by Mimi Bull
A 230-year-old barn on my road burned. On a recent Sunday morning, my son and I were headed for our newspaper and breakfast at the diner. Oblivious to the drama ahead, we happened upon fire equipment from over a dozen neighboring communities. The fire was at its peak. White smoke and flames billowed high above the still-standing but by then, half-devoured walls. What of the sheep, the new triplet lambs, the goat, the geese, ducks and variety of hens and guinea fowl that have made my drive to and from my house a pleasure? We found one bewildered survivor, a disoriented young black goose, staggering through the melee of fire trucks, hoses, and hurrying firemen. Before we could back up and turn around, my son got out to shoo him into the field across the road where I have since seen him trying to make a trio with a pair of mallards.
We had to backtrack and go the long way for our Sunday Times and to meet our friends at breakfast. The diner staff immediately asked if it was my similarly ancient barn that burned since they had heard early fragmentary reports of a big barn fire on our road. A few hours later, our road was still blocked to traffic and again, we went the long way to head home from the opposite direction. Though the road was blocked with trucks pumping water from neighbors’ artesian wells, we were allowed through to our house where, until after noon, we watched a parade of departing fire trucks and equipment that had been at the site for five or six hours.
When the road was reopened, a steady stream of curious drivers turned at our corner having come to see again and again the empty stone foundation, the blackened beams stacked nearby, and if they had noticed, a fruit tree next to what was the barn, the tree now half burned and half in full flower for the future. Most of the hens, all the sheep and goats survived.
A friend who had been away during the fire is still in shock at the loss of this building that has been part of his lifelong world. It was built by his 18th century ancestors.
The other morning coming down the hill, an enormous bird flew over my car headed in the same direction. I stopped near the farm where the barn had burned, and on a low limb above me, sat a large barn owl. I rolled down the window, turned off NPR, and spoke to her. Half turned from me, she swiveled her head and calmly took me in. I was elated at this first close encounter with an owl in decades. Later, driving back by the farm, there by the side of the road was a huge splay of white feathers. The owl had taken one of the snow-white guinea hens for her nestlings. With the fire and the owl, it has been a hard month for the fowl on Old Jaffrey Road.
Mimi Bull began writing letters to far away family and friends while living for eleven years in Istanbul and Vienna. Back in the US, her letters evolved into extensive journals. She has run Continuing Education programs in Texas, administered a national arts award program in Princeton, NJ, and worked as a Geriatric Psychotherapist at Cambridge Hospital. Her favorite early jobs were assistant to Victor Gruen, city planner, and George Kennan, diplomat and historian. A memoir of her parents is in progress. She lives in Peterborough.