In the early afternoon, the sun strikes the left window in my study, highlighting the windowsill gallery, which features a round piece of blue glass, a piece of colored glass and, to the right, an old bottle that belonged to Florence Walrath. Sometimes, if my head is tired from writing, or weary from the details of living in the world, I fancy that this is a big stage, the curtain opening to an explosion of light and color, rainbows bouncing off of the ceiling, I hear the snake dancer blowing his flute, the call to worship from a mosque, a rhapsody in blue. When it is time for me to return to work, the sun moves, the light fades, the curtains close for today.
I sometimes think there is an art fairy running around the house when I am sleeping, finding odd objects of different colors and stringing them along all of the windowsills in the house. This fairy – she might be an angel – zips back and forth through the house and carefully arranges lost and discarded objects – rocks, feathers, tiny bowls and pins – and arranges her own installation. She is the curator of her world, no one sees her come and go, arrange objects carefully, move them from room to room, take them off to secret storage bins, replace them with curious and bright new things that no one sees her find. Why does she choose the objects she chooses?
How does she decide where and how to place them? Why is she never seen by the other resident of the house? This morning, when I went to wash the dishes, I looked up and was surprised – enchanged – to see a brand new installation, an elaborate one stretching all across this small but sparkling gallery. There is no program in this gallery, no recorded messages on phones. You just have to look at it and hear the angels chuckle.
I get a lot of messages and e-mails but in the past six months or so I’ve probably gotten more suggestions about what Bedlam Farm should be than about anything else. Unsought advice is the stepchild of social media and it is an unusual day when someone isn’t writing to tell me what I should do with Bedlam Farm, on the market for some months. Spring is approaching, the market is stirring, and I expect we will find out soon enough what Bedlam Farm ought to be, and I can promise you that I will have nothing to say about it, nor should I.
I see that other people do have something to say about it. There are a lot of fertile minds out there. It has been suggested that the farm become a bed and breakfast – by far the number one suggestion. That is be a writer’s retreat, a center and refuge for abused women, a country inn, an animal therapy and rescue center, a center for homesteading, a meditation retreat, a dog breeding and research center. That I rent out the various barns, set up a horse riding stable, lease the pastures out to the cows of nearby farmers, grow organic vegetables, breed Alpacas, house starving artists, become a bicycling center.
I ought to say – Red and I visited the farm again today – that it is not my business what happens to the farm. Once it is sold, it is not my affair and I do not dwell on the past or wonder what other people ought to do with their homes. It is time for me – Maria, also – to let go of this wonderful place, and time for it to let go of me. I will not be looking over anybody’s shoulder. It will be a delight to see what somebody else can do with a restored farmhouse, acres of fenced in pasture, and four barns with new foundations and wells. How lucky for someone.
I guess of all the ideas thrown around, the bed and breakfast makes sense to me. So many people have said they would love to hang out there, walk the paths, take in the view, sip coffee on the porch. So many people drove long distances to drive by and take a look.
I can see that people would love to stay there, it was so restful and beautiful to me. And for some, a rich history, to see where Rose ran the sheep, where Orson sat and watched the traffic, where Izzy lies, where Elvis crunched his hay and drooled. The farmhouse is big and roomy and gracious. The farm was also built to house and maintain animals, and I have always seen that as a part of the farm’s future. Cows could be happy there, and it is perfect for sheep, who love to graze on hills and slopes, have shelters to eat and find shade, and have their lambs in strong barns. It was perfect for donkeys too. And of course, it was very much restored with dogs in mind. Bedlam Farm contained a lot of strong-willed dogs in solid fences – a fence that contained the Helldog Frieda in her prime is one helluva fence – and one of the pleasures of my life was walking the dogs daily on the path, which they loved. A safe and beautiful place for them, and they even learned to love fresh berries there. In my time, those fences never failed to contain a single goat, ewe, cow, donkey or dog. Not too many farms can boast of that.
