Maria stopped on the porch to say hello to Minnie, our three-legged barn cat who was sunning herself there. This is one of those Bedlam Farm tableaus that I love to try and capture. The hens seemed curious about this and stopped by to check it out, I don't know if they were hoping for food or wanted a pat. Maria and Minnie are very connected, Minnie is a barn cat again, living outside day and night. In a few months, I suspect she will be back in the house at night.
Sometimes, when I am in New York, or in the night, the horses speak to me, they ask me to tell their true story. Every day I receive messages from all over the world from people sharing their carriage horse dreams and memories with me. The Internet gives voice to the voiceless, the people the politicians and the angry people ignore and the journalists never quote. I thank them for entrusting their stories to me, it is a sacred thing, and I am privileged to share some of those dreams and memories with you.
Virginia lives with her husband, a Columbia University professor, on the Upper West side of Manhattan. She has two daughters, Edith and Sarah, both young adults, one living in Brooklyn, the other in London. When their daughters were both young, Virginia and Peter began a family tradition that continues. Lifelong animal lovers, they wait for the first big snow, and then, the day after, when the great park is cleared and quiet and eerily beautiful, they go to 59th street and take their daughters on a carriage ride through the park.
"Oh, it is so beautiful after a storm," wrote Virginia, the snow hanging from the elms, on the rails of the bridges. "It is so quiet after a storm, just as the park was meant to be, horses have been pulling carriages in the snow forever. We brought coffee and hot chocolate and hot roasted peanuts from a cart, we have a favorite driver, he is a singer at night, and we all sing Christmas carols together if it is that time of the year, a blanket wrapped around us, and if it later, Sean will sing to us as we move through the heart of the park, we see the beautiful skyscrapers looming in the mist. We bring carrots and oat cookies for the horses, I think of the steam coming from their nostrils, the sounds of their hooves, their whinnying to one another, our hot and warming drinks. Even the sounds of the city are so beautiful after a snow, the hooves are so crisp and timeless. Every year, my daughters make sure to get together and take their ride through the park. This has meant to much to us, it has connected us to the city – and to them - in such a beautiful and natural way."
A few days after Virginia sent me this story, her daughter Sarah messaged me from London. "I am heartbroken to read of the attacks on the horses and the drivers, the efforts of the mayor to banish them from New York. He must have better things to do. The horses are a part of my life, my family, my memory, my dreams. It is a connection for me and my sister that is so powerful, it was so wonderful of my parents to think of it. When I have children, I till take them on a ride through the park in the snow, my grand-children too. They have no right to take my dreams away."
Ameratusu is 12, she loves in a small village 150 miles Northeast of Tokyo. When she was eleven, her father asked her what was it that she wanted the most for her birthday. She had placed in the first rank of her school, her parents were so proud of her. Her friend Akimi had visited New York City with her family the year before, and she had told Ameratusu about the big and beautiful carriage horses in Central Park in New York – a park so big it was almost the size of their village. And the horses, she said, were as big as trees.
Ameratusu said she wanted to go there and ride a carriage horse. They went in June of 2013. A big black beautiful horse pulled their carriage, there was a rider with a big, black hat who gave her some carrots to give to the horse, whose name was Ginger. She said the park was one of the most beautiful things she had ever seen, the space, the trees and gardens, the fountains and boats. She was afraid of Ginger at first, but the horse was more gentle than she had expected, she had no fear of her.
"It was more than I imagined, more than I expected," she wrote. "The driver was very polite, he took pictures of us, video recordings, photographs. He had learned a lot of Japanese because, he said, he took so many families from Japan on rides. I had never seen a carriage horse, Ginger was so beautiful and calm, she let me rub her nose and give her carrots, it was the most wonderful day of my life. I thanked my mother and my father for giving me this wonderful experience, I will be sure to give it to my children, they will want to go to New York when they see the pictures of my trip, one of the special days of my life. And oh, yes, I loved the pretzels with salt, I wish they had them in Japan."
Kim is a physical therapist in Tulsa, Oklahoma. She wrote me that she and Bryan had been dating for two years, and then said one day announced, "we need to go to New York." I was surprised, but eager to see New York, and he insisted, so we drove for two days and nights and stayed in a little motel in New Jersey. In the morning, we drove into the city and then took the subway to New York and when we came up out of the ground – it was my first subway ride – we were at the edge of Central Park.
