10 September

My Willa Cather Girl: Dissolving Into Something Great

by Jon Katz

I was something that lay under the sun and felt it, like the pumpkins, and I did not want to be anything more. I was entirely happy. Perhaps we feel like that when we die and become a part of something entire, whether it is sun and air, or goodness and knowledge. At any rate, that is happiness; to be dissolved into something complete and great. When it comes to one, it comes as naturally as sleep.”

  • Willa Cather, My Antonia

I’ve never known a person who relished hard work and life outdoors more than Maria. Every time I reach for the phone to call somebody to fix a fence or chop off a hanging limb, Maria says, “I’ll do it,” and she does.

I fought this idea for years, not wishing to take advantage of her and also remembering that she did hard labor for years at the expense of her art, I don’t want that to happen to her again. And she will never let that happen to her again.

But things have changed. Nothing takes her away from her art, and her energy for life is boundless. Every morning, I love the sight of her marching strangely back and forth from the barn to the manure pile (she is saving it for her gardens).

And we’ve both come to realize that nature, the farm, and the animals inform and inspire Maria’s art. They don’t keep her from it.

This work is an extension of her art. Like Antonia, she is happiest in work and creation; she is dissolved into something complete and beautiful. Like Antonia, it comes as naturally as sleep.

Maria could hardly be more comfortable or at ease when she is hauling manure back and forth, out of the barn and into a pile for next year’s gardens.

Maria relishes the farm chores just as Willa Cather’s strong women did,  as long as it’s her choice. When she isn’t laboring on the farm, she’s working in her studio. Almost always, these are labors of love.

I took care of the first  Bedlam Farm by myself (mostly) for six years, and I ‘m not sure I could stay on this farm without Maria here. I know I couldn’t. So it works for both of us in the most unexpected of ways.

I find her manure walk a beautiful thing, and often try to take a picture of it. Usually, it happens just after sunrise.

Maria and I are both conscious of living improbable lives. Neither of us ever expected to be where we are, doing what we do, in the place we are doing it. Life swept us along until we just bumped into one another in a place we never imagined being.




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