This past weekend I participated in the Redding Road race Run for the Cows. The race took place at New Pond Farm, but I will get to that shortly. I have had a love for cows since I was a small child. It began when my family moved to a new house. The new house was located across the small lake from our previous home. It was a typical New England town and there was field at the end of our dirt road where several cows would graze. I was a shy child. I often dreamt away the days in my own little world, and was slightly disconnected from the world. I felt that I did not fit in and did not have a place in the bustling world. I created my own reality. I would walk to the end of the road and stop at the cows, giving them each names, and enjoying the recognition they started to give me as I spoke softly to them. These cows brought my attention into focus. It helped to bring into focus what interested me and what inspired me. I liked the cows. I found out what they liked to eat, and would give them parts of my carefully packed lunch. I would hand over my apple and they would, in one swoop swoosh it around in their mouths, eating everything but the core. They enjoyed brownies, and, amazingly, anything with wheat germ, which my mother regularly added to our apple butter and banana sandwiches. I watched them with their huge brown eyes observe me approach the fence. I would often miss the bus to my mother’s disbelief as I had more than ample time to walk to the end of the road. I frequently mention my love for cows and other animals to people, and find myself saying: Have you ever seen a cow’s eyelashes? They are the most amazing things.
As I think back to those observations I made back then, it reminds me of my own son and his remarkable attention to the smallest detail even at a very young age. My compassion towards animals brought me to become a vegetarian at the age of fifteen. That was twenty-five years ago. I learned about vegetarianism, and this in turn made me question what exactly I was eating, where it came from, and what name it was disguised under. Around the same time I was exposed to a horrific movie at a friend’s sleepover called The Faces of Death. The movie depicted slaughterhouses and animal testing. It so disturbed and revolted me that I never ate an animal again. I did learn over the years to rein in my radical and passionate views, particularly those about vegetarianism, animal rights and many environmental issues. I have learned to avoid them in discussion with those with departing views from mine. As I have gotten older, I find that the practice of living by example is far more beneficial to myself and to others: to speak your truth, live your truth, and never judge. As my son grew older this became crucial to me. He too is a devote vegetarian. When he was a baby and then a small child, I received several unwanted opinions about his diet, but the only opinion I listened to was that of my son’s pediatrician, aptly named Dr. Garcia. He said that Elijah was growing fine, and as long as he continued to thrive on a non-meat diet, he could continue with that life choice. I taught Elijah not to impose his values on others. I explained him that he needed to respect other peoples’ choices. At ten years old, Elijah continues to thrive in all ways. He has a deep compassion for animals. This mutual love and consideration we share leads me to the farm.
Several years ago, Elijah and I did not have a home and were living out of the car. We often found ourselves at New Pond Farm. The property is over one hundred acres with farm animals, trails and open fields with streams glistening through the gentle rolling hills. We went there for peace and respite, and it became familiar, like a home. It was an ideal place to keep a small child connected to the outside world .It provided us with easy hikes in nature and a pause from the constant motion of being homeless. The farm deepened our love for animals. This was our shared experience. The farm requires a small fee for membership per year, and, of course, Elijah and I were not members. We would quietly drive in and gently walk among the grounds, trying to stay under the radar. One afternoon we pulled into the farm with our car filled with all of our possessions, and road life wearing us down. We stood outside of the car, greeting the animals we had come to give names. We stood there, exuding sadness, a lost stare over the fields, when a woman approached us. I thought to myself: here it is, they have noticed us all along. They are going to tell us to leave, or pay, or something. During this time, I had encountered the delicate question by concerned doctors and others who crossed our paths. They would inquire if we needed a place to stay. We were often directed to shelters. Most of those who inquired were unaware that we were not allowed in the shelters because Elijah’s father was considered dangerous, and therefore we posed a threat to the others who were staying there.
