Books & Writing
Dancing Dogs. Stories.
“Dancing Dogs,” my first short story collection, available in print and e-book formats, has gotten wonderfully positive responses and I am excited about it. Short story collections do not generally sell well but I am hopeful for this book, a departure for me, but a direction I would like to pursue. The book explores the emotional connection between people – mostly dogs, but cats and other animals as well. It explores the real lives of real people, some struggling but celebrates the importance of dogs and cats in their lives.
You can read an excerpt here.
Poem: Old Tree On Macmillan Road
There is an old tree on Macmillan Road,
weathered and drawn, silent witness to the lives that
walk, rode, ride, drive by, witness to me, my small life.
He is the king of the road, the minister of Macmillan Road.
A man breaks through the circle, comes to him,
awake, and and the old tree sighs and moans.
He has seen this man before, and before.
This other life is not for him, not for us.
Here Comes The Bedlam Farm Podcast
Exciting news for me. Maria and I met with Chris Archibee, a good friend and an executive at Mannix Marketing, the designer of my beloved (by me) website. We had lunch at Dish restaurant and every time I meet with Chris, something good happens to the blog. Chris has been the Godfather of bedlamfarm.com from the beginning, and Mannix has supported the growth and design and maintenance of the blog every step of the way. He stops me from doing many things, encourages me in others. I suggested a podcast for Maria, but she just laughed and said it would be good for me. She's right. We agreed today that I ought to have a Bedlam Farm Podcast, and so we are putting it together.
I'll start the Podcast once a week – Sundays I think, and inspired by my farm writing hero E.B. White, I broadcast stories from the farm and the animals who live her and commentary about rural life as well. Maria will join me from time to time.
A podcast is a type of digital media consisting of a series of audio, radio, video, PDF, or EPub files subscribed to and downloaded through the Web or streamed online to a computer, tablet or cell phone. Podcasts are wildly popular, the new radio in many ways. I want mine to be a gentle, thoughtful and hopefully useful commentary about my life on the farm, about the donkeys, dogs, cats and chickens. Stories from the farm, from my life, from the drama of rural life. It will probably take a week or so to get rolling, and I will keep you posted as to how and where to subscribe. They are simple to create, easy to find and listen to.
This is an exciting step forward for me, a new way to talk to my readers and the followers of the farm, a new way to introduce my books and thoughts. I am happy to embrace yet another of the many new tools writers have to connect with their audience and to share their work. I am using print, video, blog and now voice to tell my story.
A Life Fully Lived. The Journals Of Florence Qua Walrath: Parties And Kitchen Hops
In Florence's young world, life was difficult, but it was also fun. It is easy to see a different world, without cards, TV, cable, Internet, cell phones, computers. People connected with one another, formed powerful friendships, had a great sense of community and although they had little money, they had all sorts of inventive ways to have tremendous fun, even in the midst of back-breaking work and hard times. People talked to each other, not through machines. Florence's journals make clear that our new devices are powerful, but they have taken a lot from us. It is interesting about Florence and her writing. She stated no opinions about politics, changing times, was not ever complaining or nostalgic. But her journals make clear how the felt about the changing world. Her own rich world had vanished.
"Mother belonged to a Larkin's* club, the neighbors meeting about every two weeks. She would get credit for what was sold and earned prizes like lamps, stands, chairs, and smaller things. There were card party's which was held at different homes. We always went along. One night we all went to Henry Coulter's home on Scotch Hill. While folks played, the children raised H—-. We were going up the stairs and sliding down the open stair rail. Bus Coulter was so anxious to beat us that he ran up, jumped for the rail going over to the floor below. This knocked him out and scared us so no more rail sliding that night.
Other nights they had dances or kitchen hops. This was fun as I loved music. Dad would bundle us up, take a team on a sleigh and go over the mountains to a large house. This was near Dall Coulter's home. I would take a nap all afternoon and stay awake all night. One night I sat on a mantle shelf and watched Matt Shields play the fiddle for the squares. That was the night Fayette, who was a sleep head, went to sleep on some coats in the hall. The hall was dark and others came and piled their heavy fur coats on top of him. He was nearly smothered before Mother found him. One day we were getting ready to go over for another dance when we received word the house was on fire. They had started the stove in the front room. The chimney caught fire. That was the last of a beautiful home. Burned to the ground."
