At least once a week I read to Simon. He loves being read to, standing perfectly still, focusing on me intently. I read mostly from “Platero and I,” by Juan Ramon Jimenez.
This week’s story was called “Wild Geese,” and I think Simon enjoyed it. I love reading to him, it was something he and I did from the first night he came here, and was unable to stand for two long. I pulled up a chair and read to him, and he always listens with complete concentration.
“I have to give Platero a drink. From the silence of the yard we hear, far above, incessant calls that, in the serene night, pass swiftly among the soft white clouds and silver stars.
Wild geese. They are going inland, fleeing from a sea storm. From time to time, as if we had ascended or they had stooped earthward in their flight, the lightest rustling of their wings is heard, the lightest rubbing of their bills.
Hours and hours the calls will continue to be heard, passing in an endless fleeing.
Platero, now and then, stops drinking and raises his head as I do, like the women of Millet, up to the stars in gentle infinite yearning.”
More than once, Simon and I have stood still and listened to the wild geese overhead.
Connie Brooks, unlike some of us, is quiet and shy, and not used to talking about herself or her achievements. She is in some ways the pro-typical book lover who opens a book store and really wants nothing more than to buy and sell good books. She has no desire to sell herself and almost never even speaks of herself. I empathize. Writers used to do nothing more than write books and come out of caves to talk about them once or twice a year. I was one of them. We have all been pulled out of our caves and hiding places.
Connie has pulled off one of the most successful experiments in publishing this Christmas season, her best ever. In the face of so many challenges to independent bookstores, she has made some loud and impressive noises for the viability of the human, flesh-and-bones, brick-and-mortar store. We lost count of my books at 1,000 and people are still ordering. I have been gently encouraging her – okay, not so gently – to write about herself and her bookstore on her blog, one of the “Blogs I Love.” I know this is not easy for her, but I also know it will get easier. Connie is set up to sell books anywhere, all year and not just Christmas. And I am only one of the authors she is signing up who will personalize their books all year so that she can ship them anywhere in the world and keep a terrific independent bookstore alive and prosperous. Connie does not whine about Amazon and e-books. She doesn’t whine at all. She just sells good books and matches them up with good book lovers. This is not an idea whose time has come and gone. As she showed in 2011, this is a red-hot idea in corporate weary America. Buy local. Every day. Good for you, Connie. You did it. And she thanks the wonderful followers of this blog.
This year, Connie will share the story of one remarkable store and its stunning comeback on her blog all year. It is not really a business story. It is a very personal story, about a love affair between an amazing woman and a bookstore. A story of devotion, courage and commitment. She has a poignant message for you in her first post. If you see Connie and her mother Marilyn working together, you know she comes from a close family. For the first time, I learn about her late father. His spirit clearly hovers over Battenkill. Come and see.
I am drawn to still lifes this week. I think photos of the animals, landscapes, portraits, are about the exterior world. Still life photos are about what the photographer or the artist sees. When you live with an artist, your interior landscape is dotted with things that touch the artist’s soul – I am always surprised and delighted by what this most wonderful woman, my wife, will put up on a windowsill. Rocks, carvings, gifts she has stored like a pack rat or a creative squirrel. I never see her put them up or take them down. They are just there, and this morning, I was drawn to photograph some of them. Others I put up on my Facebook Page, which you can all access simply by going to the FB logo above. If you are a Facebook member, you can just click to “like” me and you will have permanent access to the posts there. If you are not a FB member, you can join easily. Or not.
Chickens waddle through life undeterred. They inspire me to begin the New Year by good and hard work, by persistent pecking at the obstacles to success and creativity. They live honest and unassuming lives.
This morning, on someone’s Facebook Page, I saw a story about the LA arsonist and another about a shooting in New York. The author said, “see how we begin the New Year in LA and New York City? By burning and shooting one another!”
I hardly ever see anyone else’s Facebook Page, and even more rarely comment, but I could not resist posting a paragraph about an 81 year old woman in the Midwest who was rolling her wheelchair by a house when she smelled smoke, rolled her chair up to the porch, crawled into the house on her hands and knees to save three children, two dogs, a cat and a parakeet. How proud she was, she said, of her burned hands and arms, how grateful she had the chance to do such good before she got too old to crawl.
Did you all see this story?, I asked. There was no answer on the Facebook Page. Perhaps they did not see it, because it did not make the news, was not a headline anywhere, and did not involve burning buildings and flashing lights. Nor was it news that so many millions of people in Los Angeles and New York did their work, loved their families, and obeyed the law and did not shoot anyone or burn anything. They are not news either.
It is pleasing beyond words when the neighbors come by to introduce their new children to the farm and the donkeys, and to record these images – the donkeys are astonishingly gentle with children and understand the notion of capturing images. They pose, all of them. My neighbors always apologize for disturbing us, and have no notion of what a gift their visits are. How wonderful to own a place people want to show their children, and which introduces them to the world of animals and nature. I mean for every place I live to be such a place.
On her blog this morning, Maria wrote about something that touched my heart. She has a gift for that. Writing about the sale of Bedlam Farm, she wrote that she had a dream in which a visitor called it a “sacred creative space.” I was up half the night thinking of that image. I believe the farm is a magical place. It has been many things for many people in its 150 plus years, but in its newest incarnation, it has, in fact, become a sacred and creative space. Stories seem to come out of the ground, the mist, the light. Creativity is the soul connection Maria and I share, the one that brought us together and keeps us so close. The day I moved here in 2003, I began writing “The Dogs Of Bedlam Farm,” the first chapter of my own Hero’s Journey and a chronicle of my life on the farm with Rose. I just kept writing, really. More books – “Soul Of A Dog,” “Dog Days,” “Rose In A Storm,” “Dancing Dogs,” my first children’s books.
The farm generated material for this blog, in 2003. Restoring the farm led to my meeting Maria. It opened me up to new experience – therapy, friendship, love, a spiritual life. Experience with animals of different kinds – dogs, donkeys, cows and steers, chickens and roosters, barn cats. With blizzards and ice storms and frostbite, with fences and wells, barns and foundations, coyotes and foxes, hawks and raccoons. The farm led me to Izzy, and my work in hospice. To Simon. It drew me into the mystical, trouble and beautiful world of rural life – farms, farmers, county fairs, the real struggles of real people. In earnest, I committed myself to a spiritual life.
I experienced struggle and change and joy here, many kinds. My first marriage ended here. I cried rivers here, up in my room and trembled in fear. I gave rebirth to my life here. The farm inspired a movie, “A Dog Year,” and my first photo was a shot of the Big Barn through the living room window.
So I can bear witness to this creative space, this magical place and I saw it transform Maria. Shut down for years as an artist, she came to the Studio Barn and is now barely able to stop working with her boxes and piles of discarded fabric, generating one beautiful work after another – potholders, quilts, streaming pillows, the words, colors and images and ideas testifying to the power of the creative spark, the sacred creative space. The farm always worked its magic, opening up those of us blessed to live here.
For us, and for many of the people who come along on this trip with us I hope, there is the realization that life is a series of creative spaces, magical spaces, sacred spaces. No life is perfect, and the creative spark can be a complex and bittersweet thing, as is life itself. But it is in us now, unleashed in all of its wonder and glory, to the end. That is my purpose, my work. I see that the creative spark is infectious, and I see from these miraculous messages coming through the ether that the lights come on in others, one by one, sparking and twinkling and shining, as they did for me. What could be more magical than that? Lights everywhere, calling us and the stories inside of us to life. Can’t wait for the New Bedlam Farm. I will dedicate it to the first one, I think.