I try and tell Maria how much I appreciate her every day, but especially around Thanksgiving, where I am most conscious of being grateful for her. She is an artist through and through, artistic every minute of every day, each morning we do the chores in the pasture and she takes the strings from the bale of hay and weaves them into her new string chair, her latest creation. She finds crystals in the ground, arranges rocks on her windowsill, and always finds a way to be creative, she inspires me to do the same. Plus I just love her a lot.
I am grateful to know George Forss and Donna Wynbrandt, there are many things one could say about this couple, Donna is a vibrant and original outsider artist, George is a photographic genius and legend, one of the great landscape photographers of the world. Both have endured extraordinary hardship and challenge, they are warriors for creativity, generous and committed and absolutely dedicated to one another. Donna was a street person in New York and other cities for years, these two found one another and hung on for dear life, they are an eternal couple, their spirits will live forever, their great love food for the soul.
George's friendship is one of the great gifts in my life, he is a monument to the notion that genius will triumph against all odds, and so it was with him, orphaned, impoverished, struggling all of his life to support a trouble family. He and Donna are a great love story, in a rational world they would make a wonderful movie. I saw them today at the Round House Cafe, wished them a wonderful Thanksgiving, they know the meaning of it. Saturday George and I have a date, we are going to see his movie about Yiddish Theater in his George Forss Theater Of The Arts.
For some, Thanksgiving week is a time of shopping for bargains, I wish them good luck and joy, bargains are a good thing. For me, this is Gratitude Week, each day I give thanks for the joys and riches in my life and I want to begin by expressing my gratitude to the carriage horses in New York City, and to the people who own and ride them and care for them.
All of you have changed my life.
It was about a year ago that Maria and I took the train to New York City. I had been reading about the movement to ban the horses from New York – the new mayor said it was his first and most urgent priority – and I wanted to see them. Christina Hansen, an academic who left teaching to become an advocate for working horses in Philadelphia and New York, invited me to come to New York City and see the horses for myself, I could come anytime and see anything, she said. She didn't seem to me to be acting like someone who had something to hide.
The experience was transformative, my life has been different ever since. I saw that the horses were content, healthy and well cared for, an experience that both shocked and awakened me. The horses spoke to me at the Clinton Stables that morning, they have been speaking to me ever since, and if you had ever told me that I would be talking to horses every day, even in my curious life, I would not have known what to say.
I am not a political person, not a person drawn to causes, the horses called me to their cause, and I have embraced it, it is a part of me now. The horses gave me something urgent to write about, something powerful to feel, they reaffirmed my love of journalism and truth, they reminded me what it means to be a writer, and that words are important, they have power, and so do facts.
Perhaps more importantly, they awakened me to the grave danger they and other animals are in, as powerful and very determined forces seek to take them out of their world, and eventually, out of ours. How ironic to discover that there is a movement that calls itself an animal rights movement, but to learn that there is really no movement seeking to work for the rights of animals.
The future of animals is a passionate cause for me, the horses woke me up. They came to me in the night and called to me to seek out the truth and tell it, over and over again. A Sioux Chief told me in Central Park that the horses had summoned me, chosen me to speak for them. I did not believe it.
The horses helped me understand that the movement that claims to speak for their rights does not seem to know them or care for them, and that the horses and the other animals in the world are in desperate need of advocates who do know and understand them and can speak for their true needs. Animals are disappearing from the earth, we need a wiser and more mystical understanding of them.
They helped me see the cruelty and injustice facing the carriage drivers in New York, the years of increasingly false accusations, of harassment, fear, elitism and disrespect. The carriage drivers have been dehumanized in order to have their way of life taken from them, and that is yet another cause to feel passionate about. It is a gift to face injustice and speak out against it.
I am grateful to know some of these men and women, this is a tribe I love and respect. The children and grandchildren of immigrants, they are keepers of one of the proudest traditions in the world: people who work with animals. I am grateful for the many friends I have met on this journey – animal lovers and their supporters are among the most compassionate and generous people in the world, there is a cloud of love and caring around the horses.
I believe the horses, like many dogs, are spirit animals. I believe the Sioux Chief is prescient when he says the ancient bond between people and horses must be respected, and also his warning that that the horses are the keepers of the wind and the thunder, and if they are taken away, the earth will bleed and bleed. I can tell you that the horses often come to speak to me in the night, I know it is true, I can feel it in my bones, see it in my work. They have, said the Chief, prayed for me and others to speak out on their behalf.
Ultimately, this is a story about love and compassion. The campaign to banish the horses has been hateful and needlessly cruel. Government, the protector of freedom and property, has lost its way in New York, it seeks to deprive the carriage drivers of both. It seeks to force the horses out of their safe homes and secure work and into the holocaust afflicting horses in America – each year, 150,000 of them are slaughtered. In this chapter, government has overreached, and trampled on the rights of human beings in the name of loving animals.
The horses have shown me that a new social movement is awakening around the lives of animals, one that seeks to understand horses and animals and the people who own them, to speak for their right to survive in our world, and to treat people and animals with love, respect and compassion.
I am grateful to be a part of that movement, it has given life and meaning to my work and my pictures and to the kind of person and citizen I seek to be. I give thanks to the Carriage Horses of New York and their owners and drivers, the keepers of the movement to define the rights of animals – to be well cared for, to survive in our world. They are brave and true, they have fought their tormentors to a standstill, or better, with grace and strength.
There is no happier creature on the earth than a border collie going to work, the pasture is his office, his legs and eyes and focus his tools. There is no place he would rather be, no place that is more important. This is Gratitude Week for me, I give thanks for Red.
I love this stretch of White Creek Road, it speaks to me of the soul of a country road, a road unlike any other road.