July 27th Lake George Reunion

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Sometimes I really am a princess. I never know exactly how to behave at big, multi-generational family gatherings because they weren’t part of my own childhood. It’s kind of like that feeling you get when you’re in somebody else’s kitchen—you want to be helpful, but it’s not your kitchen or your stuff and you don’t know where any of it goes, so you stand around feeling kind of stupid and useless. It is that feeling, on steroids. Yesterday was one of those occasions, the annual gathering of family (one finger of Handsome Chef Boyfriend’s large-ish one), on the western shore of beautiful Lake George. For most everyone there it’s a week of fun; our schedules right now—mine and HCB’s—allowed us one day, which is better than no days.

I fare better when somebody takes the reins and gives me specific instructions, which thankfully happened a couple of times yesterday. Sitting on a big porch in a delicious breeze, observing fun unfolding in the dappled sun on the lake, listening to the pretzel logic of young children at your feet, catching up with folk you have not seen in a year: it’s restorative.

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But what would typically have been only about laissez-faire summer togetherness this time was also about grief, about the recent and sudden passing of the family matriarch who “would have wanted us all to be together in her absence.” It was shocking news that reached us only a few days earlier.

So we were together.

There was a big hole without her we all noticed and felt, not least of whom her adult children and their spouses, and her husband. It happened to be his birthday. And as difficult as the day visibly appeared for him and others, there was also the unrelenting joy that comes with the gathering of young children whose hearts are filled only with love and celebration: that is what a birthday party is about, and kids remind us of that lest we should forget, even when we are hurting. Every single person there understood.

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And even when you are hurting from the inside out, you still have to smile at littles, first cousins still sticky from a day on the beach, maybe a little cranky and possibly sleep-deprived, some in their swimsuits, and at least one red-caped super hero, who are beyond excited to be at the lake and celebrate their granddad’s birthday, help blow out candles, and watch him open presents.

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And as difficult as it must have been to do that without her, you still have to smile at a cake made with only good intentions by enthusiastic young bakers, its chocolate gorge filled with dolphins and whales, observed from the cliff’s precipice by a pair of sparring tigers, surrounded by sugary sprinkles and jimmies. Candles counted, skeptical opinions voiced (you are definitely older than fifteen), requests for only cake, or only ice cream, or both, please.

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And when superheroes need a little backup, love always saves the day.

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Bedlam Farm Takeaways: The Katz Effect

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The spring open house at Bedlam Farm was a couple of weeks ago, Jon Katz and Maria Wulf’s generous semi-annual sharing of their farm and lifestyle with fans, animal lovers, other artisans, and curiosity seekers. I’ve been to three of these now, with gathering interest and meaning, and what I think you could fairly call genuine community building. Jon instigated a creative group using social media some years ago with the idea that the creative itch so many possess is never realized for fear of reprisal. He basically made a safe place for people to exchange support for the creative habit; there is no room for destructive criticism, and the little of that to emerge has been banished from the kingdom in short order. So much beauty has unfolded from the group in the intervening years since its inception: artistic triumphs, some jolly good failures, and several contributors have realized their first professional creative work for the first time ever from within the group’s fold.

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Breakfast at Roundhouse Café, Cambridge, New York

Probably the most exciting thing to come of it though, speaking only for myself, is the opportunity to finally meet so many of these creative and thoughtful people face to face. It happens at Jon and Maria’s to be sure, but the Bedlam Farm bug has pushed beyond its boundaries to include gatherings at the Roundhouse Café in Cambridge, an evening barbecue at the Granville home of a “Farmie” photographer and blogger, and creative workshops, to say nothing of new virtual friendships and collaborations via the World Wide Web, and just plain friendships that have nothing to do with the group. Many in fact are good virtual friends, and now some of us are in-the-flesh friends. The open house is an occasion for those giddy connections to be realized for the first time, and it is a joy to see.

