My corner of Colorado was built on agriculture: open-range cattle and sheep ranching in the nineteenth century, livestock farming in the twentieth century, and wheat, corn, and sugar beet industries just managing to limp into the twenty-first century. Much of the agrarian landscape has been pushed to the periphery of the city, and in the seeming death of winter, it is not always obvious which barren field is fallow and which is slated for new construction in the spring.
On most days, I run past my favorite barn; it is one of only two bank barns left in town – a wonderful, weather-beaten wooden building set into the hillside to allow the farmer easy entry into the second-floor hayloft. The roof is beginning to cave in, and every time a wind storm comes through, a few more shingles lose their moorings, leaving holes through which I can see the trusses, still valiantly holding back time. Flocks of pigeons roost in the barn, and sometimes, in that moment before they take sudden flight, I hear a rustle and imagine it is the memory of the farmer on his rounds, or a cat stalking prey, or more whimsically, the farm children sledding down the mounds of hay.
My magnificent wreck is stranded in the middle of a “New Urbanism” housing development that grows by a few more acres every year. Today I ignore the warning sign: “Trespassers Will Be Prosecuted!” Still attached to its rusting chains, the sign is half-buried in a snow patch. I pick my way down the icy dirt road and circle my barn, scraping my fingers across the peeling paint, stealing in through a vandalized door. It is cold and drafty inside, but not drafty enough to clean the air of human – or animal – intrusions. I know I should not be in here.
The barn is tenacious, but it is tired; its silence rebukes. It has been a year since the developers unveiled a shiny brass plaque at a new entrance to the subdivision: “SideHill,” it proudly proclaims. In the coming spring and summer, the old soil will sprout new condominiums, and the barn – if not today or tomorrow — will soon go the way of all the other farm outbuildings. My barn is a historian’s dream and despair, and a town’s reality. Its broken windows are boarded up now: it can no longer see what it once was, and soon, neither will I.