Moose River Farm Blog

Friday, November 30, 2018

The Barn as Sanctuary

Good Morning,
I am happy to announce that the manuscript for my second book; They Teach Without Words; The Animals of Moose River Farm is finally finished so that publication can occur early in the coming year. Excerpts from my latest animal memoir will appear on this blog in the coming weeks leading up to availability of the book. Having retired from teaching in June, I now spend more time among my animal family paying close attention to the nuances of their interactions with each other. As I reflect on almost thirty years of teaching it occurs to me that so many of the strategies and management skills that I brought to the classroom were influenced by my experiences with animals. They also played a key role in developing my philosophies about relationships, acceptance, patience and loss. This book is full of unforgettable four-legged characters from my house, barn and classroom, who inspired my love of teaching.
To set the mood, this video introduces the animals with whom I currently share my life, as they go about their day in the barn. The following post shares the effect that the animals have on me during challenging times. Enjoy!



The Barn as Sanctuary


    Several years ago, my Aunt Anne’s memorial service was held at Gwynedd Meeting outside of Philadelphia. It had been more than thirty five years since I had attended meeting for worship. A familiar sense of calm settled upon me as I centered down in the early simple decor of the antique meeting house. Although the physical barrier of skin and skull prevented me from reading the thoughts of assembled friends and family, I was reunited with the connection that Quakers experience while waiting patiently for the inner spirit to stir.
    During the service, several vocal ministries interrupted the silence. I heard personal anecdotes that reminded me what a special woman and mother Aunt Anne was. Many delivered condolences to my cousins and dear Uncle Morrie. Others provided thoughtful messages of hope and community. Following meeting, we adjourned to the reception area. Nibbling on holiday treats, we received each other with embraces and smiles. After I exited the physical space of the meeting house, I remained enveloped for quite some time in the existential sanctuary of meeting for worship.
    Eventually, I returned home to the routine of caring for animals that live with my husband, Rod and me on our farm in the Adirondacks. My barn is a sanctuary for animals and humans alike, providing shelter for the many horses, goats and donkeys who live with us on Moose River Farm. In the days that followed the memorial service, I came to realize that each morning I attend a different sort of meeting for worship.
   I don’t sit in quiet contemplation, yet I perform all of my routine chores in a state of meditation. Before centering down, I am greeted by a glorious cacophony as I enter the barn. Shrill whinnies, wheezy brays and ravenous bleats demand sustenance. I oblige by severing twine on hay bales. Once released, pungent grassy flakes pop, making it easy for me to grasp three at a time to toss into each stall. Urgent animal chatter transitions to a chorus of peaceful mastication. The grinding rhythm soothes me in the sanctuary that is my barn. Here in the pale dawn, I meet with my creature community to prepare for my day. Nothing elevates my spirit more.
    Although a formal meeting house is silent, this sanctuary is not. A harmony of grinding molars, pawing hooves and the occasional gusts of breaking wind mingle into white noise. The sounds assure that the animals are well. That reassurance gives me permission to center down to a deeper level of prayer. While my body is busy with chores, my mind meanders, searching for strength that will lift my troubled mood.  
    Lowtchee, my portly black mare, chews her hay while I sift the piles of manure in her stall and toss them into a wheelbarrow. As if she and I are sitting next to each other on the wooden meeting house bench, I am aware of her satisfaction with life right now as she contemplates the forage in front of her. Once her stall is clean, I push my wheelbarrow to the next stall door. Joshua, a large paint gelding, swings his head to greet me as I enter. The black and white patches of his coat resemble formal evening wear. He too is content with his muzzle deep in hay. I allow my thoughts to surface long enough to greet him, stroking him between the eyes briefly before returning to deep meditation. How will I make a positive difference in a tumultuous world?
    My aunt’s funeral was held two days after the horrific shooting of children and teaching professionals at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Connecticut. The images are raw, the violence, personal. I am an elementary school teacher. This morning I am comforted by the congregation of Moose River Farm’s meeting house. In our sanctuary we unite as community. They meditate on a level of gastric bliss. I do so on heartache. It takes the mucking of nine more stalls for my mind to transition from despair to hope. Along the way I desperately seek answers to difficult questions, mostly why.
    My Quaker education has instilled tolerance and acceptance. I can make a difference today if I make a concerted effort to provide my students with the tools they need to be successful balanced citizens in a world that strives to knock them off balance. My teaching is a small counterbalance to heinous acts, but it is within my control. In the end that is all we have, control over our own actions. Although my hoofed society of friends can’t articulate meaningful messages, it occurs to me that I have been meditating alongside of them for decades and have borne witness to their peaceful acceptance of what simply is, this moment, now.  
     I agree with Gregory Maguire’s (author of Wicked: The Life and Times of the Wicked Witch of the West) claim that “Animals are born who they are, accept it, and that is that. They live with greater peace than people do.”
    Eventually, the clock interrupts. My professional day begins in less than one hour. I grasp the long ears of one of my baby donkeys stroking gently. This is the handshake of sorts that will adjourn the meeting. I wish all my animals a good day. Later in the afternoon, the meeting will reconvene. After I serve their supper the animals and I will center down in meaningful meditation, enfolded into the barn sanctuary.  -Amen