It is my belief that one can take a good photograph of anything, it is not what the camera sees, it is what the photographer sees. Trees have surrounded me all of my life, they are the backdrop of my world, I never paid much attention to them until Maria started using them in her art. T
hey are extraordinarily beautiful, often graceful, spirited manifestations of life. Red and I went for a long walk this morning on Macmillan Road, I love these shag Hickory trees, I stood and closed my eyes, and then opened them, and I saw that these trees were spirits, witches and sorcerers, mystics and prophets, all gathered in a circle to wave their arms at the sky and make some magic and mystery.
The longer I looked at them, the more they were transformed, their arms moving back and forth, conjuring messages to pass along to the other trees.
Stone walls are everywhere around me. Farmers don’t use them anymore, surveyors find other ways to mark the boundaries of our world, wooden and plastic fences are inexpensive and simple to put up. Only fools like me build stone fences any longer, I put one up behind the first Bedlam Farm, it will be there long after I am gone, I must have been mad to do it. I was, actually.
I love stone fences, I always look for them and find them mostly overgrown, peeking out of the ground, waiting for their time to come again. I think of the horses that pulled the stones through the fields, the farmers and immigrant workers who piled and stacked them. They sit much as they were made. Stone walls live in a state of grace.
There are different kinds of animals in the world, they have different needs. Wild animals do not need people or wish to be around them, although they need people to try and preserve some room for them on the earth, which we have failed to do.
Pets need people to survive, for food, shelter and their very existence.
Domesticated animals need people for much the same things, although to varying degrees. Donkeys are domesticated animals, so are working horses and some Asian elephants. They have worked with people for many thousands of years, they attach powerfully to people. Every animal on our farm – every animal in this photo – is attached to one person or another, and seeks and needs attention – grooming, talking, touching, listening.
In our culture, most people have moved far away from animals, and are often confused about their needs. Many people see all animals as pets, needing the things pets need. You would never ask a dog to haul firewood or sleep outside in the winter, although some could and would.
Everyone has their own ideas, draws their own lines. I live around wild animals – they are all around us here, and have pets, and also own domesticated animals.
I do not believe wild animals should be forced to live among people, or should be confined as pets. I do not think killer whales belong in theme park pools. I do not believe domesticated animals should be treated as wild animals, and forced into lives – into the mythical wild – where most could not survive and have never been. Domesticated animals need people, and they need work – even stupid tricks work, which many do happily.
Domesticated animals need work, it is part of their genetic make-up and long history with human beings. To deprive them of work is to abuse them in the most literal sense of the term.
These distinctions are important, animals depend on us to understand the different needs among them, since we totally control their environments and living spaces. Every morning, our donkeys gather and stand by Maria, or me if she is not around, and they lean into her and near here, they talk to her and they listen, they need to be touched, brushed, groomed, shown attention.
It is something they clearly need, we see that. It grounds them, settles them. So do the sheep, in a different way, we are their safety and sustenance, they watch us and follow us. They gather around us and stand and sit with us.
And then there is Red, who needs work, attention, encouragement, affection. I am important to him, and him to me. We need one another. As animals vanish from the world, some through human greed and development, some from climate change, some from disturbed human beings who kill them for sport or poach them, others through the relentless drive by the animal rights movement to separate animals from human beings, it becomes urgent that we listen to them, understand them, know what it is they truly do need.
There is not too much time left for us to continue to mis-understand them.
We have the most wonderful cemetery in my town of Cambridge. It is beautifully maintained, people and dogs are welcome, if they are well-behaved, cleaned up after, and friendly. Dog bags are provided for those who might have forgotten to bring theirs, the staff knows most of the walkers and greets them by name.
Maria and I love walking here, on it’s gentle paths, with its beautiful tombstones and beautiful views. It is, I think, Red’s favorite place to walk. Once in awhile, as in this morning, I let him go on one of his beautiful and spectacular outruns – he is never happier – and he follows the road all around the markers and stones, and back to us. Often, there are sheep out on the farm next door and Red will rush to the fence and sit and wait.
