Three Graces Farm and the Crooked Path of Dreams

Three years ago on my birthday, just months after that person filed for divorce, I bought a piece of land a lone short mile from the Smokie Mountain National Forest. I loved that tract woods and century-old poison ivy, with its steep hilly inclines littered with remnants of old ‘shining stills, and the shaded creek in the crevasse that became my refrigerator, and hideyhole for the liquor given to me by the old mountain men who liked to court me, jar after jar carefully packed in milk crates and held down in the creek bed with flat rocks dug from the sides of the ravine.

I christened it Three Graces Farm, brought in some pigs to clean out the snakes and eat the underbrush, planted a large plot of garlic and onions, and spent a year gathering herbs and bark and mosses in the forest that, along with a favorite hidden creek up the road and the Little Pigeon River to play in with my dogs, became my home….Then the Chimney Stack fires swept up like a demon’s broom, and most of Cocke and Eastern Sevier Counties, Tennessee, were blanketed with choking smoke and acrid ash. Nearly a thousand private homes were destroyed, and many businesses were lost, including some that I sold soap to. With a new housing crisis, I lost my plot when the man I was buying it from sold it out from under me to a developer for a hotel…after I had already invested more than $20,000.000–far more than the land was actually worth. I lost everything that I had built there, as that conniving old man let strangers come in and take my belongings without notice.

When my sister died this past September just three weeks after being diagnosed with cancer, I found myself with animals all over the country, and a business without a working studio, starting over completely from scratch yet again.

I’m too old for this shit. In my heart I am still 12-years-old. In my mind, I’m just a girl, barefoot, strong and fierce. But years of abuse and neglect and living on other people’s terms has laid waste to my health and my stamina. I can only handle one more do over. I mean, really! Just how many times can a heart be broken before it gives up and turns to dust?

My friend Scott told me he thought I was looking in the wrong places for a new piece of land–a search that had stretched from months into a full year. Following his advice, however, turned out to be a serendipitous stroke of fortune, as I found my new farmstead on the very first day of searching, quite literally an hour after I gave up on ever finding anything worthy of calling home again.

It’s everything I could possibly hope for: 40 acres of fallow pastures, a dense stand of healthy woods up behind my ramshackle house clad in pink asphalt siding fifty years ago long gone, and a creek down below near the main road. The landlord is 81 years old, a stubborn Polish man with a kind heart that has pooped out and nearly killed him three times already. It’s a serious gamble to “rent with an option to buy” from a man like this; a veritable crapshoot, and I’m not certain that my own heart can survive another disaster. But I want this land; I want to be a part of it, and for it to become a part of me…as familiar as the lines in the palm of my hands, and I want to be healed by it, too. So, I paid the rent 13 months in advance so that I can concentrate on film school and turning this place in to a productive, profitable farm, with staked goats mowing the grasses, and my pigs and donkey being rotated through the woods like happy little gremlins of necessary destruction. I haven’t figured out how to get my two Brown Swiss cross cows up here from Tennessee, yet, and I still have to fence the upper and lower pastures away from the central acreage, but I am hopeful for the first time in a very long while.

Miss Robin has kept a massive clutch of doves for me, and my faithful helper, Katie, is bringing my cats, Dominic and Butters back to me from college at the end of May. My black labs, Mazie and Lizzie, are still in California, but Cecil Leo (aka “Baby”) and Sissy Peaches are here to get me out of bed in the mornings and keep me honest to my tasks.

I still have not found another car that I can afford, and have been borrowing one from Scott’s mom, and making minor repairs on it to get it ready for her to sell in exchange for its use. I need a farm truck, and I bought a hay wagon at the farm store a few weeks ago so that I can haul hay and straw and chicken tractors here and there. I have been working on unpacking my things for the first time in many years since Mary Alice started being strangely paranoid and obsessed with boxes, making our last four years at Gilbert House feel like a never-ending move to madness. My little farm kitchen is almost put together, and the living room is mostly organized…but piles of boxes still clutter the soaping studio, and fill the garage to the rafters.

It’s a work in progress like most things in life. Still, I am hopeful. I’m not happy, but I am content and, as things fall into place, I am looking more and more towards whatever future I might have left on this Blue Jewel of GOD’s imaginative making.

According to the internet, I now live in one of the most polluted counties in the United States, but you’d never know it by being here. The air smells like new moss and sweet fresh-cut grass, and the hills around me are covered with a blanket of emerald green and the whooshing sound of the ocean in the trees. I am planning terraced herb gardens in my head, all up and down the property, dreaming of once again filling my apothecary cabinets with colorful harvests and making good medicines without needing to buy this or that from someone else. I am looking forward for the first time in three painful years, and I can envision the sunlight peeking through the clouds that have lost so much of their menacing blackness.

Tomorrow might actually happen. And Three Graces Farm rises with me from the ashes.

On the Specialness of Mismatched Spoons

Ade Bethune once fashioned a lovely word picture for the Catholic Worker about the sacramental beauty of mismatched chairs and hospitality that was so breath-taking to me that I began copying it onto the final page of Acts in nearly every Bible I ever used afterward. It was almost as if she had taken Brother Lawrence by the collar, breathed him in, whole and deep, and then exhaled him onto the page with her black-smudged brush in fine, deliberate strokes–proof, indeed, that absolutely everything physical is potentially sacramental.

In 1999, at the old convent christened Star of the Sea, I sat with Ade and told her that two of her creations meant the most to me: the black crucifix that hung above the mismatched maple plank tables in the white house at Peter Maurin Farm and this simple paragraph about sharing hospitality in simple things. Should I have been surprised when she looked up from the page and asked, “Do you live it?”

This memory came again to me last night as I was getting ready for bed. I have a favourite chair that sits in my room; an old highback kitchen chair with a carved back and hollowed seat that has been painted at least a dozen different colours over the years. Its paint is chipped and worn, it’s grimy black in places and its legs are battered. My mother is a master wood-craftsman; I know how to fix this, so why haven’t I stripped and refinished this thing in the dozen-or-so years that I have had it in my stewardship? Because it is art, and it is too perfect on its own to touch. It goes with nothing, it stands alone, a pale blue eyesore with a checkered past of changing hands and changing hearts, discarded, passed on and neglected….until it passed to me. This chair is one of my finest treasures. It reminds me that beauty is found in the uncommonly commonplace if only you open your eyes to see it. It is, to me, at the deepest level a symbol of family. It is also a key to the mystery of my affections.

Few of the plates in our cupboard match, none of the bowls match the plates. Forks and knives and spoons in the drawers all come from different decades, different sets long ago lost, divided and forgotten. Blue, green and brown bottles from who-knows-where sit in window casings to catch and scatter the sunlight in the mornings. The dining room is littered to overflowing with plants that have been abandoned and adopted from just about everyone we know; the ivy is from a cutting my grandmother once snatched from the crannies a castle wall in Spain and snuck home in a book unnoticed. The living room and the library are stuffed with books once loved by others, then rescued from the dumpsteres of Thomas Loome, et al (I truly have no shame–my parents taught me well); I read them and share them as best as any truly gluttonous bibliophile is capable. You’d probably look at this place and be calling for a garbage truck, but for me? This is home, this is heart….this is a picture of real life.

