23 November 2009

American Lambs. Preserving Memory. Preserving Us.

  November 23, 2009 – Rainy, cold, cloudy. November is finally here. Yuk. A friend sent me a copy of a new book, American Lambs, by T. Yamamaoto, published by Outrunpress and I had the nicest couple of hours last night reading it. As the cover says, this elegant, elegaic book is a collection of poems and stories about working border collies (and sheep of course) and their families, but beyond that, it's really a love letter to the beauty, power, and ancient pull of border collies, sheepherding, and the people and places where they have occur.
  Sheepherding eluded me in many ways, I always loved it, but never had the patience or focus to really master it. It surely touched something deep in me and others. I spent much time on a sheep farm – Raspberry Ridge in Bangor, Pa. – where I first encountered this culture, and will always treasure the sweet mornings when I went out with my dogs and the sheep to grace at first light. Or in the middle of the night.
  This year, I extensively photographed the closing of a dairy barn in Belcher, N.Y. And I am quite involved taking photos for the Agricultural Stewardship Association (ASA) which is selling calendars as part of its ferocious struggle to preserve farmland from the ravages of development. The ASA just acquired the Grandma Moses farm in Washington County, N.Y.
  In America, nothing much ever stands in the way of development. Having spent some time in New Jersey, I know only too well what happens if land is not preserved, especially for farming or for rich and evocative cultures like sheep herding.
  "American Lambs" is a polished, beautifully written and quite diverse collection of pieces that evoke a fading culture of farming, individuality, connection with nature, family and of course, the fabled qualities of the border collie, one of the great working dogs of all time.
  The book is quiet, the stories touching and understated. There is a mythical quality to the collection. I wish there were more photographs in the book, but it is quite lovely.
  There are lots of reasons to read and love this collection. You can learn from it, preserve a distinct way of life, or keep it on the shelf in case the day comes when life like this is mostly a memory. And appreciate the power and meaning of a working dog. No creatures changes more lives than a working dog – I have four.
   The book is based on a place called Bush Island. It is not a real place, but one inspired by a real island off the coast of the Pacific Northwest. The author points out that like many beautiful places in America, this one was first agricultural. Then the farming familes sold out as taxes went up, and the new population didn't realize that they were obliterating the very things that made them want to live there in the first place. This is an old and familiar story in America. Check out this book at Outrun's website. Support the ASA calendar. Go to sheepherding trials.
  Fight to preserve farmland. You will miss it when it's gone.

Sealed With A Kiss. Frieda and Lenore

   Nothing has touched me more about Lenore than her virtual adoption of Frieda, and her help in getting Frieda to relax, play and live in the farmhouse. Lenore goes and greets her every time she sees her, and the two touch noses and play tug of war. Frieda loves Lenore, as almost everyone else on the earth does. Caught this nice moment between them this morning.

Portrait. Maria, Pincushion. The life of a potholder widow.

  I am a potholder widow. Maria is cranking out potholders for shipment all over the country. Me? I'm doing laundry, dishes, cooking, shopping and dog care. It's potholder support for Christmas season. Truth is, Maria is not all that domestic anyway, and I love to shop and cook and take care of dogs. So it works out. But I feel I have to squawk about it.
  I ferry tea and fruit across to the Studio Barn all day as she works day and night to fill potholder orders. She says she will shortly close off the Xmas season, as she can only make so many, and since she sees each one as an original work of art – she doesn't custom make them – she likes to take a lot of time with each one.
  She is threatening to come over and make dinner, but I've heard that before. Dinner is a Soy Cheese Pizza, and it will take me two minutes to make a spinach salad and put it in the oven. I might have some vodka too, with cranberry juice. I did get a bit buzzed the other night, and it was pretty neat. She drove.

My farm. Rethinking my move.

  Last year around this time I felt my life was out of control. Was in the middle of a divorce, I had cows, goats, donkeys, sheep, chickens, dogs and cats, hay bills, water problems, money was pouring down the hill like spilloff. This year is different. The animals are gone, my life, as well as my psyche, perspective, expenses, are getting slowly and gradually under control, and I draw creative strength from this farm, taking photos, writing children's stories, novels, short stories. A friend of mine – she lives on a 200 acre farm with her husband just a few miles away – told me today that I ought to stay on the farm, and take it off the market. Why, I said surprised? Arlene is not given to frivolous advice and is as wise as she is kind and soft-spoken. She comes from an old farm family, and has seen the ups and downs of my journey here. "It's just your home," she said. "I can tell."
  I said I thought it was silly for two people to have a 90 acre farm with four barns. "I have a bigger farm that that," she said, "and we plan to end it on ours." She got to me, I have to say. I love Bedlam Farm.
  I told her there were messages in everything. Nobody has made a serious offer on the farm, and that is a message. With the farm under control, I love it here even more. Maria has a great space to work, and she loves it. I have written six books on the desk from which I am writing this. That's a message too. My fiction and children's books seem to erupt here.
  We have friends in Glens Falls, Manchester, Dorset, Saratoga, Cambridge. Restaurants we love. Doctors we trust. Friendly faces almost everywhere.
   I never seem to run out of photos here, and the dogs have all kinds of room to run and play. It is insane to stay here? I don't know. Over the next few weeks, I really want to think about it and talk to Maria about it. I wouldn't mind ending it here either.
  Maybe a couple of cows. Oops.

Giving Thanks

Lenore is grateful for disgusting things to chew

  November 23, 2009 – I love Thanksgiving. A strong sense of family, of connection, one of the few times the country seems to take a breath – before the shopping begins in earnest. This year will be different kind of Thanksgiving for me, a change in the nature of my family and how I spend the holiday. This week, I am going with Maria to get a Christmas tree for the farmhouse.
  It is a loving and chastening time. I am grateful for my family and friend. For my work. For the dogs. For the farm. For the opportunity to grow and change as a human being. For the defining challenges difficult times bring. For Maria. For my photography.
  For the great of being a writer, of getting to tell my stories.