Leaving the barn behind … but not entirely

I had sweet dreams of remodeling the loft of the barn into a year-’round studio. Something like critic/professor Jack Barnes’ cozy literary digs on his farm in Hiram, Maine. Alas, it never quite happened.

Family life pushed us in other directions, and then the publishing scene also changed. I didn’t need quite so much room to spread papers or stack submissions, for one thing. More and more was on the computer, and in time, I no longer needed computer discs for storage. Remember them?

Climbing to the loft was kind of like going up into a treehouse.

When we redid the loft, it was more as a three-season space, a retreat, and it did give me the room to spread poems about when I considered the sequence for one of my chapbooks. It also allowed us to decompress a lot of the stuff we’d packed into the house. But it was, as you’ve seen, pretty funky – not the polished compartment I once desired.

At least I painted the exterior traditional New England barn red and not that loud crimson used elsewhere. Not that I could tackle that project again. I’m not sure I could even manage the ladders these days, and I definitely wouldn’t be up on the roof repairing the weather vane.

What the barn did give us was space, even though much of that soon became crowded. Garden tools and pots, shelves of canning jars, chairs that just might be re-caned or repainted, bins of Halloween, Christmas, or Easter decorations. Carpentry tools, an array of wood, and painting supplies. Picnic coolers and charcoal. Two big freezers, well stuffed, at one point, on the ground floor.

The barn did become an emblem for me, as a repository for many souvenirs from my zig-zag journey out from Ohio, and maybe even for us as “city farmers.”

And now I’m waving farewell to all that as I head off on new adventures.

So here goes. Just be warned you’ll still be reading about it and its surroundings in upcoming posts. The Red Barn is definitely continuing.

We had already moved out a lot of stuff, and the loft still looked like this.

Letting go and moving on

It’s official. We’re selling our home of the past 21 years, including the red barn and my asparagus and fern beds.

It all happened much faster than I had anticipated. In truth, I didn’t expect our dream of relocating to a remote fishing village at the other end of Maine to go into action for another two years. Even when we made our pitch for the house we landed, I didn’t allow myself to get my hopes up – they’d been dashed too many times the previous time we were looking before we anchored in Dover.

But here we are, with any luck beating the crowd on that rising housing market. The trend of moving out from the big-city suburbs into smaller, more viable, pedestrian-friendly towns hasn’t yet reached fever levels in Sunrise County. It is, after all, an eight-hour drive from Boston.

And no, I’m not changing the name of this blog – the barn will live on in my memory and as a metaphor. Guess we’ll just have to get a garden shed, paint it red, and call it our new barn.

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Still, the uprooting and transplanting have stirred up a lot within me.

I’m recalling one neighbor’s comment back in Manchester. “I don’t think anybody can afford to live in New Hampshire for under,” and he named a figure that would have gone up a lot under the inflation in the years since. At the time, I looked at him and replied, “But I do.”

He was shocked and maybe a tad embarrassed.

I still don’t know how most people are affording the prices of homes in much of New England or other hot spots, but they’re also being pressed by outrageous rental costs.

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Reflecting on previous moves, I admit most of them were daring leaps to new jobs and dots on the map where I knew no one. This doesn’t feel so draconian. I’ve visited, after all, and have acquaintances, mostly through Quaker circles.

So now I flip between memories of places I was fond of and of others, well, there were some mean towns and economic struggles. Satellite photos reveal that a handful of the units I occupied have been demolished in the intervening years. Let’s just say that luxury rentals were beyond my means, but a few others had their funky charms or at least memories.

The Dover property was only the second I’d owned. The other was a marvelous 1920s bungalow in a Rust Belt town. (See my novel Hometown News for that one.) When that house was emptied, I sat down and wept in the aftermath of a divorce and the confusing developments with my fiancée.

This time, I’ve found myself anxious to move on. Both of us are finally admitting the shortfalls of our home of the past two decades – not just the short treads on the staircase but also the arrangement of the rooms and the fact it just wasn’t designed for our needs. We adapted to the space, and now that there were just two of us, the faults became inescapable.

On top of that, I keep seeing more repairs that are needed – some of them big ones the second time around. I’ve run out of energy. The responsibility – and expense – are simply too much.

But I’m also remembering guests who’ve stayed with us as well as our dinners and parties, not that we ever had as many as we would have liked.

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One thing I have to acknowledge is the emotional weight of things I feel a responsibility for maintaining. As I shed more of them, I’m feel freer and more capable of opening to new experiences. The flip side is the question of just how much and what I might need to sustain that.

So here we go.

My unexpected winter

My world took a big – and largely unexpected turn – at the beginning of December, when we closed on our bid on a house in a fishing village in Downeast Maine. Frankly, I didn’t expect the seller to accept our offer, but the housing inspector we engaged before that produced a long list of essential issues to address, even before we get to any renovations that play into our modest dreams.

Since then, I haven’t had much time to reflect on the whirlwind, much less post on the developments, and a lot of the fallout probably won’t start appearing here on the blog until next year, in part because I’m also submerged in another big and very timely writing project. Yes, you’ll be hearing about that, too.

It’s also meant getting down to seriously thinning our possessions, which wouldn’t all fit in our new abode – not without a barn for storage, especially. That’s been a rough and emotional passage, with so many things tied to memories or unfulfilled aspirations. At least I’d been working through my stuff over the past several years – decollecting, as I’ve said – but a lot had nevertheless been tucked in securely and left untouched till now. It’s more of a cliffhanger for my wife.

And then there’s the matter of getting our home of 21 years on the market. We bought the place as a fixer-upper, not that we had much to choose from, and now I’m having to face the reality that after a small fortune in upgrades, it still needs tons of work. I hope the new owners are up for that.

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So I’ve been spending much of my time in one of the one hundred easternmost houses in the nation, getting a better feel for the place and a few things under control, with enough commutes back to Dover that I could have driven to San Diego instead, except that I never got further west than just over the border into New Hampshire.

Whew! It’s all happening much faster than I’d anticipated.

Even at my age.