Tuesday, August 9, 2011

the coops of port oneida, part six (peter & jenny burfiend coops)

First of all, I must apologize to my faithful readers for the long hiatus between posts. Life has returned me to a consuming schedule of lawyering, including travel a couple weeks ago to a hearing in Rockford, Illinois. That trip afforded me ample opportunity to observe from the highway the coops of Illinois which, unsurprisingly, look an awful lot like the coops of Michigan from the same period. In fact, a highlight of that trip was when I arrived at the home of the union rep who was going to ferry me the rest of the way to Rockford and recognized immediately that his "shed" was actually an old coop:
 Facing south, of course, and complete with the remnants of the old pop door!
This particular rep and his wife are avid gardeners and enthusiastic about the history of their farmhouse, which abuts a giant corn field, so they were nonplussed when I insisted on photographing their ex-coop.

The same trip offered slightly surreal views of Illinois' massive wind turbines, both cartwheeling in their fields and being transported, blade by blade, down the highway. I know there are those who criticize their environmental impact, especially on birds. I confess I don't know all the facts, but seeing them makes my heart glad. In those moments I feel we are actually doing something about our hideous dependence on oil. And aesthetically, well, they are just incredibly beautiful!

The next week's travels took me to Portland, ME where, sadly, I had no opportunity to explore the local coop architecture. I did manage to acquit myself respectably in a survey of local pub...ahem...culture and consumed vast quantities of wonderful local seafood, including a beautiful sushi lunch at Miyake and a delightfully atmospheric lobster dinner  at the Peaks Island Lions Club after a cruise across the harbor (1 lobster, 1 potato, 1 ear of corn, a half-dozen very sandy clams served on a cardboard tray and eaten on picnic tables overlooking the water). Being the inveterate foodie that I am, I had made a reservation for two at Bresca before I ever left home, assuming I'd find someone who'd be glad to accompany me. Sure enough, my new friend Beth and I enjoyed a slightly ironic "romantic first date" (couldn't be otherwise in that space) that included a shared braised kale salad with a perfect 6-minute local egg. When Beth saw the same dish being delivered later to the next table she declared she could have eaten another all by herself, it was that good. I was inclined to agree.

But none of this has anything to do with Port Oneida, of course. So I try to remember where I left off and find it exceedingly difficult to cast myself back, both geographically and chronologically. But that's where the photos help.

Peter and Jenette (Goffar) Burfiend bought their farm in 1882 and built themselves, as so many did, a log cabin. Peter's parents were the trailblazing Carsten and Eliza, you'll remember. In the 1890's, Martin Basch, who had a reputation as an expert blacksmith but must also have been quite the carpenter, built Peter and Jenny a proper farmhouse which stands, well-preserved, to this day.
The old cabin is long gone, as is the original barn. What remains is a curious collection of outbuildings not unlike that of the Spooky Olsens but made infinitely less spooky by the farm's position mostly out in the open, with views that stretch across to the Lawr farm in one direction and to the Eckhert farm in another.

On my first visit there, I set out for a clump of pine trees behind and to the south of the house, spotting a ruin and some small structures there.  After a brief and welcome pause amidst the clump (did you think there were bathrooms in Port Oneida?), I savored some of the most picturesque finds of the whole venture.

There is a heaped up ruin:
But there is also a sweet little pair of dog houses (which I later realized even show up on the park service plan) next to which rests an old wooden rowboat.

The only other boat I spotted in my Port Oneida travels was, fittingly, at Jenny's natal home, sidled up next to the mixed granite foundation of the Goffar barn on the shore of Narada Lake:
But back to Peter and Jenny. Strewn about the edge of the field were several old farm implements, including this disk harrow, looking very John Deere in its green remnants:
A pair of puffballs:
And a clothesline sentinel:
But no coop. Venturing in the other direction, to the north of the house, I spotted another ruin and, standing near it, yet another small structure.
The ruined building has been allowed to rest where it fell. The end walls have simply fallen in toward the center and the old foundation is still visible and intact.
A closer look reveals a tangle of ancient chicken-wire:
I spent some time climbing gingerly around the periphery of the ruin, trying to pick out nesting boxes or any other telltale sign. Nothing, although I'm pretty well convinced it was a coop. Finally, I turned my attention to its slightly forlorn companion.

There, on the side opposite the ruined coop, is a little door. The paper wasp standing sentry and I eyed each other at length.
I was slightly nervous about the proximity of a stinging insect, but I braved its nearness all the same because of what I spotted inside this lovely little brooder coop. At first, I couldn't believe it, but then I reached in and pulled it farther out into the light:
Those of you who've spent any time around them will know that what I saw was a galvanized feeder trough for chicks! I doubt that it has resided there continuously from the days the coop was still in service. Like so many Port Oneida structures, this one has likely been restored and the trough was simply re-placed in the building. But its presence feels right and I sang a little song in my head at the sight of it.

And then I wrestled with myself because I found myself coveting the trough. I thought through the options. If I left it, how many more visitors would it be before some cretin spied it, scooped it up, popped it in his trunk and carried it back as a trophy to some "ye olde country style" family room to be hung on a wall as one of a constellation of stupid decorations? But if I took it, I'd be removing government property and--and this is the decisive consideration--depriving someone else of the utter thrill of discovery. I have to believe that before the cretin someone else will come along with a keen eye and enough knowledge of history and agriculture to understand what she is seeing inside the brooder coop. And that she will, in that moment, feel the same thrill and sing a version of the song I've just sung to myself. So I carefully slid the feeder back into the darkness of a corner of the brooder coop, back perhaps a little farther than it was when I found it, and I left it for another explorer to discover. Perhaps even one of you reading this will be that explorer...

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