4 September 2015

Patching The Barn: The Engineer As Artist

Patching The Barn

Patching The Barn

Jay Bridge is an artist, he has an artist's way of looking at wood and metal and the things he fixes, he looks at them, thinks about them. Driving home for lunch, he though we ought to replace the wood in the big barn from the top of the windows down. Some of the wood is worn by time, some by the donkeys gnawing on it in winter, when they have nothing else to chew. We bring them toys and pieces of bark and twigs, but this winter was rough, the ground was covered in ice and snow and they could hardly move away from the farm.

Jay suggests that we put a fence up to keep them away and we will do that. I thought there was something evocative about watching Jay cutting and trimming his hemlock, patching the worst holes. We can't handle replacing the side of the barn right now (last year he replaced our front porch, which was rotting away) but perhaps in the Spring.

Things are coming together for the Fall and then, of course, Winter. We have four cords of firewood, we need two or three more to feed our two wood stoves. We are assuming this winter will be hard and cold as well. That seems to be the new pattern. We have about 125 bales of hay in the barn, we can always get more if we need more.

In a few weeks, I'll ask Tyler to come by and start stacking the wood in the shed – we'd like to give it some more time in the sun. Jay will also insulate the pipes in the basement to hopefully forestall another ground freeze like the one that knocked out our frost free water line in February, the same week Joshua Rockwood's water froze on his farm.

In my county, the police don't come and arrest you when winter hits like that, they come by to help if they can. We are lucky to have Jay, he is an intelligent, thoughtful and well-traveled man. He loves what he does, he loves to work with his hands, he loves to work by himself. I felt like I was in an old English village today, watching him work with his wood and saws and cords and measuring tapes.

Posted in General

The Meadow Dog: Making A Joyful Noise

Meadow Dog In August

Meadow Dog In August

Fate is six months old, she will be spayed next month at the Cambridge Valley Vet. She has her puppy moments, but I think of her more as a young dog rather than a puppy. Fate has a joy of life that is infectious and inspiring, I think it is a part of her, I think it will always be a part of her. A smart, intense, aware creature, Fate loves people and she loves life.

Good qualities for me in a dog. Fate's joy is evident everywhere, but nowhere more so than when she vanishes into the meadow, romping through the tall grass, following the squeaks of chipmunks, the rustle of mice, hopping up and down like a rabbit, popping up here and there. I get the sense she loves being invisible in the meadow, loves appearing and disappearing. Not easy to photograph, I never quite know where she is, every now and then I am in the right spot at the right time, and she will come bursting up out of the ground and into the air, only to vanish again.

The colors of the meadow are changing for Fall, browns and yellows and reds, I love our meadow, Fate has enriched it for me even more.

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Windowsill Gallery. Taking Responsibility For Community.

Windowsill Gallery: Reflections

Windowsill Gallery: Reflections

Perhaps the most intense emotional experience of the week was the closing of O'Hearn's Pharmacy in my town of Cambridge. Pharmacists, small doctor's offices, florists, all kinds of small businesses close every day in America, there is only one pharmacy left in my county.

I went to my Rite-Aid yesterday to check on my new account there – they bought Bridget's customer list, I believe – it was fine, they were nice, efficient, I got my medicines. Is this the brave new world, or is this another example of the decline of community, individualism and connection.

It's true I didn't feel known at Rite-Aid, but I'm new. I got a flu shot there and was recognized by Nicole, who was a great help to me before I signed up with Bridget and who helped me navigate my confusion over all the diabetes apparatus – the needles, testing machines, strips and  other things I needed to figure out.

We were glad to see each other, she had been so helpful to me, I remembered her well.  I don't think anyone there knows what I do for a living, nor do I get the sense it would matter.

So there she was,  Nicole, taking care of me again.  Warm,smart, helpful. Isn't community what you make of it? If you want it and look for it, can't you find it?  Are connections up to me, can we simply blame the dark forces of the world for taking things away from us, for lamenting our lives, for bitching about change.

We live with bigness now, with phone trees and customer service in far away places, with harried voices on the phone, we hide behind our sparkling galaxy of devices.

I've heard a lot of bitching about change in my town this week, people are quite understandably upset about Bridget. But I am going to see if I can't create my own community at Rite-Aide. I want to stop blaming others for the way I feel, I don't wish to complain about my life, or the world I live.

I got the pills I needed, quickly and efficiently. I don't need to be close friends with everyone who helps me.

One pharmacist wrote me and said – very politely – that the truth of the matter is that small, poorly-staffed and overwhelmed independent pharmacies were simply not built to handle the complexity, volume and cost of the modern health care system. They just don't make economic sense any longer, he said. Like corner groceries, it is just the way economies evolve.

I have no idea if this is true or not. Bridget told me her father used to get a $4.75 for each pharmaceutical transaction that he handled. Today, 25 years later, the fee is 47 cents. The insurance companies have tremendous power, and the big chains have enough volume to make the cheaper fees worth while. Online drugs give consumers a wider range of choices than they used to have before, that is also something new, something that hurts pharmacies.

