My lit­tle barn:

This hum­ble struc­ture was more than just a shel­ter for our horses; for my hus­band and me it was a refuge.

EQUUS - - Contents - By Tam­ma­lene Mit­man

This hum­ble struc­ture was more than just a shel­ter for our horses; for my hus­band and me it was a refuge.

Our farm is on the mar­ket. I’ve ac­cepted an of­fer. When your spouse passes away, when you keep your horses at home, when you know you can’t han­dle your three-acre farm alone, that’s what you do. You sell.

It’s hard. I’m sit­ting on the barn porch this fine June evening, lap­top rest­ing on my thighs. The set­ting sun warms my side. The pad­dock lies be­fore me, green grass cropped golf-course short. A bed of daylilies, their bud­ded stems reach­ing for the sky, lies be­tween the edge of the porch floor and the three­board fence rim­ming the pad­dock. To my left, a wood thrush sings from the tree line on the far side

ning dove calls from the ap­ple trees to my right.

Casco Bay, our 25-year-old Ara­bian geld­ing, and his 26-year-old side­kick, a Shet­land pony named Chew­bacca, are graz­ing with sin­gle-minded fo­cus, hav­ing just been turned out for their evening repast.

I will miss all of this, but per­haps none as much as I will the barn. It’s not fancy, our lit­tle barn. It lacks elec­tric­ity and run­ning wa­ter. It doesn’t have a tack room or feed room or a wash stall. Once the sale of this prop­erty is closed, the boys will prob­a­bly be boarded at a barn with all of that stuff, and maybe brass finials on the stall doors, too.

De­spite those bells and whis­tles, I worry about how my old geld­ings are go­ing to cope with the loss of what they have here. Here, they can look out at the world from their stalls. They al­ways have fresh air. On win­ter days they are pro­tected from cold winds and bathed in the sun. In the sum­mer, they have deep shade, away from bugs. When one of them is sick and con­fined to his stall, his free-roam­ing buddy can come and visit.

The lit­tle barn has done all that. We built it our­selves, 18 years ago. In our corner of the coun­try, board rates of $1,000 per month are com­mon. When my hus­band, Jon, and I set­tled here, we couldn’t af­ford to board two horses. In­stead, we bought an an­tique house (for him) on a small piece of land suit­able for horses (for me).

Our three acres lacked fenc­ing and a sta­ble. Our bank ac­count was lack­ing, too. So to­gether we de­signed a sim­ple pole barn. We sited it with the help of a sur­veyor, pushed our plan through the town zon­ing board and se­cured a build­ing per­mit. We hired a land­scaper to sit bu th do an

The plan called for str th wo by to 12 in ha a2 po west wall (for us, to watch the sun­set).

The frame was so beau­ti­ful to us, just by it­self, that it seemed a pity to en­close it with walls. The first job, though, was to give it a wa­ter­proof roof. Jon was a news­pa­per ed­i­tor by trade, but his hobby was restor­ing old houses. He was handy. Up we went to that slop­ing roof, hot sun shin­ing down on our backs and the smell of pine planks, tarpa­per and shin­gles ris­ing up. It was my first roof­ing job, and Jon taught me how to lay a straight row and prop­erly nail it down.

Once the roof was on, we (well, mostly Jon) sheathed the ex­te­rior walls with one-inch-thick rough pine boards, bought from a lo­cal lum­ber mill. Then he cre­ated the in­te­rior stall walls us­ing two-inch-thick boards from the same mill.

We’d con­fer. I’ve worked in many barns, but I’d never built one be­fore, nor had he. So when one wall was to join an­other, or a door to a wall, or a wall to a win­dow, we’d talk through the pos­si­bil­i­ties---the best way to build strong joints, avoid sharp edges, leave enough room. It was fun, joy­ful even, work­ing to­gether to pre­pare our boys’ new home.

Once the fence was com­plete (a three-board fence of red oak on pressure-treated posts), we were ready for the boys to move in. They’ve lived here safely ever since.

Of course, we have had our share of trou­bles here. Chew­bacca en­dured re­cur­ring laminitis at­tacks that kept him stall-bound for weeks at a time. Through­out the pony’s con­va­les­cence, Casco Bay went out in the field each day as usual, of­ten re­turn­ing to visit his pal. The pony is healthy now ---there he is, trot­ting across the field.

Win­ters can be chal­leng­ing here in the north­west corner of Con­necti­cut. On a Satur­day morn­ing last sea­son, the porch ther­mome­ter read 18 be­low. For the first time, the boys wore blan­kets in their stalls. One par­tic­u­larly ro­bust storm a num­ber of years ago blan­keted the farm in three feet of snow. The drift was even deeper at the edge of the run-in. We had a lot of shov­el­ing ahead, so when I turned the boys out that morn­ing, I just dropped hay from the loft above straight down onto the white stuff. Casco Bay and Chew­bacca walked out and ate as if from a ta­ble.

Our sim­ple lit­tle barn has pro­tected Casco Bay and Chew­bacca through the heat and the cold in ill­ness and in health, but it has also pro­vided my hus­band and me with a quiet and beau­ti­ful haven---the porch.

Al­though we de­signed the roofline to en­com­pass a porch on the west side of the barn, we didn’t build the floor for many years. We were just too busy, with jobs and chores and other projects. The space was used for stor­age, first for ex­cess lum­ber from our var­i­ous projects, then for lawn mow­ers and other equip­ment.

Then, for my 50th birth­day, my fam­ily came to cel­e­brate, and with the help of my broth­ers, Jon put down the ma­hogany plank floor. That night, we sat out on our new porch and took in the sun­set. I couldn’t have asked for a bet­ter gift.

That’s where I’m sit­ting tonight, as I fin­ish this lit­tle story. And this is where, on a beau­ti­ful Sun­day morn­ing about a year ago, a few days be­fore I lost him, my hus­band and I played our last game of crib­bage, cups of cof­fee at hand, smiles on our faces ---a game he won.

Yep, our sim­ple lit­tle barn did just about ev­ery­thing for us.

BRAND NEW: This photo was taken just after Tam­ma­lene Mit­man and her hus­band, Jon, fin­ished build­ing their barn 18 years ago.

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