The cemetery is a magical place, we always see something new there, Maria and I read the tombstones to learn about our walking companions and their lives, you can tell a lot from the tombstone. Red is part of this experience, as he is with so many things.
For me, Red’s outruns are an affirmation of love, I love to see them, I feel the energy and joy in them.
Saturday, at 2 p.m., Red is coming with me to the Westhampton, Mass., Public Library for a reading and talk about “Saving Simon” and many other things, including the New York Carriage Horses and the deepening conflict between people who have pets and people who have animals. No outruns there. Red loves book readings, he especially looks for women who have blonde hair.
The Red Road is a Native-American tradition of walking the spiritual path, of seeking the right path of life. I have been reading about it, collecting writings and teachings about the Red Path. The person who walks the Red Road lives a life of truth and charity, a spiritual life. In some cultures, old people walked the Red Path as they approached death, in others, Roadrunners walked the road looking for truth and connection to their world.
I’m going to enter some thoughts and writings about the Red Road almost every day, a kind of living journal of my own walk on this path and in my life. Today, April 22 is my first entry:
“Abuse no one and no living thing, for abuse turns the wise ones to fools and robs the spirit of its vision. When it comes your time to die, be not like those whose hearts are filled with fear of death, so that when their time comes they weep and pray for a little more time to live their lives over again in a different way. Sing your death song and die like a hero going home.”
I take two things from these beautiful words.
The first is especially relevant in our time, our world is filled with hate and judgement. I see it when I go to New York and talk to the carriage drivers, who have been abused for years. I see it when I write about animals and other things, there are always some who love me and some who hate me for what I think and try to abuse me to discourage me and turn me from my beliefs. I seek to embrace this wonderful rule: I will abuse no one and no living thing.
If you live in the world and share your feelings and belief, the haters will come to you, it is part of our world. Each one can make you stronger, as it has made me. it is a long time since I have abused anyone or any living thing. One day at a time.
Hatred and anger are poisons, they corrode the soul equally of those hate and those who hate back. We are all of us human, we stumble and err, lose ourselves and our ground. But we can always step back, give rebirth to ourselves, reset ourselves. My world is divided into parts. Those who hate and those who love. It is up to me to find the ground on which I choose to stand.
The second thought on the Red Road deals with dying and aging in our culture. In our so-called modern and progressive world, we are no longer permitted to choose a death with dignity, we die on pills, in hospitals and nursing homes, far from peace and beauty and the natural world, far from our friends and family and animals. We are kept alive far beyond our natural life, mostly to enrich other people. We live too long, we suffer too much, we age in the midst of the lie of progress, we live longer, and with less and less purpose or joy.
How blessed are the animals, we can spare them that, and nature, left alone, can spare them that fate. No animal in the natural world lives too long, they die when it is their time. The Native-Americans could choose their time, that right has been stolen from us.
I am approaching the end of my life there is so much less time ahead of me than behind me, I am not there yet, but I can sense it, feel it down the road. When my time comes I do not wish to cry and pray for more, I want to sing my death song and die like a hero going home.
I want to live that way also, I want to sing my life song and live like a hero going home as well. Everywhere, every day, there are people and things telling me what song to sing, what to say, what to write, what to think, what to wear, how to treat our animals, what pills to take, what to eat, how to drive in a car with my dog, what forms are needed, what ID’s to show, what must be faxed.
They seek to silence our songs, crush our spirit, bend our wills. They often succeed, the world is filling up with hollow men and women, living lives without meaning, enslaved by other people’s notions of safety and security. Each day, in my words and my photos, in my life, I sing my life song. Every day, in every beautiful piece of art she creates, Maria sings hers. Each day, I remind myself to sing my life song and live like a hero. That is my message today, I am a Roadrunner on the Red Road.