Wessel and I have been doing a lot of bicycling lately in rural areas of North Carolina. If you’re not from these parts, you’re probably thinking, isn’t that all there is? While if you live in an NC metro area among the suburban sprawl, you’re probably asking, are there rural spots left? Absolutely, there are!
We’re “training” for a 62-mile annual group ride called BikeFest, organized by the Carolina Tarwheels cycling club. There’s also a century option (100 miles), but we’re just too plumb lazy, not to mention the thermometer will likely reach between 90 and 100 the day of the ride. Back in the day, a 62-mile ride was just a ride. Now it’s a minor ordeal. And so we train.
One thing we love passing by during our rides are old barns, in various states of health or decline. They come in all sizes and shapes, but our favorites are pine tobacco barns, still fairly common sights in North Carolina. These were where the tobacco leaves were hung to be dried and cured.
When I first moved back here, five years ago, I was a bit repulsed by the state’s tobacco past. But now I’ve reconnected with my childhood, having grown up in Wake County, just outside of Raleigh in the 1960s and ’70s.
What I recall are rows and rows of tobacco plants on red-clay farms that practically covered the state. (Sadly, North Carolina leads the nation in the rate of lost farmland, with the state shedding more than 6,000 farms and 300,000 acres of farmland since 2002, according to the USDA.)
Yes, tobacco does awful things to people, but the plants are beautiful, and many families and businesses depended on the crop. So as much as I scorn smoking, I do have a fondness for the agricultural tradition. OK, minus the slavery, of course. I’m not winning over any of you, am I? So let’s just stick to barns then, and forget the tobacco part.
Because I write regularly about NC artisans, I’ve come across several who use reclaimed barn wood for different things. By far the most impressive use has been by Roger Dinger, who lives outside of Siler City. (Yes, Andy and Barney used to go there! It really exists!) Not only are Roger’s furnishings and home accessories from barn wood absolutely gorgeous, he came up with the best name ever for his company — Reinbarnation. Perfect! I wrote about him for the News & Observer in the spring. You can read the story, and check out his goods, on his website. I traded him reprint rights for objets d’art, and Wessel and I now own two much-prized Reinbarnation mirrors.
Not only is Roger’s work wonderful, he adds a tag to each item that says what farm the wood is from. He truly is recycling the state’s history. (And, yes, he can ship a part of that NC history to you.) Thank you, Roger, for perpetuating the legacy of North Carolina barns, and in fine fashion at that.