Chickens don’t show much empathy or community when it comes to eating worms or bugs or feed. They squabble and cluck and race around all day. Nighttime is different. Maria and I love to come into the barn at dusk and watch our four chickens hop up onto the roost, gaze out the window at the valley for awhile, preen and cluck and clean themselves, and then squeeze together until each one is touching the other. Then they settle down and take in the night.
I hope for as peaceful a night for you. I love taking photos of the chickens, with their odd shapes and colors. Is there a market, I wonder, for a chicken photographer?
I remember one beautiful afternoon when I was striding at the top of the world. Jeff Bridges and an army of HBO movie people had come to the farm to shoot a scene for “A Dog Year,” my first bestseller and the launch of my writing about dogs and animals. Jeff invited me to lunch in his trailer and afterwards he asked for a tour of the farm. We picked our way among trailers, cameras, and nervous crew members.
I showed Jeff the restored barns – every penny of the movie money went into them – the new floors and ceilings in the farmhouse, the new fences and seeded pastures, the stunning view. “Jon,” he said, walking me to the porch and looking out to the Black Creek Valley, “when you sell this place, you’ll get a million dollars for it.”
Two years ago, soon after Maria and I got together, we decided we ought to move. Many people attributed this to my growing older or to the dread American notion of “downsizing,” something older people seem to be expected to do. Those were never the reasons. We wanted to find, buy and love our own place. Maria and I are a love story I never even imagined would occur in my life at any point, let alone once I passed 60. So I treat love as the miracle it is, and take it seriously. We want to move to our own place, our own New Bedlam Farm. We first put the farm – 90 acres, a restored 1861 farmhouse, four lovingly restored barns and good pastures with fences and paths off into the woods – on the market for $650,000.
Our timing was interesting, it was accompanied by the trauma of the Great Recession and my divorce, both of which occurred about the same time. It turned out that Jeff was a great actor, but not so great at reading the future of real estate. I was ready, but we didn’t sell it for a million dollars, and we couldn’t sell it for $650,000, it’s assessed value. Rattled a bit, we decided to wait another year or so. This year, we decided it was time again, so we put the house on the market for $475,000. It is currently assessed at $575,000 and we thought it a bargain at that price. They would line up to buy it. We met Rocky and saw Florence’s house and fell in love with it. The new place is no condo. It is a wild place that needs a ton of work. And it comes with a blind pony. All the animals are coming, and more. Life will not be simple or quiet.
We bought it and are closing on it in July. We decided not to wait until we sold the farm.
Bedlam Farm has been on the market for six months and has not yet sold. Almost everything about real estate has changed since I last bought or sold a house, nearly a decade ago. It is literally – like publishing – another world. Three months ago, we lowered the price to $450,000. I cannot tell you how many times I have gone over these figures in my head – how much for fences, a new roof, a new barn, Maria’s studio, a new bedroom, windows with screens, waterers for the animals, a lower mortgage. Paying for two homes.
Today I talked with some people I trusted – a realtor, a financial adviser, and with Maria, of course. It hit both of us at the same, and the realtor and my adviser reaffirmed it. The farm was, in fact, worth a million dollars, she said, but not today, not now. Many people are interested, but no buyers yet. We decided not to belabor or lament this, but to respond to it. You’ll never get your money back, not what you put into it, said the realtor. But you will sell at this price. You will not have a huge chunk of money to fulfill all of your dreams for the new place. So it suddenly came into focus for me, like the autofocus on my camera. Today, I got it. I saw what we had to do. In my mind, I saw many of our plans growing wings and flapping away.
Why not lower the price a few thousand dollars, said the realtor? No, I said, I see the problem. Houses in the $400,000 range are not selling. Houses in the $300,000 range are selling, especially if they are good values. Let’s get it down there. So we lowered the price by $50,000, to $399,000. The new barn and the new bedroom will have to wait awhile. Maybe a new sink too. The fences might have two wires, not five. I try to be open here, and I will not lie to you. I always imagined that this beautiful farm would be scooped up in seconds by loving people who appreciate it. Today we gave a huge chunk of money away and I did not come close to panic. A miracle.
