On Love & Llamas: Healing & Feeling

Posted On: 05.03.10

healing & feeling

This morning, I am tired. Zapped from heat and humility.

Yesterday, Husband, the girls and I spent the day at the farm.

What farm? you ask. And rightfully so. For it’s not every day that this city blonde hangs with pigs. The answer: Green Chimneys Farm in Brewster, New York. I have written about Green Chimneys before on this blog. I detailed an exquisite evening in which I quasi-mingled with Martha Stewart (who just featured the organization on her show on Thursday).

But this post is not about Martha.

This post is about more. About place and purpose. About Green Chimneys itself. A world dear to me. A place steeped in family legacy and natural love. It is not just a farm. It is a school. And a retreat for children and animals who are a bit broken. By systems. By structures. By schools. By life. Children and animals who have suffered and struggled and need some time and attention to heal.

And so. Yesterday, we piled into the rental van. And we drove. Out of our bubble. Along highways. And within a little more than an hour, we were there. A place where miracles happen daily. A place where hearts and heads and homes are mended.

And today I am overwhelmed by it all. A bit paralyzed by what I’m feeling. I’ve started this post over four times. But I’m not going to give up. Because this matters to me.

Yesterday was Is Your Mama a Llama? Family Day at the Farm. A good friend and I planned the day. I came up with the idea because we Rowleys love the book Is Your Mama a Llama? Amazingly, we were able to get the book’s author Deborah Guarino to come for the day, to read her wonderful story, and talk with the kids. It was the perfect theme because of Green Chimneys’ pair of celebrity llamas, creatures who greeted us when we arrived.

And so the kids sat at picnic tables, a week shy of Mother’s Day, and listened to the story. And then we all savored a wonderful farm fresh lunch prepared by Green Chimneys fantastic resident chef. After lunch, we all sat in the ninety degree heat, for a Birds of Prey show. The kids were giddy with excitement in the presence of hawks and owls. And then there was a hayride. And a barn and wildlife tour.

On the barn tour, a student of Green Chimneys, a boy who was probably twelve or so, introduced our children to the animals. He crouched down so Toddler and Baby could pet tiny chicks. He cradled a young goat and explained why he was missing his horns. He led us to the pair of pigs who grunted hello. This young man was full of knowledge and palpable affection for the animals to whom he introduced us.

By the end of the day, our kids were sweaty and tired. Amazingly, all of them had forgone their afternoon naps and there were few tears. Just bright eyes. And big smiles. And pink cheeks.

Last night, back in our cozy home and cozy bubble, Husband and I climbed into bed. Our girls were asleep in their respective air-conditioned rooms. Husband asked me something.

“Did you hear what that kid who gave us the tour said about the chicken?”

“No,” I said.

“He said that when he arrived at Green Chimneys, he had major anger issues. But that he would go and talk to that chicken about what he was feeling. He said that chicken was his best friend.”

Minutes before nodding off, I heard this. These words. This simple retelling. This tiny tidbit about a boy and a chicken and I felt a surge of emotion. Emotion far too complicated to convey here.

What I can convey is that Green Chimneys is the real deal. A place that is doing the most important thing in my estimation: Healing creatures and creating hope.

And today is a new day. I am back in my city home. Back in that bubble that protects and blinds. But this morning, this Monday morning, feels different than most. It feels raw. In a good way. Today, I am aware of things, simple things, which I so often, too often, take for granted:

That I am able live with my children.

That my children can talk to me when they are angry and sad. And that they do.

That I am so fortunate to be here, safe and secure and smart, talking abstractly about healing and feeling.

That I am able to be involved, truly involved, in a place like Green Chimneys.

So now. I will fight the urge to edit and polish these words. I will instead just publish. And then I will get on with my day. My privileged day. And as I motor through my hours, I will do so with some brilliant images in my mind. Of a young boy, prideful and grinning, cupping two tiny chicks in steady hands. Of the sweet smiles of city kids caressing the heads of toothy llamas. Of picnic tables and profound change. Of green grass and sturdy sun. Of life unvarnished.

Of love.

(Because that’s the bottom line, isn’t it?)


