Holding my phone at eye level, I added one more snapshot to the multitudes who have taken the same picturesque photo. As iconic as the Grand Teton Mountain in its background, the historic T.A. Moulton barn boasts the title, “Most Photographed Barn in America.”
Since taking up gardening, I have developed an affinity for barns. Despite the promise of patriotic Mount Rushmore, awe-inspiring Yellowstone, and the other-worldly Arches, I looked forward to seeing this barn up close as much as any other sight on our road trip.
Admittedly, the landmark let me down a bit. I expected a grandiose structure standing proud, as if the Grand Teton Mountain range itself were created solely to form its backdrop. After all, if it took T.A. Moulton 30 years to complete it, wouldn’t it have beheld similar majesty? Instead, the sight of the diminutive structure sent my imagination back a couple centuries to simpler days when the families of the historic Mormon Row used this very barn for the daily life.
Still, the nostalgic sight wrapped in sounds of only the warm summer wind served as a welcome reprieve after leaving the bustling tourist town of Jackson Hole, Wyoming.
Is that why my affection softens to the sight of barns? A return to simpler days?
As we rolled through small towns on our 4,000 mile trek, I recalled my own upbringing in an Arkansas farm town of less than 2,000 people. Two barns sat in my neighbors’ back yards. As a girl I played in them — imagining, dreaming. Long summer days beckoned exploration, demanded imagination. Boredom catalyzed creativity. Children played freely in nature, adults worked with their hands outside in gardens and fields, teaching their children to do the same.
A simpler time.
As my eyes settled from the towering Tetons back to the barn, I turned to my left and saw other buildings — small structures comprising the historic Mormon Row. High grass prevented my entrance, but I tried to envisage daily life there. Even the most rosy-colored glasses can’t hide that life was brutally hard back then, and especially in the Tetons. I wouldn’t want to return to those days and give up my washing machine, dishwasher, running water, or central heat.
But can’t I take the blessings of growing my own food and working my own land and enjoy the best of both worlds?
On our return home, the glorious mountains turned into awe-inspiring rock plateaus that flattened into miles of sagebrush-pocked desert. Not until many more miles did I spot it: a barn, surrounded by lush green crops.
Though hours from our destination, a familiar sensation coursed through me. Home.
What is it about a barn surrounded by farmland that cocoons me in invisible comfort? Perhaps, though the daughter of teachers, my rural Arkansas roots go deeper than my thirty-seven years – into the very fabric of my DNA. Or could it be, working with our hands in the dirt, in reality, is in each of our DNA? Why else are we drawn to nature to such a degree as we are? Even a desire to hike Mount Nebo or canoe the Buffalo or take a trip to visit National Parks around the country testifies to our innate pull to the natural world around us.
Our departure as a society from growing our own food and raising our own animals is a fairly recent phenomenon. We don’t yet know the full implications of mass-produced food, but logic tells us the more we grow ourselves the less dependent we become on others for our daily sustenance.
But to embrace this way of living, it’s not an all-or-nothing proposition.
It is possible to enjoy the modern conveniences while returning to nature. We can till our gardens in the spring and pull weeds by hand the rest of the season to protect the soil. We can set the timer on our sprinklers during summer droughts and turn it off when the mineral-rich fall rains return. We can eat fresh, nutrient-dense tomatoes from our gardens during the summer and enjoy with gratitude the ones available at the grocery store when ours have died out.
We, among all generations, might very well have the best opportunity to enjoy the fruit of our labor while falling back on modern conveniences when needed. It simply takes reminding. We were made to work with our hands. To grow our own food. To work in the bit of dirt we have.
The barns of yesteryear remind us.