~This essay was previously published as “Preservation with Clapboard Gaps” in Salt (2007).
~Selected by Assistant Editor Kenneth A. Fleming
The company truck’s bumper has a pink and black sticker that reads Happiness is Being in the Barn, but right now there is very little barn left within which to be happy. Like an anxious patient on a papered bed, the barn in Hollis Center, Maine, waits on frosted mud with its broadside open and exposed, its old timber frame bathed in pale October light.
“This was a beautiful barn,” Scott Hatch says from the yard, admiring the building’s uncovered network of right triangles and hemlock. “A classic English barn, immune to gravity, probably outlived a dozen or more owners. Beautiful.” Scott squints against the sun. “Then somebody built an addition to it and opened up a can of worms.”
Stitched to the barn’s side like an awkward new appendage, the shabby annex gradually sank in its foundation, wrenching the conjoined barn backward as it rotted, skewing it into a parallelogram. Scott turns away, settles stoutly into his excavator’s cockpit, ignites the engine roaring. The addition has long since collapsed and been trucked away to the burn pile. But the original barn still stands a chance.
Guiding his excavator over rocks and mud to the rear gable-end of the barn, Scott, self-proclaimed barn wright and owner of the Barn Wright Inc., extends the hydraulic arm and nudges the bucket against the exterior wall. Near the machine’s nest of levers, a red retractable leash hangs from the cockpit cage: Spencer, the crew dog, stayed home today. His lips curled as if to break into sudden laughter, Scott yells over the engine’s drone, “Alright, let’s put the pressure to ‘er.”
Spanning from where the barn’s rear corner post meets the roof plate, two metal cables stretch diagonally like tendons across the open broadside, winding into the spooled bellies of two comealongs, or hand-winches: one is bound to the base of the front corner post; the other is strapped to a tree. Hunching forward, Scott’s apprentice barn wrights, Dave Rose and Joe Marshall, grab the comealong handles and crank.
The excavator bucket prods the leaning barn; the comealongs gather the slack. Inch by creaking inch, the parallelogram becomes a square.
Calling for a halt, Scott shuts down the machine, hops to the ground, and checks with a speed-square the angle between corner post and floor. “Ninety-one degrees,” he laughs. “A little overzealous in our approach, I think.”
Joe chuckles and runs a hand across his premature bald spot, his blonde goatee. A smile hidden within his coarse black beard, Dave adjusts his comealong, barely slackening the cable’s tension.
Checking again: “Ninety. Perfect.”
In less than one minute, Scott, Dave, and Joe pushed and pulled a two-hundred-year old barn and returned it square and plumb.
Preservation can mean finding something precious from someone else’s forgotten life, then saving it forever under glass. It can mean replacing a structure’s every crossbeam and post until nothing original remains but its idea. Preserving can save for some what others might see as a roadblock in the way of progress, and it can also be a way of saving jelly in a jar.
Preservation can mean paying attention to your surroundings.
Preservation can be an act of memory.
“Every job I bid,” Scott says, “comes with a free history lesson.”
A sudden breeze tousles Scott’s cap of brown hair as he hops out of his pickup, smiling and extending his hand to the white-bearded man standing in the dooryard: the owner of the Sebago barn. After a quick introduction, the two walk the barn’s perimeter, from its stooped gable-end around its kinked broadside, down the slope toward the back where the foundation has collapsed. Quick repairs—wood-scraps patching holes, shoring beams, doing nothing—are everywhere.
“This is common,” Scott says judiciously, “when somebody is really busy, and doesn’t have the time to embark upon a full restoration project on his own.” The homeowner somberly nods. They walk around front and through the gable-end doors.
Bales of hay, piles of lumber, antique pie chests, dry-rotten cardboard boxes, and broken tools choke the interior; chaff dust hangs in a haze. Peering through the clutter, Scott examines the barn’s crippled frame.