  • Have you spent time on a farm?
  • How often do you expose your children to different environments? To nature and animals?
  • Have you encountered disadvantaged kids and creatures in your life? If so, has this experience paralyzed or emboldened you?
  • Is your mama a llama? πŸ™‚

* For every comment left here before 6am tomorrow (5/4/10), I will donate $5 to Green Chimneys. I am aware that this could add up. But I feel strongly that there are creatures who need my and our support far more than I need a new pair of shoes for my book party.*

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42 Comments for: "On Love & Llamas: Healing & Feeling"
  1. My grandparents had a farm of sorts. We thought it was a farm because there was a barn and it was outside of town. Sounded good to me at that age. Now I wish I had a farm.

    And, I love Is Your Mama a Llama?. I so wish, somedays, that my children were still little and loved that book still.

    I have a friend, around the bend in the road so a neighbor, who has a non-profit called Borrowed Freedom Equine Therapy. You can find them on Facebook. They use rescued horses as therapy animals.

  2. This is such a beautiful post, Aidan. Your children are so lucky. Not only because they live in a perfect little bubble, but because their mother is so in tune with things that are outside of the bubble. That she wants to make a difference in others’ lives. That she exposes them to nature and people from the outside world. You have an amazing life and I am truly touched by this post and your honest emotion and sense of awareness. Thank you.

  3. yes! love is the bottom line. your green chimneys day sounds divine, and my boys would have loved to see a real llama and the author of one of their favorite books.

    congrats on the positive book review, by the way. this all must feel like you are living in a dream… a really good one!

  4. I married a social worker and am the “baby” of two Peace Corps volunteers, so yes, I have been around disadvantaged children/adults.

    The boy and the chicken remind me of an experience I had when we were newly engaged. I went to visit my fiancιe at the group home she ran. I was a 25 year old man who spent hours in the gym.

    A 15 year old boy greeted me in the hall and made a point of bumping into me. It was the sort of challenge that boys/men engage in with each other, a pissing contest of sorts.

    I laughed it off and he got into my face and told me that if I beat her up he would come after me. It shocked me. I have never hit a woman, never thought about it. But he came from a home where it wasn’t uncommon.

    It has stuck with me all these years later. I could have broken that kid into tiny little pieces but all he cared about was trying to protect my wife. Why? Because he grew up somewhere awful.

    Anyway, it is good for people to step out of the bubble and see what else is going on around them. Far too easy to forget sometimes about those who don’t have.

  5. What a great outing for your children. Coincidentally, I just visited a farm yesterday and got to spend a few minutes watching baby cows and their mamas. It was so peaceful. Bravo to you for pledging to make a donation to the farm!

  6. We have made a very conscious effort to reconnect with the agriculture in our area and to encourage our children to get hands-on with our local farms. The power of nature is indisputable.

    As someone who grew up amidst poverty and abuse (both within my family and community), become so firmly connected to nature has given me patience and a better ability to see the big picture. I can see both qualities growing in my older child, and hope the same will happen for the baby.

    We’re building a chicken coop in our backyard and planning a community garden for our neighborhood. I can’t wait to get the children living in our area involved, especially since I know they otherwise wouldn’t have the opportunity to see and touch and try such things.

  7. Camille

    Aidan, I recently found your blog, and I LOVE it!

    What an amazing story and an amazing place. The story about the little boy talking to the chicken reminds me of a story a friend told me recently. She runs a summer camp for foster kids. This past Christmas, she got Santa Claus to come see the kids so that they could all get a chance to sit on his lap and tell him what they wanted for Christmas. She noticed when all the kids got up to get in line that one little boy was standing by himself, crying. She asked him what was wrong, and he told her that he was mad at Santa because Santa never came to his house. I think that was the most pitiful thing I have ever heard, and it still makes me cry to think about it.

    Sometimes I obsess about being the “perfect” mom. But at the end of the day, what matters is not that I didn’t make any mistakes but that I love my children and am there for them. That’s more than most kids ever get.

  8. Thanks for sharing this story and the mission of Green Chimneys. I’m always heartened by stories of how broken people (children, particularly) find something healing in rural settings. There is something about that rugged physicality – dirt, animals, sweat, and sunshine – that help us set aside the intangible and painful aspects of our lives.

    My parents have a farm about an hour from their city home. A couple hundred acres with horses, chickens, sheep, and goats. They have hosted busloads of inner-city kids for day trips over the years and have always found it rewarding for the same reasons you list here.

    Thanks for this post, and your earlier mentions of Green Chimneys. It sounds like a wonderful day.

