Victor Davis Hanson // Private Papers
Eight years after that last auto-avicide, the barn began to slowly tip over as the old eucalyptus poles wobbled, and the fir rafters finally after a near century and a half bent. At some point, after 40 years of fixing, repairing, borrowing to keep ancient things viable, I thought for a second “let her topple.”
The barn was largely full of junk anyway and an eyesore. I called around and got an estimate of $5,000 to haul it away—and be done with the headaches of constant repair, junk collecting, and whitewashing. Now and then a thief would get in, rummage around and find the booty wasn’t even worth the break-in.
But instead I heard voices in the shadows of rebuke and hired a local carpenter, as if one has no right to destroy what was left of his great-great-grandmother’s barn. So Saul Ruiz rebuilt the rafters. He put in new four-by-fours. He framed the interior out, and nailed ¾ inch plywood throughout. With jacks and rope, soon the barn was perfectly straight, firm and stout. I had a master builder put new sliding doors in. I though it looked as it did when my grandfather, not me, was 7 in 1897—27 years after his grandmother had built it.
And then Saul Ruiz said, “Bictor, compadre, now we come to the siding. Let’s finish the job right. OK? You buy, I nail. I’ll get good redwood and we will go right over the old stuff. Then it looks like new. No cracks, no nothing wrong.” I liked Saul a lot. He had an in with a lumber yard. The cost was reasonable. It would bolster up the barn even more.
But suddenly I thought, why cover up something that has lasted 150 years? And what of a future barn owl, or maybe one is here tonight? So I said, “Sal, I like the old wood and the cracks too. Owls do too.” He thought I was crazy and said, “Never leave a job unfinished.” So, instead, I had him repair the shed and skip the barn siding. He was happier working there anyway.
But at least we pressure-washed the old siding, and painted it, cracks and all. The barn still looks old from the outside but new and strong from the within. Saul’s work. But then suddenly I thought too—‘Here we go again. Another dead barn owl?’ And then I sort of remembered, “Life is a tradeoff, good and bad, bad and good.”
So far I’ve notice the rodents are still sporadic. I think I hear swishing at night. I put a studio in the barn. One night during a filming, I heard a strange sound right outside. When it was over, I walked outside, and couldn’t see a thing.
Then I had an eerie feeling and looked straight up, six feet above my head. There was a barn owl, alive and glued to the side of the barn. He seemed he belonged there more than I did on the ground, his superior right of inheritance I guess.
I thought “He’s stuck, so here we go again.”
But he swished off without a hitch, a perfect take-off, his landing gear free and clear.
I thought of my now late daughter, the empath, and wanted to yell out to her, “But look! He’s free and alive. You see him. He’s alive!” And then I heard too mom, above the swishing, once more whispering to me, “Good and bad, bad and—good…”
13 thoughts on “A Child’s Garden of Animals: Barnicide”
Owls set their talons in the cracks and can’t escape. They die. You probably never saw the carcasses because they are well camouflaged and are quickly removed by vermin.
I can’t even begin to tell you how much I enjoy your stories of family, nature & emotion that you share with us.
I grew up on a dairy farm with my Grandparents in Wisconsin. Thanks for what you do for the owls, and Your Grandmas Barn!
I love these stories, reminds me of growing up in Tulare and playing with cousins at a small beef spread near Selma and a Thompson Seedless/Plum orchard – the Swansons, just outside of Kingsburg. Happy days.
Doc, I do enjoy reading your columns. You seem like one of the neighbors we’d all like to have. Thanks.
Victor’s narrative sagacity and passion remind me of Uncle Tom’s Cabin by Harriet Beecher Stowe, my shirttail relative. Wonderful!
I really love these stories.. and hope you keep posting them. When all the news is bad, these warm our hearts.
I am 70 years young.
I creates a cartoon character called
‘wise owl what hoot’
under the story hamburger tab
I share not to gain followers but
for the joy of creativity.
Barnicide is so excellent. Thank you for sharing your gift of loving your surroundings and your family.
Reminds me of home on our West Texas ranch. Only my dad doted on black snakes, wouldn’t let us kill any of those we saw. Rattlers were a different thing, altogether.
I now understand the significance of the photo that is visible over Dr. Hanson’s shoulder on TV interviews, and the loss he and his family continue to live through daily.
Lovely article. Made me remember the joy and wonder of childhood innocence. What will my grandchildren remember when they are grown? Is life as magical to them as mine was? (75yrs.) I hope it is !