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Red at Roundhouse

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 Fate

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Jon’s Border Collie Red is an amazing creature, and that is all. I never tire of watching him do the work he is driven to do, nor of Jon’s telling of that story to the focused crowds who gather under the enormous tree at the paddock gate to hear it. This time there was Fate, the new puppy whose arrival so many of us followed in the days and weeks leading to the open house; there was understandably much anticipation and excitement to see her. She demonstrated a beautiful and accommodating temperament and work ethic and will grow into a brilliant herding dog, I am sure. Still, I am drawn to Red for his maturity and serious demeanor, matched only by his generosity and affection. I am always struck by his intelligence and now also by his tolerance for a young interloper. They each seem to understand the new world order and comply willingly with it.

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Poet Doug Anderson, Jon

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Tom Atkins

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Kate Rantilla, who understands how I feel about poetry

I’ve been paying closer attention to the open house poetry readings. It’s hard for me. I’ve never been drawn to poetry the way so many are, never attempted to write it unless I had to, and in my prep school and undergrad years tolerated it through the lens of academia, where I always felt I was the last one to catch on. And once the authentic meaning of a stanza was finally revealed, it seemed brilliantly clear. So it was a lesson in humiliation for me, and left me feeling flawed. Prose was always my friend, and felt satisfying to me: we’re drawn to our strengths. Listening to artists from varied backgrounds read their work has been a push in the past; this time something was different. Maybe it’s a sign of personal growth, and that itself is a small triumph. I love that it was Mary Kellogg’s work in particular to serve as the impetus for the start of the creative group; I finally had an accidental and joyous encounter with her in Maria’s studio. She is hugely inspiring and it is no wonder Jon is so smitten with her.

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Mary Kellogg with Jon

Jon Katz’ words are enriching, disturbing, funny, inspiring. He has taken a beating for his position on animals and their place in the lives of people, and for speaking his mind loud and clear. It takes courage. I’ve been there but in a different arena. A wise person once observed, the instant you raise your head above the throng to do a worthwhile thing, people will take shots at it. This is the truth. I’ve experienced it a couple of times, have watched others close to me experience the same. Mainly I shrink from controversy. (Mainly.) The Bedlam Farm takeaway for me is a deeper understanding of the relationship between farmers and animals, and the disconnect for most of the rest of us, who possess only a tiny shred of understanding—if that, even—of animals’ place in the firmament.

Mostly I walk away from Jon and Maria’s feeling enriched. I’d never have heard of the New York City carriage horse controversy were it not for his deep involvement in it, nor of a local farmer whose unrelenting (and unjustifiable) pursuit by local authorities has made recent headlines in these parts, nor of acclaimed photographer George Forss, nor poet Doug Anderson. Nor would I see Maria’s beautiful textiles firsthand, to say nothing of the other participating artists. It’s all part and parcel of an open house weekend at Bedlam Farm.

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The next step for me is the fall workshop ahead of the October open house. I’m taking Jon’s classes on writing and blogging, and I welcome his criticism; I count myself lucky to write for a living, and I want to improve my chops. Ballet has been my world for most of my life, and it can be cruel: you really have to learn to take it on the chin, and there is no hiding in a roomful of mirrors. I think I took that ethic with me to school—academic school—where I always appreciated a paper that came back to me marked up in red. It’s how we become better, stronger writers. In this age of entitlement, it’s a lost value; too bad for an entire generation (or more). I’m also planning to attend the photography leg of the workshop, where I will be on the bottommost rung of a very tall ladder. I know nothing, as you can see here. Tabula rasa. I want to learn, and have until October to find a camera.

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Flo-the-Cat

Bedlam Farm takeaways. The Katz effect. Personal growth. In a few months I’ll let you know how it all turns out.

