Sunday, July 13, 2014

Blackie: South Dakota, October 1986

Last week my daughter, Kate,and her boyfriend moved into a new apartment in Red Hook, Brooklyn.  It's only a few minutes away, near the water, in a place we love.  Her dad and I wanted to help them get settled so we began going through things around the house that we thought they might need or enjoy.  Also, full disclosure, we were happy to clean out the basement and her room a little as we move into this next phase of our lives.

Digging in the basement yesterday I found this photo that I shot almost 28 years ago.  It had hung in Kate's room for years but after she graduated from college, moved to DC, and then to LA, it had stayed behind and finally was relegated to a stack of neglected framed artwork.  When I found it yesterday it was covered in dust, but I brushed it off and there it was once again.  Blackie.

It was in October, 1986  I had gone to South Dakota to visit my friend, Dan O'Brien, and stay for a while on his ranch.  I was almost six months pregnant and my life was, more or less, in shambles.  My partner of many years didn't want to get married and I'd decided to go it alone.  I had no idea what this meant and I had no idea what lay ahead.  But it was beginning to occur to me that, unlike a sweater from Bloomingdales, I could not take this back. 

I had for most of my adult life avoided decisions, commitments.  I'd managed to be fairly undecisive in everything except my desire to be a writer.  That was my one constant.  My work.  And now I would have this child.   I assumed that this trip out to Dan's would be one of my last journeys for a long time.  Maybe years.  I assumed that a child would alter my life so that it was no longer recognizable to me.  

I read once that cowbirds need to go where the buffalo roam.  Their entire food supply comes from the mites on the buffalo's back.  And so they lay their eggs in the nests of other birds because cowbirds don't have time to be parents.  For years I'd just assumed I was like the cowbird.  I had no time for parenthood.  And now here I was, very pregnant, and very alone.  

As I walked through the fields around Dan's place, a loyal dog named Jake stayed with me and I'd decided that if Kate was a boy I'd name her Jake.  I was alone in the fields on this day except for Jake.  Dan was off somewhere, riding the range.  There was this moment when the sky was dark and a streak of golden sunlight came down.  

I got the image I wanted.  This wasn't photoshopped or instagrammed.  It's just the way the sky and the fields and Blackie looked at that moment.   It's one of those moments I'll never forget and I am so grateful that I was able to capture it on film.  This wasn't my last journey, not by a long shot.  In fact when Kate was born in late January, the first thing I told the labor room nurse was that I used to be a travel writer.  "Make her sleep in different places," was her advice to me.  "She'll go anywhere."

So I did.  I made Kate sleep in my bed, in baskets and even drawers, and sometimes her crib.  And the fact is she will go anywhere.  And for years she roamed.  When she moved out west, I thought that was where she'd made her home.  That was where she'd be.

Now she lives a few minutes away and this morning I drove Blackie over to her new place.  I had a car full of other things - artwork from her room, bits of furniture.  She wanted the furniture but didn't want any of the art.  "I brought Blackie," I told her.

And she said in that childlike voice she sometimes uses, "I want Blackie."  So now he is back with her and she is back near us.  As with any journey that isn't exile, there is always the moment of return. 


  1. Thanks for this wonderful post. It does the same thing for me that so many of your stories do: it is life-affirming without backing down for a second from the pain of life.

  2. Lisa, thank you so much. I really appreciate this comment from you - a lot. best to you, Mary