When we first started talking about this issue’s theme, I compiled in my mind a cluster of associations and ideas that emerged from granary: plenitude, agriculture, resources, food, slow steady movement. A series of images: red barns, tall silos, highways tracing vast low hills for hundreds of miles. Amber waves of grain, but real. The thematics of granary always had a light source: the sun low on the horizon, high in the day, burnishing morning dew, reddening into night. I liked this issue, felt soothed before it existed by its fat, solid promise.
Reading through it now, well over a year later, all the pieces put together, I am not soothed but instead a little scared of this issue of TLR, which has (as they all do) grown into its own fully formed organic creature. It is exquisitely intense. Menacing, unselfconscious, vulnerable, and brave. The issue is more about borders and boundaries, hazy expanses and limitlessness than it had been when it was just a brainstormed list in my mind . . . Land has that kind of power; it forces you to move through it. It insists on direction. To explore, cultivate, fence off, save, declare sovereign or appropriate. Granary follows land necessarily, as grain follows seeds. In fact, you have to plant, grow, and harvest long before you need a storehouse. But once you’ve put all your grain into your granary—whether a silo, clay hut, or burlap bag—it’s the container for all you have planted, grown, harvested. It’s land, land’s potential, and fruit held in a box. No wonder it’s bursting.
There are granaries all over the world, made from every kind of building material, in all shapes and sizes, grand and modest. There are ancient granaries, paleolithic granaries, granary ruins you can visit along the Silk Road that look like sand castles after the tide has come in. Granaries often have a raised floor, or are themselves elevated from the ground on stilts. Ironically, you can’t pile the product of the earth onto the earth or it will get wet, rot, mold, become infested. Our vessel, bursting with suggestion, history, geography, potential, is also suspended.
I was re-reading my very favorite Italo Calvino book, The Baron in the Trees, as we were finishing up this issue of TLR, reading it aloud, actually, to my teenage son while we were marooned in an exam room waiting to see a doctor—I thought it was the perfect way to pass the time. He thought it was epic humiliation. Of course, the whole point of The Baron in the Trees is escape. Escaping in the first instance parental humiliation (and everything that extends from that): the young baron doesn’t want to eat snails for dinner and rather than be forced, he climbs out the window into the trees, where he stays, forever. To me, Calvino’s baron is the symbolic inverse of our granary. We contain our precious grains, our crops, up off the land they came from—all suggestion, practicality, and oddly sacramental. And the uncontained boy, living off (up above) the land, a rebel and a purist, and oddly sacramental.