Each morning now, Fate runs through the meadow, sometimes she hops for joy, or in excitement, if a chipmunk squeaks, or a mice runs for cover, or a rabbit darts into a hole. She disappears for a few minutes, then pops up here, or there. It has become a beautiful part of our day, a ritual, Fate loves every second of life.
I know some people who urge everyone they know to buy a farm, the idea being a farm is the perfect place to live in our frantic, techno-driven and expensive lives. Farms have become an almost mythic fantasy for tired people who hate their jobs, miss nature and want to live near animals. Most Americans – 90 per cent now – do not live anywhere near a farm, and that is both by choice and for reasons of economic opportunity, the availability of culture, and convenience.
The truth is, a farm is not for everybody, there are as many good reasons not to live on one as there are to buy one.
I saw one of these reasons this afternoon, when the sheep took off on Red and he and Fate took off after them driving up the hill where Maria was walking with her back turned. Normally, the sheep will split around a human, this time, they were being pressured and were running up a dirt path.They stampeded, two of them plowed right into Maria just above the knees and sent her flying through the air.
It was a frightening to thing to see, and a painful landing for her, but she is okay. I though for sure we would end up driving to the hospital rather than the movie (Mr. Holmes) that we planned to see in Williamstown. (We loved the movie, and Maria is hardy, like Willa Cather characters.)
It is easy to forget that farms, always presented as idyllic places stuffed with animals we love (I do some of the presenting) can be dangerous, uncomfortable and expensive places. They are not nearly for everyone. Some days, they are not for me.
Any real farmer knows this, they all chuckle at romantic portrayals of farm life.
And I am no farmer, I am a writer with a farm.You will never hear a real farmer say everyone should come to the country and buy a farm, most of them would love to live where you are.
I have been to the hospital three times since I bought a farm, and had many more trips to emergency clinics and my medicine cabinet, which is full of gauze, antibiotics, arm and leg wraps. I have had a number of near death experiences, two involving falls during bitterly cold winter storms, one when I was knocked down by a Swiss Steer, was chased by rabid raccoons and skunks, fractured my kneecap in a fall on the ice. I was hurt when aggressive rams came after me, and bowled over several times when Rose or some other border collie drove a flock of sheep into me.
A barn cat up the hill bit me 30 times in my right arm, which swelled up like a big red balloon.
I've been buried by snow avalanches off of barns, fallen off of haystacks, had giant splinters pulled out of my hands, sliced open my hands on barbed wire, slid down slippery hills on my butt, been lost in the woods more than once, fallen twice out of hay piles in the upper floors of barns. I got frostbitten in three toes and two fingers when a donkey dragged me up the hill in -20 temperatures while I tried to give her a shot in her butt for an infection. I slid off a roof twice trying to clear big snow drifts. I am no hero, but I have learned to be very careful.
I always have band-aids around and tetanus shots are not optional for me.
I don't share these stories to complain, I Iove my life and I love my farm, but I'm not going to fantasize or emotionalize about life on a farm. They are easy to buy and hard to sell. They are dirty and fragile. It is good to be thoughtful about fantasies.
I put up a lot of pretty photos of farms and neat animals, but it is also important to point out that farms are generally not pretty or easy, and rarely sylvan or idyllic. Those are what I call Vermont calendar farms, you will not see many of them where I live.
If you live on a farm for any length of time, you will get hurt. And you will shovel a lot of manure, brushhog a lot of ground, repair a lot of holes in various roofs, fix a lot of latches and fences. I can't climb on rooftops any more, so I am always urging Maria to be careful. She is strong and agile but sometimes, I think, a bit careless, even macho. She denies this.
Livestock like sheep and donkeys and ponies are large and sometimes unpredictable. Even the most docile animals can get spooked or confused, it is important to remember that they are animals, not cute versions of people. You have to stay alert, I am almost knocked down every day during sheepherding lessons. I shudder to even think about what breaking a leg or tearing a ligament would mean around here. The odds are good.
I have learned how to stay alert and move fast.
Maria was very lucky today, she got hit hard and knocked far, she could easily have broken a bone or a ligament. We love the animals here and trust them, but both of us are daydreamers, we have our heads up our asses half the time. I am apt to be thinking of a blog post or photo and she is always thinking of the art she is going to make. Maria lives out of her head, and if she sees an interesting rock or twig or flower, she pulls out her cell phone camera and forgets the world around her. Vigilance is not a natural state for either of us.
I tried to give her a safety lecture today, but she laughed and blew me off.
We both agreed we had to be careful, especially around a farm with a work-mad puppy who has not yet learned to stay still for too long or give me her full attention. We are working on it. Don't let anybody tell you that farms are for everyone. They are great things, for some people – for me and Maria – but don't let anyone tell you it is something we all must do.
When it's a good fit, you will know it. If you like to have movies and restaurants and snow plows for hire nearby, stay where you are, and count your blessings.
Her heart is an
loosed upon the soft meadow,
she yearns for her dear friend,
her spirit mother, the old girl wolf.
When the Divine Young Dog
flies across the meadow,
under barbed wire fences,
through fence posts,
running freely, hopping with
excitement and joy,
ten thousand bugs rise
into the air,
hundreds of chipmunks squeak
in alarm and dive for their holes,
scores of rabbits melt into the ground
the meadow grass laughs and trembles
and bends for her,
the deer stare in alarm and disbelief,
and then vanish into the woods.
Against the daisies and Queen Anne's Lace,
and her great blanket of meadow grass,
The Divine Young Dog,
is a flash, a blur,
an explosion of instinct,
she is living the life,
she was meant to live,
in the place,
she was meant,
to live it.