I believe that family just happens to be whomever GOD chooses to set down in our path in any given moment. I believe that most of my family are as varied and as fragile and, yes, just as useful and as valuable as the books in our shelves, the chairs at our table, the spoons in our drawers. And I believe that heaven on earth is found in merging the whole lot together in the breaking of bread, the sharing of comforts, screaming and yelling at each other until the pain we each carry subsides, and those quiet moments resting with one another’s company in the refracting blue-green light when nothing needs to be said at all.

Family isn’t always pretty. Often they are old and needy and not terribly nice. Sometimes they have minds that are bent and souls that are chipped. All too often they smell like ashtrays or stale beer bottles or footlockers left far too long without a good scrub-down. Sometimes they act for all the world like a tenacious weed that you’d just love to strangle to death and be done with. Yet whilst their lives seem shallow, or sordid, or completely out-to-lunch, their souls’ hearts are not. But if they weren’t here? If they didn’t fill my house with their cracked, broken, totally unorganised selves? This place would be empty and it would cease to be home.

Do I live the ideal of hospitality in mismatched chairs? I try. Often I fail…and then I remember that everything has some intrinsic value and beauty all its own…and I try again, saying to my own soul, “There is no such thing as a mismatched spoon, only a bit of art waiting to be cradled safely in the drawer with all the others.” I need reminding and forgiveness if I somtimes forget.

*Note*: Originally written and published 20 October 2009

On the Supreme Importance of Family: A Love Letter to My Kids (and you all know who you are….)

My Mother did not want me.

It’s just as simple as that.

Not because of any really imperfection in me. Not because of any flaw or fault of hers…at least not any which were not imposed on her by circumstance or misunderstanding.

I was not tiny and delicate like one of her white-faced, ruby-lipped china dolls. I walked before I knew I could crawl, talked before I knew (or cared) not to speak bluntly, and preferred my daddy to her–a fact that she pointed out in aggravated prose in my baby book. Worst of all, I was not a boy, and I would pay for that wrong dearly for many years.

She can’t be blamed, though. She wanted to be Daddy’s Little Girl; that vocation was given to another. She wanted a brother; she, the dark little Indian girl found herself instead sandwiched in between fair-haired, blue-eyed, dazzlingly dimpled sisters who all seemed, to her, to be adored by everyone who met them whilst she waited unnoticed and un-missed (so she thought) in the shadows.

Life made her cold, quiet and envious. She worked hard, perfected her passions, made herself enviable. She became an artist, became mysteriously aloof, and when the time was right, she let me have no illusions that I might still be part of her life. She used me for what I could be used for, and when I no longer served her purposed, she shed me like an old coat.

Maybe that’s why the last therapist I ever wasted good money on told me that mine is an orphan psychology? Maybe not. But, still, I know what it is to feel like you’ve been dropped into a stranger’s family. Not to fit in. To be unwanted. Pushed away and pushed under by cold, hard unmaternal hands. I know what it is to be beaten down, called names and told that you’re stupid, worthless, and a burden. I know what it is to be abused and neglected from whence you came.

I know that you know this too. And I want you to know something else just as strongly.

A couple of you were given to me by your own mothers when you were born because they knew that I would love you just as much as they did, should anything ever happen to them. A few of you I rescued as a matter of necessity from dark, screaming corners that the Devil himself could not tolerate. A few others I have found along the stony parts of the steep and winding trails of my life–places no child should ever have been left, even if it were to die.

I’ve trundled every single one of you off to the deepest, safest, warmest places of my own heart, and in there you will always have a safe and welcome home.

I will never care if you become a doctor or a bus driver or a clown in the circus. I will be blissfully happy with whatever you choose to do with your life as long as it makes you happy and gives service to the world you inhabit.

You are beautiful.

You are brilliant.

You are lovely.

You were made not to be comfortable, or popular, or rich in this life (though, sometimes, it helps to be all of the above!); You were born for greatness. You were placed in this world to change it for the better, to fulfill a divine purpose–a purpose that you will not even realise yourself until it has long since passed you by.

Obey the law, unless it is unjust. And if the law is unjust, fight to make it right. If you get arrested, I will not bail you out of jail. But I will bring you chocolate, bubblegum, colouring books, crayons and chalk, and The Collected Works of G.K. Chesterton to while away the hours with as you do your time.

If you have no home or need to hide from the great big world, come home to me, and I will feed you and cry with you in bed and make sure you get kicked right back out the door when it’s time to get off your ass and go do something productive.

If anyone ever hurts you, strikes you down, cheats you, or tries to take your life, they do not deserve to have you in theirs. If they tell you that you must stay, and that they love you because you “make them happy,” RUN before they smother you to death like a wet, moldy towel. And you had better tell them, too, that your mama has a baseball bat…and she knows precisely how to use it if she needs to. >: (

I love you because you exist. I love you even when you do not please me, do not make me happy. I love you when you rage, when you make trouble, when you act like you’ve lost your mind, and when you are a royal pain in my ass. I love you even when you are at your worst, because you are, and because I love you, I hope for what I know you canbe to your own self and to others.

DO NOT ever allow anyone to tell you that you are not good enough, bright enough, strong enough, thin enough or big enough. Do not ever let anyone tell you that you are not worthy, that your life is a mistake, an error or a waste. Never listen to those who hurt you for the sake of hurting you, keeping you down, or keeping you in your “place.” People who say any of these things are bullies…and bullies always lie.

You have the power to save the world one soul at a time–starting with your own.

You are capable of changing society all by your self.

You have the very power of GOD within you, and because of that you can do any damned thing in this moment of time that you choose to do, so long as it does not harm you or anyone else.

Wash your face, brush your teeth, and go out each day with the knowledge that wherever you are, whatever you do, however you choose to do it, I am in your corner, and I love you more than life itself. And if anyone ever tells you different, tell them that your mother said that they can go get bent.

As long as I’m in this world, you *do* have family. As long as I draw breath, you have a home.

*Note*: Originally written and published 07 October 2011

The Distributist’s Camera: Snapshot in a small town

“I am bound to praise the simple life, because I have lived it and found it good. When I depart from it, evil results follow. I love a small house, plain clothes, simple living….[T]o be in direct and personal contact with the sources of your material life; to want no extras, no shields; to find the universal elements enough; to find the air and the water exhilarating; to be refreshed by a morning walk or an evening saunter; to find a quest of wild berries more satisfying than a gift of tropic fruit; to be thrilled by the stars at night; to be elated over a bird’s nest, or over a wild flower in Spring – these are some of the rewards of the simple life.”

~John Burroughs, from Leaf and Tendril

Just beyond the fifty-seven glistening, verdant hills, in the far “nort”-eastern corner of St. Croix County, in west-central Wisconsin, around a lazy bend of sweaty, shimmering corn fields, past a fragrant swath of deep, dark alfalfa, and just a quarter-mile ahead of the granite-strewn knoll where so many of the local ancestry rest beneath a canopy of ancient creaking maples beside the old railroad track, there is a place called Kuehl’s (think the keel of a ship), named for it’s owners, sandwiched between the old dilapidated brick building that houses Mr. Cronk’s tractor garage and the rural post office.

