Simon, Spring, 2011. Learning to stand again.
As a rule, I do not l look back much, I try and celebrate my life now, not what is lost or in the past. The past is painful for me, the present is not. Today, going through some photos I came across this image, and I began crying, softly, tearing up, I was surprised, it just welled up in me, I kept thinking life is a river time is a river, it flows and flows, we are pulled along with it. I remember this morning at Bedlam Farm, the sun was rising, there was a mist, and my four dogs – Izzy, Rose, Lenore and Frieda – were lined up together in the front yard, looking out over the valley. Lenore and Izzy turned to look at me, giving the photo a sense of expectation.
I could not have imagined that morning what was ahead of me. In a few months the river would have swept through my life, Izzy and Rose would be dead – I can see now in this photo what I could not see then, that Rose was already ill – and I would not be living again on this beautiful farm that had meant to much to me, that I thought I would never leave. I never thought Frieda would last longer than Rose and Izzy, she had been through so much, she is tough as Titanium.
I write this from another place, another time, another world in so many ways. Was that world me? Is this one? I think I am in my true life now, the other one was a mystical journey, the hero journey, I'm not sure it was ever real.
Life has it's own ideas about things, and I see there is much emotion in me sometimes, I suppose there always has been, like many men, I learn, am taught to hide it. It comes out when it wishes and this photograph evokes a great deal in me. It was such a curious time, a golden time, a black time. Dogs like these are spectators in our lives, they love to sit and watch the river flow, almost as if they know where it is going. Dogs come and dogs go. Lenore came to keep love alive in me, Izzy to take me to the edge of life and bring me back, Rose, well, Rose…I don't really have words for her purpose.
I write about my life all of the time, but I never see it coming, I am like one of the dogs, watching in astonishment as the river flows and flows. Crisis and mystery, joy and redemption, all around the corner.
I ran into a friend I haven't seen awhile at the dentist's a couple of weeks ago, we stood in the parking lot and caught up a bit. I asked her if she were planning to lamb this Spring and she got a very somber and serious look, and said, "oh, no I don't think it's right to bring any more animals into our lives that might outlive us." She looked quite grave. Really, I said, Maria and I were lambing in the Spring and thinking about getting goats. Then I realized what she was really saying, she was in her 60′s and expected to die before any of the lambs.
When I told her that I intended to lamb, even at my advanced age, she looked at me uncomfortably, as if I were about to beat a kitten with a stick. I might have included this in my "Creative Aging Manifesto," part of my Ted Talk being edited right now. There is this very somber idea about aging – my friend must have said a dozen times, "you know we aren't getting any younger," "we need to face reality" – that suggests it is time to begin slipping away from life, even before you leave it.
And, she added, shaking her head sorrowfully, her dogs were getting older too.
My friend is roughly my age and I told her that I have no intention of abandoning my writing and life with animals because I am getting older. Nuts to that, I thought, I know where I am, for one thing Maria is younger than I am, but for another I can always make plans for the animals in case something happens to me or us – Maria and I have talked about that. Animals have provided great life, work and health and connection for me. And it's a good idea, if something happened to both of us, our friends ought to know where to bring the animals in our lives.
For me, a life with animals is all about life, not death. Farm chores keep me very active and busy and engaged. So does sheepherding with Red. And walks with the dogs. And wrestling with sheep. And brushing and doing Tai Chi with donkeys. They provide me with many gifts, from photography to my books. I don't speak ill of my age, or apologize for it. I never say "we aren't getting any younger" or "at our age." My age is my age, and apart from sore knees and chilled bones in the winter, it does not define me, I am writing more than ever, taking more photos than ever, I have plans for a bunch more books.
I do not live in denial about my age, I am aware of it, I am much closer to the end but the beginning, but I will not close life off to me because the culture around me has turned getting older into a capitalist race for health care, IRA's and medicines. I will downsize my life when I must, not when the world beyond thinks it's a good idea.One day I'll be lying in bed, propped up on pillows, Maria will be reading me short stories, Red will be gray and wobbly, lying at my feet, Lenore will be curled up in a ball by my toes. I don't see animals out of my life when I picture it.
Animals have brought me love, health and connection, work and stimulation, creativity in every imaginable way. I do not choose to reduce my life with them to an insurance adjuster's calculation of now many years I am like to live before they die. I told my friend that I did not wish to give up life now for somebody else's idea of life down the road. I didn't think she liked hearing it.
We each have our own stories. She has hers, I have mine.
Maria and I are both color-deprived with the onset of real winter and cold, I bought her some daisies at the supermarket and they are appearing all over the house, the latest elements to the windowsill gallery.
As I stood outside the fence of this winter pasture, two horses approached me boldly and looked at me and my camera, and then, I noticed a third horse appear, I am not familiar with horses, I was struck by these three, there was something mystical about them, they seemed to be carrying a message to me, but I could not imagine what it might be.