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Angry wind burned my cheeks and stung my eyes as the Harley engine’s raucous song filled my ears. I hid my face behind the back of the driver, trying to protect it from the air we viciously cut through in our headlong tumble down the country road.
I was accustomed to travel by horseback, to feeling my warm horse beneath me, anticipating my requests and changing pace or direction before I even shifted my weight or squeezed a finger to ask her. Together we explored the woods and rivers of the surrounding countryside. We travelled so silently, and in such harmony, that we were often able to observe deer and other wildlife up close.
So this other mode of transport was utterly foreign to me. And whilst I admit that the danger and speed of it gave my younger self a thrill, I think even then I knew this wasn’t really who I was.
He turned halfway around and yelled something to me.
“Pardon?” I yelled awkwardly, straining to be heard.
“How much time do you have?” It was so much easier for him to trumpet his big voice over the engine’s grinding chorus.
“I’m in no hurry,” came my naive reply.
Off we plunged, down winding roads and around sharp turns. Trees, pastures and farmhouses contorted into Dali-esque shapes as we whizzed by, too fast for me to surmise or even wonder at our intended destination.
We slowed, and the world we passed took on more definite shapes as we turned onto a gravel lane cutting down the center of two empty pastures. Rounding a curve, a centuries old stone farmhouse gracefully came into focus. Daringly, I lifted myself up a bit to speak into my companion’s ear.
“Who lives here?”
“Someone I want you to meet.”
That someone was Anne Nicodemus Carpenter, horsewoman, poet, dog trainer, and since that day one of my closest friends.
The house had big rooms and windows, unusual for such an old home. Anne sat in the living room, surrounded by paintings of children and animals. Horses, dogs, cats and chickens gazed out at me from silver frames scattered across every surface, frozen in posterity.
Her lively eyes sparkled as she took me in. “Do you write?” she wanted to know first.
“Do you ride?” was her next query, which she clarified with a pointed gaze in my companion’s direction while chuckling at her own double entendre, “I can see that you ride, but do you ride horses?”
Satisfied that I was a bona fide word and animal person, she dismissed my friend and took me outside to meet her familiars. We continued our conversation from that day to this, sometimes with long pauses in between, but always great energy to resume.
Perhaps once or twice in a lifetime, you meet someone you can really relate to. Someone who understands why you do the things you do, because they do them, too. Anne was one of those for me.
When I met her, she was in her 90’s and I was in my 30’s, and yet the 60 year age difference never hindered us. Anne was living alone on her beautiful old farm with her horses, chickens, guinea hens, dogs, and cats. I was wishing I lived alone on my farm with my animal companions.
She spent her days spiritedly observing the life teeming around her and reporting her astute findings in cleverly rendered verbal portraits. I spent my days getting lost on horseback, and my evenings recounting the infinitesimal drama of barn life for my dogs, whom I had banned from the barnyard after one too many chickens were lost.
Anne and I used to spend hours together, discussing minute details of animal behavior, positing ideas on how to help them, sharing notes on our interactions with all forms of life. She showed just as much interest in and compassion for the raccoons who stole birdseed from the bird feeder strategically placed by her window as for the powerful, pedigreed stallion in her pasture.
She used to get so excited every time she learned about a new insect! Her eyes would light up and she’d laugh in delight as she told me little known facts about potato bugs. The last time I saw her, which was just last week, she spent nearly an hour regaling me on stick bugs, ancient and clever creatures that shed light on Earth’s mysteries.
“I think that’s why we live,” Anne confided once, “It’s our job to learn. Once we stop learning, there’s nothing more for us.”
Anne was the only person I have ever known who truly understood my certitude that it is perfectly reasonable to give over one’s attic as a winter home for squirrels or rodents, and that to live fully and completely with a pack of dogs, herd of horses or a flock of chickens is more fulfilling and engrossing than any other lifestyle.
She never questioned my frequent practice of going days on end without leaving my farm or speaking to another human. To her, this was not an unhealthy or lonely life, but one replete with intellectual stimulation, excitement, and emotional fulfillment.
