Nearly six months ago, I brought a friend over to Florence Walrath’s house to see the old farmhouse and meet Rocky, the blind pony who led us here. My friend recalls that I turned to her as she was ready to leave, and I said “this is our place. We are going to live here.” I remember that moment, it was just after it became clear to Maria and I that we both loved this small farm and wished to live here, to make it our place, and not just my place, as Bedlam Farm was. Somehow, this pony, a magical helper in the tradition of the hero journey, led us to this.
We were warned and cautioned against buying another home until our existing home sold, but there were many reasons in my mind for us to move then. The house was right for us, it was where we wanted to be, we loved it in the same way I had loved Bedlam Farm when I bought it. The house might not still be on the market, and things can happen – look at Sandy. So we bought it, and we decided to move ahead with this decision. It was the right road but not a smooth road in many ways. All kinds of financial, legal, practical issues. Things like buying homes have become complex in modern-day America.
I will not lie about it, it was a grueling period. The move shaped my life every single day. Dealing with the details of financing, preparing Bedlam Farm, deciding what we needed to do to bring the animals and us here. There were so many complex decisions – dozens of daily decisions – about barns, fencing, plumbing, electricity, sills and rafters, floor beams and attack supports, bathroom fixtures and aging wallpaper. I did things I have never done, learned things I did not know, was challenged in ways I had never been challenged and not imagined. This whole process was one I would have avoided or delegated for much of my life, and in embracing it rather than fleeing it, I became more whole. I am learning to live in the world, every single day.
We came here almost every night to clean, scrape, paint. We drove back and forth several times a day, every day for months. We have not had a day off since last Spring, yet we have loved every single day. Magical helpers always appear if you let them, and Ben Osterhaudt was an angel, building and repairing barns, helping us move, hammering and sawing away at the dozens of things the house needed – stuck windows, swollen doors, frayed wires.
I am drained, exhilarated, unnerved. I need to figure out a way to return to normal life, a life without a thousand decisions and crises and hours of driving and hauling ever day. We spent all of the money we had, and we face the cost of maintaining two homes. If all the experts are correct, I am not prepared for the next stage of my life. I must be doing something right.
I do not regret it., not for a second, even if it frightens me sometimes. This is our place, it was meant to be. We did it well, thoughtfully, lovingly. We are closer than ever. This perhaps, is a staple of the meaningful life. Taking risks, moving forward, facing obstacles. We made few, if any mistakes. We were together every step of the way. It feels as if this home has been waiting for us. Apart from Mother, who remains missing, the animals have all adjusted into their new routines and rythyms. We have new chores, and we will do them together, they still frame our day.
I am never certain about the things I do, I simply have learned to make my decisions and live with them. This is one I will literally be living with, hopefully through the end of my life. And seeing my beaming wife sewing in her stylish new studio, I remember that day, that call to life, that voice – mine – saying with authority and determination, this is our place, we are going to live here.
So it is. A fairy tale, a parable of life, a life that led me to this.
Yesterday, I finished the first draft edit of “Frieda And Me: A Love Story,” out next fall from Random House. Editing the manuscript brought out all sorts of memories of my tumultuous time training Frieda. How she brought Maria and I together. How she was abandoned in the Adirondacks and lived there for years. How she saved a family from a fire. How she was mistreated as a junkyard dog. How she challenged every training notion about dogs that I ever had, and how she nearly destroyed the equanimity and safety that characterized the animals on the farm.
Frieda and I are tight these days, she is a sweetheart and a monumental pain in the butt. A great personality. This book is a love story on three tracks. Me and Maria. Frieda and Maria. All three of us coming together somehow. What a remarkable, brave and loving animal this is. I have avoided dogs like Frieda my whole life, and I am nothing but grateful our paths crossed and changed our lives together.
Bedlam Farm has been on the market for nearly 11 months and has not yet sold. I think of the farm every day, I lived there for nearly 10 intense, creative, and eventful years. I know it will sell to someone who loves it, and we still care for it. There is a caretaker watching out for it and we still have some things there. It is odd being there, as I don’t live there any more. My life is where Maria, the dogs, my work and camera is, and they are all at our new home.
Life is a lesson that never stops. A year ago, I did not imagine that this beautiful farm would not sell quickly and this an important lesson because it reminds me that even though so many people are absolutely certain about things – just check out any Facebook Page or watch the news – I am not certain about things, and life does not exist to meet our expectations. One day I will be happy to tell you that this farm is in the hands of someone who loves it as much as we do. Call that a plan if you like. This farm has had many lovers in its long life, and more are on the way. I like to mention it from time to time, it deserves that.