I bring a large bag of cat food with me.  
I'll pour some kibble on a patch of grass, and then step back and watch.  I've counted up to 18 cats - all different sizes and colors. They will not allow you to get too close.  All except for a tabby cat that Jackson named Max.  He is clearly in charge.  He's the first one out of hiding and the first to sample the morsels of food. 

Because it was bitter cold this visit, we watched the cats feed from inside the car.  As we were getting ready to leave, a woman approached us from the house across the road.  I could tell from her elongated stride, pinched brows, and disapproving, stiff lower lip, that she was annoyed.  

She charged us with trespassing and accused us of breaking into the barn.  As proof of our motives, I pointed to the 25 lb of cat food leaning against the fence.  As proof of our innocence, I pointed to my manure free, 3 inch heeled, Tory Burch boots. 

I did my best to explain the magic of the big red barn.  I told her we were animal lover, that cow tagged #29 had a watery right eyes, and that they all enjoyed a good song or two.  I assured her that the cats would continue to kill mice even if they were fed.  I introduced her to our 5 lb dog in a faux Burberry coat and pearl collar.  

Did we look like a hoodlums?  

She could not see the magic in the barn. She was not open to kindness. Her vision was clouded by her immediate reality.  

It has been years since I went inside the barn.  As a sensible adult, I am content to feed the cats and talk to the cows.  

But now... my curiosity is peaked. What magic awaits behind the padlocked door?

to be continued...

For More information on Barn Cats visit: Your Best Friends

Learn How You Can Help The Animals of Egypt

The current crisis in Egypt is taking its toll on the animal population.
Please help us spread the word and donate what you can.

Egyptian Society for Mercy to Animals


  1. Oh my gosh. That barn is so gorgeous. I sure love the barns we have in Pennsylvania. They are just beautiful! They add so much to the green scenery! I can hardly wait to take shots of barns in the spring and summer!

  2. I loved this post! It brought back lots of memories and made me smile, smile, smile!!!!

  3. Funny you should talk about barns today, I jsut posted yesterday about fetishs and fantasies. and one of mine was sex in a barn.
    too funny.
    I know not quite the same as your

  4. At least you did not try to teach your cows how to play ball and bounce a rubber one off their head :)

    This was a wonderful trip back to my youth, thanks. And yes I specialize in the non-norm, my forte. I've always wanted an abandoned tobacco warehouse :D
    Jules @ Trying To Get Over The Rainbow

  5. Thank you for bringing back some of my old memories. I worked on my Grandfathers farm as a boy. Beautiful pictures. The sad thing is that my Grandfathers farm was sold and the barn is now used to sell hub caps. We did have dozens of cats back then. Thanks again.

  6. you had an amazing childhood!
    I have always had a "thing" for red barns myself...just love them!!! Sooo beautiful!

    Loved the photos of the kitties too!

  7. I did not know that about the paint/color of barns. Makes me long for spring and being able to walk again and explore our neighborhood. :)

  8. Home of the animals. We don't really have barns, so old McDonald always come to mind. Beautiful photos, your grandson is a handsome kid.

  9. We need more cat's, did you go into the barn?

  10. Another great post, Shannon, love it! Question... "like tip a cow or light a match." What does a lit match do?

  11. a lit match would catch the barn on fire! as a kid, I started a small fire on the the street behind my house. I built this nice little fire pit, put some sticks and hay and leafs in it and then watched it burn. I then got this not so brilliant idea to drop a trail of kindle across the road to see if the fire would cross the road. It did... it went across the road and into the woods. and well, things got out of control. I ran home and hid under the bed. even with both hands over my ears I could hear the fire engines roaring up the hill. they were able to put out the fire before it got too far out of control. and I never played with matches again!

  12. Beautiful pictures. This piece reminds me of my uncle's place.
    Great writing. It would have taken me back even without he pictures.

  13. You have a wonderful way with words, and even without the photos, you painted a picture of the barn and the cows and the cats. Wonderful images.


  14. Excellent illustration, as always, I love the way you paint a picture with your words.

  15. Great post, filled with information & experiences I never really had. My father actually worked at a dairy farm, in his teen years (I have photos. He was somewhere between Elvis & Johnny Cash, in looks), but I never lived near farms. Interesting question, about how open you are. I tend to be more cautious, after some bad experiences, but not unreasonable, like the woman in your post.

  16. What a lovely post. Your barn truly is magical. I love barns. Even before I lived in the country I had a big coffee table book of beautiful barn photos. I really enjoyed this piece a lot. And your grandson is adorable.


Thank you for encouraging my JOY of writing. By reading and commenting you are feeding my soul, stroking my heart, and in the end...making me a better writer.

Thank You For Encouraging My Joy of Writing

Thank You For Encouraging My Joy of Writing

Shannon E. Kennedy


Photo by Joan Harrison