* I researched the Larkin's Club reference. John D. Larkin began a modest soap factory in Buffalo, N.Y., in 1875 and marketed two products: Sweet Home Soap, a yellow laundry soap, and Creme Oatmeal, a toilet soap. He began experimenting with the "Larkin Idea," door-to-door sales to private residences using neighbors and friends. As part of the "Larkin Idea," the company inserted a color picture with the company's logo into every box of soap and customers could join his "club." His tactic of offering a gift directly to customers was a revolutionary approach at the time. By the 1890′s Larkin's notion of "premiums" – now commonplace – was an integral part of his operation. Salespeople like Florence's mother received a commission on sales. – jk
A Life Fully Lived: The Journals Of Florence Qua Walrath: The Teacher She Loved
Florence Walrath understood the forces that shaped her life, seemed to grasp them even as they occurred and long after. if she was not emotional in her writing, she was deeply introspective, in many ways a natural memoirist. She kept apologizing for her grammar, but she knew precisely which stories were important enough to pull from her early life. There are no poor choices. Every memory is strong, it's meaning clear. She was a natural writer. Florence was educated in one-room school houses. It was there she learned confidence and responsibility early on. She abandoned her education after a teacher in Shushan, N.Y. accused her (falsely, she said) of cheating. She couldn't bear to return to that classroom and have people think she might be dishonest, so with her mother's permission, she left school for good. She said she regretted not finishing her education, but she learned many important lessons in the special atmosphere of the one-room school house. There was an intimacy there unimaginable to schoolchildren in our time.
"The teacher we all loved and will never forget was Mary McNeil, who later married Martin McCarthy. If she had been my teacher all through school instead of one year, I would had more education as you can tell by reading this. She was so loved by all that one day she was sick, she called me up to the desk and said she had to go get her medicine down at Kenyon's where she had board and room. I was to sit at the desk to keep order while she was gone."
"Needless to say, the minute she left the room, every one jumped up, started to laugh and run around. I got their attention and told them if they thought anything of her, I was asking them to sit down and shut up and finish their study's. Not for me but for her. They all settled down, she came back to a very orderly school. For years she never knew how I kept order. But years later we were talking. I told her it was their respect for her, not me, that made them do it. She said, that's the nicest thing I've ever had said to me. We were very close friends all her life.
"The years went by very fast and I had my first job while still going to school. I cleaned the school room each day, sweep and dust. I also kept the fire which meant banking it at night and up about five in the morning to go down in time to put wood on the coals which started it for the day. Sometimes before I was taking care of the fire, I remember Bill Hill putting some twenty-two caliber shells in the stove. When they went off it blew the door off. No one got hurt. My brothers and Bill had to say in and had no noon hour. They would not tell who did it. This went on for days. Bill confessed to Dad but I don't think the teacher ever found out who really did do it. The first thing I bought was a bike at Mable Cleveland's auction, two dollars with my own money I earned."
Next: dances and kitchen hops.
A Life Fully Lived: The Journal Of Florence Qua Walrath: The Morgan Horse, Vol. V
Horses are woven into the life of Florence Walrath, from beginning to end. She rode them, fell off of them, watched them, and at one point she said she understand there was something to them that was much more than four legs and a mane. On page 7, she tells the story of the Morgan Horse that saved her parent's lives and helped them see them in a special light that affected her entire life. Florence left school early, and her journal writing reflects the spare farmer's country idiom. It is not polished, but powerful and clear. And very succinct. The old farm journals I have read are lessons in clarity and economy of words. There was risk to life in the country then, a simple shopping trip could be a life or death experience.
"We sometimes sent to the movies in Cambridge."No cars then." Dad and my brothers drove Dock. Mother, Blanche and I drove dolly, the Morgan. On the way home the horses felt so good Dad would say we will race you. Dad and the boys always won. You see, Dolly was once owned by Bob Shephard, the mailman, and although she did not stop, out of habit, she turned in at each mail box. My excuse was that slowed us down."
The little Morgan was really some horse. She did not care for the boys and would not let them catch her in the field so Dad would say, go get Florence. I was always lucky she came to me. We could climb over, under and around her. The boys would back up to her, grab her back legs and lift her up. She never did a thing. The boys would try to rake hay with her and she often backed them down a hill or some other thing. So again, Dad would say, go get Florence…
The real story of Dolly was the day in January Dad and Mother went to Troy to shop. It was cold and snowing that day. It was early in the morning as they had to catch the train at Eagle Bridge. They put the horse in the stable at the old hotel and away they went. The storm really set into a blizzard all day. When they got back to Eagle Bridge that night, the man told them they would have to stay all night as no one had got through all day. Dad said I can't. We have four children at home. I've got to get there. The man said, I'll loan you a horse that little mare will never make the trip. Dad said, got any oats?, well, give her six quarts, which he did. After giving her time to finish her grain, he started for home. The man called him all sorts of fool, etc., not even a team had come through so there were no tracks, by that time it was dark and they only guess where the road was.
The going was so bad they broke traces, tipped over and snow was so deep the little mare would pick up one foot, place it and do the same with the others. Places like that was inch by inch. Dad had thoughts of wishing he had not been so stubborn, but start he did so on he must go. They were hours coming but Dad said the little mare never gave up trying. Dad feed her again, bedded her down and came in saying "That little Morgan is worth her weight in gold. No other horse could have done it, she has a home here for the rest of her life." Mother and Dad might have frozen had it not been for her."
Next: Memories Of Christmas.