The woman came towards us with an inquisitive and concerned look. She softly yet clearly spoke to us and asked if we needed help finding something. I looked to her with faint tears in my tired and worn eyes. I said: “No. We were just looking and sitting for a while.” As I spoke, I motioned to my little child, who looked to her in that moment. She put her hand upon my shoulder as I began to speak again, nervously looking for the right words. She cut me off, saying: “It's okay. Stay as long as you would like and come back anytime. It was in those moments when she turned away from us and walked back to her caretaker’s house that I felt even greater love for the farm. I felt safe and relieved. Those few intervals of feeling that way in my harsh, every day reality were so precious. They kept me going. They gave me hope, strength and the determination to be home, somewhere.
Years went by and Elijah and I continued to visit the farm. We saw our animal friends and explored the farm in depth. Several months back I was looking through a list of the local running races, and I stumbled upon a race billed as the inaugural “Run for the cows” race. I looked over the website, and saw that it was indeed a race to raise money for the farm. I registered immediately and then emailed the director, John, a brief note, telling him that my son and I felt a special a connection to the farm. I told him that if there was anything I could do to help support the race or to drum up runners, I would be willing and able. Soon after I received an email back from him welcoming me to the race. He was enthusiastic. He informed me that this was as much my race as his, and he would love the help. Over the course of the next few months, I helped recruit sponsors, as well as, numerous friends to join me in the Run For the Cows half marathon or ten kilometers distance. I found myself recounting a brief version of my story about the farm to others as part of my explanation of the mission of the farm towards education and land preservation.
It was a long few months, and at times my own life overshadowed my self-imposed dedication and volunteering to the race. John was very patient, easy going and became a friend for life. The local support together with the support among my running community was present from the beginning. As we all stood at the start line discussing the possible terrain, I felt connected to the farm and to my fellow runners. The first loop took us out around the farm. It was over the same grass hill that Elijah and I would look for four leaf clovers on, and eat peanut butter and jelly sandwiches. We ran past the cows. I whispered a soft hello to the land that my son and I still take comfort in. The race was difficult with steep long hills and short rolling ones. The town of Redding still looks like a typical New England town, and has evaded the pretentious atmosphere of many of the other area towns. The yards were managed with the land, and not against. Many of the old houses look weathered, and lived in. I saw no McMansions, and no perfectly manicured, pesticide-doused lawns. Of course, I am certain that a majority of the runners were not focused on these aspects of the course, or perhaps it was an after thought for some of them. The finish brought us back to the farm, through the dairy barn and down a dirt road. I had an elated feeling at the finish of feeling like a part of New Pond farm. I had paid the farm back in a little way, helped to raise money and bring attention to them. John pulled off an excellent race. We all sat in the grass laughing, taking pictures and collecting awards. Elijah and I then loaded up the car with all the leftover food to bring to Dorothy Day soup kitchen in a nearby town. This is where my story of the farm comes full circle, as things often do in life if you are fortunate enough to live through them and, of course, be aware of the circle.
We drove down a road in a rough neighborhood; it was rough even in the early afternoon sun. As we approached the drop off, we saw many homeless people standing outside. I sensed that Elijah was becoming acutely aware of these unique surroundings. He stood up straight as he waited at the back of the car for me to hand him boxes of pizza. A man of around forty years old came over to help us. He was tall with long black hair. He was dirty, had rough hands, and smelled of cigarette smoke. He looked tired and a little sad. It was a kind of sad that Elijah and I knew and understood. He then reached into the car and grabbed a box of sodas. He looked remarkably similar to Elijah’s father; it was as if I could hear my son’s thoughts as he followed the man into the soup kitchen. Patrons of the kitchen watched Elijah, and said things like: “hmm pizza, thank you boy.” Elijah stated that he was glad that for a change it seemed that everyone knew right away that he was a boy. We made several trips to the car. Elijah thanked the man for helping us carry the food. We said our goodbyes and walked to the car. I watched Elijah, and in that moment, he seemed years older. I quietly said to him: “That man was nice. He reminded me of dad. You know, this could be dad, if his parents didn't take care of him.” He then looked at me, and paused for a minute as he took my hand. He said: “Yes Mom. You know, this could be any of us.”