I wasn’t sure about writing about this – it feels personal. But real estate listings are not private. And more importantly, I have always kept to the idea that the blog is about sharing the evolution of my life, and not only the fuzzy and furry and colorful parts of it. So I will keep doing that. I love my life, but it is not just about donkeys and flowers.
As I think about it, it seems fair to say that this is not a sad story, but a quite happy one. We love our lives here and will love them as much or more there. I can’t do much about life or publishing or recessions and markets, but I will not hate my life or dishonor it with complaints, or call it hard names, either. I can’t wait to herd sheep in the New Bedlam Farm with my working dog Red, and walk with Maria in the woods, and sit on the porch and watch the lumber trucks go by and walk with Maria in our acres of woods.
For much of my adult life, I could have bought the new place outright. For some years, I did pretty much what I wanted to do. That is no longer so. But the funny thing is that it has worked out. I would much rather be me now than me then.
At Bedlam Farm, we are up to our neck in the goddess thing. Maria is the chief goddess around here, but she has assembled a court of goddesses – artists, cats, dogs, donkeys, chickens, for her art show. The last Bedlam Farm Pig Barn Art Gallery Show is being held June 23-24 on the farm, 11 a.m. to 4 p.m. both days – and we are closing on the new place in July. The show will feature a number of artists and goddesses in their right (you can check them out at Maria’s website. I am sorry, but I have more e-mail than I can read now and I just can’t answer individual questions about the show).
I am offering about a dozen photos (including the one above) on the goddess theme. Maria has selected the photos, and I think she picked some good ones. We will be selling them matted, not framed, for around $90. Just can’t make them well for less than that, and photography is not an inexpensive hobby, as many of you know. I love the goddess idea. It works around here, and Maria has focused this show in her own inimitable way. Great art, fiberworks, pottery. I hope Red, the new dog bill be here, and some sheep too, along with Simon, Lulu, Fanny and the hens, who are growing fond of people. Lenore and Frieda will be here also.
If any you reading this are coming, some notes: We can’t offer restroom facilities or food – they are available at Gardenworks, just down the road. Please don’t throw balls for Lenore – she will tire out very quickly if that happens all day and end up limping, as she did last time – and I’d also ask that people not stick your fingers in the fence at Frieda, as several people did for reasons that escape me. No fingers were left behind, but let’s not push it. Check Maria’s site for instructions, directions, details. Thanks. It should be a great weekend, and an emotional one for us, I have to admit. I expected to end my days on the farm. Life happens, and I will happen with it.
Also, Maria is conducting a free notecard giveaway on her site. All you have to do is post a message, and one winner will be chosen on Friday. She’s has more than 500 submissions on the first contests. I think she’ll top that this week.
A woman e-mailed me over the weekend and said she loved my photos this weekend, and thought she might paint a flower, even though she very quickly described herself as a “non-creative, a non-artist, a non-writer, a non-photographer. I am nothing, really,” she added, and how I hated that message and felt it’s pain, and understood how we break people down, make them feel small, take all of the creativity and seize it for ourselves, fail in our duty to encourage others, to encourage ourselves, and drain this sense of confidence and hope from other people. You are no different than me, I said. There is no such thing as a non-creative, a non-artist, a non-writer. There are people who choose to do these things, and people who do not, or do not yet do them.
The creative spark is in each of us. Do not let anyone tell you, I said, that writers are special, different, above you, apart from you. That artists are born with genius and you are not. I did not take a photo in my life, I said, until I was 58 years old, and I have much to learn yet, but nobody will tell me that I am not a photographer, cannot be one, that is something only they can do, if you take their classes, follow their rules, wait for their blessings. Do not speak ill of your life and your gifts. Encourage yourself, I told her, if noone around you will do it or can do it. Paint your picture, and you are an artist. Take your photo and you are a photographer. Write your story and you are a writer. No one else ever gets to tell you what you are. What you are not. That is the sacred gift you have been given.