Just up the road from our place, there used to be an old green clap-board house that had a wrap-around porch heavy with bric-a-brac and long on character. It stood empty for years, and I often wondered as I drove by how much longer it could last, sitting there day in and day out forlorn and lonely and neglected.

I got my answer one day last week; the house that was there in the morning as I made my way to work was gone by late afternoon when I drove home, a bulldozed pile of smoldering kindling and well-chewed earth sitting in its place.

Less than a mile on up the pavement a barn stood years ago, a huge, gray poplar masterpiece that didn’t appear to be leaning or leaky to me. What was left of it after a few days of demolition was either sold or burned.

I can’t tell you that I know that the house could have been saved or whether the barn was in worse shape than could have been seen from a passing car, and I’m not passing judgment on their owners, either. After I did a story about a neighbor who was working to save his old barn from the elements, a farmer friend of mine told me that he wanted to save one of his old barns, but simply couldn’t afford to sink tens of thousands of dollars into a structure that could be replaced by a metal building for much less. It didn’t make him happy to see the barn go, but it was a matter of keeping his head above rising financial waters.

There’s little doubt that the house I now live in will someday face the same fate. The man who built it was a proud, do-it-yourself kind of guy who used a good bit of secondhand, rough-hewn farmhouse lumber to build the place as sturdily as he could. I often have wondered how and why he engineered some of the things in the house the way he did, but someday, I am certain, another owner will wonder the same thing of me.

I have worked hard to repair and replace and improve on what he did, but the integrity of my house was first given to it by him, not me, and most of its distinguishing marks are his off-spring as well. My wife and I may live in the house longer, but it was put here through his spirit and vision.

The permanence of things is measured by the people who outlive them, and I will not outlive my house. The old lady who used to live down the road might have had that same thought of her house before she passed on, but I can’t imagine that she dreamed of the day that it would be pushed into a pile of rubble.

I believe we have a difficult time comprehending real things, of places and spaces made with the hands of a higher being instead of union labor or willing weekend warriors. We have become obsessed in this country with putting up new things, tearing down the old, and like beliefs and virtues, houses and barns are lost as we replace them with what we see as new and improved. Just how many acres of farmland are we going to give up to build more convenient drug stores, pizza places and gas stations?

Among the interests and hobbies of Thomas Jefferson was “putting up and tearing down,” his passion for architecture. I’ve been twice to his home in the hills of Virginia, and I believe that much more of the man is in that house than in the grave that lies two stone throws away under a marker he designed himself. The beauty of that house in the Blue Ridge makes me feel all the more for the craftsmen and the calluses spent in building that clap-board house and barn along a country road in Indiana.

The native, rough-cut timber that serves as the skeleton of my house, its tiger oak fireplace, and the ancient pie cupboard that sits with me near my desk, came from other houses to live with me in mine. Those and the scraps of my life, the books and pictures, the rocking chair and cedar chest, have places in our hearts. Some of it will eventually go to spend time with one or the other of my children.

My wife and I are guilty as charged; we, too, wish we could build a new house someday in the woods near the venerable farmhouse her parents own. But I hope that I will not have to face the look of this house as it stares at the bulldozer or wrecking ball.

As I drove home past the splintered house and the ghost of the barn a couple of days ago, a trio of Canada geese, their gray-flecked bellies and nose-coned beaks plain to see, passed overhead in the air of an unusually warm January day, gliding without concern over the power lines and pines below. They had undoubtedly spent a while on the pond just down the hillside from our house and were taking off to see a little of the world.

I hope that’s something that will never change.

Mike Lunsford can be reached by e-mail at hickory913@aol.com, or through regular mail C/O the Tribune-Star, PO Box 149, Terre Haute, IN 47808.

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