Sunday, May 1, 2022

Catalog of change


There has been so much change here, and though I pride myself on excellent adaptation skills and the ability to ride out stormy weather - the amount of change here has tested me, and at this point I can't tell you honestly whether I will stay or jump ship. Which is a powerful place to stand in, the unknowing.

The change is simple to explain; first, I lost 4 of my dogs in the last calendar year. So, starting with Giorgio in April 2021 (succumbed to his epilepsy) then Blondie in August (rectal cancer), then Pucci in November (cancer) and finally, Nea last month. Nea died suddenly in the middle of the night from an epic hour long seizure. I know a lot about seizures thanks to Giorgio, so when Nea's kept going after 5 minutes, then over 10 minutes I knew she was leaving and I settled in. Heidi and Kim woke up and sat with me while she rather dramatically left this world on her own terms. The seizure lasted over an hour, I like to think she was replaying her 17 years of life at warp speed. The ground was still frozen so we burned her on a funeral pyre the next day. 

They were my dogs - but they also belonged to the farm, to our immediate and far flung community. I shared them with many people, and many people took care of them - and me - through this very stupid year. 

These dogs pictured above - our new generation of livestock guardian dogs; Donnie and a very sweet unnamed female. Getting these dogs in place and situated properly to guard the stock was a Sisyphean feat involving complex planning, impossible decisions and ultimately other deaths - a dog named Vic and a lamb who never had a name.
Also 9 new lambs born in April.

The second change has to do with the nature of the whole farm project all together, and this is more complicated to describe in its creeping details, but I will try. We have been slowly and steadily marching towards collective ownership for some time, and are now about 1/3 of the way through what they call a 'steering committee' phase which is essentially 11 people (past staff, current staff, friends) who are tasked with writing the playbook on how Worlds End will function when it is cooperatively held by a group of people rather than by just me. A very powerful detail of this is that every month I get to join a zoom call with some of the most important people in my life - and the life of this project - which feels incredibly supportive in a time when a lot personally here is in turmoil. 

Susan and Pentti's new house on the hill drags on, at the helm of a contractor who broke his back but won't admit it. I suspect they might, at times, contemplate feelings of regret over moving here, but we don't talk about it. None of us feel we can permanently put our things away. None of us are very good at communal living. Rage simmers below the surface. This is what it is to stay with the trouble - to borrow Donna Haraway's term. This is what it is to be committed to building something different - which remains my core mission - to build new ways of living and working and making kin together. My nephew visits and spends plenty of time playing and expressing rage for all of us. Working with the trouble and self preservation seem to be two coyotes running in opposite directions. 

We have a new greenhouse. It was obtained though a grant from the NRCS - they paid for the pipe and poly (11K), we paid an additional 30K more for the land grading, drainage, gravel, top soil, gas and water lines, heater and electric. I'm glad I didn't know how many additional costs would be involved or else we never would have done it; paying for this almost broke me. But praise! It's up and running and gloriously producing more arugula I could ever want, and the healthiest, biggest tomato starts anyone could hope for. We have Mark and his 20 years of organic growing experience at the helm, which I am in awe of and incredibly grateful for. This was our first greenhouse; 8 years ago - the old barn milking shed - now the ceramic studio:

Finally, I can't overstate the loss I feel over the death of Nea. In one sense, I'm handling the grief like a professional grief handler - hire me for your next party?! On the other I feel there is nothing left for me here. Nea was my partner in carrying forward the original myth of Worlds End; its spirit of adventure, wildness and possibility. A particular chapter of the farm seems to have just closed for me in way that feels a bit stunning. This part of greif I am not handling. I have put off eulogizing Nea here because I have not wanted to accept the finality of it.

Photo by Winnie Au

I found Nea on petfinder in 2008. She was about 2-4 years old at a rescue in NJ called 'Aunt Mary's Doghouse.' Nea (that was the name she came with) was from a kill shelter in Virginia. Aunt Mary told Eric and I that Nea would need a lot of exercise, and suggested we might get a treadmill for her. When we first met, Nea ignored me, favoring Aunt Mary who had dog treats in her pocket. I left that first meeting wondering if she was really 'the' dog for me. 