  9. We also had a brush with feathers, fur and wool this past Sunday. There was a neighborhood celebration and they brought in farm animals to entice and impress the city kids, my daughter being one of them. Having just mastered barnyard animal sounds, she was quite taken by these creatures who were once upon a time pure bedtime fiction. Now that they’re as real as her cats and dog, her Baa’s have been more pronounced, her Quacks more adamant.

    Living in the city has its perks – and I enjoy them all – but it’s great to be in touch with what’s outside of this bubble you speak of. It makes this world a little more real, and it brings our collective selves a little closer.

    I think we will visit a real farm next. Thanks for the inspiration.

  10. Aidan,

    I’ve never been on a farm, but when I visited India as a young girl, my aunt kept three cows on her property. I remember milking those cows and getting so excited when I heard the milk drop in the bucket. I look on that memory fondly. Glad you and your family enjoyed the experience so much.

    I’ve taught disadvantaged children how to read while I was in college. It was an experience that I treasure and it made me appreciate how much I have and how geography determines our destinies.

  11. What a blessing Green Chimneys is! I am so touched by your story. Thank you ever so much for sharing.

  12. Although we arent exactly living in the “privileged” circle- we are certainly FAR more privileged than many others out there. I think Green Chimneys sounds absolutely amazing. And I think you are a wonderful person for donating money to them… that is something that needs funding and needs to stay around for a long time. Those kids and animals need them!

  13. That story about the boy who said the chicken is his best friend? That gave me chills. I feel eternal gratitude to the people who create programs like this for our kids. Perhaps my own children don’t need this the way children who are ‘a bit broken’ need it. But all the kids in this world, our world, are our kids. Thank you for sharing this wonderful experience and for your donation!

  14. I grew up on a 400 acre farm… and it definitely shaped every aspect of my life. Green Chimneys sounds like a wonderful organization- and your support will make a big difference for many Little Lives.

  15. I grew up on the oldest homestead in the Washington Territories – the farm has been in the family since the mid-1800s. One Christmas morning when I was about 5, I wanted to tear into my presents instead of bundling up against the cold and feeding the livestock. My dad took another sip of his coffee and reminded me, “It’s Christmas for the animals too.”

    Touching animals, feeling sun-warmed dirt in your fingers, hearing all the sounds of the countryside – these things change a person. Make a person reconnected to a bigger world. Soothe sorry souls.

    So happy your girls got to enjoy a bit of my childhood world!

  16. I couldn’t resist a $5 comment. It sounds like a beautiful day for a beautiful place. I’m proud of you!

  17. Tina

    Awesome! Awesome awesome awesome! So many kids never get to experience the wonder of nature and the healing power of animals. The world needs so many more Green Chimneys!

    And many many many more people like you who realize just how special they are and share that wonder with other πŸ™‚

  18. I’m not sure the last time my simple words were worth so much. πŸ™‚

    I love the eyes-wide-open, heart-wide-open feeling of a moment or a day like this. And I love that you are recognizing something of such importance to others and doing your part to give back.

    Kudos, Friend!

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  20. Vanessa

    I also grew up on a farm, 42 acres of fields and woods. I’ve lived in the city for 5 years and enjoy the brief time I get to visit greenery. The slower pace and open spaces tend to bring a sense of peace to most people. We could all use more Green Chimneys….

  21. Wow! What a personal inspiration. I have an MSW, I’ve worked in residential programs with the most broken of children. I married my husband and moved to a 50 acre organic farm. I know when I have a bad day, I take cookies to my goats, or ride my rescued horse and it is healing. I’ve though about what I would do if my job gets downsized (very possible in the very near future!!) and besides the roadside stand aspect, I’ve had passing thoughts of using my farm as an educational platform, possibly to assist endangered breeds of livestock. But this speaks to me…

    I love Is your Mama a LLama?, it’s a wonderful story. My mama isn’t, but my babies are chickens as I just pulled 24 little ones out of the incubator this morning before commuting to my day job!

  22. What a lovely experience for you and your family.

  23. Being in nature, especially with animals depending on them, is so nurturing for kids. This place sounds quite special. Here on Martha’s Vineyard my younger daughter has participated in a farm program since she was 7, for about 8 years now. She’s gone to Vermont to Farm Camp, helped build the barn, milked goats and raised cows and chickens, not to mention all that work on the land. It must be extremely healing for these kids you mention. That whole aspect of caring for something outside ourselves in order to heal.
    Beautiful post Aidan. And what a great mom you are to have orchestrated this special day!