“These repairs here,” he says, pointing at two oak posts, “have the up-and-down marks of a sash-saw, but you can see here that the original pine timbers were hand-hewn.” He points to the gouge marks where an adz chipped the logs into posts. “Sawmills typically sprang up around the same time that towns were incorporated, so given when Sebago was founded, I’d say the original frame was built, oh, around 1780 or somewhere thereabouts.” The repairs were probably made around 1830, he figures, before most mills replaced sash-blades with circular saws.
Splaying his thick fingers to encompass the upper framework’s posts and girts, Scott explains the evolution of barns from Europe to North America. “In this region, you had English influences and French influences.” The English traditionally built roof trusses on box frames—that is, built triangles atop of squares—with the threshing floor, or central aisle, running from one broadside to the next. French barns had threshing floors stretching between the gable-ends, and were built with central colonnades bearing the roof load: the gables were shaped like pentagons. The hybrid of the two—English trusses set above a French floor plan—became the New England barn. “What you have here,” Scott says, blue eyes wide as he slides his hands into the pockets of his jeans, “is an English barn that, for some odd reason, was converted into a New England.”
The homeowner scratches his white-haired chin, hides his awed smile behind his hand. “I had no idea.”
Glancing at the obscuring piles of antiques and junk, Scott shrugs. “I could be wrong.”
“On a scale from one to ten,” Scott says, at home on the phone with a prospective client, “with ten being microsurgery on a hangnail, and one being a Band-Aid on a bullet wound”—he pauses for effect—“I’m about a seven.”
The phone squawks with surprise; Scott and his new client set a time to look over the barn in Rumford, then hang up.
As Scott defines it, a barn wright must be proficient in rigging, excavation, stone masonry, and timber framing in order to realign, re-stabilize, and restore a barn. “It’s a completely different ball game than new construction,” he says. With these four trades, Scott and his crew can save any barn.
Before the Barn Wright Inc., Scott owned and operated Western Maine Tree, Landscape, and Excavation: excising trees, clearing lots, reshaping land. “Stone walls along the edges of fields were a big thing,” Scott says. “I would tear them apart, scatter ‘em in the field, and then reset all the stone. I did miles, literally miles of stone walls. Completely rebuilt ‘em.”
Late in the autumn of 1997, while re-grading a lawn to divert rainwater and snowmelt from a house’s foundation, Scott found himself talking with his client about the barn standing along the property line. “You’ve got a beautiful barn here,” Scott said, “but it’s got a few problems. If you get it fixed now, it shouldn’t be too big of a problem. Let it go, though, and she’ll snowball.”
The client nodded, staring hard at his weathered barn. “Sounds like you know what you’re talking about,” he said. “When can you start?”
It wasn’t long after Scott stumbled into his first barn restoration that Ice Storm ’98 whipped through Maine, downing power lines and shattering trees. “Everybody and their cousin,” Scott says, “had a pickup truck and a chainsaw. The tree business in Maine collapsed.” So with his recent barn restoration in mind, Scott took out an ad in the Portland Press Herald.
“I wrote the last hundred and fifty dollars out of my business checking account,” Scott says, feet propped up and crossed, “wiped the account out to pay for the ad, and rolled change for spending money. Within three weeks, I had ten thousand dollars in deposit checks. It was just like, okay, different direction.”
Even though Scott had landscaped since the age of 15—from harvesting trees in his hometown of Rhinebeck, New York, to hydroseeding lawns in Alaska—he’d always been immersed in the world of restoration. Throughout his childhood, Scott’s parents, John and Marilyn Hatch, devoted every possible evening and weekend to restoring historic sites throughout the Hudson River Valley. “We would just pull up in the van and the whole family’d unload,” Scott says; John and Marilyn standing walls, spreading plaster, and staining wainscoting while Scott and his older brother, Mark, played amid the construction. “I guess I just kinda picked it up through osmosis.”
Stepping out into the morning sun, Scott stands alone for a moment before the basement entry of his home, the early October light warming his work-hardened hands, his flat, unlined cheeks. Behind him in the basement, his twin dirt bikes rest amid the tiers of this winter’s firewood. Before him, there are only trees.
