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By Staff | Jan 6, 2012

This extraordinarily mild and dry winter has enabled us to accomplish some remarkable feats. After the past few winters, we deem it a minor miracle to simply get into the car and drive without first selling our souls for snow-free roads.

Another remarkable achievement for me is the completion of my barn cleaning project. Normally, the very idea of such a thing would be unthinkable.

A normal winter would have tormented us with several bouts of liquid nitrogen-like cold by now. Such temperatures would have made my barn’s manure as hard as iron ore.

But the mild conditions have kept things thawed, which meant there was no good excuse for me not to work.

The mere thought of hand-cleaning the ancient dung from our old gambrel-roofed barn should be enough to make one question one’s sanity. It appeared to be a monumental task, akin to emptying Lake Superior with a 5-gallon bucket.

My pace was slow but steady – haul and spread one load today, perhaps two tomorrow. Rest several days to allow the body to recuperate and repeat.

The only help I received was from Sandy, our golden retriever, who superintended. He would watch me for a while and sniff around a bit, then leave once the real work began.

Sandy would have a bright future in corporate management if only he had opposable thumbs.

The passage of time had made the manure as dense as depleted uranium. Picking up a single shovelful often caused my back wheels to lift off the ground.

The distance between the manure and the manure spreader gradually grew into quite a walk. This necessitated the purchase of a wheelbarrow and the construction of a wooden gangway to facilitate the emptying of said wheelbarrow into the spreader.

My carpentry skills closely resemble those of Wile E. Coyote. I’m simply glad that an OSHA inspector didn’t drop by the jobsite.

The barn cleaning project began to feel like an infinite slog. The removal of a single load would result in no perceptible progress.

I would like to say that all this extra exercise caused my already-massive muscles to attain ever-more more bulk and that I could have intimidated the likes of Arnold Schwarzenegger. I would like to say that, but it wouldn’t be true. Alas! The additional bulginess in my abdominal area proved not to be from shoveling manure into the spreader, but from shoveling mashed potatoes into my maw.

The seemingly endless toil allowed ample time to ruminate. How many cow hours did it take to give the bars of the wooden stanchions their highly polished patina?

This was my Grandpa Nelson’s barn and is where my dad and uncles worked and grew up. How many youthful dreams were voiced inside these ancient wooden walls?

The finish line finally appeared on the horizon. Just three loads remained! In one day, and with Herculean effort, I wheeled out the last wheelbarrow of the super-massive dung heap. I then made the mistake of calculating the exact size of the just-completed task.

Length-times-width-times-depth gives you the number of cubic feet. Multiply this by the estimated weight per cubic foot and you get holy cats! That amount of tonnage would be equal to a small herd of elephants! Although I bet elephants could be induced to load themselves.

That’s what you get for trying to save a few bucks by doing it yourself instead of hiring it done or renting a skid loader. Saving money my way would be similar to rowing across the Atlantic to avoid ponying up for steamship passage.

The barn remains in generally good condition. A few minor issues warranted the attention of a skilled carpenter, but as I said, I’m a cheapskate.

The concepts of “square” and “plumb” and “level” are mere theories as far as I’m concerned. There are many other competing carpentry conjectures out there, some of which might be just as valid.

Besides, many parts of the barn are somewhat askew, so my carpentry style fits right in. In a manner of speaking.

One huge mistake I made during this project involved getting an eye checkup. New eyeglass lenses were issued to me just as I commenced barn repair activities. This resulted in vast amounts of misery.

What else could explain the innumerable nails that curled over under the hammer and the heavy blows absorbed by my thumb? Certainly it couldn’t be a lack of coordination or advancing age!

It’s deeply satisfying to see the barn project completed. And this may be blasphemous, but I hope that we now get some genuine winter weather. Because I could really use the rest.

Nelson is a freelance writer from Volga, S.D. Reach him by e-mail at jjpcnels@itctel.com.

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