I took my first Kelly/2017 photograph at the Bog Thursday night, the parking lot was full, the bar was crowded, the tables were filled, Kelly said from one end to the other like graceful schooner, managing all of it smoothly and with her usual grace. She's my first portrait of 2017, which is fitting, I think.
"In the time of your life, live – so that in that good time there shall be no ugliness or death for yourself or for any life your life touches. Seek goodness everywhere, and when it is found, bring it out of its hiding place and let it be free and unashamed.
Place in matter and in flesh the least of the values, for these are the things that hold death and must pass away. Discover in all things that which shines and is beyond corruption. Encourage virtue in whatever heart it may have been driven into secrecy and sorrow by the shame and terror of the world. Ignore the obvious, for it is unworthy of the clear eye and the kindly heart.
In the time of your life, live – so that in that wondrous time you shall not add to the misery and sorrow of the world, but shall smile to the infinite delight and mystery of it."
- William Saroyan, The Time Of Your Life Quotes
This morning, I wished for more color, and then the sun came bursting in through the arctic air outside and it lit up two red flowers in a planter that Maria had put out for some water, and I thought perhaps it is true that angels are hanging about and sometimes grant wishes. They were listening this morning, I thought it a lovely still life.
The old apple tree – we think it is as old as the farmhouse – is a beautiful thing, it gives us beauty and context all year. This morning, arctic winds and cold, just about everything that could be frozen was frozen. I sometimes forget to capture images like this, because they are so familiar to me, they seem ordinary. But this morning, I paused and looked again, and realized this is not ordinary for most people, and they appreciate seeing it.
I am lucky to see it. I feel on solid ground when the animals have their food, the world seems to be working.
Maria is leaving for Kolkata (formerly Calcutta), India, in about a month, and we are both dealing with the looming reality of such an exciting and valuable trip. She is going to help the victims of sex trafficking make potholders and other fiber works, part of an ongoing effort to give these exploited women the tools to earn a living and rebuild their lives.
I could not be more excited for her.
I have been trying to help – we go online to study Kolkata, understand the culture there, help her plan and choose and buy some things she will need. She has asked me a dozen times if I wish to go, and I have not wavered a bit, this is not a trip for me to take with her. It is her journey, her gifts, her magic.
There are some things we don't need to do together and ought not to do together. She knows that, too.
On her blog today, she began her journal. I guess this is the start of mine, the obligation of the open life.
I am also mindful that being left behind is sometimes awkward, especially for two people whose lives are as closely entwined as our lives are. We have hardly been apart for more than a day since we got married in 2010. The only other time I was alone on this farm was when Maria went to Gee's Bend in Alabama to meet the quilters there. She was gone three days, and it was in warm weather. Farm chores are simpler that time of year.
She and I share everything, including a passion for creativity, a commitment to encouragement, a love of animals and nature, and a deep love for one another. I expect it will feel as if half of me is gone.
The farm is not a simple place for one person, especially if it is a cold and snowy winter. There are many issues relating to wood stoves, firewood, water to the animals, dog and cat care, frozen manure in the pole barn hay distribution, shoveling and ice. Winters are tough up here, and farms are tough places in the winter.
I spent a lot of time alone on the first Bedlam Farm, the better part of six years.
And I am a prideful sort, it will have to get pretty awful for me to ask for help. I don't need sympathy dinner invitations either, I can take care of myself and feed myself But I won't lie, I am getting older, and mindful of the fact that there are some things it is difficult for me to do alone.
I learned at the first Bedlam Farm that falling on ice is a dangerous and very common danger on farms, my legs and back were damaged by all those falls.
And in this kind of weather, you can't really see what is beneath the snow, if it's ice you are at risk. I've fallen hard too many times not to take it seriously. My formerly frostbitten fingers throb in extreme winter cold and my legs and back feel the cold as well.
Today I got a bit of a dry run.
Maria got up early to go to the dentist, it looks like she is getting a tooth pulled. I offered to go, but I knew she'd decline the offer. She likes to take care of herself, I respect that, even if I worry.
It was bitterly cold this morning, in the single digits.
There was ice everywhere, an arctic wind sweeping across the pasture. I fed the barn cats and put them in the basement, where they spend their winters days dozing and chasing mice.
I let the dogs out and walked carefully to the pasture. The thing with ice, is don't be brave. Move slowly, watch where you are going, a serious fall would not help anybody, certainly not someone heading out to India. I had my heavy Carhartt winter coat and winter gloves. I had a scarf wrapped around my neck and got my best boots on. They grip ice well. The thing with chores, is go slow, one thing at a time.