But see how easy it is to fall into that old trap, nostalgia? To drift backwards into the realm of me. I have no wish to maintain Bedlam Farm or turn it into anything but a wonderful home for somebody else to re-invent. Isn’t that the point? When I have visited the farm recently, and especially today, I felt a great stirring there. I felt the farm ready to say goodbye to me, I felt it reaching out to the next person, the next thing. It is ready. The farm is the mother, bigger than me or any one of it’s many owners. Many farms have withered and died, this farm can take care of itself. It survived wars, blizzards, the ravages of time. It even got itself all gussied up. It does not need me to make decisions for it.
That is the farm’s history and its destiny, for more than a century-and-a-half. And at least another century to come.
The animal world does not promote uncertainty or hesitation. When I raised a question about whether animals know when storms are coming – timely today and tomorrow for much of the country – people on social media were quick to tell me they know for an absolute fact that they did. I always feel odd in the face of such iron conviction, as I am certain about nothing and realize every day how little I know, not how much. People tell me all the time that they know what their dogs are thinking, they know that they grieve, that they miss their humans when they go to work. I find dog’s minds a mystery, deep and beyond me mostly.
Some things are clear and even obvious – animals can feel barometric pressure, and some animals – border collies, other breeds of dogs – are sensitive to atmospheric pressure and natural phenomena like thunder and lighting. They surely can hear rain coming long before it hits the roof.
People are quick to state opinions and “facts,” but slower to cite specific examples. I’m sure animals are aware of weather, but do they know when a big storm like this Northeaster is coming? Do they know to move to shelter or high ground? Do they have a sense of danger? Do they feel some urgency about food, water, shelter? Do they become more protective of one another? I have been watching the animals closely today – and for nearly a decade on a farm through many storms – and will continue to watch tomorrow. I see no behavioral changes whatsoever in the dogs. They ate as usual, went outside as usual, went on their walks as usual. And as I write this, they are draped around me snoring comfortably. I suspect they are aware of pressure dropping, wind rising, I’m sure a dog would need to sense a storm approaching. But I can’t see any outward manifestations of it. A dog trembling from thunder is not necessarily a dog who knows a dangerous storm is coming. It may be that he just doesn’t like strange rumblings.
I do see some behavioral changes in the other animals. The chickens huddled together more closely together in the woodshed – a huddle, it seemed, close than usual, quieter than usual. They seemed to be pulling together, gathering themselves. The donkeys seem a bit agitated, staying close to the pole barn. The sheep also appear nervous to me, moving back and forth, more restless, more vigilant, less likely to like down and chew. The sheep and the donkeys drank much more water than usual today – half of the bucket, nearly twice as much as normal. That might be a sign they are nourishing themselves. They seemed to eat more intensely, more quickly. Lulu in particular – the most vigilant of all our animals was scanning the horizon all day. If any animal seemed to me to be preparing for the storm, I would say it was her.
But I am always conscious of the fact that animals do not have our language or consciousness. They feel and react, they don’t think and reason, at least not in my mind. So they can’t anticipate a storm the way we would. I’ll watch again closely and report back on the blog, assuming the storm doesn’t knock out the power. I take storms like this seriously, but perhaps not as seriously as the hyper-hysterical weather channel would like me to. I will pass up the chance to call this storm Nemo, as the weather channel does. I will be trawling around looking for photos that capture it, if I can.
We have a lot of preparations in the morning. Cats in the basement, extra buckets of water, hay in the Pole Barn, chickens in the coop, shovels at the ready.
Red is pretty much unflappable in the barnyard. This is important. Farm animals – chickens, barn cats, sheep and donkeys – are skittish around poorly trained or ungrounded dogs We are always coming and going and Red is an anchor. All of the animals are at ease with him, and this improves safety, adds greatly to the atmosphere of the farm, and makes chores so much easier. Sometimes Red seems like the Pied Piper, when he appears everybody gathers to look for food and see what’s going on.