Here’s the story of how the Barn at Ravenrock in NM went up in one week in September 2011.
If you’ve never seen a barn raising, let me tell you it is a thrilling process–from nothing to something in five days. The Wilson Pole Barn Construction out of Wagoner, OK did the Ravenrock Barn.
The night before the barn was scheduled to arrive, I was very very blue, very alone, very unsupported. No one was going to be here from my world to celebrate, to cheer me on, to be excited with me. Of course, I had been keep this somewhat secret so how could I have had that support, but I guess I thought Ric should drop everything and fly out. Then I read this Hafiz poem: “Now it is the time to know that all you do is sacred.” I realized I was being childish and settled down, able to see that this project will be the source of great joy, peace, deepening, and beauty for years to come, for me and for others.
A battery of calls back and forth between me, the Wilson Company trucks, and Jamie, a neighboring cowboy who helped them up the mesa road in a tractor, was needed to coordinate the arrival. Wilson trucks were delayed in Tucumcari at the Weigh Station on the OK/NM border.
I had worried faintly for the past two weeks, despite plenty of vetting online and on the phone with their references, with the OK Attorney General, and with lawyer databases that Ric has access to, that they might not be real or might be funky. But I just loved talking to Alberta, who turns out to be the sister of Lloyd Wilson, the owner, on the phone. She always picked up. She answered all my questions no matter how dumb or redundant. And I liked their simple, direct website—nothing fancy, but informative enough. It felt the way a barn outfit ought to be putting itself forth.
I drive to the top of Apache Mesa Rd. to await the crew, ready to shoot video. A dark sky hung over us. Maybe rain. I held my breath that it would hold off until they got the massive trucks up the switchbacks and across the mesa to the barn site. Ric was on the phone with me. I kept eyeing the bottom of the road far far below. Did I see them? Vehicles went back and forth but I couldn’t tell if it was the barn crew. I had my truck parked and ready. Suddenly, puffing, grunting engines on the slope just below me! They were almost up.
A double cab pick-up dragged a 20’ trailer loaded with 26,000 pounds of pre-fab rafters, barn poles, and metal skin. At the top of the mesa, there was a general palaver about tow chains and now what? It was decided that Jamie should take them all the way to Ravenrock, an extremely wise decision as the large dark clouds menacing us on the horizon began to dump heavy rain and hail about halfway to the the property. The road turned to bacon grease. I followed up the rear of the caravan and got to see the vehicles fishtailing. What a mess! If not for the tractor we would have spent the night mired three miles from our destination. We got to my gate—a downward slope of dirt, now pure mud. Trucks careened this way and that.
Once at the site, the rain abated but the ground was now soft and the trucks were sinking their tire teeth into the grass, making ruts. The crew—Steve, Tim, and Juany—unloaded the trailer truck. Alberta and Rick departed with Jamie. The crew spent time in the fog and damp cold organizing the site, then pulled out the auger to dig the first post hole and see what lay in store. They needed to be able to dig down three feet. After a foot and a half of nice soft dirt they hit limestone shelf. This meant they would need a jackhammer to get deep enough. I texted my neighbor that the crew would need a jackhammer in the morning. At last, they headed down the muddy road to their hotel in Las Vegas.
We had gotten the materials to the land and were now ready for the next few days of barn raising. After everyone left, a second cold soaker dumped rain and hail. And then a huge, full double rainbow! The coyotes sang riotously. It was a rock concert! An opera!
Barn Raising Days 1 & 2
Heavy fog. I can’t see anything outside my ring of trees. Dripping wet. The guys made it up thew mucky road in their 2-wheel drive truck! I’m impressed. Then I slog around, my boots twice their size with heavy clay mud. They dig with the auger then jackhammering the limestone in the fog. By the end of the day they have half the poles in.
Later that night, the canyon had captured the fog in its stony arms. I remember my conversation with Steve, the foreman. He’s my height, lithe, with beautiful posture, terrible teeth, and a twinkle in his eye. He is soft-spoken. He emanates kindness. I like standing beside him, saying little, gazing at the barn site, happy with it, happy with the fog, the day, the men, the project, with my life. I tell Steve about the ravens choosing the site. He nods, but who knows what he thinks.
The sun came out. The crew finished digging the holes and now set the poles, standing them upright, filling around the base of each. They are deep in the ground.
I brought them some Trader Joe oatmeal chocolate chip cookies. Juany returned my container later. “We et ‘em all up!”
At sunset I stand on the road and look into the site. All the poles are set, standing vertically now, every ten feet. They ring the full footprint, like Stonehenge. Like a temple. I feel a surge of joy. I walk into the site. The 2X6 lumber that will form the wall supports lie along the ground delineating where the walls will be. Jackhammer, sawhorses, shovels, hammers, saws litter the enclosed space. Despite this, I see the dance space; it is a beautiful dimension. I can see that the shed will be perfect for a sleeping room on the SW corner and a summer kitchen with a long wooden table toward the NW for people to eat and prepare meals, or just sit and talk. I see where the slide doors will open in the back, and which tree I will prune a bit so it grows into a shade tree like the one on Rocky’s land beside what used to be the stone schoolhouse form the Depression era. I turn and look and pace around in the golden late afternoon light. A home for my work.