Most every weekend afternoon, I take a Benadryl and an aspirin to trick my sinuses and prevent my blood from curdling due to the assault of tobacco smoke I’m about to subject myself to, and I travel the three miles from my little house to Kuehl’s to hold court with my friend Travis, the proprietor’s son, and while the day away.

Travis is convinced that this geography and its people (which we have affectionately christened “Flannel Land”) are going to crush his dreams and kill his soul if he does not flee…quickly. Like every young man with half a brain before him, he’s got itchy feet, wings to fly, and lint in his pockets. I tell him that the only thing standing between him and Scotland, or Syracuse, or Spain, is his own front door–but he’s not yet convinced.

Honestly, though, who needs to travel when you’ve got all of Tolkien and Dickens’ motley brood living right here on Main Street’s stoop? Who needs a ticket to the opera when there are juicy dramas fomenting right under your nose?

Kuehl’s is one of those magical places that hides its true self from all but those who are really looking for it. One of the last truly tenacious Mom&Pop shops, it sells gas and liquor and all the sundry stuffs that one might need on a fishing trip, including worms. It boasts a hot, steaming kitchen from which emits the curling lilt of country music on the radio, the delicious smells of onions and searing meat, and piles of the best fried chicken and potato logs (called “broasted” and “jojos” in the local patois) that you will ever find. Jim Kuehl, a proud, gruff, soft-hearted Mason (who reminds me so much of my own grand-dad) mock-begrudgingly owns this place with his equally soft-hearted wife, Mickie, and does himself a serious disservice by keeping his prices lower than most other businesses in the region. But in doing so he has also been of great benefit to his neighbors who will gladly drive out of their way to patronize him.

High atop the soda cooler sits a small television, which always seems to set the agenda for conversation during a lull, be it politics, the current headlines, a horse race or the weather.

And, so, here I sit with Travis and my needlework on lazy afternoons, watch the people come and go, listen to their many stories and do what one cannot, or does not, do in the Big City….I spend time with my neighbors and share in a life lived the way it should be.

Around the chipped white formica roundtable under a wall tacked with peppered sheets of all the local happenings, calling cards and smarty-pants signs (“Caution: Old Grump Crossing”), vociferous discussions play out over the ever-changing clutter of beer and soda bottles, coffee cups, and deli wrappers filled to brimming with luscious things that are supposed to kill us because they taste so good. Veterans from the last five wars, a few bent and broken, others full of memories and sympathy, drift in and out and bless anyone who’s willing to listen with their own hard-won experiences. Teachers from the local school, the publisher of the Tribune, the librarian from two towns over, the local Lutheran pastor, and the state trooper who lives down the road–all appear at varied intervals to purchase gas or bread or a bottle of spirits, and stop just long enough to hear the news and tell what they know.

Did you hear that the Obermeuller girl is taking her calf to State?…Pray for Josh; he’s going to be in rehab for the next six months….Mr. Jeske died the other night; would you make a hot-dish for his wake?…Natalie got kicked whilst gelding a horse….Mandy is finally getting married!

It seems that the more time passes, the more varied and layered the lives of these people appear to me. Like the patchwork of fields that roll away out beyond the glass door of this storefront, the lives lived around this valley are pieced together with relationships and interests and talents and beliefs as varied as the hues of a brilliant crystal prism. They weave in and out of one another, blending here and there, contrasting at short intervals, some shiny, others dull, each with its own character, all interesting and lovely to contemplate.

…Marcella arrives with Eleanor to sit in the corner booth, have their lunch, and talk quietly for hours about whatever it is that little old ladies talk about; Nelson the Anarchist Beekeeper rails against the perversities of big government before running out the door to his next project; Lloyd blows in like a small storm, all glower and snark, tanned and sinewy from tending the golf course under the wide, blue sky, to flirt sheepishly with Natalie; Carly has dyed her hair an ungodly shade of black, and sits quietly, dark eyes watchful under long, heavy bangs whilst she chews absently on that cupid’s bow lip of hers….Sharon straggles in with a weird expression behind her brow to tell me that she has been diagnosed with ovarian cancer and it doesn’t look good; might she “borrow” our dog, Daisy (that she loves so much), for company when she starts chemotherapy? Gail arrives to sit at our table because it’s been a very long week at the factory and she just needs a good laugh….

What is supposed to be the hard-earned living of a single family in a small town, many miles of blacktop ribbon removed from the nearest large city, is, in fact, the proverbial kitchen table and confessional of an entire community. Out of this gathering place is borne the first word of births and deaths and accidents, weddings, separations, Darwinian mind-benders and so many fine accomplishments. From so many of these people come news of farmers in need of help, children in need of clothes, elderly in need of hot meals and anything else that might be important enough to broadcast via the Tin-Can Telegraph Wire which, as it just so happens, is pretty much anything and everything. And as I perch here, needle in hand, in this swirling, heady, smoke-filled store, raucous with laughter and music and near-constant chatter, I catalogue the memory of each bit of news, every story I hear, every prayer shot up, every Sven and Ole’ joke, into the coloured cotton floss that pierces my linen canvas to remember where I was when.

Every Chesteronian who knows G.K. as their spiritual father knows well that the living of life is most often discovered in small, seemingly-inconsequential things. No need to pack a bag and go elsewhere! Entire, vast galaxies are contained in a word, a glance, a bottle of beer. I am peering through the lens of one who knows exactly why one should believe in the impossible, and why it is good to spend an occasional day lying on one’s back, painting sweeping murals on one’s ceiling with a broom and buckets of brightly pigmented paint. I consider afresh life in this too-small-to-be-on-the-map, dream-crushing, soul-killing town with a heart set ablaze with the realization that if I want to find faeries and castles and dragons to slay, I need go no further than the garden in my own back yard. Magic reveals itself in the turning of soil, the planting of seeds, the breaking of bread, the making of wine, picking wool off of fence posts by the roadside and flowers from the ditch, and in the hot, sweaty kisses of a play-wearied child. And falling in love–real, true, abiding love–happens all on its own, without warning, sitting at a chipped white formica table on a Saturday afternoon in the smoky, unassuming haze of all that is simple, sweet, common and holy, listening to tales told by one’s neighbor and hearing in their voice the echo of GOD when you least expect it.

“The traveler sees what he sees, the tourist sees what he has come to see.”

Yep. I get it….

*Note*: Originally written and published November 4, 2011

On Pilgrimage: Giving the Addict His Due

“The mystery of poverty is that by sharing in it, making ourselves poor in giving to others, we increase our knowledge and belief in love.” – Dorothy Day

Most of the fine china had been cleared from the white linen-clad dining table. The delicate silver was soaking in a hot soda bath, and the candles had been extinguished. Irish coffee filled the cups of the few guests who remained at the table long after the dinner had ended and all others had taken their leave for the evening.The friendly banter that had threaded through family gossip and the myriad reasons that people lose their Catholic faith suddenly took an unexpected, and nearly disastrous, turn with a single comment:

“I never give money to beggars,” she exclaimed proudly, “I just know that if I do, they’ll go out and buy liquor, or worse, drugs. I give my money to charities that actually deserve it and will use it the way I think they should.”

Dolores, the woman who made this assertion, had earlier announced that she is the Biblical “go-to” in her parish, and that she is responsible for religious education of the same in her parish, yet, this statement prompted a very serious question: How does your attitude square with discipleship in Christ?