The hero's journey, writes Joseph Campbell in Reflections On The Art Of Living, always begins with the call. One way or another, a guide, a spirit, a voice comes to you and says, "look, you're in Sleepy Land. Wake. Come on a trip. There is a whole aspect of your consciousness, your being, that's not been touched. So you're at home here? Well, there's not enough of you there."
The herald or announcer of the journey is often dark, spectral, loathsome or terrifying, seen by the world as evil. Yet if you choose to follow him, the way would be opened through the walls of day and light into the dark where the jewels grow.
The call is to leave your life, move into your own loneliness and soul and find the jewel, the center of your life and dreams that is impossible to find when you are sleeping through life, living the life of the hollow man or woman, living to survive, living for security only. The call comes when you have been thrown-off center, uncertain of your purpose or direction in life, and when you are thrown off center, is is time to leave the familiar and set off into the unknown to find out who you really are.
The first step, writes Campbell, is a radical transfer of emphasis and emotion from the external to the internal world, a retreat from the desperations of the wasteland to the peace of the everlasting realm that is within. This realm is the infantile sub-conscious, the realm we dwell in in sleep, it is how we were formed, we carry it within us forever. All the ogres and demons and guides and helpers of our nursery are present, all the magic and terror and creativity and dreams and possibilities of childhood.
Such golden seeds do not die, they are always within us, waiting for the call to awaken and grow.
Always, from the first, we are confronted with the choice: to live our dreams or to be safe. This is the decision I had to make when I got the call, living in New Jersey, in a place I did not love doing work I no longer loved. I was alone there, I had no friends, no sense of belonging, no community. I was asleep there, existing but not alive.
When one thinks of many reasons for not going or has fear and remains in his or her society because it's safe, the results are very different from what happens when you answer the call. If you refuse to go, then you are someone else's servant and you remain someone else's servant for the rest of your life. When you refuse the call, there is a kind of drying up, a hollowing out, a sense of life lost, a sense of regrets. I imagine it is a choice all of us have to make at one time or another. Do we answer the call when it comes, or not? I answered the call, late in life, I abandoned the notion of living for safety, I was someone else's servant my entire life.
If you decide to go – the journey may be entirely within you, you do not have to move away – then you will be setting off on your own true adventure, a journey tailored to your own own deep spiritual needs. Magical guides, often in the form of animals, will appear to help you. Trust that they will be there. And you must be strong, the hero journey is frightening, on the call to adventure, you will leave rules, security, most of your known truths, the beliefs of those around you, behind, perhaps for good. The people around you may not understand, they can no longer see what you see, you will no longer think what they think.
You will be alone, at least for a time.
As you go towards the center of your being, more help will appear, and more travail. You will face difficult trials and challenges. You will have to surrender more and more of what you have always hung onto, your guideposts to life, your truths. The final leg of the hero journey – I am not there yet, I sometimes feel close – is a total giving up, a yielding all the way. This is a place in your head that is the direct opposite to your life experiences, all you have been taught in school, what you have read in the media, what your parents and grandparents and siblings have assured you is the absolute truth and reality of the world.
Psychologically and spiritually, it is a shift into the unconscious, into the spirit world; it's a move into a new world and field of action about which you know nothing. It might be good, it might be bad, it is journey into the unknown. If it is successful, you will return to the world reborn, eager to share what you have seen and learned. Or, you may fall into a dark space, a dark hole, and never climb out. There are no guarantees on this trip.
My hero journey began in 2000, when I bought a cabin in upstate New York, and guided by the writings of Thomas Merton, I set out and left my world behind for a life in nature, a life with animals, a life of creativity and writing. Everything Campbell said of the hero journey came true for me. I found magical helpers along the way – Orson, Rose, Izzy, Red, Mother, Elvis. My human guides, some of whom remain in my life, most of whom are gone, told me I was looking for love.
I found love, she was a magical helper, a spirit who appeared in the form of a loving human being. She is my guide and helper still. All that I had been led to believe about life turned out not to be true for me, I made a great shift to the unconscious, a journey into the unknown. I remain on this journey, it has been a long trip, I am coming to believe I will always be on it, to the rest of my life. It separated me from the world, and connected me to the world. I began my life anew, I answered the call, I went to a dark and frightening place and was nearly broken and unable to return.
The way was opened through the walls of day and night into the dark where the jewels grow. And I am finding them still. Before I answered the call, I was asleep, I was drying up. I did not understand my place in the world, there was not enough of me alive and awake for anyone else to know.
The deeper I go on this journey, the older I get, the harder I work, the closer I get t the final realization, the heavier the resistance. I am coming down to those areas that are the ones that are the most entrenched and repressed, and that is both frightening and disturbing. This is a wall I have to climb, an opening I have to walk through. This is where magical helpers are most urgently needed.
And then I will come back, to tell what I saw, to share what I know, to do as much good as I can. The final thing is knowing, loving, and serving life in a way in which I am eternally at rest, at peace.
When the world
seems to be falling apart,
the rule is to hang onto your own bliss,
It's the life that survives.
It was a tiring, sometimes tense day, and Red and Fate and I went into the deep woods at last light, it was cool and breezy in the woods, the wind had blown the flies and mosquitoes away, the last beam of light cut through the canopy in the forest. Red and Fate sat down together while I took some photos, the light braced them both, and I thought this photo captured something about them. Fate is looking more and more like a dog. There are two sides to Fate, her normal side, with her black eye, and her Pirate side, with her mad blue Merle eye. Two great dogs, walking with me on the path. I love them both, they are so different, yet so much the same. A tonic.