Not Just Another Board
Old Style Air Cured Tobacco Barn
This Old Slat
Built in the late 1800s, the old tobacco barn has been standing on the family farm for over one hundred years. Originally the barn was painted red with white trim. A centuries worth of wind and rain faded the barn board slats to a dull gray. Every other slat is hinged at the top and hooked near the center, allowing it to swing out, letting air circulate through the barn, curing the tobacco. Near the northwest corner of the barn hangs a particular slat that draws my attention each time I venture near.
History of Tobacco In Connecticut
White Mountain Needle and The Empire State Building
The slat that I find so intriguing is not much unlike the other slats that make up the side wall of the old barn but for a corner broken off at the slats bottom. The hole formed when the break occurred appears from one angle to be the small silhouette of a White Mountain rock formation known as The Needle. When you change the angle from which you view it, the break becomes an oblique view of the world famous Empire State Building in New York City, a black silhouette against a predawn grayness. Upon closer inspection I can see within the break the delicate webs of tiny spiders criss crossing between the jagged edges of the wood. The hair thin strands glisten with moisture and connect my special slat with the next. When I venture this close to the barn the smell of curing tobacco can faintly be sensed coming from the wood, though no tobacco has hung inside this old barn for at least thirty years. No, looking through the hole past the spider webs I see not racks of curing tobacco, but a jumble of old farm implements and tractor parts kept against the day when they might be useful again.
Nature Stakes a Claim
As I return my attention to the outside of the barn, I notice green moss growing on what remains of the bottom of the slat. A thin layer of green on the slat’s gray, the moss could almost be paint the farmer once used to cover the barn. But it is not paint, not man's paint anyhow, it is nature reclaiming the coarse wood of the slat as its own.
Nature has made other inroads against the barn besides the moss. Evidence of nature's other inroads against the man-made structure is demonstrated by a rainbow-like arch of lighter gray a third of the way up the slat’s dark face. A small tree growing in the shadow of the barn sways in the wind, brushing the slat, slowly wearing away the darker grain, and revealing the lighter wood beneath. The resulting arch looks much like a frown on the slat’s dark face: a tired frown as if the slat has had enough of that little tree, but has given up on the tree’s ever going away. With every breeze, the arch wears deeper and the slat’s frown deepens.
History Holds On
The breeze rattles the slat on its hinges ever so slightly. If I strain I can hear the faint creak of tired wood pulling against the hinge screws that have held it in place so very long. Though it is tired after a century of holding on, the wood complains, but it does not let go. The slat has seen the bright sun of more than a hundred summers and felt the icy chill of more than a hundred winters; it survived the hurricane of 1938, a storm that came before hurricanes had names. It weathered a lighting strike in 1951, the flood of 1956, and the tornado of 1979. A tired old piece of wood is this slat, a ten-inch-wide piece of history from a time when tobacco was king in the Connecticut River Valley, and even tobacco barns were built to last.
© 2015 DW Davis