Scott lives in a restored 1819 English barn with his wife, Jan, and their dog, Spencer. Standing like a hilltop citadel above the Crooked River in Harrison, Maine, Scott’s barn overlooks his gravel pit and pasture, Jan’s horse’s stable and Scott’s old boat, the Rosalie. For nearly two hundred years, the barn stood on a farm in Mechanic Falls; seven years ago, Scott disassembled it by hand and moved it here to his hill, rebuilt it piece by piece. Like a green blanket on an unmade bed, the land curls and dips around their home. In the pasture, Jan’s horse, Cassidy, nickers and kicks the ground.
At the base of Scott’s hill, the old Scribner family millhouse and farm, where Scott’s parents now spend their summers, lies alongside of the Crooked River. Across the road from the millhouse stands Scribner’s Mill: the blacksmith shop alone in the lawn, the mill proper sprawling from the land over the water, the sawdust-silo on stilts out back. What was once Scott’s childhood playground is now his permanent home.
Scott’s parents were introduced to Scribner’s Mill in 1975, when Scott was nine years old; a family friend, having just moved to Maine, saw the site and insisted that Scott’s father come see it. “It was an instant obsession, and here we are thirty years later.” The Hatch family began spending every August in Harrison, taking time away from their other restoration projects to camp along the Crooked River and work on the 1847 sawmill. “From the first time I ever set foot here,” Scott says, “this was home. Rhinebeck was where you had to suffer through eleven months before you could come back here for August again.”
Friday morning light glowing off his jacket, Scott tromps down the hill, past the birch lot to his parents’ place; Spencer scampers alongside, his wooly white coat dusted grey. Seasoned work boots crunching in the gravel, Scott crosses the road onto the mill site, past the blacksmith shop and up the ramp into the mill proper. Sunlight filters through the clapboard gaps, forming patterns on the floorboards, the barrel-stave saw, the adjustable dowel lathe. Scott runs a callused hand over the length of the lathe’s frame, admiring the lines through his fingertips.
“Scribner’s Mill is the only place in North America that has the complete picture,” he says. “There isn’t another early up-and-down water-powered sawmill in North America that is an original site with original buildings with original equipment.”
Crossing the mill floor, Scott leans against the banister overlooking the haul-in ramp—where logs were once pulled up from the millpond—and stares into the gurgling water below.
“But you have to understand that back then, you didn’t just have a sawmill. You had a community.” Below, a tiny salmon turns its tail against the current. “All the men were working in the mill, all the women were working at the millhouse, and the kids were all hanging out and helping.” Beside him, Spencer stands up on his hind legs and rests his muddy paws on Scott’s knee. “The mill was the center of the community. Everything ran out of the mill.”
In 1905, when a worker mangled his arm in a machine, Jesse Scribner—the last Scribner to operate the mill—supported his crippled employee, providing food and creating jobs for the man’s family. Years later, when that same worker’s house burned down, “the sawmill stopped producing for profit and didn’t stop cutting lumber to rebuild this guy’s house ‘til they were done sawing it, and that was it.” Light reflects off the water, filling Scott’s eyes. “That was corporate responsibility.”
Late one evening, as autumn wind howls in the eaves and Scott and Jan prepare for bed, Scott says that they need to call their lawyer. “Dave needs our help.”
Back in September, a night bicyclist slammed into the side of Dave’s idling truck. The rider flipped over the hood and shattered his pelvis; he was wearing neither helmet nor road flashers. He was, however, a lawyer. Dave’s court date is slated for early December. “I can’t let one of my guys get screwed like this,” Scott says.
Last year, Scott paid six-weeks’ wages to an employee who hurt his back. “As an employer,” Scott says, “I’m responsible for my crew’s welfare. The least I could do was to keep sending him a check.” That employee used the money to finance his own welding company; he didn’t tell Scott that he’d quit, just kept cashing the checks. That was only months after Scott fell victim to insurance fraud, just months after finishing a farmhouse that his clients couldn’t pay him to restore.
“What’s the point,” Jan says, hip braced against the dining room table as she pulls off her shoes, “in contacting our lawyer on Dave’s behalf? Dave can’t even afford our lawyer.”