“…So, you honestly don’t think that you’re bearing false witness when you assume that someone you don’t even know is going to do something you don’t approve of with your dollar?”

“No. GOD gave me a brain; I know when I’m being fooled by a lazy user,” she said with a patronizing sneer.

“But, Dolores, Christ told us to give alms, and not to deny anyone who asks of us. He never said, ‘Make sure they’re worthy first.’”

“Yes, well Jesus didn’t live in our time. He didn’t know how bad the world would get! That’s why we’re given a brain, so we can figure it out on our own!”

“Dolores, He’s GOD; He lives outside of time and space. He knows.”

“Maybe so, but I still say it’s wrong to give cash to beggars and I won’t do it. If they need help, let them go to a shelter and ask for it. It’s not my responsibility.”

Sadly, this is an attitude that has been let to run rampant in our present society. We call ourselves Christians, we say that we are faithful to the Gospel, but are we really? And is this attitude even honest in light of the Divine Commission and Christ’s command to abide in Him?

For many centuries in the Church, beggars were considered ambassadors of GOD; it was an honour to share one’s wealth with a stranger who had nothing. Today, here in the United States, we consider ourselves to be a generous, GOD-fearing people, but is this truly the case? And whose responsibility is it, really, to care for the homeless, the diseased, the destitute and abandoned?

According to Christ, all of the nations will be judged not according to how many churches they build, or how reliable their organized social services are, but according to how–and even if–we as individuals answer the plight of the poor and disenfranchised when and where we find them.

As you do to the least of these My brethren, so you do it unto Me.

Drunks in the Gutters

Words express, but examples persuade. – Pope Benedict XVI

By the time most people end up on the street, some pretty substantial things have taken place to disrupt their home life. It’s really not that easy to become homeless, unless one makes a deliberate, momentous choice to do so and, generally speaking, that just doesn’t happen except in rare cases of severe psychological disturbance. Home foreclosures, death of a parent, spouse, or child, psychiatric stress and/or personality disorders unrecognized and untreated, shunning by family, church group, or base community, physical, mental and emotional trauma—these are all catalysts that, left unattended, can and do lead to detachment from society. Generally speaking, however, becoming homeless is not a voluntary act, nor does it occur in a single moment.

Statistics tallied by the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs, the National Law Center on Homelessness and Poverty, the National Institutes of Mental Health, and the National Coalition for the Homeless, assert that in the U.S. there are somewhere between 700,000 and 2,000,000 homeless people living on our streets at any given time (though some studies show a more alarming count at around 3.5 million—a full 1% of the U.S. populace).

Of these:

Upwards of 40% of the homeless population are children.
More than 107,000 of them are military veterans, although there are nearly 1.5 million veterans who are at risk. (And whilst only 8% of the general population can claim veteran status, nearly one-fifth (20%) of the entire homeless population are, in fact, veterans).

Upwards of 66% of the entire homeless demographic suffer with substance abuse, dependence, and/or mental illness.

It is very difficult to imagine that children, who have yet to develop the skills associated with competent self-care, and prior-service military personnel would “choose” to be out on the street. Whilst the numbers seem overwhelming, however, a day spent at any local homeless shelter or drop-in safe haven will adequately demonstrate that the statistics are, indeed, blisteringly accurate–and, most likely, conservative.

Self-medication: A Means to An End

It is the crushed heart which is the soft heart, the tender heart. – an OCD Sister to Dorothy Day

To say that the homeless are amongst the most vulnerable people in our society would be a rash understatement. Couple the unimaginable stress of day-to-day uncertainty with the fear, shame, loss of dignity, hunger, sleeplessness, and sporatic violence (over this past decade alone, acts of assault perpetrated by housed persons in the U.S. resulted in 244 known deaths of homeless people and 636 reported incidents of non-lethal violence), it is no wonder that people in the homeless demographic would turn to drugs and alcohol as a source for coping and solace.

Unfortunately, by the time a homeless person begins begging for coinage on the street to supplement their habit, they are almost without question already physiologically addicted to their substance of choice. This means that for that person, getting their next fix is very truly a matter of life and death. Withdrawal symptoms from psychoactive substances varies from flu-like symptoms and nightmares in the most tolerable end of the detox spectrum, to sensory hallucinations, profound confusion, psychosis, cardio-vascular accidents, gran mal seizures, stroke, and yes, death. An ugly, painful, protracted way to die that, more often than not, occurs without the benefit of any medical assistance or even a kind hand to hold onto.

As You Do To the Least of These

Christian love is not philanthropy. – Father Stanley Jaki

So, is it true that such people do not deserve the change in our pockets? Have they really “chosen” the hell that they live? And if they went to a shelter for help, would they actually get the medical and social services that they need. Maybe. Maybe not. This still doesn’t address the fact that when a man stands in front of us with his head down and his hand out, we are faced with a choice to act, and perspective makes a world of difference in the choices we make.

Once again, as a Christian people, we are called to a different paradigm than that of the world. As such, are we acting as true disciples of Christ when we refuse a man a dollar and think to ourselves, “Let him go to the shelter?” What does the Church say?

For the average Catholic, the Holy Writ alone is a gold mine for answering these questions, starting with Matthew 25. This entire chapter of scripture is devoted to the consequences of obedience, disobedience, faithfulness, faithlessness, and slacking off until final judgment. Verses 31 – 46 are particularly important because in this passage, Jesus explains to His disciples in fine detail what the last judgment will focus on: how did we treat our fellow man in light of Christ? “Feed Me, clothe Me, welcome Me, care for Me.” Nowhere, in this passage (or any other, for that matter) does Christ tell us that He is found only in the “worthy” poor. We are not told to ask for identification or references. We are never encouraged to get applications first. We are only told that, “as you do this to them, so you do it to Me.”

St. James takes this admonition a step further by declaring that the poor are exalted (Jas. 1: 9), that the only “true” religious observance is to care for the widows and orphans (2: 27), and that in oppressing the poor whilst honoring the rich, we show partiality and commit a sin against charity (2: 8-10) … which is, of course, more accurately a sin against Christ.

The way in which the Church understands and promulgates these passages is very clear: each and everyone of us has a personal responsibility to care for the poorest of the poor. To say or do otherwise is to make a mockery of Christ and put one’s own soul in immortal danger.

Yes, well Jesus didn’t live in our time. He didn’t know how bad the world would get!

The Truth About Catholic Stewardship

You never give to the poor what is yours; you merely return to them what belongs to them. For what you have appropriated [for yourself] was given for the common use of everybody. The land was given [by GOD] for everybody, not just the rich. – St. Ambrose of Milan

There is no way of getting around it. For two solid millenia, the Catholic Church has not only embraced Christ’s command to care for the poor as a vehicle for sacramental union with Him, she has also espoused the virtues of voluntary poverty for all of her children. Bishops in the first four centuries of the Church not only held up the poor as blessed, but chastised anyone who would cause them suffering by greed and selfish pursuit:

The bread that is in your box belongs to the hungry; the coat in your closet belongs to the naked; the shoes you do not wear belong to the barefoot; the money in your vault belongs to the destitute. – St. Basil the Great, Bishop of Caesarea, c. A.D. 370

Give something, however small, to the one in need. For it is not small to the one who has nothing. Neither is it small to GOD, if we have given what we could. – St Gregory Naziansen, Bishop of Constantinople, late fourth century

Nothing is your own. You are a slave and what is yours belongs to the Lord. For a slave has no property that is truly his own; naked you were brought into this life. – Asterius, Bishop of Amasea, from “The Unjust Steward,” c. A.D. 400

In addition to the Church Fathers’ directives to the universal laity, nearly all of the consecrated religious foundations of the Church, from the Desert Fathers and the Order of St. Benedict, to that fire starter, St. Francis of Assisi in Italy and the equally incendiary Carmelite reforms of Spain’s own San Juan de la Cruz and Santa Teresa de Ávila, have demonstrated a clear, consistent devotion to the concept of voluntary poverty as a right way of living in the world, and an equally strong insistence that all of their superfluous wealth, whether in donations or personal property, should be dedicated to caring for the poor.