Closing a Chapter

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Yesterday Handsome Chef Boyfriend and I made our final run to Vermont’s beautiful Upper Valley to collect the last of my things from the loft I called home for about a year and a half. It was a grind; there was still some heavy stuff he missed last week because he could not get to it, and there was much packing and arranging to squeeze everything into a single load. I busied myself with cleaning upstairs, tying up loose ends, packing a few smallish items that remained, while HCB did the lifting and loading. I paused several times and looked out the southern-facing windows to the drive below to observe him studying furniture laid out methodically, some of it disassembled, deep in thought.

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This is one of his most endearing qualities: calmly and painstakingly sizing up a situation, arriving at the best strategy, and then diligently executing it. I am always a doubting Thomas, an expert at worrying myself into apoplexy over things. He tends to wave it all off, insisting there is always a way. By the time we pulled out hours later the tired minivan (which we’ve kept long enough to finish this move) was bursting at the seams from the load, including heavy things tied onto its roof. A little over two hours later we’d made it all the way down to our corner of the state without a single casualty, cramming the last thing into our rented storage locker with the day’s very last light, 4th of July fireworks exploding all around us.

In the midst of dusting away all of yesterday’s cobwebs I did plenty of reflecting. It is still hard for me to believe I’ve been a Vermonter for almost three years after living most of my life in Tennessee. This has been a difficult transition. I owe so much to a few people who helped me during a tough time. Living in the loft was a privilege extended to me by a pair of them, a former colleague and beautiful ballerina, and a friend, Ruth, and her kind husband Peter, who own the place. Ruth showed it to me when I arrived in August of 2012, but I decided it was too small for my things, too far off the beaten path, and that Clarence-the-Canine would feel too confined. A year later, after some unforeseen trouble, I appealed to Ruth for shelter in the proverbial storm, and she answered with her typical magnanimity. It was a beautiful, if isolated, place for me to land, and would become Clarence’s final resting place. Another bit of sadness I could not have foreseen. But none of the earlier things—except the isolation—turned out to be true. Ruth told me many people had found healing there, and so did I.

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I never grew completely accustomed to hauling myself and my ailing dog up and down those difficult back steps, but we got some better at it over time. Yesterday HCB and I observed a family of groundhogs living under them; we had earlier seen one of them grazing on the front lawn. HCB counted three little faces peering out from between the second and third steps, babies curious about the interlopers. During my tenure at the loft I observed so much wildlife, as did Clarence; he was ultimately granted off-leash privileges, which he relished. In truth, I did not appreciate the groundhogs so much when I was living there, as they undermined our work in the vegetable garden. Still, I will remember them fondly.

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I will always remember Clarence fondly; I think he probably was my soul dog, brief though his tenure was with me. I stopped by his grave a final time before we left, and was surprised to see not the massive boulder that rises out of the earth behind it, but instead dozens and dozens of lush, green ferns. It is a beautiful resting place for a noble dog who had big work to do near the end of his life.

So one chapter closes, and another life-affirming chapter opens.

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Clarence-the-Canine

 

The 3rd of July: Cycling on the Battenkill

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Great news: today is gorgeous, a perfect day for a longish ride. Less great news: the tourists have arrived, lots of ’em. Yes, I know they drive the economy. They also drive their luxury cars like maniacs on otherwise quiet country roads, and I still have a little grit in my teeth to prove it. Best-of-all news: I was not squished like a bug by anybody’s luxury car, nor by one careening dump truck. I think I need different tires for this kind of riding, which feels like off-roading to me, but it’s great to be outdoors in the sunshine, iffy traction notwithstanding. This is my ‘hood—I get to see all this anytime I want. I am a lucky girl. Next time I’m out I’d like to shoot the same road with kitsch as the theme (yep, we have it in Vermont). ‘Til soon.

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I’ll give ya a nickel if you can explain the architectural and historical provenance and significance of the four spires, which seem to be on New England churches everywhere.

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Vermont requisite.

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The Norman Rockwell home; now it’s an inn.

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S’pose the geese know they’re for sale?

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Walking around in a New England cemetery is an enriching experience I highly recommend should you decide to become a tourist; leave your luxury car at home, please.

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The Battenkill has stripes.

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