The Carlisle Mosquito Online

Friday, October 15, 2004



Why not recycle the Greenough barn?

For at least 20 years the town has struggled with the issue of the Greenough barn and has failed to either use the structure, or adequately maintain it. The Conservation Commission (ConsCom) has recently asked the Board of Selectmen to take responsibility for the barn and adjacent cottage but the Selectmen have shown reluctance (see page five in this issue and page five of the October 8 issue.) The picturesque slate-roofed barn has value, but it has been hard to make use of it because the barn is not very accessible. The barn can be reached by two driveways — but one is via an easement granted only to town officials, and the other is over private land in Billerica. It is a long walk to the barn from a public road in Carlisle. If we cannot use the barn where it is, why not move it to land where someone can use it?

Moving a barn is not as crazy an idea as it sounds. A barn restorer in western Massachusetts said the average cost to dismantle, move and reassemble a barn is about $60 per square foot of floor space. (This does not include the cost for site work or a new foundation.) Would it be affordable to move the barn and reuse it, say on the Benfield Land, where Planning Day participants were interested in preserving a rural feel to the proposed housing development?

If the moving and restoration costs are prohibitive for the town to tackle, the Selectmen and/or ConsCom could try to find someone else who can use the barn. There are at least two web sites where people can list barns for sale and removal: lists barns for free; charges $25 per month for a listing.

Another approach would be to contact experts in the area for suggestions. Colonial Barn Restoration ( is nearby in Bolton, and the Timber Framers Guild is located in Becket, Mass. (1-888-453-0879.) Yet another source of ideas is the Boston-based PreservatiON MASS Barn Preservation Task Force, a non-profit which is hosting a barn preservation workshop on Saturday, November 6, in Petersham, Mass. For more information, see their web site:, or phone 1-617-723-3383.

If it is not possible to find a new home for the Greenough barn, the town can at least sell the old boards and slate roofing. Salvaging the materials may be better for Carlisle financially compared to simply burning the building down or continuing to do nothing, and allowing it to decay further.

In 1993 the ConsCom considered selling the barn (see January 15, 1993 Mosquito, page 11.) No better ideas have surfaced in the last 11 years. Why not find someone, somewhere who can make good use of the Greenough barn?

Cranberry season

Politicians debate the war in Iraq. The deficit soars. Elections are looming. The Red Sox advance in the playoffs. Meanwhile, for the past few nights farmer Mark Duffy has been patrolling the cranberry bog on Curve Street, checking the water level and watching for signs of frost. This coming week one of the most spectacular natural wonders of Carlisle will occur — the annual cranberry harvest.

Last year's was Duffy's biggest crop ever. This year, the perennial nature of the plants and shifting weather patterns have led Duffy to expect a smaller crop. Not that a bumper crop means more money for the farmer. The cranberry collective known as Ocean Spray has been in turmoil in recent years, the market uncertain, and berries have gone unsold. Massachusetts used to be the nation's number one cranberry producer; now, Wisconsin produces twice as much as the Commonwealth. In response to lower prices and increased nationwide production, Duffy has been moving slowly with the renovations on the eastern portion of the bog.

In the next several days Duffy will comb the plants with a dry harvester. He'll sell the take at his farm stand on North Road. Then, he'll flood the bog for the wet harvest. When the berries are submerged, Duffy brings in water beaters — small contraptions with a wheel on the front like those on Mississippi river boats. This paddle wheel strikes the berries from their mother plants under water. The released berries then rise to the surface where they are driven to the shore, surrounded by floating booms, as if they were miniature log rafts. Then they are lifted out of the water by an escalator. As they ascend, Duffy washes them with a pressure hose, after which they fall into the awaiting truck.

In a well-maintained cranberry bog the plants are grown on land that gradually rises in a steady gradient. This allows the harvester to flood only a portion of the bog at one time, thereby maintaining shallow floodwaters. In deeper shoals the water beaters become less efficient. Our bog is over a hundred years old, and it has lost its gradient. Consequently, the bog must be flooded all at once, and the beaters operated in deep water.

As is often the case, the local tourist's delight is the farmer's headache. Mark Duffy prefers to harvest his crop in a steady rain, when there is no chance of a frost. Once burned by the cold, the berries turn soft and mushy. But on a cloudless day, when millions of striped, speckled, spotted, flecked, blotchy, pocked, dappled, mottled, piebald, variegated cranberries float in sky-blue water, it is an Impressionist's pointillistic dream come true. A photograph on the front page of the Mosquito a number of years ago featured the head of a muskrat swimming through a sea of cranberries. I enquired about the photo, hoping to get a copy and enlarge it. But the photographer informed me, with a sweetly sad smile, that it had been shot with black and white film. Truly, nothing can quite capture a golden October afternoon with the surrounding oaks and maples on fire, and literally a million glistening scarlet globes, as if each were a miniature Mars the size of a dime, packed one next to another, stretching for hundreds of feet in either direction, utterly outdoing even Monet's water lily landscapes.

Terror and beauty are everywhere. Great events are shaping our lives. And some of them are right around the corner.


2004 The Carlisle Mosquito