St. John Bosco, St. Vincent de Paul, St. Elizabeth Ann Seton, Mother Teresa of Calcutta, Peter Maurin, and the Servant of GOD, Dorothy Day, to name just a few, have all stood with a mass cloud of witnesses, and have testified with their lives to the fact that if we are not taking care of the poor–without prejudice, judgment, or pride–then we are not fulfilling the Gospel mandate, and we are not being obedient to Christ.

Even in our own present day, Popes John Paul II and Benedict XVI have emphatically reiterated the mind of the Church, that it is our sacred duty to come along side the poor as brothers and sisters in Christ, and to care for them as Christ (see: Sollicitudo Rei Socialis; The Ratzinger Report, etc.); even better, whilst noting that the heretical perversions of Liberation Theology and “Prosperity Doctrine” miss the entire point of the Gospel mandate—that in serving one another, especially those whom we have no natural affection for, we serve Christ Himself—they simultaneously hold up regular devotion to corporal and spiritual works of mercy as authentic Christian love in action. Whether or not we will answer this call to love, however, is another matter entirely.

Love is a Verb

It is true that there is a thing crudely called charity, which means charity to the deserving poor, but charity to the deserving is not charity at all, but justice. – G.K. Chesterton, in Heretics

So, is it wrong to give a homeless person money, even of one “knows” that that person will spend it on alcohol or drugs instead of food, clothing, or shelter? Once again, the canon of Scripture is our first recourse:

Give strong drink to him who is perishing,
and wine to those in bitter distress;
let them drink and forget their poverty,
and remember their misery no more.
Open your mouth for the mute,
for the rights of all who are left desolate.
Open your mouth, judging righteously,
maintain the rights of the poor and needy.
Proverbs 31: 6-9

Make yourself beloved in the congregation; bow your head low to the great man. Incline your ear to the poor, and answer him peaceably and gently. Deliver him who is wronged from the hand of the wrongdoer; do not be fainthearted in judging a case. Be like a father to the orphans … you will then be like a son of the Most High, and He will love you more than does your own mother.” – Sirach 4: 7-10

Heaping Coals on the Head of Misery

If we choose not to take scripture seriously for our own sakes, consider this point of simple logic, too: by refusing alms to someone that we consider (rightly or wrongly) to be unworthy, we actually risk compounding our own sin several fold:

1. By refusing alms to the stranger on the basis of our own imperfect knowledge and prejudices, we bear false witness against our neighbor. No one knows the heart of anyone but GOD who created them. And what if the mendicant before you really does hop on down to the liquor store to buy a bottle? So what? That person will answer to GOD for his own actions; we are called to be our brothers’ keepers, not their consciences.

2. In bearing false witness against another, and refusing them in their need, we also act scandalously, putting them in a near occasion of sin. We refuse him a dollar; very likely the twenty people he met before our shadow fell over his brow refused him, too. There’s only so much a despairing man can take. And, so, when the pain becomes unbearable, and the gnawing in his gut screams out for soothing, he robs another to take by force what we had the opportunity to just give him service–we have, as the Apostle Paul warned the Hebrews against, “neglected hospitality.”

3. We have violated the great commandment:

“You shall love the Lord your GOD with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind … [and] you shall love your neighbor as yourself.” Matthew 22: 37-40

In assuming that another human being does not “deserve” to have the same necessities and comforts that we take for granted, we are, in effect, placing ourselves on a pedestal. If we say that any earthly good that has been entrusted to our stewardship may be held back from another because we believe that we deserve to keep it, we dishonour GOD. In fact, we make ourselves gods by denying another what we have in surplus, and we do so to our own detriment.

What’s Right with the World

“Stretch forth your hand to the poor,
so that your blessing may be complete.
Give graciously to all the living,
and withhold not kindness from the dead.
Do not fail those who weep,
but mourn with those who mourn.
Do not shrink from visiting the sick man,
because of such deeds you will be loved.
In all that you do, remember the end of your life,
and then you will never sin.” – Sirach 7: 32-36In his essay, What’s Right with the World, G.K. Chesterton notes that it is the world itself that is right in this life. It’s “everything else” that is wrong—most maddeningly so our own wrong thinking with regard to our rightful place here.

Take a good look at the world around you, and then tell yourself that you do not possess enough. If you can do that without feeling even the slightest twinge of guilt or silliness, then you are most assuredly insane. But if you can do this, if you can contemplate the birches and the stars and the seas in their true light, and recognize your own insignificant smallness in the midst of our Majesty’s Creation, then you must also acknowledge that GOD has made the earth so extraordinarily, superfluously bountiful that it cannot possibly be possessed by anyone. And if you can admit that much, then you can also admit that giving away the change in your pocket to the stranger who asks it of you, without hesitation, is not a violation of morals, but a common sense imitation of GOD towards His Creation; He gives freely, and lavishly, without counting the cost, in spite of the fact that not one of us “deserves” it. So we, too, must give freely and lavishly to those who ask of us, even if they are the addict on the street. In doing so we prove our faith in Providence by making the world more beautiful as it should be. That, after all, is what the coming of the Kingdom of Christ is really all about—creating a new, beautiful society within the shell of the old.

 *Note*: I wrote this in June 2010 shortly after the American Chesterton Society Conference in Seattle, where the opening conversation occurred when I was the co-foundress of the Gilbert House Catholic Worker Community in west-central Wisconsin where I was billed as: “and has a life-long love of the agrarian tradition that is rooted in the great religious foundations of the Church, particularly the importance of artistry, self-sufficiency, community service, compassionate care and services to the poor, the disabled, and the oldest and youngest members of society.” All true, but I’ve grown less patient over the years. The woman I spoke with really was called Dorothy (I have no doubt that she has died by now of very old age), which made that experience all the more remarkable.

The Met Gala and Catholic Apoplexia

Yesterday Catholics all over the U.S. went apeshit ballistic on social media over a bunch of celebutards doing their best to ape the Faith in appearance only. Without social media, none of us would have even known about it. But just put this in perspective:

1. No real, consecrated vestments were worn, and no real sacrilege took place. None of the gaudy crap was blessed, and half if it looks like cheap trash not worthy of any Altar, even one where Cardinal Dolan is squatting…though there was one coronet that I would most definitely wear whilst gardening. It was wicked posh!

