I met poet Mary Kellogg at the Bedlam Farm Open House in June. She read from one of her four books of poetry, which have only recently been published. Right from the start I felt a real connection to her. She is an amazing woman, still living at age 86 alone on her hillside farm down a long, winding gravel road in the heart of the rural country that is Washington County, New York.
Like me (only for a lot longer) she wrote and wrote her poems in notebooks, never once showing therm to anyone, including her husband. My friend, Maria Wulf, wrote a lovely post about our visit which you can read here. Last week on a very hot and sultry day, we went to visit Mary in her home. She had prepared for us, gathering notebooks and pads together, her way of keeping track of her poems and ideas.
I had not brought anything of my own work, except a jar of squash pickles I made (I felt a gift of some sort, was appropriate). I mainly wanted to hear about her life and who she was, and how she had become the energetic, independent, and inspiring woman she is.
Her home was a small low-ceilinged farmhouse, very typical of the area, but bright and filled with light from her dining room window that looked down the hill and away toward the Green Mountains of Vermont. We sat at her table and talked about our lives, our poetry, how it all came to be and where our work is headed. I watched small, green hummingbirds now and then stop and drink at a feeder outside the window. They came so close, flashing in the sun. Between the view and the tiny jewels of the birds, it was a beautiful vista to see everyday.
Mary is a busy woman. She stays active in clubs, at church, and doing volunteer work. Recently one of her two daughters returned to live nearby, so there is family to visit. She drives friends around, older or in less good health than she. But since her husband’s passing many years ago, she has done all the chores and hard work around her house by herself, and lived alone.
But that doesn’t seem to bother her one bit. She in fact seemed like one of the least lonely people I’d ever met. Cheerful and purposeful, living contentedly the life she chose. More than anything, I think this quality is what I responded to, felt drawn toward, the resilience of her spirit I was sensing.
Her face is radiant, too, quite like the view outside her dining room window or the ruby throats of the hummingbirds, full of life with bright, sparkling eyes and an open, ready smile. Lean and trim, her body still moved and performed (mostly) how she needed it to. In my work as nurse I see people all the time both older and younger, frail or in poor health. People who, though still alive and functioning, seem to have had the life drawn out of them a long time ago. Mary has not become of those people, though life has been very hard on her at times.
I kept thinking to myself as we all talked, and later said to her, that I hope I am just like her when I am her age. Maria agreed. “You’ll be better,” Mary said. But I can’t imagine it.
She invited us back any time, and I know Maria and I will go and visit her again. Next time I will come a bit more prepared to talk shop, so to speak. But I doubt my interest in hearing more about her and her life will have waned. Like with Maria, I have happily found another kindred spirit, a sister and fellow traveler, one of those very special moments that I feel lucky to both experience and recognize. In my life I have a few of those relationships, and I treasure them beyond almost anything else. I can hardly wait for next time.
I've never really liked labels: I am this, I am that... But in the interest of introducing myself to the world, I can say that I am many things: nurse, writer, photographer, poet, painter, gardener, friend, armchair philosopher, counselor, nature lover, real-estate aficionado, movie buff, sometime yogi, and aspiring world-traveler. I think that's a pretty good list... for now. I want to become a bigger part of the vital, creative force I feel deeply at work in the world and connect with other people who want to do the same.