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  • Down by the road the old barn rests atop a small quarry's edge. Even in its heyday this was a poor dairy farm--the farmers had to walk the cows some distance to the pond for water and then back again for milking. The pastures were scrubby and riddled with ledge. Still are. I'm sure the farmers made more money hauling rock than milking cows. Though at considerable human cost: one of them died in that quarry.

    By the time we owned it, the barn was inhabited by spiders and mice and snakes and swallows and bats, but no livestock. The farmers were long gone. The floors were pitched and buckled from water sheeting beneath it for over a century. The walls were rippled, its foundation crumbled, its roof warped. It was a wreck.

    Tear it down or fix it good, people told us. There was no in-between.

    We're not dairy farmers, but we saved it. Didn't feel right to let it collapse.

    As work proceeded, we came to know the wood, the holes in the wood, the slate, the splits in the slate, the rough stones, the colors in the stones. We uncovered treasure of the expected sort: bits of rusted farm machinery, boxes, tools, bottles, coins--the flotsam of the farmers' lives.

    But we found the unexpected, too. The kind that burrows its way into my dreams some nights.

    A fox skull.

    In between two layers of wall, its teeth clenching a bit of wood and metal. In the wall? It's the context more than the skull itself that haunts me. The what happened?

    I play out scenarios in my sleep: Did the fox wander in there after a mouse and get stuck, bite at the wall? Or did it escape a trap, and in agony, head into that tiny, safe space to die? Or did someone put the skull there later as a talisman? A warning?

    Pulled free from the wall the skull is now wedged in my active dreamscape. I'm thinking of putting it back.
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