2. ALL of our Catholic vesture is borrowed from ancient secular and pagan cultures, and much of what we think of as holy is actually military garb….Romans weren’t gasping for breath in apoplectic fits over Catholic priests and bishops wearing chasubles and copes1,500 years ago; if they had, the Modernists would surely be reminding us ad nauseum that there was a time when the Church was unlawfully impersonating the military forces of the day.

3. If you can’t tell the difference between Kati Perry dressed up like a post-menopausal drag queen “angel” and the real thing (believe me: there is *NOOO* comparison), you deserve to be offended.

4. There are people around the world RIGHT NOW who are being *murdered* during Mass for the *PRIVILEGE* of being Catholic; priests being martyred at the Altar in persona Christi. We are ALL called by virtue of our baptism to martyrdom. If a bunch of ignorant morons dressed up for early Halloween really strikes you as persecution, you need to get your head examined.

5. “Because the world first hated Me, you will be hated, also….”

You signed up for this. You are either looking forward to eternity, or you are looking back at the world. You can’t have it both ways. Get over your pampered selves, and have some perspective. Be ready to die for what you believe, and don’t be such a bunch of pussies about it.

6. Be proud of the fact that these people see the trappings of the Altar beautiful enough to pretend at. And remember that the vesture and paraments that people like *me* make look just as flimsy in the eyes of Heaven’s reality. Our sacrifices are all gossamer gloss with tarnish. And GOD loves us anyway.

I’ll give you a great example:

When I make a set of vestments for a priest, it’s an act of prayer; it’s tactile contemplation. Every single stitch. I pour everything into it: my wants, my heartaches, my memories, my sorrows, my screaming matches with GOD, my tears, my hopes and dreams for others, my fears about this world. Years later, I can point to any piece and tell you what I was thinking, what I wrestled with, where my heart was.

When I’m finished, they get blessed and consecrated, and they go into service.

When people see my vestments worn in the sanctuary, they have no idea. It’s just a priest, saying Mass. When I see my vestments worn in the sanctuary, I remember what’s in that chasuble, that stole, that pall…the maniple…the beautiful blood red cross I stitched into the amice that the priest kissed before he wrapped it around his shoulders….and I silently say again and again, “Father, please hear me. Graciously hear me!”

Now if someone had worn *my* vestments for some bullshit party, I’d be annoyed. But these people have not a clue about what they really mean…and it’s not worth my energy to even bother getting worked up over it.

Some people are suggesting nepharious intentions in this preening party of megalomaniacs, but intent requires knowledge. I wonder how many of these people are actually capable of answering a quiz about what those play vestments really symbolize?

For that matter, how many American Catholics who *haven’t* attended my Altar Linens Retreat could correctly respond to the same quiz???

Open Letter to the Chestertonians

Dear Peeps,

I hope that this letter finds you in good health and good spirits in this new year.

I am writing to all of you to address some continuing concerns that have been brought to me, to tell you all where I stand, and to offer some heartfelt suggestions. You are more than welcome to share this letter with anyone you think that it may apply to.

I am acutely aware of the complaints about the entropy and stumbling of the American Chesterton Society, and the dissatisfaction that has been expressed regarding all of it. I know you’re all pissed with the turn taken by Gilbert Magazine over the years. I have heard and felt your disappointment in the wake of this past summer’s conference at Ft. Collins, as well as the irritation so many have over Sean P. Dailey being given a lifetime achievement award.

First things first: This past May, 2017, I had a lengthy exchange with Dale Ahlquist about the Society and reasons for the dismal sales of tickets to the conference. During registration, throughout the conference, and during and after the banquet, I was contacted by a number of people who were unhappy to find Sean present after Dale had told me that he was “out.” I was told that Dale had lied to me and, worse, that I had been “thrown under the bus” several times by certain persons in attendance, including Sean and Mark. First of all, I don’t agree that Dale lied; I think he didn’t explain his intentions clearly, which caused some people to make arrangements that they would have otherwise avoided. Since the close of the conference, Sean himself has said that Ft. Collins MAY have been his last one; please GOD that this is true, but if it isn’t, is it really worth your peace? So Dale gave him a statue, so what? In the grand scheme of things, it means nothing. It’s just a little bronzed fat man to collect dust on a shelf. Yay for kitch! Regardless, as slovenly and biased an editor as he was, Sean did work for many years for peanuts and bragging rights. Let him have his stupid award. Relatedly, Dale has repeatedly denied any knowledge of, or understanding about, “The Inner Circle of Chestertonian Elites,” as they have called themselves since the Conference in Seattle nearly a decade ago; let him, if it makes it easier for him to administrate this chronic mess. You all know who these conceited geniuses are; freeze them out, if it causes you consternation.

Secondly, membership has plummeted since the days we were last at the University of St. Thomas, and I’m going to let you in on a not-so-well-kept secret: THE RESPONSIBILITY FOR OUR EXPULSION FROM ST. THOMAS LIES SQUARELY ON MY SHOULDERS. *I* did it. Period. End of story.

It was my open letter in protest of the way that the Chestertonians were suddenly being policed that got us booted. And it was my insinuation that Archbishop Harry Flynn lacked a spine about the things that really matter (a charge I stand squarely behind to this day) that got Dale dusted by the university administration, many of the collegiate supporters, and several of the vendors, as well. The chancellor yelled at me, *twice*, to no avail, then Dr. Loome dressed me down to my face in front of my friends and demanded that I write a public apology in The Catholic Spirit (never going to happen, then or now) and, for the record, after a flurry of angry phone calls and emails from financial contributors, board members and a lawyer or two, Dale, to his credit, stood behind me for, in spite of the fact that I may have gone too far, what I actually said at the time was absolutely correct. So, for getting us kicked out of St. Thomas, I apologize to all of you because, like me, I know that you loved our summers spent on the university grounds, and they have been sorely missed. Whilst this was the beginning of the exodus, both for the Flying Conferences and the declining membership, however, one does not cause the other.

I think that the American Chesterton Society will mostly cease to exist in the near future, based on what Dale has told ma (and what I have heard from so many of you), if things don’t change, and I have identified a few of the core issues:

1. The Death of the Old Guard: The day that Dale called me to say that Fr. Jaki had died, I pulled over to the side of the road and cried. I miss Fr. Jaki; Kevin’s portrayal cannot even begin to do that sweet man any justice. I miss his funny little jokes, and the way he would stare down in silence those people who dared to arrive late to his lectures; I miss him bringing me books with notes he had written in the margins. I miss Frank and Ann even more, and the talks that we used to have; I still spend a lot of time at their grave when I drive through Illinois, even in rain and snow. The Livingstons, Gramps Johnson, even Mike Foster and Dr. Loome who are still living, but no longer present to us, I miss dearly. The shift that occurred after the first decade of the conferences is undeniable …but I think it can be found again if certain personalities who use the conference to hold court for their own personal agendas would get a clue, step back, and allow those with lived experience to be seen and heard. Humility can work wonders.

2. That cult of personality present at the past several conferences has really killed any feeling of fraternal good will. Seriously, so. And many people have complained about it over the years. Dale denies all knowledge of it, but we’ve all witnessed it. I can only think of one way to get rid of it, and that is to keep the focus off of the miniature self-appointed celebrities swimming in the puddle, and to find the reflection of Chesterton in the water. This means no more polarizing politics, no more current events about what the “I’s” are doing to promote themselves. “Ideas go booming….” But only when we focus our intentions. Only you can prevent forest fires, and only you can quash the megalomaniacs in your midst by walking away when they start gathering their favorite sycophants.