In Red Hook Eric and I walked Nea a thousand times a day, miles and miles, instead of getting a treadmill. She became a natural in the shop, greeting everyone with a friendly flair except small children, who she disliked and occasionally growled at. This made me love her more. 

Around the playgrounds in red hook, kids used to whisper that she was a 'wolf' they would yell at me - that's not a dog - thats a wolf! There goes that wolf dog! 

Nea was human - singular. Difficult to talk about - and also - I could talk about her all day. Her motivations were complex, manipulative, and also primarily food motivated. She wanted to be in the middle of everything and she hated to share the stage. If I hugged anyone she would clamor and bark - she needed to be in the middle of the hug, to control it. James and I would humor her toward at the end - get down on our knees to hug so that she could get in the middle of us. Once there, she was dissatisfied, immediately bored. 

Occasionally I would take her to a dog park - especially when we lived in Brooklyn. She did not really enjoy this; she would travel to all the dogs, getting a sense of them and then sit on the sidelines, occasionally interfering in other dogs play. Essentially Nea was the police. Personified, she would have been a queer, sober, prison guard with a love of long distance running, off-track-betting and The Olive Garden. 

On the farm she was everywhere. On top of things, inside things, at the center of all activities. She made absolutely everything her official business. When she was younger she was fearless, swimming in strong currents, crossing over streams balancing on narrow logs. She was tireless. She wanted to go everywhere with me, and she often did - setting up weddings, traveling.

As she aged she became more fragile and this was interesting for me to watch. I did not like that we aged differently. I was getting closer to the fear that I had when we first adopted Nea; that she would one day leave me. That by getting a dog I was also signing up for the heartbreak of loosing a dog. And of course how would I have known in 2008 that the story would unfold in such a way that Nea would in fact comfort me through so many other dog deaths; starting with Ziggy in 2016 (died after she caught a stick that punctured her esophagus). 

So seasons change and spirit moves in and out of fleshy bodies with great mystery. Trust me, there was not a single sentimental bone in Nea's body. So I honor her by tightening the belt just a little bit on my propensity to wallow in grief, and head onward without her. Few things in life feel perfect; my time with Nea is a notable exception. Enormously thankful that we got to have each other for so long. 

Remembering that living a full life means grappling with pain and loss. Even in the darkest moments of stillness and grief, some things are moving...change is afoot. 


jca said...

So sorry for your losses, but acutely, poignantly, for Nea. She was singular and left that way as well.

Unknown said...

Thank you for sharing this beautiful memories of your special friend. Sorry for the pain of loss but glad you had so many good times together.

N Turner said...

Long live the memory of this glorious being.

Stephanie Pilk said...

Sending love and strength as you navigate the next chapter. Your beautiful words make it all so clear and palpable. Thank you for sharing them.

Peg Donahue said...

I’m so sorry for all your loss. Your story of Nea reminds me of my 6 year old Aussi,Ana. Indeed Nea looks very much Aussie and behavior same as Ana. Please stay. My daughter and I want to visit someday soon if that’s possible. I live in Cooperstown, NY.
Thank you for sharing how it feels.

Anonymous said...

You’re and amazing story teller. But first of all sorry for your loss, I’ve lost one too. My wife introduced me to your blog and I find I can learn so much from your sharing. I have permaculture farm of my own with the familiar intention of making a small community out of it. I can understand some of what you’re experiencing and I’m still learning on how I can make this work especially because I’ve invested my family into this path and I hope that it’s going to be the best decision I’ve made in my life.

ingrid said...

Gorgeous writing. Personified, she would have been a queer, sober, prison guard with a love of long distance running, off-track-betting and The Olive Garden.

Lesley said...

That was beautiful, thank you for sharing your and Nea’s story.

Anonymous said...

I cried for you both.

Patricia said...

Fearless, tireless, primarily food motivated, needs to be in the middle of everything, I feel like I was reading about our now 4 yo Border Collie, Oonagh. ♥️

Patricia said...

Primarily food motivated is when I laughed out loud🥰😘

lynnehw said...

Im crying. This hit me so hard. Bc I know its coming for me too one day way too soon. happy thanksgiving.