The pasture gate was frozen shut. I left the dogs at the gate, went back to the farmhouse and poured a cup of hot water, brought it out and poured it on the latch, which opened. There was ice and rain last night, plus very high winds. I sprayed de-icer on the latch, I knew the sun would warm things up a bit when it came up.
One difficulty with one person is the animals and feeding. It is so easy to get bumped or knocked down when carrying a load of hay out to the pasture. Sheep have no common sense when it comes to people and food, they just stampede.
With two people, there are two loads taken out simultaneously, with one, there is a crowd. Red is great at keeping the sheep off me (they are the greatest danger because they bump me in the knees, and if the knees bend, you go over onto the slippery ground. Oh, and please don't write me about those cumbersome trak attachments for boots, they are great for walking on suburban pavements that are slippery, they do not work in ice, hay, mud and manure, they just clog up and get dangerous.
Red can't keep the pony and donkeys from bumping into me or grabbing for the hay.
In intense cold, the animals are especially hungry and anxious.
The new elements, I suppose, are my stiffer legs and knees, and also my heart angina, which sometimes make the very cold air painful. I don't really know how all that will play out over two weeks. With the angina, I just have to pause sometimes. I can do anything I usually do.
In cold weather, I don't use the hose attached to the frost free pump, the moisture inside of it freezes. I pour water into buckets and carry the water out to the feeder. I took two loads of hay out – one for the sheep, the other for the quines, and didn't get crunched.
I carried several buckets of water out from the barn to the heated water tank in the pasture. Animals drink more in cold weather, it warms them and gives them energy. I filled the feeders with some extra hay. I went to the chicken coop, the latch was frozen there too, and gave them mash inside the coop – I doubt they will be coming out in this cold and wind. I made sure their heated water bowl was full.
Then I went into the Pole Barn and shoveled the rock hard mounds of manure off of the ground and onto a wider shovel, using a shovel and rake together. I did the same thing with dog leavings in the back. I had to chip away at some of the manure but got it out and into the manure pile. Then I threw down some de-icing salt on the porch and the path. Then I had to bring some firewood into the house and stack it, and wash the dishes from breakfast.
The angina acted up a bit, I stopped for a minute or two and it was fine.
The break was that there was no snow to shovel or to scrape off the car. I started my car to warm it up, stoked the wood fires, put the dishes away, cleaned the sink. All of this took a little over an hour. There was nothing I couldn't do, I just have to take my time and be thoughtful about it. If there was heavy snow, I have the number of a couple of people I can call for help. So far, I've been shoveling and raking snow off the roof.
I did forget to water the plants, I'll have to get into the habit of that or Maria will kill me.
My goal is to do everything by myself, but ask for help if I really need it. My intention is not to need it. It is just as healthy to be apart sometimes as it is to be together, and this is a wonderful opportunity for Maria. I don't want to cloud it by being needy, fearful or selfish. There is nobility in being left behind with grace.
Then, there are the regular chores – paying mills, collecting mail, taking garbage out and to the dump at least once a week. And the usual – shopping and cook. Today, I poured Ajax in the sink and scrubbed the stains out. The oil company came and filled up our tank – that used to cost $400 or $500, today it was $117 because of our wood stoves.
I will have to re-shape my work schedule over those two weeks, leaving plenty of time for morning and afternoon chores, done thoughtfully and carefully. The animals deserve that. Then, there is the inside of the house – keeping that neat and clean for Maria's return, and the paying of bills, and the purchase of food and supplies.
I'll save my creative time for writing – about 9 a.m. to 1 or 2 p.m. And then again, later at night, when it's all quiet.
This was a tough day chore wise, very intense winds, bitter cold. I felt fine about it. Sleeping in bed alone will be strange. But to be honest, I have spent much of my life alone, it is a familiar feeling for me. I know how to do it.
I doubt I will have time to be lonely, I hope to make great progress on my books "Lessons From Bedlam Farm."
This does not mean I will not acutely miss Maria. Things are not real – they do not happen – unless I tell her about them, and we seem to get closer and more in love over time. I have shown her every single photograph I ever took, ever since I began taking pictures. She is my guide and love and salvation.
I am also mindful that I am older than she is, she needs to know how to be alone as well.
But real love is selfless, whether for people or dogs. The India trip is a gift, all around. We both will be writing about it, she from Kolkata, India, me from Bedlam Farm. Something quite amazing about that.