3. The Distributist Democracy of the Afterglow: Once upon a time, a son brought his father, his skateboard, and a basketball to one of the very first conferences in St. Paul. At the close of the first day, he asked where he could find some food, because he was hungry and had not brought enough money to eat meals at the refectory because he was but a poor college student from the jungles of Upstate New York, and most of his budgeted funds were needed to get him home in his father’s jalopy. He walked over to the local Highway Robbery Depot, laid some coins down for a package of cheap hotdogs, a loaf of what passes in this society for “bread,” and a bag of charcoal, and he came back, borrowed a match to light the grill in the courtyard, and made a pauper’s supper. Someone close to Frank pulled out a prune juice bottle filled to bursting with Concord Petta Poison, and someone else produced a bottle of brandy and a case of good beer. Yet another talked security into breaking into the refectory to steal ketchup packets, napkins and a fork for the grill. Bellies were filled, a return trip was made to the Depot, and liquor flowed whilst the swirling smoke from a dozen cigars perfumed the courtyard, and the sweet dulcet harmonies of tipsy Chestertonians singing Irish bar songs filled the night air. THIS was the first Afterglow, and it was started by Kurt Griffin and his father, David, as a matter of necessity. I know this because I was there for the first night, and then the second night, and the third. It wasn’t surprising when it grew into a tradition, because it was a very Catholic sort of thing to have happen…but here’s the thing:

When Kurt married Becky, they started preparing for the Afterglows in advance. Like the hospitality table laden with goodies baked up by the wives of members of the St. Paul Chesterton Society throughout the conferences at the Brady, Becky has arrived year after faithful year with a carload of homemade pickles from her garden, and desserts made from scratch in her kitchen, and meats and cheeses she saved to purchase …and the Afterglow has grown larger and larger until it has become a thing unto itself. Sometimes it resembles it’s humble beginnings as a shared meal amongst tired friends. Often, now, it does not.

This is your family reunion, you spoiled twatnozzles, and Auntie Becky (one of the truest “elites” amongst us) shouldn’t be the only one cooking, for crying out loud. It wouldn’t hurt any of you to show some sincere gratitude, and fork over some hospitality of your own at these things. Or a fifty dollar bill. But don’t give it to Dale, for GOD’s sake, because Becky will never see a dime of it!

4. Stop Complaining about Cost. I don’t know if you’re at all aware of this, but the Fat Man we all adore has been bleeding us into the red since the beginning of these little shindigs in the mid-90’s. The Conference has NEVER turned a profit, no matter how many people show up. EVER. The Ahlquists have usually paid for most of it, and often paid dearly. Laura once asked me to stop praying for her to have more babies because they couldn’t afford another kid and do the conference, too. What you get is comparatively cheap, all things considered. Have you ever looked at the killing made by the Lewis and Tolkein Societies??? No? You should. You’re all spoiled.

5. Dale Is NOT a celebrity, nor is he even close to perfect. I know this. I’ve seen him in his pajamas and slippers with his hair standing on end, as I’ve said many times before. Not kidding: he goes to the mailbox looking like that. He’s just like you …only taller and rounder. And over the past few years, I have begun to think that sleep apnea and the stress of sleep deprivation have severely impacted his memory, because unless you get him to write shit down and sign it with his John Hancock, he WILL NOT remember the things he’s said to you and/or done six days or six months from now. This man is going to die of a freaking stroke at the rate he’s going, and it might be nice if people stopped holding him to such an impossibly high standard. He’s just a guy, in love with a saint, trying thanklessly, most days, to give you a gift. Don’t get me wrong: I’m still pissed as hell at him right now; I want to forgive him, and don’t know how. But, c’mon! You people are the ones who grew his ego to three sizes too large, so you are just as responsible for the “legend” you’ve made. It’s unfair to expect so much from one person.

That said, I think Dale has made some horrible mistakes. I think the conferences and Gilbert Magazine need to return to their Chestertonian center, and that politics and box-stuffing of Chesterton’s work to fit personal agendas need to be deliberately eschewed. I think that Dale needs to formally dissolve the “partnership” he made with the Not-a-Chestertonian who caused me so much personal pain and lasting grief, and that he should never play matchmaker ever again for *anyone*, even peripherally. Ever. He’s not Jewish, and he has absolutely terrible taste in men. He shouldn’t make movies, either; it’s just a bad idea, and he’s far too idealistic about the talents of those whom he loves….And he needs to start using his damned C-PAP so that he can focus on the work that has chosen him, awake, alert, and clear-headed, before he blows an artery in his brainpan.

These are my thoughts. Do what you will with them.

As for myself, I am still reeling from the Betrayal three years ago. I am still having trouble with the cardiomyopathy that erupted out of that mess. I have told Dale several times now that I am still angry with him for bringing that person into our lives, as I am angry with him to a lesser degree for trusting certain other people who have caused pain and discord amongst us all. I haven’t been able to shake this anger, or my disappointments in what as happened to the ACS. I am sorry that so many of you have been disappointed and angered, too. But, truthfully? I think in many ways you take some of these things far too seriously, and so I am going to tell you all something that I have put off for far too long:

When I was “married” to that lying stranger in 2013, it was a leap of faith and trust, seated in a dozen Chestertonian quotes about the same, that was as stupid as it was heartfelt. I had ZERO attraction to the person who asked me to marry them. I had made it to 44 years old with *seven* lifetime proposals under my girdle and no weddings…and then Chesterton’s own words became my test: “An unloveable thing becomes lovable by loving it.”

I have come to learn that there are times when even Chesterton is entirely wrong. An unloveable thing often crushes your heart and destroys your life and your faith when you make the effort to love it. But just because he’s been wrong, that doesn’t make him any less a saint. That doesn’t make his work any less valuable, or his thoughts unworthy of your attention, admiration and emulation. Those of you who have left the ACS out of frustration and disappointment need to go back and revisit what it was meant to be, and help make it that. And those of you who have bailed from supporting the Society out of loyalty to me need to do the same. Yes, I am hurt, and I don’t see any end to that in sight. I know I’ve grown quite bitter in the aftermath. But by abandoning the American Chesterton Society you are hurting me even more. For many years the Conference was my family reunion, and meant more to me than anything else in this world outside of the Catholic Worker Movement. It was what I waited for all year long, like Christmas in the middle of summer. And, believe it or not, in spite of all the nasty things you have told me, including those things that have been said by others about me, you hurt me more by leaving, because at its heart? The American Chesterton Society Conference is one of the few things in this world that can honestly be called a real life door to Elfland. And when you turn your back on the Great Fat Man, you turn your back on the magic of his wonder, and a faerie gets its wings ripped off by a dragon, and dies.

Nurture your own local societies, bring what is good back to the ACS, and please stop telling me about all of it’s failures, because I cannot listen anymore. Stop bitching, and fix it yourself. My heart can’t take anymore and, from the sounds of it, neither can Dale’s.