It's more complex than nostalgia. I am a mid-list book writer, and I don't make much sense to most publishers any longer.  In my last several years at Random House, I'm not sure I actually spoke to anyone there on the phone at all. It was just e-mails, then nothing. Not one person said goodbye to me or spoke to me after more than 30 years of working together.  I just don't earn enough money any longer to pay attention to. Publishing has changed, it isn't personal.

The truth of it is there was no one left there that I knew, or even thought to call and say goodbye.

I was sorry to see the pain and hurt in my town over the closing of O'Hearn's pharmacy. It is strange to say it, but a piece of all of us was shut down as well, that will take some healing and time.  People in small rural agricultural towns know loss, they have been seeing it for generations. As for me, I wish to take responsibility for my own community. I can't blame the chains and corporations for being disconnected and unknown. That is my job, my work, my attitude.

We'll see what I can do.

Posted in General

Camera Repairs, Barn Repairs. Checks Running Out The Door.

Camera Repairs, Barn Repairs

Camera Repairs, Barn Repairs

Repairs are the them of the day at Bedlam Farm. The thing about repairs on a farm is that they are never really done. There are perhaps 20 things on the farm that urgently need repairing –  holes in barns, holes in rooftops, and  there is never enough money to do them all.

Some get to be urgent, like the slate stones on the back porch. The cement holding them together rotted out this winter and it looked dreadful back there. Jay fixed them the other day. And the big holes in the Pole barn urgently need repairing, we are trying hemlock wood which donkeys generally are not crazy about eating. Can't leave a hole that big open for the winter.

And today, my precious Canon 1Dx stopped working the batteries no longer powered it up. It's on the way to Canon's New Jersey Service Center, I have my 5D as a back-up. I miss the 1DX, the camera is never away from me, and it feels lonely and strange not to have it.

At the first Bedlam Farm, I had plenty of money and I fixed everything the second it needed repairs. The house and barns were spotless, like Vermont barns. Here, it's different. I tell Jay Bridge to come and fix the barn while we have some money left over, and he does, that way he'll get paid.

Repairs make me nervous, they come under the budget  category of life, and they ought never be surprising, but they are.

One thing I love about where I live is that nobody has any money, everybody understands and we all sympathize with one another and help each other out. I went to my new pharmacy yesterday, my Rite-Aid, and it was fine. I miss Bridget, for sure, but Nicole gave me a flu shot and I got a goodie basket for new customers – some hand disinfectant, a toothbrush, some Ibuprofen.  They pretended to be shocked when they learned I was 68, they gave me a stronger flu shot that for people who are 65 and under. They said I didn't look 68 at all.

If they also tell me they love my photos and my blogs, we will be fine. Rite-Aid will organize my medications so that I can make fewer trips to the pharmacy, and are altering some of the prescriptions so that they will last longer and require fewer refill visits.

A good start. So today, a day of repairs. Lots of checks going out the door. It is true that you can't get ahead, you can only keep a nose above water. And we still have the tree to get chopped up in the backyard. I think Ed Gully is coming Sunday to do it. Sunday, Maria and I are heading out for a three-day vacation, the only kind we take anymore. We will be back Wednesday morning. No blogging.

I can't speak for Maria, but I am brain-tired, an intense writing time these past few months.

The Canon, purchased from a Kickstarter campaign last year, should be back in a week or two, if all goes well. By the end of the day, Jay will have built a new doorframe for the stall in the barn, the donkeys have gnawed it almost out of existence. And we can even pay him.

I don't understand why it is that I was so unhappy when I had a lot of money, and am so happy when I have no money. There is a message there, for sure.

Posted in General

Showing Up At The Office: Life Of The Border Collie, My Life.

Life Of A Border Collie

Life Of A Border Collie

The life of the border collie centers around work. We live on a busy road, but the sheep are to the rear of the house, and whenever the dogs come out, they rush to the pasture gate, sit down and wait.  We put them out back last, but mistakenly left the rear gate open, the doors came out and sat by the gate for several hours before we discovered our mistake.

That could have been a tragedy or serious problem for many of the dogs I have had. I didn't worry about it when Maria said the gate was open, I just went out the other side to the pasture gate, and there they both were, sitting patiently.

They come right to their office every morning, they live for it, they both watch my shoes to see if I am putting on the farm boots or not, and if so, they rush to the back door, then to the gate. Rose did this at the other farm. I have known a lot of crazy border collies who chase cars and trucks – Fate sometimes flirts with that on our walks – but I love border collies in part because they are like me.

I can't run as fast, but I am obsessive, I am always thinking about my work, picking up my camera, thinking about a blog post, a photo, a chapter in my book. That is my life really, that and Maria and the animals here. I  sometimes wish I were different, but not really. The dogs help remind me of who I really am.

I love them for what they are, perhaps I ought to do the same for myself.

Posted in General