  24. Shelby

    I’ve never been on a farm, but I’ve always wanted to go after seeing movies about them when I was a kid (yay furry animals). I satisfied my wishes by zoo trips.

    I’ve never read that book though! And here I thought I had read nearly every children’s book in the Queens Public Library. But what I do know is that my mama isn’t a llama. I’d say she’s more like a alpaca…soft and very nice. =D

  25. P

    It sounds like a wonderful day and a great organization, Aidan.

  26. KB

    …And you are wonderful for giving back πŸ™‚

  27. kat

    That story about the chicken is great- emotionally complicated, as you said.
    I think exposure to disadvantaged (or however you want to put it) kids and people that live in a different way is incredibly important. Growing up very very lucky, I know people who were exposed to these things and who weren’t, and if you were it’s a whole lot easier to keep perspective on your own life.
    To me, perspective and love are both key.

    Great (very generous) idea about the comments!

  28. We go to the farm pretty much weekly since there are so many in my parts. We always have such a great time enjoying the animals.

    What an amazing place and program Green Farms seems to be. So amazing that I just went on their website and plan on inquiring fuether about volunteer opportunities there. It’s so close to me and I was not aware of it. To be able to help these children in need would be an honor. Good for you Aidan for giving so much of yourself to them by hosting such a wonderful event.

  29. Emily W

    Beautiful post. Everyone should have a chicken like that, a safe place to express innermost thoughts. And you know she’s not talking . . . or judging! I hope I’m that chicken for someone.

  30. We are very fortunate that my daughter’s preschool is also a farm. She gets to experience daily the unconditional love of animals and the responsibility of caring for a creature other than herself. Thank you for doing this, Aidan!

  31. KS Ks

    Wonderful post! Thanks for you generosity to Green Chimneys.

  32. The challenge is finding a way to stay mindful of those feelings isn’t it, to not lose this important perspective in the chaos of your lives. I’m constantly reminded when I come here of how we should appreciate life, the joys, the wonderful things that surround us. Thank you for that.

  33. Jessica

    It sounds like a wonderful day and a great organization, thanks for making the donation – and for such a touching post! xo

  34. Nina

    Thanks for caring and making the donation.

  35. Z

    Wow what a powerful post! I instantly felt that I too would like to get involved with bringing a program to Green Chimneys. I think as a young child I first felt paralyzed when I met children/people who had less than me. In Pakistan- (my family is from there).. My uncle had this massive house on a hill and for breakfast we were sitting by these large windows- I went to the windows and saw a family sitting on the dirt road across from the house cooking on an open fire. I asked my father about their fridge, why were they not at home, and where was the stove.. He told me that they didnt have a house or a fridge. I became so upset I shut all the curtains. Interesting–right? My first feeling was to pretend it did NOT exist. As I grew up I became more empowered by that paralyzing feeling because now I can actually do something for people in need.

    I’ve been to a farm when I was much younger being the city girl I am- I hide and scream from bugs/animals.. Sad but true. My poor mother (not a llama) who desperately tried to get us to camp (girl scouts), take us to farms, and ranches ended up with 3 very city–we would rather be at the beach type girls!

    I have tried to expose my child to different types of environments especially as a teenager to children in difficult circumstance so she can understand how BLESSED she is to have so many people in her life who love and care for her. She started an organization called “Rock The Read” where we collect gently used books (which often get thrown out) and NEW books and redistribute them to children in homeless shelters, schools in need of books, and other community centers. Ironically we call her lama (her name backwards means hope in arabic). have a great night πŸ™‚

  36. Shirley

    Thanks for donating and making us aware of this wonderful place.

  37. z

    Had to leave a comment for the good cause!!
    It was an amazing day for our entire family too – thanks for inviting us and always introducing us to great causes Aidan. My little guy was talking about all the animals today and made me read Is ur mama a lama book 2 nights in a row.

  38. M

    Thanks for your generosity!

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  40. Michael Otten

    Aidan, I thoroughly enjoyed your post on Green Chimneys. The dialog with the chicken brought tears to my eyes as well, having experienced similar moments when seeing the impact of child-animal interaction, which is indeed an everyday occurrence at Green Chimneys. On the strength of your lovely style, for which I saw no need to “edit or polish,” I have also ordered “Life after Yes,” although I fear I shall miss the book-signing in NYC, as it is the same day as the Green Chimneys Gala. