8 October 2017

Open House Faces: Althea From Florida. America Was Here

Althea from Florida

I recognized the face of Althea right away, she has been reading my books and my blog for years, she flew up from Florida to come to the Open House, my heart lifted to see her. She said she just had to come up and see the farm and visit us.

All weekend I  had this recurring thought, that this was America, this rich and diverse and good assortment of people from everywhere, gathered for a common purpose. This is our hope, and our promise, and my commitment.

The harder the conflict, the more glorious the conflict. If there must be trouble, let it be in my day, so that my child may have peace. We have it in our power to begin the world over again.

Posted in General

The Return Of Fate Sunday. They Are Simple Souls.

The Return Of Fate. Red And Becca Addy, Open House, 2017

Saturday brought a shocking thing to me, my relationship with Fate was momentarily broken, she nearly lost her life running into the road for the first time, she ran from me,  refused to obey even the simplest commands, and sparked a bout of rage and anger in me that shook me and awakened me.

I have long had what I call a sacred contract with my dogs, a part of it is that I treat them well and lovingly, train them carefully, and they listen to me, stay out of the road, respect our relationship, honor my work.

I work hard at this, and not to overstate it – I dislike drama – it was a jarring and troubling thing for me, I do make my living writing mostly about dogs.

Some people blamed Gus for this meltdown – of both of us – some suggested it was the Full Moon. Fate ran all over the farm to get away from me, I chased her, yelled at her, hit her on her backside, chased her into her crate. I surprised myself, and not in a good way.

On careful reflection, I thought my behavior was unacceptable, I have always known there is anger in me, I usually keep it far away from the dogs. Seeing Fate nearly killed while I chased after her shouting helplessly was a kind of nightmare for me, an image from another time and place. She lost control, and I did too.

I needed to take responsibility and set it right, whenever there is trouble like that, it is almost always the fault of the human, dogs are simple souls, they react, they do not plot or calculate. People do.

This was not the end of the world, it was an episode, not a new reality. I am only too human, and I never forget that.

I trust Fate and love her and I believe she trusts me and loves me. That bond was broken Saturday, I needed to restore it quickly and thoughtfully. She is a strong and grounded dog, we had a strong relationship to fall back on, I  could hopefully move right past it.

So I got up early and went to work with Fate. I cleared my head, and sat and meditated, made sure I was calm.

I set some goals. We would move slowly, stay calm, return to basic obedience work, which has been so successful with her and my other dogs. I had her sit, stay, lie down, rewarded her with treats, gave simple commands and was close enough to make sure she would hear and understand them.

I wanted us to reconnect in the very healthy, even joyful way that marked our relationship. I did it in slow and simple steps, to rebuild confidence and response.

I took her out alone and into the pasture, where I had her lay down near the sheep, and then left her alone there to settle. I brought Red out to lie down near her to keep her calm. When a car pulled in, and she started to get excited, I threw some treats on the ground and had her walk with me, back towards the sheep.

I acknowledge that this is a dog that needs to know who is coming to the farm, see them, smell them, greet them. It is an important part of who she is. The challenge was not to forbid it, but to manage it and control it.

When the people in the cars parked them and got close to the gate, I opened it and let her rush out to greet them. Then I called her back and she came. She was calmer than Saturday, it seemed to me Gus was not the culprit, neither was the Full Moon. I was.

She seemed to realize once more that she could welcome people without running wildly out to them in the road, that was always her way. So I knew it was an ingrained behavior, Saturday was the aberration. We just had to re-wire it.

When you lose it with a sensitive dog like that,  they will often melt down, and when I look into the eyes of my dogs, I often see myself in the mirror. The better I am, the better they are.

Fate was responding to me well, the calmer and clearer I was, the calmer and more responsive she was. She showed no signs of anxiety around me – her tail and ears were up, she didn't hesitate to follow my commands. The treats were calming, so was my voice and demeanor.

I began to wonder if perhaps I was more anxious about our Open House than I realized, and she had picked up on that, as sensitive dogs do. The Open Houses are important to us, we work hard on them, they are wonderful but they are, in fact, stressful.

Hard to know, since I couldn't really see myself, but I know I didn't like my response Saturday or the taste it had left in my mouth. Fate had punctured my big ego as well as my trust and confidence in her. That was my problem, dogs don't have sensitive egos.

Command by command, minute by minute, the old trust and communication returned.  The foundation work we have done paid off. She settled, greeting newcomers, but calmly and affectionately, not wildly or out of control. I called her to the "house" several times – she hesitated once – and then came.

I praised her and she was pleased.I had re-opened our communication channel. We were talking to one another, I was clear on my intent and she understood it, our kind of visualization.

