We’re now into our third year of blogging; today marks the 106th consecutive Friday that we’ve published a new installment of our musings, including three guest posts, one by each of our kids. (We hope they’ll write more.) Today’s post, however, will be our last for a few weeks, as Heather and I have voted unanimously to grant ourselves a brief sabbatical.
By the time you read this, I will have departed for another backpacking trip across northern England with my friend Bruce Bennett; our itinerary will take us some 200 miles in two weeks, from Ravenglass on the Irish Sea to Lindisfarne (Holy Island) on the North Sea. While I’m gone, Heather is hoping to hole up and work on a book project on which she’s collaborating with her fabulously talented sister, Isa Catto Shaw. For the next few weeks, then, neither of us will be producing a weekly blog post.
Duke Ellington once said, “I don’t need time, what I need is a deadline,” words that have become a sort of mantra for our blogging selves. Some weeks the ideas and words just seem to come pouring out; other weeks coming up with a thousand (more or less) coherent (more or less) words on any topic feels like heavy lifting indeed. In either case, putting together a new post every other week has been a revealing and useful discipline for each of us. I believe that our writing has sharpened under pressure (I think of Louis Howe’s advice to Eleanor Roosevelt on public speaking: “Have something you want to say, say it, and sit down”), and that we have both found resources within ourselves of which we had no previous inkling; the surfacing of these unexpected ideas and connections has been a great and unexpected pleasure. I also believe that our collaboration has been a great boon to our marriage, especially as our nest has emptied, and that each of us has discovered new ways to delight in and complement the other.
With all due respect to the Duke, though, time—more specifically, time off—is exactly what we’ve decided to grant ourselves (and you) as we all stagger toward the end of this awful summer of record-setting heat and drought.
The gift of time, and of quiet and nourishment, is exactly what we hope our residents receive from us, and pass on, in the form of creative writing, thinking, art, to a wider audience. Madroño Ranch, this beautiful place that we have come to occupy through no particular merit of our own, has been a gift of great richness to us and our family. How could we respond except by trying to share it with others? Lewis Hyde, in The Gift, writes that “when the gift is used, it is not used up. Quite the opposite, in fact: the gift that is not used will be lost, while the one that is passed along remains abundant.” This belief is the true underpinning of what we’re about at the ranch.
When we started this blog, in September 2009, Madroño Ranch: A Center for Writing, Art, and the Environment existed mostly in our heads; at that point we didn’t even have a real Web site. Since then, and most particularly in the last eight months, we’ve made astonishing progress.
Since we harvested our first two bison in late January, we’ve managed to sell virtually all the meat—close to 600 pounds!—and have seen our herd increase to forty-three animals. We’ve also hosted six wonderful residents, with four more scheduled to arrive in the next few months, and a series of ethical hunting and fishing “schools” which have been featured in Texas Monthly and mentioned in the New York Times.
The residents who have graced us with their presence so far are an extraordinary group: Melissa Gaskill, a science and travel writer from Austin; Stacy Sakoulas, a painter from Austin; Juli Berwald, an oceanographer from Austin; Julia Clarke, a professor of paleontology at the University of Texas at Austin; Sasha West, a poet from Austin; and Jenny Browne, a poet from San Antonio. We’ve enjoyed getting to know each of them, and admire their work tremendously. But you may have noticed that all six are of the female persuasion, and based in Central Texas. Not that there’s anything wrong with that, but we’d love to figure out how to broaden our pool of applicants to include writers and artists from other parts of Texas (and beyond!), and also perhaps the occasional male. (Though two of the four upcoming residents are men, and one of them lives in Virginia.)
And we (by which, of course, I mostly mean our ranch manager, the amazing Robert Selement) also need to arrange our next bison harvest, and finish out the Hunters’ Cabins where residents will stay, and install the rainwater catchment tanks at the Main House, and figure out what to do about the invasive pond weed that is threatening to choke the lake, and plant the vegetable garden and orchard, and (most important of all) figure out how to make it rain, and and and….
In other words, we still have a great deal of work to do before we can declare Madroño Ranch: A Center for Writing, Art, and the Environment a success—before, in Lewis Hyde’s terms, the gift is fully in motion. We hope and expect to return from this sabbatical refreshed and inspired, but until then Free Range will be on hiatus. We hope that you, Faithful Reader, will understand and excuse this interruption, and will return once we’re back up and running again, presumably in late September.
In the meantime, many thanks for reading, and we’ll see you in a few weeks!
What we’re reading
Heather: T. C. Boyle, When the Killing’s Done
Martin: H. W. Brands, Traitor to His Class: The Privileged Life and Radical Presidency of Franklin Delano Roosevelt