“No, of course,” Scott says, sitting down at the table. “We’d pay the bill.”
A gust of wind rocks the barn, sending a shiver through the model sailboat mounted above the fireplace. Jan gazes at her husband and sighs.
“You realize,” she says, “that Dave has no chance of winning his case, right? If he pleads not guilty, and we pay our lawyer to represent him, the judge’ll still find Dave guilty, and he’ll face an even bigger fine.”
Scott moves his hand from his lap and places it on the table, moves it back to his lap.
Lowering her eyes, Jan continues in a softer tone. “I know you want to help Dave, dear, but it’s just—You have to face it.” She leans forward, hands on the table, and stares Scott straight in his eyes. “You’re living in a fantasy world.”
Calmly, Scott nods and meets her gaze. “I know.” Another strong gust rocks the barn. “But I still want to help.”
Jan is fifteen years older that Scott. “What can I say?” He smiles sheepishly and shrugs. “I’ve always had a thing for older women.”
The January before the Barn Wright Inc. was founded, Scott and Jan were married in an ice palace in Naples, Maine, built by Scott with frozen slabs of Parker Pond. “It was a really warm night,” Scott says, “so the ice was wet and glistening. Then the next day, Ice Storm ’98 started.”
“Fourteen days without power,” Jan says of their honeymoon, wriggling her feet into her riding boots, and Scott echoes: “Fourteen days, no power.”
Tugging on his jacket, Scott follows Jan as she steps outside and crosses the driveway, from the barn to Cassidy’s stable—silver hair tucked under her black riding cap—calling out her horse’s name. A school nurse at Crooked River Elementary School, Jan is also a rider for Maine’s Equestrian Search and Rescue Team, but this morning she’s just going for a ride with the neighbors. Unhooking the fence’s wire gate, she leads her chestnut Arabian to the horse trailer, dresses him with saddle and soft bridle, fits her foot in the stirrup and swings up onto his back. Hands pocketed in his jacket, Scott watches with quiet interest, then follows as they trot toward the neighbor’s stable, across the lawn and past the Rosalie.
In the warm Sunday sun, the Rosalie stands like a salt-dried chunk of driftwood on the pasture’s edge, weathered grey and rotten in her berth. Flaking paint flares from her belly like a corona of colorless fire. Leaning against her hull, Scott rests his chin on her wooden lip.
“The Rosalie,” he says with authority, “is a gorgeous boat. A 1905 double-ended motor launch, twenty-two by six feet. Beautiful lines.” She looks like a baby whale. “The last people to use her were a barbershop quartet. They’d take her out on Bryant Pond and sing their way around the shore.”
Scott found the Rosalie while landscaping in Naples. The owner had all the paperwork, the history, and the passion to restore her. “He even had a letter written by the grandson of the Rosalie’s builder, thanking the new owners for letting him take a ride in the boat his grandfather built.” All the owner lacked was the know-how. “So he gave her to me. As long as I could fix her, he said, I could have her.”
That was fifteen years ago. The task proved greater than anticipated. “Well, I could do it,” Scott says, “if I did nothing else. I worked hard on that boat for two years to the extent I could. But,” he sighs, “I don’t have time to do it. I’ve got other things going on in my life.”
Like the previous owner, once Scott realized that he hadn’t the resources to restore the Rosalie, he started asking others if they’d take her, shelter her, bring her back to life. Many said yes. None followed through. He runs his hands along the old wood, feels each splinter beneath his palms. “If somebody doesn’t haul it out of here soon, it’s goin’ on the burn pile.”
Rapping his knuckles on her hull, Scott murmurs, “Poor old girl,” and turns to walk away. “There’s nothing I can do for you now.”
The jack looks like a dull metal thermos. Instead of coffee, it’s filled with pressurized oil. Instead of a cap, a heavy bolt winds in through the top.
“I cannot dictate my will on the barn,” Scott says. “We’re having a discussion. The barn tells me what to do.”
