Samuel J. Tanner 4 minute read

Barn Animals

I lived in a barn last week.

Katie's aunt Helen bought a refurbished barn in Lake Geneva this winter.

This has been a long semester. Graduation was on a Saturday morning. I woke up at 3 AM the next day, and drove my family to Wisconsin. Sure, Solomon screamed for two hours, and it rained during the drive out of Pennsylvania. The mountain roads were treacherous. Still, 11 hours later, and we were driving through peaceful Wisconsin farmland. Soon, we pulled up to a barn that looked like an art project.

Katie's parents came out to meet us. They drove out to Wisconsin from the Twin Cities. The boys were ecstatic to see their grandparents. Katie and I were happy to be with family.

This barn in Wisconsin was something else. It was designed by an inspired architect. He built the home with his wife, an artist, in mind. There's an art studio on the first floor, and her painting hung throughout the house before Helen and her husband moved in. This architect repurposed materials from the original barn, and created a thoughtful homage to the original building. This reimagined barn is all windows. One wall of the barn looks out on a pastoral landscape. Watching the sunset through this wall of windows was somewhat profound. The house has two levels. These different floors are attached by a spiral staircase in one of the barn's original silos. Solomon was enamored by his echo in this silo. He screamed everytime we walked up or down the stairs.

"Can I hear my echo, Daddy?" Solomon asked.

"Go for it," I told him.

Solomon screamed at the top of his longs. The sound bounced up and down the silo. Delightful.

We spent nearly a week in this barn. We hung out with Katie's parents, her aunt and uncle, and the birds in the backyard. It was restful. Katie's parents stayed at a resort nearby, and the boys swam in the hotel pool. We ate well, hung out in Helen's living room, and watched the sun rise and set over Wisconsin farmland. Mostly, we spent time together. I didn't work. I didn't write. Yes, I played way too many video games on my laptop. Europa Universalis 4 might be the dorkiest game I've played in years. But it's addicting. And calming. Ultimately, I spent time with my family. I love these people, and being away from work felt important.

I'm glad I took this job as a college professor. But it also felt important to leave State College, and drive west. Break the rhythms of routine. I've finished my third year as an academic. I've helped to found an improv theatre company. I am, in many ways, tired. A week with my family in a barn was a nice way to change things up.

We'll drive back to Minnesota in July. We didn't have enough time to drive all the way back to the Twin Cities last week. These roadtrips with toddlers are madness. But we can't afford plane tickets, and we have people we care about back in the Midwest. And it's nice to get away from things. So this trip was just a way to sidestep routine. We'll take another stab at a trip home in July. My poor Honda CRV is piling up the miles. And driving through Chicago is like having an anvil dropped on your head. But the journey was worth it to sit with Katie's family in an aesthetically pleasing barn, watching the prairie through a wall of windows. The journey is always worth it to be with people you love. Corny, right? It's true though.

Samson's favorite activity? Crawling into his grandfather's lap, and sitting peacefully. Katie's dad has a calming presence on people, and this is especially true for our youngest son. Samson is usually pissed off at me when I wake him up from a nap. And he was angry when I woke him up last week. But his grumpy mood quickly left when I asked if he wanted to go upstairs and sit on Pa's lap.

"Yes," he said earnestly.

And I carried him up a spiral staircase, brought him to Katie's dad, and placed him on his grandfather's lap. He sat peacefully for 20 minutes or so, as the sunlight danced on the prairie. That was nice. What more is there to say?