"When dawn spreads its paintbrush on the plain, spilling purple... ," Sons of the Pioneers theme for TV show "Wagon Train." Dawn on the mythic Santa Fe Trail, New Mexico, looking toward Raton from Cimarron. -- Clarkphoto. A curmudgeon artist's musings melding metaphors and journalism, for readers in more than 150 countries.

Wednesday, December 23, 2015

Two days 'till Christmas--Mangers I have known

Rural icon, 5 by 7 watercolor, card
I never paid too much attention to barns until we moved to Iowa years ago. In the upper Midwest, they are more than just buildings...they're essential to survival, icons and testaments to hard work, symbols of the rural life. 
Then I spent two summers on a paint crew painting them, hog houses, sheds, houses...essential every few years because of the harsh winters.
Ever since, I notice barns where ever I go, in fact, they grab my attention and imagination--Oklahoma, Arkansas, Missouri, Nebraska, Iowa, Pennsylvania, Maine--every place where agriculture is as rich as the land. They tell me much about the people who built them, who live nearby, whose work depends on them. 
Many are in decay, and I love those too, having painted pictures of a fair share of them. They're being replaced by more efficient metal buildings, and I understand why, but the new have no history, no culture, no nostalgia like the old. Seeing a barn, visiting a barn is an adventure in storytelling.
After that summer I also vividly associate the odor of farm animals, hay, manure and more pungent odors with barns. Where there are barns, there are always mangers, feeding troughs for the animals, part of the fecund atmosphere. I have only to attend a country or state fair to be reminded...how close to the earth, to life and death we are, even when isolated in our air-conditioned cocoons and concrete streets these days. I can sense their texture, their reality.
I can't help but think about another barn, a manger, a shed, filled with  the fragrant odor of hay, livestock, manure and more. No antiseptic, sterile hospital or nurses or doctors...just birth in the face of death, building a strong immune system and character.
Such things influence you all your life, become a part of who you are, either remembered or deep inside--shaping your instincts and how you treat life and death and people. 
Ever think about what Jesus thought about when he walked by one in his dusty travels, catching a whiff of smell on the breeze?

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