I felt better about myself and more in command. Maria asked if we shouldn't keep her on a leash, but I said no, I needed to trust her again and she needed to trust me.  I didn't want to leave it this way. She stayed outside almost the entire day and scores of people came and went. She never once went near the road, she obeyed every calm and clear command I gave.

She visited people, crawled into their lap, gave them kisses,  greeted them and lay by the pasture gate waiting for work.

She played with Gus a bit and by mid-day, the echoes of the previous day were gone. Fate had returned to herself and to me, and I had once again become the kind of dog owner I wanted to be, and was proud of being.

We are all human, we all make mistakes, I'm not going to spend too much time beating myself up about it, but when a beloved dog nearly pays for my mistakes with his or her life, I'm going to take it  seriously.

Fate is back, and that is good news for me. I will try to stay humble and remember the lessons I learned. When there is trouble with a dog, always look first and  hard at myself. They are simple souls.

Posted in General

Open House Faces. The Urbans. New York City. America Showed Up.

Open House Faces, The Urbans

The Urban family drove up from New York City to catch the last hour of our 2017 Open House. Sue says they couldn't get a car rental Saturday, so came up Sunday as soon as one was available. I've know this family for some years, I met them at a NYC rally for the New York Carriage Horses several years ago.

They wanted to see and support the farm, my work and Maria's art show. America was here this weekend, from California to New York.

We did not see the America of cable news or Twitter this weekend, we saw the real America and  I was affirmed once more in my love for it. These are the times that try men's souls. The summer soldier and the sunshine patriot will, in this crisis, shrink from the service of their country, but he that stands by it now, deserves the love and thanks of man and woman.

I am a lifelong admirer of Thomas Paine, and I believe he would have loved this weekend's Open House, the real America showed up to stand by their country and what it means.

Posted in General

The Sunday Open House, A Different Day

A Different Day

Sunday Open Houses are very different from Saturday Open Houses. They begin later, they last a big longer. There are no belly dancers and few scheduled events apart from our poetry readings (today poets Jackie Thorne and Mary Kellogg – above –  read from their work.)

Things usually pick up after church lets out, and this morning began with some serious downpours. Saturdays' Open House had from between 800 and 1,000 people, today's about 300. Sundays are a time to talk and listen, the pace is slower, the farm feels more intimate.

I like Sundays, I actually have time to talk to people and listen to their stories. I have poet-friends in New York City who are lucky to have a half-dozen people come to their reading and signings, we had about 80 people at our readings today, twice as many yesterday.

Next year, we're doing one Open House, the October one. This one was special and sweet, the Open Houses have become a rich tradition – so many people return, so many members of the Army of Good, so many good people from the Creative Group at Bedlam Farm.

Tomorrow, some eye issues to figure out, and next week, we are going on our vacation to New Mexico. We both have waited a long time for this and are excited.  And the best kind tired, we are lifted up, risen and filled with gratitude.

The eighth annual Open House is over, a triumph for us in every way.


Posted in General

Open House Faces, Ed Gulley. My Real America

The Real America

Ed Gulley is a fascinating man, a man of many parts. A dairy farmer. A family man. An artist and sculptor. A good friend. A butcher of meant and lover of animals. A fierce advocate for the family farm.

He defies political labels and would love to see Congress emptied out of politicians and demolished. He is a very real American to me, a kind of heartland symbol of another time, and now, the co-publisher of a hot new blog, the Bejosh Farm Journal.

Maria sold three of four of his very idiosyncratic farm implement sculptures, his wind chimes have been popular for months. He inseminates cows, slaughters them by hand, rescues hawks and possums and raccoons.

Ed gave a talk on farming today on the Open House, and it is a speech every American who eats should hear. Again today, I was struck by how many people were at our farm from all over the country, of different political views, the left and the right, pro-and-anti- Trump, it didn't matter a white.

Nobody talked politics or argued about them, we talked to one  another in corners, on benches and chairs, all over the farm, watching Red work, giving carrots to the donkeys.

This is how I always have seen America, strong and diverse and  a beacon to the poor and vulnerable of the world.

This is not the America we see on cable news, and hear the awful pundits shout and scream about, the one our corporate-bought politicians ignore and abandon. On my farm this weekend, my America was there, it was good to know it is alive and well.

This is my America, not their America, the one I am fighting for.

This gathering on the farm was the way I have alway seen my country, I do not believe it is an allusion, it is my America and it was all over my farm this weekend, along with refugees and immigrants and farmers and bankers and writers and artists, and  readers of many different colors and identities.

Ed has the values of a family farmer and the soul and sensitivity of an artist. He appears whenever I am in trouble to lend his strong arm and generous soul. I am grateful for him, he reminds of what our value truly are.


Posted in General