20 February 2013

Listening To Dogs

Red, Lenore

Red, Lenore

On the hill, in a strong wind, Red and Lenore lay down in front of me, turned to me. More than anything, I have learned in my time with dogs to never think I know what they are thinking, to never be sure of what is happening in their very alien minds. To me, the core of training a dog – of knowing a dog –  is to listen to them, to push aside our human arrogance and projection and clear our minds of the things we think we know and acknowledge instead how little we know. Sometimes, when I look at a photograph like this and let it sink in, it is clear to me that my dogs are telling me something, that Red and Lenore are communicating with me. It is not in words, they do not have our words, it is in their language of emotions and instincts and smells and sights and sounds. They are processing so much more than I am and, struck by their eyes.

I can't put words to it, be there is a feeling to it. Attention, respect, curiosity. What is the next thing? Where are we going? I see affection there also, the love of animals for someone they trust and know well. There is no fear in their eyes, and I am grateful for that, because I have put fear in a dog's eyes before, and not again. I looked them back in the eye, nodded to them, smiled at them, expressed gratitude for their patience and dedication, for their willingness to sit with me up on that hill and not run off or disrupt me. Trust, I think. That is what I was sharing with them, that is what I was feeling back. Not in words, in feelings. Putting up an album on Facebook.

Posted in Farm Journal, General

Route 22 Barns. It Isn’t What The Camera Sees

Photography Is Pure

Photography Is Pure

A photograph is no better or more pure than the eye of the person pushing the shutter. There is a reason I never took a photo for most of my life, and a reason I can't stop taking them now. I am opening up inside. I am seeing the world in its love, light and color. I did not understand the power and beauty of barns before I began taking photographs, and now I do. I paid no attention to the light before, and now I am aware of it every minute. I did not notice flowers before and am always looking to get them between me and the sun. The  list goes on and on. If you do not see the world, you will not see the photos of the world. My photos are a reflection of  my soul, where I am, where I am going. Now as integral a part of me as breathing.

I drove by these barns many times but I never saw the light bouncing off of the wood, the grace and meaning of the buildings. It isn't what the camera sees, it's what you see.

Posted in Farm Journal, General
16 February 2013

Defending The Intelligence Of Chickens

Chicken Lovers

Chicken Lovers

It appears I ruffled the feathers of chicken lovers when I wrote recently – actually many times – that the chickens I know are not smart – "dumb" was the word I used. I wrote that in my life with chickens (many chickens for more than a decade) I observed that everything in the world  wants to eat them, and chickens are dumber than all of them.

I got a good number of polite but clearly upset and offended admirers of chickens pointing out that chickens are not dumb and asking that I reconsider my repeated descriptions of them as not being bright. I got a number of eloquent and impassioned stories about the intelligence and loyalty of chickens and in great and illustrated detail. It is touching for me to know how many people love chickens, and follow their behavior closely. It is wonderful to be reminded that there are groups of people who love almost everything, including idiosyncratic writers.

I have been thinking about this and I want to do the whole thing justice without knuckling under to one of the many thin-skinned animal cultures online and in the world. I am fond my chickens – we have a rooster and three hens. I cannot honestly say I love them as I do the dogs and donkeys. But I am fond of them and I treat them well, I hope I end up in as well designed a residence as their coop. Chickens remind me of Labs in a way. They are very smart about the things they care about – food, mostly, and judging from Strut, sex too. But they don't seem brilliant about anything else.

This does not mean they are dumb. Chickens are industrious and energetic, generally peaceable if you don't get in the way of their eating. They stay out of the road and avoid Frieda if they see here coming. They are very adept at finding warmth and their bodies are efficient eating and pecking machines.They are agile at squeezing under fences and through gates. They do not get lost or wander too far from the coop. They eat bugs and ticks and flies if they can catch them. They find shady and sheltered spots in which too nest. They are sensitive to the shadows of hawks flying overhead and stay near the trees and shelters. They lay eggs, of course, at least in general terms. They parade around with authority and dignity and try and mind their own business.They have learned the importance of the camera at Bedlam Farm and seem happy to pose for me, as long as I don't get too close.

