On this Fourth of July, I think about what I would give for my country and do for my country, and yesterday when Ron Dotson, his wife Stacy and his son Jordan came to meet the donkeys, see Red and visit the farm, the question seemed all the more relevant to me. I don't know what I would give for my country, I don't think I could give what Ron gave.
He went to Vietnam with the famous Marine 3rd Division, the first American combat force to go to Vietnam and protect the Saigon airport. The 3rd Division, which also fought in World War II and Korea, was in continuous combat for nearly four years there. They killed nearly 8,000 North Vietnamese soldiers, and 1,400 members of the division were killed in combat, 9,000 were wounded. America loves to fight wars but hates to remember the people who fought in them. Ron Dotson came to Bedlam Farm last year for the art show we had there, I don't recall meeting him, and he comes to this area – to Vermont – every year on vacation with his wife Stacy, a school psychologist in Ohio and Jordan, a high school junior thinking about becoming a veterinarian.
I've known some combat veterans, very few want to talk much about their wars. Ron told me he saw many of his friends die and he was shot and seriously wounded. He decided to devote his life to helping people and his business card says "Streams Of Hope," and then "Chaplain Ron Dotson," and below that, "Ministry of Encouragement." He is listed as the chaplain for American Legion Post 218 in Middletown, Ohio. It seems to me Ron has given more than most people give to their country, but still, he gives more and more, helping the sick and the elderly and the poor in his ministry of encouragement, offering streams of hope. That is a generous man.
Ron has been following my work a long time, from "Running To The Mountain" through the blog. He knows a lot more about me than I know about him, always a strange experience for a writer. I felt a strong connection to him, I would call it a spiritual connection. He is a quiet, courteous and considerate man – he shook my hand and introduced himself to me at Momma's restaurant and then vanished, apologizing for bothering me. He showed up at Battenkill Books the next day to buy a book – his much loved dog had died on the second day of their vacation and he wanted to read "Going Home: Finding Peace When Pets Die." We talked some more and I invited him to the farm.
The family clearly love animals, they were eating up Lenore, then the donkeys, and then Red. I think Jordan would make a great vet.
The Dotsons have never met a donkey, and they were much taken with Simon, Lulu and Fanny, who loved them and the carrots they brought. These donkeys have figured out Bedlam Farm visitors, they bring carrots and treats, they are welcome.
Ron is thinking of getting a hospice therapy dog and doing that work. Like most people meeting them for the first time, the Dotsons were delighted and surprised at how affectionate and responsive the donkeys are. Simon practically melted into Ron's arms. We spent some time with the donkeys, then Red put on one of his great herding exhibitions – he puts on quite a show and I thought myself fortunate to have a home people want to come and see, even if I can't accommodate many of the people who would like to see it (this is a reason Maria and I are hosting two visits to the farm, July 21, and Sept. 1, details on her website.)
Ron and Stacy said they wished they had enough land for a donkey, they would go right out and get one. As is, I think Ron has begun looking for a dog to do therapy or hospice work. I think he's a natural if he can find the right dog.
Lenore, the official greeter, was overjoyed to see these new people and I am sure, would have happily gone off to Ohio for a visit for a few days. I am seeing in life that most things have a purpose, and I think Ron entered my life this week for a reason, maybe it is July Fourth, a day I had not thought much about until I met him. I sometimes think the people who suffer the most complain the least and the people who suffer the least complain the most.
Vietnam seems a long way off, and we have fought a bunch of wars since then, many more people volunteering to go off and kill and be killed or wounded. Ron decided to take his experience and turn it to good, and I admire him and his family and I hope they come back every year. I'd like to get to know him better. I guess everyone has to love his country in his or her own way, some make the ultimate sacrifice, some are spared that awful choice. I feel on this Fourth of July that my country is hurting, and I am struggling to figure out something positive I can do. On this day, Ron inspires me to try harder.
The daily egg looks right at home in the crook of our old apple tree, by the barn.
I'm looking for some ways today to who my love of my country, which often disappoints me and often lifts my heart. But I never stop loving my country and so I'm sending it some birthday cards, using still life photography, the flowers from my carden and a good lens.
I was driving into town this morning when I saw a man pulling a large dog on a wagon and the image was pretty striking so I pulled over, jumped out of the car and asked if I could take a photo. The man was delighted, he just beamed. Diablo, he said, was an English Bulldog. It was about 80 degrees, around ll a.m. and I thought it was sweet that this dog – I assumed he was ill – was getting a ride. I asked the man if the dog – he introduced him as "Diablo" – was in poor health, and how thoughtful of him to be giving him a lift.
The man looked shocked, and said Diablo was in terrific health, it was just that he didn't like the thought of him walking on the hot sidewalk, he didn't think Diablo liked the heat, so when it was a sunny he just pulled him along in the wagon and Diablo loved it. The man said he had to go to the hardware store, and he knows Diablo loves to come along, so he put him in the wagon. The dog looked quite comfortable the man was sweating. Diablo barked several times. I thought what a wonderful world it would be if people loved people the way they love dogs.