Monninger (Mather, 1995, etc.) moves upcountry to transform, on a shoestring, a big barn into a home, with the intent of setting down roots—no precious venture this.
It’s a simple, evocative chronicle of the months following Monninger, his girlfriend Wendy, and her son’s purchase of a 6,000-square-foot barn in Warren, New Hampshire. Parts of the structure likely dated back some 200 years; it needed plenty of work, but not so absurdly much that they couldn’t tackle the job on a scant budget, particularly with the help of a local graybeard who helps them get their rural New Hampshire bearings. Monninger is an affable guide to his new home and property and speaks in an unpretentious voice about shaping the landscape, mind’s-eyeing its future configuration and disposition, seeing a wild garden here, and a cultivated one there, and a grass maze in the meadow. The three learn to lay fence and plant a hedge of winterberry, crab, and hawthorn, but are easily distracted by trying to identify the local flora. Everywhere there are mysteries waiting to be unraveled: puzzling whether the saw marks in the beams were pit cut or milled, discovering a swastika hex mark on a basement wall that gives them the willies until they learn of its long history. Keeping the beast of a structure warm proves to be an experience in itself, and they soon learn more than they want to about insulation (and covering all that beautiful interior wood) and stoves. But Monninger is a cheerful soul, and the prospect of umpteen cords of firewood doesn’t depress him; rather, he takes it as an opportunity to learn about the art of woodpiling. It also gives him an abrupt reality check: “Barns are wood, plain and simple, and usually dry wood at that. I’ve read they make a beautiful fire.”
Neither plaything nor conceit, Monninger’s rural idyll is very much a lived experience: genuine, well-earned, and downright enviable.