If it might be a disservice to call them the intellectuals of the barnyard, it is perhaps a bit flip and inaccurate to call them dumb. As a writer, I concede that I can find better words than "dumb" to describe them, although I love the things-that-eat-them line. As I read over the impressive list above, I realize I've had many dogs who could not do as many things well as chickens do.

So I take the point from the friends of the chicken, and there are many. Writers are taught not to label things, just  describe them. I've got it.

Posted in Farm Journal, General

Bookstore Love Story: Dennis And Linda

Dennis and Linda

Dennis and Linda

My new job as Recommender-In-Chief for Battenkill Books is nice, I love it. We are recommending and reviewing  books (Connie will put links to the books I review on her website), people are e-mailing orders, calling them in – the reviews are gaining traction, thanks. The job has also focused my love of reading in a new way and I am delighted at the wonderful books I am reading. Kate is usually working on Saturdays, and she is expanding her new career as a life coach, and I like hearing about that.  Life coaches are becoming important, I think, filling a gap between professional therapists and spiritual counselors. We share a passion for encouraging people to live their lives.

There is also  a new and unexpected fringe benefit iand that is that people come to meet me and bring me their sweet stories of life. Ever since I became one, I love hearing love stories. Linda Wigmore is a name that is very familiar to me. She began reading my books after I wrote "Running To The Mountain," a book that inspired her. She came to see me at the Texas Books Festival in Austin four or five years ago to hear me and meet me and didn't realize until I wrote about it later that I was in the midst of a spectacular post-divorce crack-up at the time. I'm glad it didn't show, there is a vaudeville hoofer in my family somewhere. I've seen Linda post from time to on Facebook and every now and then she will send me a thoughtful e-mail. I know the name well, as sometimes happens, even amidst the blizzard of e-messages. I believe she was of the first people to hit my contribution button.

I was delighted when she walked in the door of the bookstore today with her man Richard. Linda was living alone in upstate New York a few years ago and Richard was working as a musician in Texas. They had gone to high school together years ago but didn't know one another well or stay in touch. Linda decided to go to their class reunion, and so did Richard. They fell in love, and Linda moved to Austin, where she lived for five years. Then Richard retired and sold his home, and they moved back Northeast, to Vermont, just a short ride to the bookstore. I don't remember meeting Linda in Austin, but I was happy to see her now and hear her love story. I enjoyed talking to Dennis about the changes in the music industry, and his life playing in Texas bands. He still works as a sound engineer. They love taking drives around Vermont, and I am fortunate I became one of the destinations. She bought some notecards and books.

I could feel their connection to one another, it is always a sweet, sweet thing to see that. I like the job. It suits me. Almost every week, someone comes into the store to meet me. February is quiet time in bookstores, but we are doing some steady business, and in the summer and fall and around Christmas, we will make some loud noise for independence, literature,  individuality and human connection.

Posted in Farm Journal, General
14 February 2013

Stay Out Of My Barn

Stay Out Of My Barn

Stay Out Of My Barn

Red started to come into the barn this morning but found Strut the rooster blocking the door. He decided it was his barn and he wasn't letting anybody in.  Strut came into the barn following me, clucking and crowing to try and bully me into giving him and the chickens some feed. This could have been a problem, but Red just waited until Strut was through puffing himself up. When Strut moved a few feet towards me, Red skittered past him and into the barn and out the gate towards the sheep. Animals interact with one another all of the time. Rose probably would have gone after the rooster, Orson and Frieda have killed him, Lenore would try to kiss him on the nose. Rose has great poise with other animals, there are no tense confrontations, nothing one has to pay attention to. I can only imagine that on his farm in Ireland he had much exposure to all of the farm's animals.

I appreciate that I can trust Red in situations like this, it matters in our lives.

Posted in Farm Journal, General