Prayers at Maple Tree Medows

Prayers at Maple Tree Medows
Three Rivers, MI

Thursday, August 2, 2012

Morning Prayers at Maple Tree Meadows

I preserve holy
sanctuary. Here swallows
greet morn. Light and prayer.

We sat in our silent morning meditation
facing the barn of Maple Tree Meadows.
The swallows also lined up, facing us.
When the sun broke the clouds, they suddenly swooped.
Then they slipped back into the barn eves
and were gone.

How lovely are all the places of your dwelling, El Shaddai!

Even the sparrow finds a home in Your presence,
and the swallow finds a place to build a nest for herself,
where she may also lay her young --
on your very altars, El Shaddai!
Blessed are all creatures who dwell in your presence,
always singing your praise.

(from Psalm 84, Swallow's Next: a feminist reading of the Psalms,
by Marchiene Vroon Rienstra)

Monday, June 11, 2012

The Q-ueen of Barn Stories -- Q Road by Bonnie Jo Campbell

Q Road is the novel to read for rich layers barn stories in southwest Michigan-- stories that I have previously not heard. What a wonderful read!

Bonnie Jo Campbell's 2002 novel is narrative archeology of the land and gardeners and farmers of Kalamazoo area where Campbell grew up and now lives. Potawatomi tales and the centennial barn's secrets speak as the stories of farmer's failing livelihoods leak from stalwart hearts and twisted loves.

This is pure treasure for Story Barn. As I have photographed beams of equally old barns, I have never heard that suggestion that Potawatomi people may have helped raise these timbers, as Campbell suggests. Their exodus in 1840 and the mounds they leave behind frame the story with shadows I have always wanted to see.

Here is a summary:

Greenland Township, Michigan: On the same acres where farmers once displaced Potawatomi Indians, suburban developers now supplant farmers and prefab homes spring up in last year's cornfields. All along Q Road -- or "Queer Road," as the locals call it -- the old, rural life collides weirdly with the new.

With a cast of lovingly rendered eccentrics and a powerful sense of place, Q Road is a lively tale of nature and human desire that alters the landscape of contemporary fiction.

As I re-enter the Story Barn project I hope to find ways to connect with Campbell. She was awarded the National Book Award for Once Upon a River, set also in Kalamazoo area.

Read Q Road. Let me know what you hear.

Sunday, January 22, 2012


Three funerals -- one the result of murder and two old age -- ended the harvest season for this pastor. So Story Barn lay fallow. Buried under other things. The barns I saw on this gray day also lay fallow. Hmmm.... So the story continues as this urban pastor continues to learn in 2012 the stories of the land upon which my people live and work -- as told by their barns.


In Constantine, MI, the Seed Corn Capital of the World, it is the fallow season.

The fields are fallow. Snow drifts and dusts and melts in the fields, and then drifts and dusts some more. Some fields are seeded with winter wheat, resting. Some are soil bound snug by peas, green nitrogen, sprouted and decomposing into humus. Some are stubble. Stubble.

Barns lie quiet. Storage barns at Pioneer hold 950,000 bushels of seed corn, remaining from the three million bushels processed, waiting to be ordered, bagged, shipped and planted.

Villa-Miller’s machinery is stored, dry, enclosed for this season while this seed corn farmer spends the fallow season visiting with in-laws in Costa Rica and checking commodities.

But the other barns sleep. They have been sleeping for decades. They sleep the sleep of death.

How long can a field lie fallow yet remain waiting, fertile? It can take five hundred to one thousand years for an inch of soil to form.

Yet in one generation, just since the 1980’s, a family seed corn farm's barn can die. They fall along the roads each season, some caught by wind, by fire, by water. First the roof caves, then the beams lean, and finally the gaping doors close on themselves. A final breath and they are gone.

Seeds die to live.
They enter the soil’s darkness, and moist, only there can they be born again.

Is it so with barns, with farming?

Friday, October 7, 2011

BARN GENES: Art in the Barn #2

The third ART IN THE BARN event was hosted by Leah Schroeder and Elise Hofer Derstine at Red Tail Farm last weekend. More artists than even including poets and musicians filled the barn with warm light in the midst of fierce winds. I was pleased to sell two STORY BARN prints, mounted on “found” barn wood. Don’t miss this event next year! Check it out here below and at

BARN GENES: the innate meeting place of creatures and Creat-ivity

(said in one breath) and dedicated to Elise Hofer Derstine and her poem, “BARN JEANS”

cut the wind

come on in

beer wine

light line

marker, wire

art wrap attire

paintings, pots,

food prints, collage,

barns on barn wood

even you could…


poems unfolded

wild stories

shared voices

politician poet

did you know it?

barn jeans,

whew wee!

music rocks

orange crocs

novice, sage

any age

Leah greets

sells a piece

sweet release

see you later

next October

stored a year

like hay

Monday, September 19, 2011

STURGIS BARNS: Homes of Curly & Chevy

Three friends introduced me to two properties and their barns in Sturgis, MI, last week. I am more and more convinced that animals are the heart of barns. The barns themselves feel alive with creatures making them home. So my imagination is allowing Curly, the pig, and Chevy, the horse, to tell the barn stories this week.


I’m afraid my barn is still hesitant to show its face. So here’s the side view. My view.

You know, the stories in the neighborhood went around, wondering for years what went on behind its closed doors. It took foreclosure to get this barn back to whom it belonged. Us animals!