The jack sits atop an eight-foot tall birch log standing on-end in the doorway of the Buxton barn. Steadying the log with one hand and gripping the jack handle with the other, Dave waits in the doorway while inside the barn, Joe fumbles with a new hemlock post. Scott sits in his excavator, bucket butted against the wall beside the door. Nestled amid the dirt, Spencer watches shiny-eyed and intent, a curly white Muppet caked with mud.
Dave leans toward the dog—“Wha’choo doin’, Li’l Boy?”—and Spencer stands, pants, lets his pink tongue hang free from his mouth. Dave turns back to the log.
The Barn Wright crew was hired to fix the barn’s crooked sliding door, but this is holistic restoration: it’s the barn—not the door—that needs healing. As the foundation settled, roof load shifted toward the structure’s lowest point, causing a post to collapse, which buckled the corresponding wall. The end result was a door that wouldn’t open. To realign the wall, the crushed post needs to be replaced. To fit the new post, roof load must shift off the wall. So Dave jacks the wall from the doorway, Scott straightens the bend, and Joe installs the new post. This is just one aspect of the total solution.
Positioning the post’s base tenon into a mortise like a key into a lock, Joe hollers, “I’m all set in here, so whenever you guys are ready.”
Dave pumps the jack and redirects the barn’s heft as Scott’s hydraulic arm presses gently into the wall. The framework rises in a tired, creaking rhythm. Dust puffs from joints. Joe shoulders the post in place.
“Ayuh,” Joe says, stepping back. “She’s in.”
As Scott withdraws the excavator arm, Dave depressurizes the jack. The wall stands unbowed. Sliding open the barn door, Joe steps outside to stand beside Dave as Scott shuts down his machine. “Now that’s progress, damnit.”
“A timber frame,” Scott later says at home, reclining on the couch in the fireplace’s flickering glow, “is immune to gravity. It can sink in its foundation, and after two hundred years, be jacked up and it’ll stand square and plumb. As long as it’s not neglected, it will live for another two hundred years.” Behind the cast-iron hearth figures—Hessian soldiers and glass-eyed owls—the green wood hisses and burns. “And it’s strange that it takes a building—something built by men—to show someone their own mortality. It’s so much bigger than any of us.” Firelight wavers across his face. “If it’s cared for, it can last forever.”
As a boy, Scott played with his Tonka trucks in the sandbox behind his family’s house, scooping earth with his bulldozer, pouring it into his dump truck, driving away to make a mountain somewhere else. When he was older, he’d walk around town with his ear to the air, searching for the diesel roar of a backhoe, an excavator, a crane on some construction site. “I would go sit on a stump somewhere and watch a guy run a bulldozer all day,” Scott says. “I swear, by the time I finally sat behind the controls of a machine, I already knew how to operate it.”
It’s brisk when Scott steps out into the Sunday morning light, heads past the stable to the gravel pit behind his house. Cassidy munches hay in his bale feeder; the Rosalie rests dewy in her berth. Starting his excavator at the far edge of the pit, Scott rolls over to where the surrounding forest of white birch encroaches. For Scott, this is weed control. The bucket scoops earth, picks up rocks, clears away bushes like dandelions from a garden. His hands move the controls by muscle-memory; his eyes gaze abstractedly at the ground.
After an hour’s work, the freshly turned ground lies in a wide, even swath, sloping gradually from the track to meet the forest in a clear and definite line. Maneuvering his excavator, Scott gathers the heap of weeded brush and deposits it on the monumental burn pile of dead trees and rotten barn parts rising from the middle of the pit.
Every year, after the season’s first snow, Scott lights the annual mountain of junk lumber and debris, igniting a bonfire that scrapes the winter night’s sky. In a few weeks’ time, this will be nothing but coals and ash—the black dust of old buildings, the bitter grit of roots and leaves.
Shutting down the excavator, Scott crosses the pit and hooks a wire-mesh harrow to the back of the lawn tractor he borrowed from his father, starts the engine with a cough and rides over the fresh earth, grading it smooth beneath the dragging metal frame. Alone in his pit, beside a towering burn pile and surrounded by dirt mounds and machines like oversized toys, Scott guides his tractor in an inward-turning spiral, drawing closer to the center where there’s nowhere left to go, and he can stop.
