By Kate Proctor
Humans are interesting creatures. As a farmer, I often think about those who came before me and marvel at what they achieved. If you have ever taken a mature tree down, removed every trace of it, and prepared the ground that once supported it to grow crops, you can appreciate what a mammoth job it is.
I think about the settlers who cleared Huron County – and wonder at how they cleared and drained the land, built houses, and villages, and roads and schools. I think about how they left everything familiar – family, culture, people and places – and bravely set off across the ocean to a strange new land in search of freedom and a better life.
They met challenges with ingenuity and hard work while constantly trying to figure out how to improve their lot. I was reminded of this recently as we were taking a much closer examination of an old bank barn. These barns are still common around the countryside, having stood for over 100 years, offering shelter to an unknown number of beasts since they were constructed all those years ago.
I hadn’t really looked that closely before, but one of our group pointed out the difference in age of two sections of the barn. Once he pointed it out, it was very obvious and I wondered at how I had never noticed it before. The hand-hewn logs – possibly hemlock – and obviously cut from huge trees showed the marks of each strike of the tool that was used to transform them from trees into square beams. In the other section of the barn, it was obvious from circular marks on the beams that they had been squared by a circular saw. The march of technology could be seen even in two sections of this old barn.
While technology has changed to the point that modern barns are not constructed like that anymore, those old barns are still used in much the same way that they were when they were first built. They have been modified, and adapted, and had technology added that takes away some of the back breaking labour that was a part of their use when they were first built.
I thought about all of this walking through the barn that morning. It also made me think about how much life has changed since those many hands worked together to build that barn. Could those people even have imagined what our lives would be like today?
My uncle was born in 1923 – and will be turning 100 in October. He spent hours in barns like this, going on to continue embracing many new technologies as they came along. He operated radios as a young man, and this was his role in World War II. He worked with many different technologies before coming back to the farm in the 1960s, where he continued to progressively adopt the changes and help keep the farm moving forward. There are many areas of the farm today where I can still see his ingenuity at work.
As computers became useful for many jobs, he embraced them as well. Along with designing and building, he also had the role of bookkeeper before my Mom took on the job. Between the two of them, they made sure this area of the farm progressed by using computerized bookkeeping systems. It didn’t seem long before we were using computers to keep track of our breeding programs for livestock as well.
Today, my uncle uses a Kindle to read e-books that he buys online. After a bad fall put him in a neck brace and made reading next to impossible, we were able to connect him using Bluetooth technology so that he could listen to audiobooks through his hearing aids. The books he is listening to are borrowed from the Huron County Library, all online. Using a device that fits in my pocket, we can browse and check out thousands of books, and listen to them through devices that are largely invisible to anyone else.
On that same device, I can look up weather forecasts not just for my own area, but for anywhere in the world. I have an app – Merlin – that I use for identifying birds. I can set it beside me and record the bird songs I hear, telling me what bird is singing, so maybe someday I will be able to identify the birds I hear without seeing them. People used to joke – “there’s an app for that” about just about everything. It’s not a joke anymore, because it seems that there is, quite literally, an app for almost anything you can imagine. People can track each other in real time using the same device. I can sit in the house and lock my car, see how much fuel is in it, and determine when it needs to go for service. I could go on – and it seems that this has become so common we almost take it for granted now.
You may wonder what an old bank barn has to do with the favourite apps I have on my cell phone. Nothing really, except that they remind me of the remarkable things humans have done through problem solving and working together – sometimes cooperatively, and sometimes competitively. It can be easy to get discouraged as the issues we face seem to be daunting at times. But then I remember... and marvel at what has been accomplished – this gives me hope that we can figure our way forward for the future. ◊