Bryan told me then we were taking a carriage ride, it was so exciting I grew up around horses and I loved these big gentle giants, it was such a wonderful way to see the park, the skyscrapers. Bryan talk to the driver, the two of them were whispering and winking at each other and we set off into the park, the driver stopped the carriage and we walked a little bit to a beautiful pond – it was the lily-pond, Frances Hodgson Burnett Fountain and it was so beautiful, this quiet garden in the middle of the park, you could see the skyscrapers rising up out of the trees, the lily pond was so quiet and beautiful.
Suddenly, Bryan dropped to one knee, he asked me to marry him. He said this was always the place he wanted to propose, on a carriage horse ride. I was so shocked, I screamed and cried with happiness, and then we went back to the carriage and the driver gave us some flowers and handed us a bottle of champagne – I don't know how they figured it out, the driver said we couldn't drink it until we got back to our motel, he wasn't allowed to serve liquor in the carriage. It was so beautiful, it was perfect, it was romantic beyond my wildest dreams, we are coming back to the park in June of 2015 to get married at that fountain. I knew that a man so thoughtful to bring me there and go through all of that trouble was a man I wanted to marry. I loved the ride so much, those trees and gardens, the park is so wonderful and special, the horse knew his way on the paths, and on the way back, we just held each other and kissed, the horse was whinnying, he was such a beautiful animal. Can you imagine being propose to in a more romantic way? What a perfect way to propose to a farm girl from Oklahoma, or from anywhere else."
Anita, who was ten years old and lived near the Grand Concourse in the Bronx, had been playing video games all morning, as she did on most days when she was home from school, and her mother threw up her arms in frustration. "Turn that off and get dressed," she said, "we are going downtown. We are going to see a horse." Anita was surprised, she had never seen a horse in real life, she could not imagine where there might be one.
They rode the subway to Central Park. Anita's mother, who told me this story in person, (I meet her in the park and took a photo of Anita) walked Anita up to the line of carriage horses. The driver handed her a carrot. Anita was transfixed, fearful at first, but the driver told her not to be afraid, the big horse loved children and loved carrots, she held one end out and the horse turned his head and gently took the carrot and began chewing it, Anita, who is a brave girl, leaned forward and touched the horse on his neck and nose. Her eyes just widened, she turned to her mother and smiled the widest smile. Can we come back her, she asked? "Anita had never seen a horse," her mother said, "if they take the horses away, when will she ever see a horse again in her life?"
Today is Labor Day, but pretty much a work day around Bedlam Farm. The line between work and life is often blurred in the life of a writer or an artist, and we both work at home. So we will work today and perhaps take a walk out in the deep woods or go to Merck Forest. We are planning a short vacation, beginning this coming Saturday, heading to the ocean for four or five days. First, we are planning to go to the Boston Museum of Fine Arts to see the Jamie Wyeth exhibit and then heading to the water to sleep, sit and read, walk and take photos, sketch and love one another.
I have to say we have never needed a vacation more. My open heart surgery was on July 1, and I feel as if life is just beginning to return to normal, although there are still so many things I cannot and should not do. I am proud that I have written, blogged, photographed from the first day I got home, I haven't skipped a day. But I think I need to skip a few days now, and that is the plan for next week.
Maria, who has cared for me so lovingly and well, is tired too. We need a breather.
I am bringing my camera but no laptop or computer. No blogging until I get back, I will post a bit on Facebook and pop a few photos up on Instagram. I do not believe blogging and vacations are compatible. We had a beautiful walk this morning, the sun was just slicing up through the mist. I want to work this morning, but I also want to step back and be grateful for my life, for my heart, for my work and Maria. The list of things to be grateful for just keeps growing – my Dahlia garden, the dogs, donkeys, my good and new friends.
On our morning walks, we noticed that many salamanders try and make it across the road but never get there, squished by cards or baked on the hard dirt roads in the sun. Maria re-homes them when she sees them, she picks them up and takes them across the road. Now we both look for them – I think Lenore eats them sometimes – and help them cross to safety.