“Some homeowners,” Scott says, “they want me to do this or that or the other thing with their barns, and y’know, there are times when I refuse. I’ll flat-out refuse, and I’ll tell them, ‘This isn’t about you.’” And he thumps the table. “‘This is about your barn.’” Light from the lamp cuts through his right eye, illuminating his pale blue iris like a moon. “Usually, they don’t argue with that.”
Rising from his seat at the dining room table, Scott crosses the open threshing floor to the old wooden silo that stands between his office and the bathroom. Because of the immense pressure needed for silage to ferment into edible livestock feed, the silo walls were crosshatched tightly with supporting girts and braces; these now shelve Scott’s Wall of Death.
“This is a mummified mole,” Scott says, pointing to a small leathery body like a hairless, wingless bat. Near that squats the skeleton of a frog, stripped of flesh yet perfectly intact: tiny skull plates, tiny flippers, tiny toes. On the shelf below rests a robin skeleton, a blue egg nestled in its cradling ribs.
“If something dead is exposed, big animals will tear it apart, and then it’s scattered, so it’s gotta be sheltered where nothing big can get it.” Scott runs his thumb lightly over the skeletal frog’s head. “If insects have free run with it, then you just get a skeleton because all the soft tissue is gone. If it’s in a place where it’s extremely dry and there’s no insects even,” he smiles despite himself, “then it mummifies.”
Not every mummy that Scott has found has been absorbed into the Wall of Death. “You choose what you can save,” Scott says, “and the rest go in the burn pile.” The calf he found under the floorboards in the Sanford barn was too creepy to keep; the line of birds trapped in the ridgecap of the Mechanic Falls barn—the barn that became Scott’s home—were too freshly dead, and stank.
From his collection, Scott withdraws a tiny black turtle—no bigger than a nickel—from its nest inside an oyster shell. “This guy I found on a tar driveway leading up to some job. Thought he found a shortcut across the lawn.” Scott gazes down into his palm with casually mystified eyes. “Baked in the sun.” Its shell is thin as rice paper.
“History,” Scott says, “is not about dates. It’s not about facts and numbers. History’s about, what were people thinking. Why were they doing that? If you can figure out what somebody was thinking and what it led them to do, then you can start thinking, ‘Okay, what am I thinking?’” Scott returns the turtle to its appropriated shell. “That’s where we get our lessons from history.”
The Saturday before Thanksgiving, Scott drives to the Public Safety Building in Naples, Spencer perched in his lap and gaping through the windshield at the scenery passing by. An hour later, Scott returns home—down the driveway and past the Rosalie—with a fire permit tucked into the front pocket of his jeans.
Last week, the first dust of snow fell. Tonight, Scott touches off the burn pile.
Stepping into the kitchen, Scott fishes a Geary’s porter from the fridge, pops the top and sits down at the dining room table, stares at the bottle in his hands.
“I have to accept,” Scott says, “that no one is ever going to save that boat.”
Beneath the table, Spencer lies on Scott’s feet, curls into a ball, bites the hem of his jeans.
“The last time I was about to burn the Rosalie,” Scott says, “the guy who gave her to me called me up on an unrelated matter. Called me on the day of the fire.” He laughs to himself. “That bought her another two years.” He rolls the bottle between his palms. “I guess I’m sitting here waiting for him to call again.”
In the declining November light, the Rosalie sags in her berth.
The burn pile rises like a monument in the night. “This isn’t the equivalent to a barn fire,” Scott says. “This is the whole farm burning.” Dead trees and bushes, stumps tumbling over floorboards, dry-rotten sills, and splintered battens from Ottisfield, Buxton, Naples; the collapsed addition from Hollis Center and an entire wall from a barn in Oxford, spread like a spilled deck of cards—a matrix of dead wood, awkward angles, patterns and shadows.