She never questioned the wisdom or expense of trying to build a brace for a turkey with a deformed leg; she simply offered ideas from her own vast experience. She never second guessed that I would know whether to keep trying to help my foundered mare and when to let her go. She appreciated that because I was living as one with the animals, I understood and respected their wishes.
I remember visiting her one day after she lost a hen to a red-tailed hawk. She poured her grief into a poem filled with elegance and reverence for the drama and glory of life. Oh, how I loved to sit on her sofa with her and read her latest poems! Her handwriting was atrocious, and arthritis didn’t help, but Anne had a rare command of words and I was intensely affected by her work.
Anne’s home, aptly dubbed Halcyon Farm, became a refuge to me when life’s challenges knocked me flat. She listened as avidly as I spilled my heart about my failures with human love as she did when I plied her with anecdotes on my successes with animal love (and no, that was not another double entendre).
I can never list the things I learned from her. I can never express the satisfaction found in such a true and profound friendship.
I love her deeply, respect her fully, and miss her mightily. That motorcycle ride was one of the most important journeys of my life.
Last night, Anne crossed over. She still lived at home with her horses, cats, and hens, and was surrounded by her children, grandchildren, friends and admirers. She remained cognizant until the last.
I know she hasn’t gone far. I feel her in the wind. I hear her in the birdsong. She lives on in her poems and in every ant, butterfly, and stick bug that captured her imagination.
“They are not dead, who live in the hearts they leave behind.” – Tuscarora
The horses are brought in early in the summer,
Too many green heads when the sun is up.
I move from one dream
To the front steps of another.
The flute that played me awake in tears
Is still crying in the wild cherry,
And some mouse must shudder too loud to live.
Two great blue herons come in sight,
Strung out against the setting moon,
A cliche of a Chinese painting,
Their legs stretched long behind.
They cry hoarsely as they reach the river,
A sound I never knew was theirs.
The unknown artist had been up early,
Not swirling in the vapors of an opium dream
Where a star can cradle impossibly
In the bosom of the crescent moon.
A scuffle in the multiflora. The shriek stops all our blood.
A rooster’s crow is cut in two.
The shock waves gradually fade out.
The air is loud with relief and night business is winding up.
The worst has happened, and it was none of us.
The rooster starts again. Another answers.
Together, they will bring in the sun.
A bat flashes by my head and slips behind the shutter
In a blink of time, two more, there is squeaking
As they hang up for the day like clothes in a closet.
Now there is some light at the edge of the world.
The picture of mares and foals in the meadow
Is developing– so far just black and white silhouettes–
The Welsh filly sees me and calls out in a toy horse’s voice.
Heads lift up from the grass and turn towards the big mare,
She and the young prince move off slowly,
The others follow in close order.
By the time they reach the barnyard
Day is there ahead of them.
Night has gone to fragments of a half-remembered dream.
—by Anne Nicodemus Carpenter from Ma’s Ram and Other Poems
After writing this, I went outside to seek comfort in the arms of a large mare and found a new cat in my barn. Young and lithe, she happens to be long-haired and all black, a cat I know Anne would have found especially beautiful. Remembering that Anne once remarked that, should she be reincarnated, she wouldn’t mind life in my barn where she could enjoy the animals without figuring out how to pay for them, I named the new cat Halcyon, Hally for short. While I don’t think Hally is Anne, I rather think they both might admire the symmetry of it.
The hope of Acapulco has become the hope of Pennsylvania, too.
Señorita Marisol Esperanza de Acapulco y Pennsylvania journeyed for three weeks, over 3,000 miles, via three long car trips and two plane trips, while being housed, driven, and cared for by three different, devoted animal rescue workers (all of whom fell madly in love with her) only to arrive during the worst flood in the history of northeast Pennsylvania!
We watched dumbfounded as entire homes and dreams were swept away by the raging river. It was a time of deep devastation and despair for the good people of this region. These are people who have welcomed me and the sanctuary into their community. These are neighbors and friends who have repeatedly gone out of their way to help us and each other whenever they saw a need. These are hardworking people without the means to pay for flood insurance. I watched helplessly as many of them lost everything to the river, which I loved dearly enough to move 100 miles to be near.