So, yeh, I will tell the story because the best my barn can do is only whisper. Hang its head, so to speak. Heck, I’m a pig! And tomorrow I head for the St. Joe County 4H Fair and “you know what…” What have I got to lose?

Now let’s get this straight. It’s an insult to call a person a pig, right? So, what does that mean for me? I mean, look at my pen. I don’t have ten old televisions and who knows what else piled up three foot high in here the way the last owners did in this barn when they left. Some pigs are not really pigs and some people….well, I will let that up to you.

In the “good old days” this barn was used to farm crops, a few horses, some cattle, starting in the 1960’s. Had a bit of acreage. Not much. The owner at that time built this sharp looking barn next to the road – but really it was the garage! What some people do!

And then there was the small white garage they dragged in – and added a bay on each side to make even more garage and storage space.

The middle building of the “out buildings” was, well, I guess we’ll still hide his identity and just call him BARN. My home. A pole barn. Practical. Square. Just the basics. Good enough for a small family farm.

Well, the original farmer took to building a new house on the back acreage and sold the three acres right here to a family. Mother lived in a trailer. In the little house, two daughters lived, one with a husband and child, the other with her boyfriend. Between the lot of them, seemed there was never steady work. Problems. The new owner found a penciled note left behind that said a simply, “Sorry, for drugs, for never making things right….”

It could have been the end of the road for Barn. Left behind? Piles and piles. Someone gutted the plumbing and copper wiring from the house. Took the valuables. Left the junk. Took good hearted people, a bank eager to sell, a low, low price for three acres, to turn things around.

Almost two years now the new owners have been piling, sorting, re-cycling. And making space for me and my buddies. New things are getting stored along with some old finds.

The barn/garage is becoming a wood shop. The three part barn covers the wood pile, and the manure pile out behind. (Oh, sorry, that didn’t sound good, did it?)

Here we are in the barn, proud now, us animals. Washed up and ready for the fair. Tended by folks that love us and don’t hide us behind closed doors.

Meet the turkeys (and don’t think of that in human terms). They’re not “turkeys,” if you know what I mean.

And the four white hens. They clean up nice, don’t they.

Then there are my buddies. The fine swine. This photo woman came in and riled us up so we gave her a good snort or two before turning our hams on her.

We know she liked the ducks and the beef cattle better than us.

Everybody does. But somebody has to bring home the bacon, right?

Well, it’s been real, folks. And this will be my first and last blog. Unless someone interviews me at the fair.

Wanted to let some of the “dirty secret” out. And I feel better now. Some folks seem to think all barns can do this day and age is hide their junk, and hide their shame. But hey, even the simplest and most humble barn is good for us pigs. Cause, I mean, we are not pigs! Get it! Thanks for listening. Hay is for horses, and Barn is for animals.

Signed: Curly


Did someone say, “Hay is for horses?” What about oats, barley, or a nice sweet carrot?

My name is Chevy. There, I’ve said it. I am a one horse power Amish buggy horse, and someone surely schmirked on my naming day.

My barn, I call him Barney, being an Amish barn now, is not up for talking. Photos, well, okay. It’s a barn, ya? But barn talk would mean translation – English to Pennsylvania Dutch then back to English again. Galen and Suzie sprechen a lot of English, for sure. Even in the barn. But me, being bi-lingual, I can take the limelight of photos and interviews with – well, animal humility. Speak plain, they say. Mer schwetze noch die Mudderschprooch.

Story of Barney’s beginning is lost, they say. Suzie checks it out, always looking for antiques. Finds some neat stuff, like battery operated pig prods and a classy old milk can.

Silo says 1944. Barn probably up before that.

Some of the roof beams are basic logs, but the posts are sawn. Unusually open ceiling up top with triangle reinforcement. Still straight and strong, for hay, even for an Amish barn sale.

Me, I got new digs. Best part of Barney these days. Galen took down a tulip poplar for new stalls, ones a horse like me is not likely to chew.

Clean cut. Neat tools.

A chair to sit and wonder.

And a view of the “garage” barn, made over with cement floor and new windows for Amish church to meet here once a year. All thirty families!

Used to be more animals here. At first, there were stalls for milking.

When the family with five children got the place in the 70’s, there were hogs tended here, and dried corn stored in the hayloft. And parties, even on Halloween. (Cover your ears if you wish, but they were Church of the Brethren parties. Nothing I couldn’t pass on to the next generation.)

Floats for homecoming were built in Barney’s big, dry spaces. Rats ate the grain in the grain bin. Old watering troughs dried and rusted. Family farmed the land, but Barney? Barney was mostly empty.

Why there was so much emptiness, that a walnut tree made its home in the silo. Look at that! Don’t let the rain fall on those walnut leaves and into my trough. Enough to make a horse kronk. Even a “Chevy.” But Galen will tend to that.

Me? Not much of a work horse. Galen and Suzie ride to good paying work in Indiana --in a van with a driver every day. Galen’s been at the trailer factory for ten years now – age 16 to 26. He says big farms make it near impossible for an Amish farm to make much money.

We’ll just have to see about the future of me and Barney. Galen and Suzie are making this home, sweet home.

If Galen and Suzie fill up the house and Barney like the last family, well, we won’t be lonely. Let’s just say that.

Well, hope I haven’t said too much. You wouldn’t want to think I was a proud Amish horse, would you. Not hooch-metich. So, that’s all.