The Big Dipper hangs across the meadow as John and I walk to the granary for the night. We’ve been sleeping out there for the summer. Our house is hot, having no central cooling (or heating, except for the wood stove), and the granary’s cross ventilation makes for perfect sleep.
We sleep in the East Room, the one I call the Oat Room. Sometimes I call it the Gluten Free Room since the West one is the Wheat. The Oat Room has two high rectangular openings on the south side from its former days when grain was loaded into the room with an augur. Now those windows are screened for bugs and the night breezes blow through to the window on the north. Even in July, the temperature drops along the irrigation ditch next to the granary. In the early morning, we pull up an old patchwork blanket from the foot of the bed to banish the descending chill.
Walking out to the granary at twilight separates the day from the night more completely than sleeping in the house. Inside, we’re busy up until the minute we hit the sheets. Except for the nightly bathroom routine, we don’t take a moment from the book we’re reading or the email we’re sending or the dishes we’re washing before we go to bed.
But when we leave the house to sleep, we walk away from the tasks of the day. We leave them behind, knowing they’ll be there the next morning when we return.
Something is different about the night outside than in. Maybe it’s the air, fresher than inside four walls. Maybe it’s the dark, a relief from viewing the chores we face every day. We don’t have to worry about “to do” when we walk back to the granary. Instead, we watch for bats swooping from the barn’s cupola to capture their fleeing prey.
In the twilight, the traffic on the highway near the farm has quieted. We listen to the nighttime sounds of the animals: the goats bleating from their pen as we pass, our neighbor’s too-many dogs barking, a last bird calling from the trees along the ditch. As we walk over the stone bridge, we pause to check the water flow. If it’s moving swiftly, we know we’ll have water to irrigate the next day.
We pass the barn, the greenhouse and Sunflower Community Room, across the festival field and past the tractor barn, coming out between the glass bluehouse of tomatoes and the granary that faces the meadow. The other night, a storm approached, with distant lightning flashing and low thunder rolling in waves behind the hills.
As we looked north, tiny lights beamed on and off as if in code across the pasture. Were fireflies signaling the storm’s advance? I had never seen fireflies on the farm before, and John only once. How had we missed them in our nighttime strolls? Later, when I stood on the wide porch to watch the lightning gathering above us, the fireflies were gone, or at least had stopped their sparking. Now I watch for their tiny beams each night, like children playing with flashlights after dark.
Separating our days from our nights seems important this summer. With concerns about bees and water and land, we need to regenerate our hopes somehow. In the granary, we read novels. We have no internet to warn us of the future, no distressing emails, no news of coming destruction, no bulletins of doom.
John and I have become, lately, the bearers of bad news. Sometimes, we’re not fit for company. We forget that not everyone wants to hear about these things. People want to hear about the latest sports scores, album releases, or celebrity scandals, not the latest bee die-off (50,000 in an Oregon Target parking lot from pesticides to prevent aphid droppings on cars).
But John and I read compulsively about the environmental degradation before us like an accident from which we cannot look away. We know that peak water also means peak grain. We know that loss of bees means loss of food. We worry about what we will collectively leave for our grandchild and for his grandchilden after him. We don’t know how to stop the forces that destroy for short-term profit. We only know that we must keep doing what we do.
We built the granary for guests, but, for now, it is our refuge and our regeneration. Maybe the old wood walls bring dreams of return to a time when “local” was not a selling point but a fact. As we take the best from the past to sow a better future, we’ll watch for tiny beams of hope to light our way.
I’ll be taking August off from pearlmoonplenty for the publishing of my book, A Bushel’s Worth: An Ecobiography. If you’re in the Boulder area on August 20, join me for the launch of A Bushel’s Worth: An Ecobiography at the Boulder Bookstore, 7:30 PM. For more on the book, including upcoming readings and a digital excerpt, see abushelsworth.com. And check out this thoughtful first review from Notes from a Reading Life.