The sanctuary, blessed to be on high ground, escaped unscathed. But with Mehoopany, where the sanctuary is based, under 10 feet of water I was landlocked. Roads and bridges were closed in every direction, and I wondered, “How do I get my dog?”
Marisol’s flight was coming in to Philadelphia. They were not experiencing the flooding that we were, and her flight was scheduled to arrive on time. I had only hours to find a solution or Marisol would be stranded in the airport. Unthinkable for any dog, but after all Marisol had been through, it would have been unspeakable to abandon her in this way.
Once again, I called on Janice Preston, beloved sanctuary volunteer and friend. Janice and her husband Ed, with their big hearts and generous natures, had already decided to adopt another dog from Save a Mexican Mutt. Their dog Otto, a blind Daschund found abandoned on the streets, was traveling with Señorita Marisol, so I knew they needed to get to the airport as well.
I breathed a huge sigh of relief when I learned that their roads were unaffected by flooding, and they agreed to pick her up. But there was yet another obstacle: the two dogs were traveling under my name, and the airline would not release them without my photo ID and signature.
Frantically, I called Kelly Karger, who was driving the dogs the 1500 miles from her home in Mexico to San Antonio and putting them on the plane. No luck. All I got was her voice mail. What now?
The rain was coming down fast, the river rising, and I was parked on the hill at the top of my road because my phone lines were down and I had no cell signal at my house. I could see that conditions were getting worse by the minute. I only had about 10 minutes before my road would be impassable, stranding me away from all the other animals that needed my care.
Thinking fast, Janice called the airline directly and simply requested that the “ship to” information be changed. They never even asked who she was or by whose authority she made the request. They just changed it for her. We all breathed a huge sigh of relief.
I sat at home that night and wept for my neighbors and friends whose hopes had been drowned. And I wished beyond all wishes that I could be there to greet sweet Marisol, who has been through so much and has come so far.
I wasn’t the only one on tenterhooks until Marisol came home. Volunteers and friends of the sanctuary all waited with me, a community of baited breaths. I was able to send and receive text messages, despite having no ability to use the internet or phone, and so I tracked Marisol’s progress and texted updates to another remarkable volunteer, Michaela Moore. Michaela posted updates on the sanctuary’s Facebook page, and our many Facebook friends followed her progress eagerly. Time and again, people commented and sent private messages that Marisol’s arrival was renewing their hope and making the grief of the floods more bearable. Our little dog had become a beacon of light in our dark and rain-filled skies.
Finally, Janice and Ed made it to the airport and were able to pick up the two dogs. Of course my road was still closed, so they kept Marisol until Saturday, when some of the flood waters began to recede. They then embarked on a three and a half hour journey (which usually took a bit under an hour), navigating through flood ravaged countryside, around debris, closed roads and bridges, finally arriving here in the late afternoon.
When she saw me, Marisol wagged her tail so hard she shook. I felt the same way.
After six months, the connection between us remained palpable. Clearly, Dr. Gomez Duque took wonderful care of Marisol. I would not have recognized this shiny, healthy dog that can walk and run on all four legs but for the look in her eyes, which draws one straight to her unmistakeable, wise, faithful, old soul.
Oh yes, this is the same feeling I had the first time we made eye contact, when we found each other by a six lane highway. Then, she was filthy, emaciated, and had two broken back legs. And even then all I could see was her wise old soul.
As I write, Marisol is sleeping soundly with the other dogs and two little foundling kittens. She has already settled in as if she always lived here, and seems to love farm life. In her blog, Jennifer Schmidt, who cared for Marisol for a week and took her on one leg of her journey through Mexico, commented that her dogs played with Marisol gently, “as if they knew she had been broken, and was put together piece by piece.” I noticed my dogs are doing the same, and the sweetness of it adds even more beauty to our happy little real life fairy tale.
My little beacon of faith, hope, and love couldn’t even be stopped by floods. This is why I do what I do.