As the first guests arrive at dark—some neighbors and some Scribners, Dave and Joe from the Barn Wright crew—Scott ignites the pile. Soaking his touchwood in accelerant, he lights the brand and throws it into the stack. Some hundred-year-old shingles catch first, spreading the fire to a desiccated pine, spitting flames into a nest of split beams, convolving and roaring like storm-waves at sea. Scott steps back from the heat, opens a can of Bass, watches the column of smoke and embers rise into the stark night sky.
“She’s lit now,” he says, face red from the billowing heat. “She’s catching.”
At the fire’s orange core, the shapes and angles crackle and collapse, reform as new shapes, crackle and collapse. Coals pulse like wounds. Beyond the pit, past Scott’s barn and at the edge of Cassidy’s pasture, the Rosalie sits safe in her cradle.
“After this fire’s burnt out,” Scott says, “and it’s safe to start piling again, I’ll bring her down and set her in the middle. Start next year’s pile around her.” Turning away from the blaze, Scott takes a step toward his wife, among his friends and crew. “Keep her out of sight.”
Falling around them, cinders spiral like snow through the sky.
THE STORY BEHIND THE ESSAY
“Preserved” is the result of my semester’s work with the Salt Institute for Documentary Studies, and in many ways is the reason why I returned to Maine after living in rural New York State for the better half of a decade. Several times a week as autumn chilled and tightened around us, my photographer and I would drive out to one jobsite or another amid the sprawling Sebago Lake region to observe Scott Hatch and his crew in their resuscitating labors. I also would spend one or two evenings each week at Scott’s home, interviewing him at his dinner table or beside his crackling fireplace, oftentimes with a couple glasses of English ale at hand and always with a now-old-fashioned Marantz cassette recorder whirring its spindles as it recorded our conversation. It wasn’t long before I realized that what I’d originally conceived as an essay about a disappearing trade was in fact a much more human story about a man struggling to maintain a historical world-view and lifestyle that was often at odds with his contemporary culture. I was intrigued from the get-go, but once this understanding clicked, I was hooked. My study and documentation of Scott grew to be consuming—it became more and more of a challenge, as the weeks became months, to not lend my hand in the crew’s expanding workload—not to mention exhausting: while wrapping up my last day of fieldwork, after waiting to see whether or not Scott could bring himself to burn the Rosalie alongside all the other scrapped girders and trusses, my blood-sugar tanked, I momentarily went blind, and nearly passed out, all while standing in Scott’s kitchen. Scary as the episode was, it served as more than a minor ego-boost, learning how much I was willing to sacrifice in my dedication to a story. (Another worthwhile lesson, of course, was that I really ought to travel with rations.)
Yet, despite the months-long process of documenting Scott’s work and life, the majority of the individual vignettes were composed over the course of a single sleepless night. Certain images kept bubbling up as I lay awake, and as the right words crystallized over these scenes replaying again and again in my mind, I saw no other choice but to creep out of bed and into the kitchen—the only other room in the tiny loft apartment I shared with my girlfriend—and write the scenes while standing at the countertop by the stove, hunched over my notebook like a scowling, naked lunatic. I remember, the only pen I could find was a fat-tipped green permanent marker: the first draft of “Preserved” was mostly written in oversized, cartoony script.
Later that week, once the bulk of the vignettes were typed, edited, and refined, I printed out the sections and laid them in a grid across my apartment’s floor, arranging and rearranging the pages until the sequence seemed complete (it’s a process I’ve come to rely on for longer, associative stories like this one). Then I retyped the story from start to finish, adding the necessary connective tissue as I went and adjusting the language to create a consistent, unified tone. At the time, it seemed like a lot of work. Ten years after the fact, it feels only like the necessary method in creating a story of this depth and scope. To have done anything less would have been a disservice to Scott and his experience. Even now, I wish I could have done more.
ABOUT DOUGLAS W. MILLIKEN
Douglas W. Milliken is the author of four books, including the novel To Sleep as Animals and the pocket-sized collection Cream River (out November 2015 through Publication Studio/Downeaster Editions). His stories have earned prizes from Glimmer Train, McSweeney’s, and the Stoneslide Corrective, and have been published in Slice, the Collagist, and the Believer, among others. www.douglaswmilliken.com