I hate seeing old barns sagging and leaning over from the weight of aging timbers.

Many years ago as I traveled around central Maine chasing stories, I’d make mental notes of all those old barns with the intention of one day photographing them and putting them in a book.

They were so beautiful, their gray shingles weathered from sun, rain, snow and harsh weather.

I knew one day they’d fall away and disappear and we’d never see them again.

I regret that I never photographed them as planned. So many of them are gone now.

There’s something exquisite about an old barn standing there in a field, a remnant of a time when farmers tossed hay into wagons with pitchforks on a hot summer day, the scent of fresh hay wafting through the air.

Barns were an integral part of my youth; I can’t dream about my past without remembering those magnificent structures where horses stomped around in their stalls, eyeing us curiously as we approached, and cows chewed on feed.

The scent of hay was intoxicating. We’d climb to the haylofts and meander through the bales, hold conferences there, and take turns jumping into hay mounds below.

Barns were good napping places — quiet, comfortable and safe.

It was never a wasted day, spending time in a barn among the animals — feeding, washing and brushing a horse, shoveling manure and spreading a fresh bed of straw; or merely sitting on a bucket, watching someone else do it.

Sweeping away errant chaff from old barn boards, polishing a saddle, organizing bits and bridles on posts; it was all good work, satisfying work.

I got to thinking about barns the other day while attempting to tidy up and organize my mother’s barn — the barn I spent many days in as a youth.

I know every nook and cranny of that old structure, every beam, peg and hole in the floorboards. The barn still visits my dreams, albeit it has been decades since I played there.

As children, we staged plays and dance recitals in the second-floor loft, assigning seats below to the mothers of neighborhood kids who performed there. We played house, hospital, hide-and-seek and storekeeper in the barn, climbing deftly up and down beams like monkeys, never needing a ladder.

We had hiding places, cubbyholes, and special rooms designated for club meetings. The barn kept our secrets.

My friend Terri got the nickname “Hayseed” from spending so much time there. It was our castle, the place we ran to when a summer shower struck; it was a daylong refuge during a good, hard rain.

There’s nothing so sweet as sitting just inside the open front door of a barn during a downpour, watching the world outside from that safe, dry and contemplative place.

There’s comfort to be had from being inside a barn — a sense of being grounded.

Over the years, I’ve met people who literally built their homes inside of old barns — in some cases, renovating the entire structure into living space; in others, using only a part.

The old barns of Maine carry lots of stories, hold many memories and remind us of the sweetness of rural life.

Step into one and feel its majesty.

Amy Calder has been a Morning Sentinel reporter 25 years. Her column appears here Mondays. She may be reached at [email protected]