Thursday, May 7, 2009

A Barn in New England

A Barn in New England: Making a Home on Three Acres
Joseph Monninger (2001, Chronicle Books)
It's a little hard to figure out how this book got written. When did Monninger have time? It's a chronicle, more or less week by week, of the staggering amount of work that went into making a New Hampshire barn habitable by humans. I had not really considered why that is so: a barn is a deliberately porous structure, both so that the moisture exhaled by large animals won't cause it to rot, and so that hay can be stored without risk of catching fire. To make a barn a house, you have to insulate, cancelling out all that ventilation, or you'll never be able to heat the place. Monninger and his girlfriend, Wendy, also tackled the heating system itself (two giant stoves that consume wood or coal); a couple of serious problems with the foundation; a leaky roof; and three acres of gardens and meadow.
Again I say, all this before committing a word to paper? No, of course he was taking notes, and teaching his courses at a nearby college as well. Monninger gives us a full year of growth and change, rotating his attention among the barn itself, the surrounding acreage, and the family, which also includes a dog called D Dog, and Wendy's eight-year-old son, Pie. He expresses enthusiasm for this radical adventure without excessive sentimentality, repeatedly reminding us that there's always more wood to chop and split if the family is to make it through the New Hampshire winter. This labor of love is not everybody's calling in life, but it makes an admirable tale.

E-mail, August 2007

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