The Barn Raising The Sixth Borough

| 21 Apr 2015 | 10:44

“You’re going to be ripped,” I said, maybe too cheerfully.

“Ripped and crippled,” husband Joe grumbled. “Just call me Sisyphus.” (He’s the Greek king doomed to roll a boulder up a mountain for all eternity.)

Joe has spent all of Saturday and Sunday for the past two weekends digging up rocks and boulders and tossing or rolling them out of a 16-foot by 32-foot area of the mountain we live on. Sometimes toddler Kai and I join him, Kai finding “teeny tiny Kai-sized rocks” to clear, while I pry out a few medium Mama-sized rocks and place them on the stone wall that is emerging on the north side of the site. Then we move along to some less tedious activity. This is the kind of moment I’m glad I didn’t end up being a lesbian. Who would do this work? A backhoe, probably.

(Don’t get me wrong, I come from a long line of strong women who move couches on their own at age 60. I bang out 10 pull-ups every morning. We are plenty tough, but when it comes to brute strength there’s no sense arguing that a musclebound dude doesn’t have a leg up.)

Joe is preparing this ground for the shed that’s going to arrive on a truck in three weeks. If you saw the last column, you’ll remember that I was leaning toward buying an old shipping container to house our next batch of chicks. When the subject came up at our Passover seder, I winced and took evasive action, knowing I’d be outnumbered and talked out of my redneck vision. But the conversation didn’t go quite like that.

An uncle – who of all that supercharged generation inherited the greatest heap of infectious energy – recommended that we get “one of those kits” and have a family barn-raising. We’d all get together and put it up, Amish style. That way they’d all feel a sense of ownership of our chickens, our farm.

These are city folk; some of them will be traveling from Boston. None of us knows anything about building, which is why we arranged the date around the availability of one family friend from the Adirondacks who actually knows what he’s doing. I was moved, incredibly grateful, and… yikes, the date we settled on was in a month and a half. I needed to pull the trigger on a kit.

I hadn’t even known such things as shed kits existed, where the pieces come pre-cut and ready to be hammered and drilled into a quaint New England saltbox or a classic gambrel-roofed barn, in which you can store Christmas decorations or a snowmobile, or in our case a couple hundred chickens. At first they looked charming in the catalog shots, all decked out with horses and flowers, but then I started to notice that most of my neighbors have one. The prefab shed is, a little sadly, the new American barn. But it probably was better than a rusting cargo container.

The first place I called, which was mysteriously thousands of dollars cheaper than all the others, wouldn’t be able to deliver in time. Uh oh. In two days of eye-searing internet reconnaissance I’d dug up exactly one more option for a behemoth shed with as much square footage as we’d need: the Roanoke, constructed in Pennsylvania’s Amish country, which comes in at about eight times the cost of the shipping container and nine times the charm. It would be tight, but they thought they could get it to us in time for the barn raising. Sold.

In addition to keeping our fingers crossed that the shed arrives in time, now we’re in a dead sprint to clear a space to put it, level it out as best we can and pour concrete footings. Time is tight, as is poor Joe’s lower back.

This past Saturday, as Kai and I awoke from an afternoon nap, Joe came into the bedroom and announced that he’d had a “revelation”: we would just put the shed on the existing pasture, where it was already flat.

Now, it wasn’t much of a revelation that the pasture was flat, or that it would be easier to put the shed there. This was the voice of exhaustion talking. I’d done some reading of homesteading books, and I knew that we should not be using our limited flat land for a coop. Of our 6.7 acres, more than two-thirds is a steep wooded mountain; the rest is heavily utilized pasture and growing and living space. We really should expand upward. But given that I was just rising from a siesta, I didn’t feel I was in much of a position to tell him he was wrong.

I made the point as gently as I could, but didn’t push it. If we put the barn on the pasture, life would go on. Better that than a husband with a hernia.

But he knew. Sunday morning he was out there, rolling rocks.

Becca Tucker is a former Manhattanite now living on a farm upstate and writing about the rural life.