Barn Raising Day 3
A dramatic day. The guys erected the rafters. First, the pre-fabbed trusses were laid on the ground inside the barn parameters below where each would be hoisted aloft. Tim climbed up to one south-most corner, and Steve to the other corner. They perched 12 feet up, like gargoyles, chatting while Juany tromped below getting things ready. He threw one end of a rope up to Steve and attached the other end to the first truss lying on the ground. Steve hauled the truss as far up as he could, then Juany lifted as Steve continued to pull until his end was up and leaning on a top brace. Then Juany to the other side where Tim hauled up. Now the truss hung upside down, its ‘v’ pointing to the ground with its wide edges at the top corner of each wall. Juany then nailed a 2×4 to the tip of the truss pitch and, on a teamwork “Go”, swung the point upward to vertical, bracing it from the ground while Steve and Tim nailed their sides in. There was a bit of nailing to do along the face of this truss and some pitch boards to secure it. Steve and Tim, relaxed, poised acrobats, danced and balanced beautifully on those top beams. Juany had the grunt work below as they continued in sequence down the line until they had all ten trusses up.
Smooth, experienced, elegant. they worked quietly, just the sound of hammers striking the wood. No nailguns, no power drills. I felt their energy going into the nails, into the boards, into the large, sturdy poles. This is a human barn made by men who are seasoned artists. Now I understand Steve’s impeccable posture. In perfect balance, he trots around on the roof beams, sure-footed as a high rope walker.
Barn Raising Days 4 & 5
The Barn Looks Like a Barn
They continue steadily on in a zen-like way without any zen to their self-concept. Tim makes the frames for doors and windows. He leans intently over the saw horses to trim a piece of 2×4 for a window frame. Every frame he has made fits perfectly. He didn’t finish high school. Never saw the need. None of the three have much use for college—didn’t go themselves and can’t see how it would have made much difference to their lives. If their kids want to go, they shrug, its up to them. On day #4, I hear more detail about their lives and opinions as they chug down orange soda (Tim), 7-Up (Juany), and Coke (Steve).
Steve has been married twice. He is wise. He has gentle sotto voce advice for impetuous young Juany, who, at 29 , knows it all: is so decisive, his wife spends all his money!, she wants him to make more money but she wants him home. Juany wants to get home soon cause he loves his little girl who misses him, she wants her daddy. Yes, he loves his wife BUT… And there is always the “I love my wife, but,” in every break-time effusion. Steve listens, off-hand, dropping a bit of succinct, calm advice here and there which is mostly ignored.
The final day on the barn is a day of finishing—edges & trims. All the doors and windows have been framed and installed except the slide doors, which lie in position on the ground at the south end, ready to be hung. Tim gathers tools, piling leftover lumber, propanel, and insulation as Steve and Juany measure and mount the slide door track. They all stop and smoke a cigarette around noon.
I walk around, inspecting, asking final questions about the bottom edge of the west wall which doesn’t touch the ground. Steve nods. “See it touches on the east side. The ground slopes ever-so-slightly which is why that side has a gap,” he explains. The barn is level and squared. I’ll have to seal around those edges before winter. I continue to inspect and see nothing to complain about. The barn is clean and sharp and wonderful.
They grind out their cigarette butts, heave up the first slide door, working it onto its track. Then the second. Jauny shoves them together. Thunk! He gestures to the door, like the circus lion tamer, “Fits snug as a glove!” And it does. The barn is done.
The Crew Leaves
They will go now and I feel both sad and relieved. It’s been a consuming five days; I can use a digestion period. We shake hands. I give them the second half of the payment, a small tip each, a box of Chocolate Chip Oatmeal cookies for the ride home, and to Junay for his birthday, a set of antelope antlers I found on a hike. I wave them off and stand in stunned silence. Has this really happened, this thing that six weeks ago was phone calls and internet digging? Did I really find Wilson Pole Barn Company, research them, vet them, put in an order, transfer money from one account to another, send in the first half payment, fly out to the mesa and find the site, locate a jackhammer and a hauling tractor? Me, a dancer, who knows nothing of all this? Yes. I did. I cry as I imagine myself managing to do this, choosing it, learning it, and moving forward instead of thinking I can’t, or getting stuck, or saying that I’ll do it later.
It is a beautiful barn. A perfect barn. I feel such affection for the wonderful crew (Wilson Pole Barn specialists out of Wagoner, OK) who hammered in every nail by hand.
The Barn Remains
For me this is the first major endeavor where the ideas and actions remain. As a dancer, all my work disappears—a performance that I prepare three months for is over in twenty minutes. The same with dances that I choreograph on others. Writing a memoir was better: it lingers as do videos, but both of these are projects that are consumed rather quickly by others and which once I’ve completed them, I rarely look into afterward.
The barn, however, is there. I will be going in and out. I see it again and again as I walk the winding track between the pinions. I think back to the moment when the ravens revealed that spot. Then, in just a few days, the Wilson crew evolved the insubstantial into the substantial. Not six months, or a year or two years. No, it happened before my eyes, like old-time photographs in a dark room. The edges sharpening, the form filling, timbers, metal sheets coalescing into a barn.