I took these photos of Fate yesterday in a snow squall by the winter meadow where she loves to run, vanish in the tall shrubs, chase after mice and chipmunks and rabbits. She races up and down the corn rows, disappears, re-appears, leaps in the air, circles around, always comes right back to us. A ballet of freedom and joy. I got an extraordinary response to the photo yesterday, not quite sure why, except the sweep of it is inspiring somehow. The winter pasture can be especially beautiful.
You can always tell the temperature around here by the dog's whiskers. Below zero, their breath freezes right away on their whiskers. Border collies are the ultimate stoics, if they are cold, they either don't notice it or show it. Fate has even more energy in the bitter cold, Red is always the same, no matter what the weather. Sunday dangerous wind chills well below zero, we are plugging in heating tapes, graining the animals, bringing firewood into the living room. Lots of reading this weekend I cancelled my writing class for Saturday.
I am a creature of color and light, the winter is a creative challenge for me, inside of our farmhouse, and thanks largely to Maria, there is color and light everywhere, she comes like a gremlin into my study – I rarely see her – and when I sit down to write, I see colors and shapes that lift me up and touch the soul. Beauty is everywhere, if you look for it.
One of the surprising joys of my life is my Post Office Box, (P.O. Box 205, Cambridge, N.Y., 12816). I started it a couple of years ago because some people messaged me. they said they were not online much or on Facebook and they wanted to be able to contribute to the blog and also to write me letters.
Letters. I thought it was a quaint idea, here I am moving my writing online and people want to write me letters.
I had no idea what a treasure this Post Office Box would be, how important it is to me. So many people, from all over the country, sit down with my blog, usually in the morning and usually wit a cup of coffee. They agree with me and disagree with me, but they like thinking about things and they enjoy photographs of the country and of the animals here.
I get lovely letters from farmers and the wives of farmers, from poets and school teachers and shrinks and writers and professors, dog and animal lovers, from people with no animals and no farms but a hunger to think about things without having to confront anger and rage.
It touches me deeply to get these letters – there are some every day, it takes little time or trouble to send an e-mail or nasty (or nice) message on Facebook, it takes some thought and time to write a letter. You need stationary, stamps, an address, you have to think about it, write it, walk somewhere to mail it.
Because letters have to be considered, there is something very special about them, they are thoughtful, touching and usually very generous, and I'm not really speaking about money. Many people don't like to send money online, they prefer writing checks or sending me what they can to support the blog.
There is often a $75 voluntary payment in an envelope, often a $5 or $10 bill. Many people write lovely letters with no money inside, and I appreciate that, it is not necessary to send me money with a letter. I appreciate the voluntary payments, they matter, but it is not something anyone has to do. The blog is free to anyone who can't afford to contribute money, letters are a form of support too.
Sometimes my Post Office Box is stuffed with letters, sometimes there are just a few. There is always something there.
I got four letters this morning, one was a $75 voluntary payment from Laurie in Utah, one was a $5 bill from Jamie, who lives in a small town in Florida, I picture a mobile home for some reason.
The letter was very simple: "Thank you for your blog/newsletter," wrote Jamie, "I so enjoy it." The third was from Sandy, who lives with her husband and four donkeys on a farm in Oregon. She sent me photos of her donkeys, and a three-page essay on how much she loves them, it was quite lovely.
A fourth was from Peter in Ontario, he has lived with horses all of his life and is a passionate supporter of the New York Carriage Horses. He is a supporter of my blog, he send me $60 – three $20 bills – and told me to take Maria out to dinner.
A timely Valentine's Day gift.
I can't quite capture the meaning and gratitude I feel for someone taking the time to write that to me and putting in a $5 bill. That means just as much to me as $100, in some ways even more. That is hard-earned money, I can tell, and it means everything to me that Jamie would think my writing and my blog is worth that for him or her.
Writing has changed, I now engage in a great and running dialogue with my readers, e-mail, text and other messages, Facebook and social media. For most of my life, letters were the primary way – the only way – in which my readers communicated with me, and I forgot how different letters are from digital messages.
We writers used to consider it tacky to communicate directly with readers, we were remote figures. I have always liked it, I was one of the first authors to put my e-mail address in my books. I can't answer everyone any longer, but I try and answer if I can. And I try to be direct with people. "I just read your book on Simon the donkey," Nanci e-mailed me the other day in a very brief message, "it was the worst book I have ever read in my life."
I wrote back suggesting she not send nasty messages to people like that, her message seemed pointless and rude, there was nothing thoughtful about it. I often challenged rude and angry people, I have long fought for the idea of civil dialogue online, it is a worthy if hopeless cause.
Nanci was outraged, she said she was going to put up my response on her blog, she seemed shocked by the idea that I had the right to reply to her. Please do, I said, I'll do the same. Such an exchange would have been unthinkable a few short years ago, my publisher would have been horrified, they screened all my outside mail.
The letter was annoying, for sure, but it was also refreshing. Nanci might not be very nice, but she as the power now to reach out quickly to me and tell me what she thinks. It is interesting that I have ever received a message like that via regular s- mail. If ordinary people go through all that trouble to send a letter, it is rarely unkind or thoughtless.
The haters can just rush online, they don't have to think about thing.
Some of the e-mails I get are quite beautiful and meaningful and helpful, I find Facebook messages and replies scattered and schizophrenic, I don't see them as a healthy or effective way to communicate most of the time, unless I am telling Maria I am heading home from the supermarket. They are good for that.
The letters are precious to me now, my Post Office Box was one of my better moves in life.
I took Jamie's $5 bill and hung it up by my computer, I can't quite bear to spend it. I often think of all these good and sincere people, diverse and widely scattered over this country and a few others. This is the greatest gift for any writer, to think of those people out there, drinking their morning coffee and connecting with me, reading my work via the new technology, talking to me about it in the wold ways.
It is sometimes a wonderful world, sometimes a troubling one, it is always fascinating and revealing. People are so good, given the chance. Too bad that goodness isn't news. My Post Office Box is: P.O. Box 205, State Route 22, Cambridge, N.Y., 12816.
In the fresh snow, the deep woods are soft, quiet, ethereal. I had a sense of grace there, this tree painted and proud. Canopy Of Peace, a geographic sabbath.