The Western Wall

On the Day that the Great Flood began, Pacifica was in a rage because of GOD’s fickle ways, raining down on her in a cruel, choking torrent without even a “please” or a “thank you,” and she reached down with her foamy curled fingers, picked up the floor of her entire house, and threw it out, up onto the continental shelf in great blackened heaps, with all its carpets of mermaid grasses and the poor little starfish and snails who had nowhere else to go (and did not know how to get home if they did). When the fury died down and the floods ran back to their Five Mothers, the winds shifted as the angelic host set things right, and birds came to the Great Heaps of Floor, dropped seeds and planted twigs, and a lovely dewy forest sprang up along the western walls of Pacifica’s house to hide the tantrum she had had, as if it never happened.

Eventually, Noah’s children spread out over the whole earth, like a virus; then Lewis and Clark came to the northern end of Pacifica’s house, and they took word back to an brazen, arrogant man in a White House not nearly so grand as the one which Majesty had built for Pacifica and her children, and they told this wretched man of culture that everyone should see it. Then Merriweather Lewis, realising the folly of this advise, shot himself in the head for spite and justice, for he had a roiling, dark-clouded vision in which the Sons of Man did, indeed, come to see the great sunsets that crowned Pacifica’s wondrous head, and they built on her walls, spoilt the view and polluted her depths without thought or consent, and Pacifica thought to herself that maybe Majesty had not gone quite far enough in ridding the world of His mobile mistakes. She’s been cleaning up after these children ever since, without complaint but to GOD. Of course, He has very selective hearing.

The first time I ever heard of this place, it was from my Gram’s brother, Uncle Dale, who had come for a rare visit from England. Long, long ago when he was young, he turned coat on his uncivilized Nebraska farmboy roots, renounced his citizenship in the name of poor Lewis and the Holy Monarchy and, reclaiming his heritage as a Benedict, done got himself made a right proper, rabidly loyal subject of the Queen, complete with coifed pointy, sparkingly-white beard and soft, polished, saucy accent. As he sat with us children on the floor in the carpeted hallway of our home, dressed all prim and proper in his high starched collar and grey tweeded vest with its little gold pocket watch glinting under the ceiling light, teaching my brothers how to make the world’s best paper aeroplanes (with a British copper folded into the nose to weight it just right), he pointed to the messy riot of heavily annotated (in coloured crayon) National Geographic maps pinned amongst dried flowers and hair ribbons to the walls of my room behind me, and told me of a silver paved ribbon that ran all the way from Puget Sound to Mexico along Pacifica’s ramparts. He said that until you got to a place called Mallie-Boo, it was one of the most beautiful things left in the godforsaken wastes of America, and that I should endeavour to see it before the lumberjacks and developers ruined all the unspoilt parts. “The best thing left in America,” he said to me in a decidedly British tongue, “is it’s trees and wild places.” On this we ever still are mostly agreed.

The first time I drove to the head of the Pacific Coast Highway, I was seventeen. One of my illegal horses had won a race at Les Bois under Storey’s stable colours of blue and white, and when I picked up my half of the purse, I realised that I had enough money to live the entire summer as I chose. And I chose Highway 1.

This is the kind of place where magic shows itself only to those who dawdle and keep their eyes up. You need to begin your trip with a large thermos of coffee, a great chunk of very good cheese, a dense, heavy summer sausage, a tin of kippers, a jar of jam and a tin of really good crackers. Trust me on the tin…unless you like soggy crackers…which would make you odd. Make sure you bring your favourite quilt. And fill the gas tank. Stop for nothing but admiration and naps. Take full advantage of the 20 mph signage posted along the way (the very best speed to travel by).

The genius of this road is its turnouts; they give one the ability to wave high-fingered salutations to speeding imbeciles who don’t know the true value of a car horn, and the even better ability to turn around again and again, to go back and park at the places that need to be better seen. Every time I have driven this road, were you to trace it on a satellite map, it would look like a bumblebee was driving the car, circles and figure eights and pirouettes inching repeatedly up and down the coastal mountainsides and deep cravasses to the rocky shores below.

If you are a lawless renegade like me, you fill your pockets before you set out with penknives, rusty embroidery scissors, garden twine, fishing line, flower presses, blotting tissues, and jelly jars for stuffing with fragrant mosses, barks and twigs, snipped fern fronds, and the delicately extricated roots of this and that, obeying the Golden Rule of the Keepers of the Green to harvest no more than one third of any living thing, no more than one of any kind, and to say “thank you” before you depart. And if you are wise, when you see or hear a spring gurgling into the depths, you follow it to where it goes in the heavy green shade of perfumed pinnacled forest, careful not to wander into faerie rings, find a soft bed of shamrocks amongst the mossy ferns and fallen trees to lie down in, and listen for as long as possible to the most perfect peace you will ever know in this world.

The Washington head of the Highway begins on a wide, flat beach that gives way to dune marshes and rolling grassy hills dotted with seashore farms before snaking through the far western edge of a glistening rain forest. The northern half of Oregon is the same, but in reverse, and their beaches are white and dry. But the best section of this now-chopped-up route happens to be in California between Leggett (where loggers got bored the year after my grandmothers each turned a year old, and carved the heart from an innocent grandfather redwood so that they could drive a Model T through it and take a cheesy photo) and the presently not-so-jeweled, ransacked Glass Beach at Fort Bragg (at least Pacifica has a sense of humour about recycling). This is the section that Tolkien would recognize as borrowed from Middle Earth.

The craggy high cliffs fold in on themselves here like a morning tangle of blankets on a cozy bed. On a misty rainy day (when these trips are best), the green of the forests is a myriad cocophany of jeweled shades and shadows so deep one could cry at the beauty of it. The trees stand like choirs, draped in showy gowns of yellow-trimmed magic, with their arms outstretched and intertwined towards the silver-flocked skies above, their trunks dark brown-grey to black, deeply wrinkled and clothed in feathery skirts of mosses and ivys. In truth, if you are still and very quiet here, birds and chipmunks will come to take treats from your hands, if the dogs don’t snatch them first; the fish in the streams will even nibble on your fingers and let you pet them.

Every so often you will spy from the road a lone cottage or beach shack. In one favourite haunt, there is a tiny farmhouse tucked into the fold of an oceanfront mountain, painted white on top, turquoise on the bottom, with a red door flanked by narrow eight-paned windows, on which ancient climbing red roses cascade lazily up and over the front porch, and a tire swing hangs below a trio of grandfather trees in the small yard that gives way to a parched grass path, which leads into the unknown depths of the soaring forests behind it. These are places where faerie tales live. These are dreams that have really come true, where nightmares have no sting.

If you are careful, on your way back North, you can avoid the freeway and take the Avenue of the Giants through the redwoods up to Pepperwood. Slow down, find the county road to the left that crosses under the 101, and take it up through the coastal summits until it ends, looking out from a high black cliff over the deep wide waters of impossible blue, and stay here until your heart is quiet….

Three Graces Farm

It wasn’t supposed to be like this. It definitely wasn’t supposed to happen this way. But here we are: me, Gretchen the goat, Mazie the dog, and Butters the cat. Starting new, beginning…

Source: Three Graces Farm

Three Graces Farm

It wasn’t supposed to be like this. It definitely wasn’t supposed to happen this way. But here we are: me, Gretchen the goat, Mazie the dog, and Butters the cat. Starting new, beginning…

Source: Three Graces Farm

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