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Unmarked Crossings: a poet and her journeys

Connemara, Carl Sandburg, and Me

March 11, 2010

It was nearly noon when I awoke today, having slept almost twelve hours. I’m sure one reason would be because the shades were drawn against a dreary day outside. Having experienced other residencies, however, I know that part of my physical inertia is due to my body realizing that it does not have a time table to adhere to. I can sleep or read or write or just stare out the window at the goat barns to the west or up toward the main house to the east. I can see the goat barn complex easily, but the main house is up over a rise and behind several other buildings, including the Swedish House and Garage, both of which I can glimpse through the thick stand of trees.

Although it was drizzling, I went to the goat barn as soon as I’d had a quick breakfast/lunch. I thought the goats would be in the barn due to the rain and I was pleased to find them all there, warm and dry. Most were busy eating grain or hay, but Nellie, the resident persona non grata goat came to greet me. I was told she is a newcomer, although from a direct line to Mrs. Sandburg’s goats, and is the sweetest of the resident goats. The other does have not accepted her and, in fact, have been mean to her. I witnessed this hatefulness when one of the beautiful Toggenburg goats drove Nellie out into the rain, where she stayed until she could slip back into the barn through a different door. One of my posted photos is of Nellie standing in the rain, while the culprit that drove her out is just inside the door.

You may wonder why goats are so important to Connemara. In reality, they were the goats that brought the Sandburg’s to Connemara back in the 1940’s. Mrs. Sandburg had been looking for a large farm in a climate milder than that which they experienced in Michigan. They purchased Connemara from the Smyth family and made a wonderful home here for twenty-two years, until the passing of Carl Sandburg in July of 1967. In Mrs. Sandburg’s farm office (in the main house), where she handled the business end of her goat enterprise, there are all the things one might expect to see in an office of that time period: telephone, typewriter, file cabinets, along with many of the awards won for her goats. Near the center of the room is a calendar opened to July, 1967. Mrs. Sandburg had insisted that the calendar note the month that Carl has passed away at Connemara. He had breathed his last in an upstairs bedroom where a hospital bed had been placed so that he could still have his favorite view of the Blue Ridge Mountains against what Mrs. Sandburg called their “million acres of sky.”

Whether you are one to believe in spirits or ghosts, there is no denying that Sandburg’s influence can be felt in the house. He was not involved with the goat farming that his wife enjoyed, but was happy to let her carry on with what she loved, so that he could do the same. He had two writing spaces in the house: one on the main floor, adjacent to much of the family’s activity, the other in a semi-attic room under the eaves on the top floor, both rooms having views toward the mountains. His attic room also had a small, attached bedroom where he could nap or sleep after a long night of writing. When I see how devoted he was to writing and how little time most of the writers and poets I know today have, it’s easy to understand how prolific he was, writing book after book of biography and other prose, as well as his poetry. What is even more amazing is his extensive library—thousands and thousands of books and every magazine he ever received while living at Connemara (he subscribed to more than thirty separate periodicals and newspapers). It is no wonder that he wrote about the world as it was then—he knew what was going on every day.

And perhaps one reason I slept so late into the morning was because I began re-reading The People, Yes, after having perused several other books on Sandburg and his family, Connemara, and the Chikaming goat herd (named after the Michigan county where the herd was begun). As I read section after section, writing down lines that seemed to resonate for me, I understood anew why Sandburg was known as “Poet of the People.” He wrote about many things—nature, love, politics—but his primary theme was that of the little man, “the people” (singular) who hopes amid war and depression and fear. The people, yes, the people.
As for my own writing, I am still in that swampy place where my thoughts are trying to come out of a fog with some clarity. There are so many thoughts swirling around at the moment, I am suffering a sort of writing vertigo. But something is simmering in my thoughts; something I hope will be, if not important, at least something worthwhile.
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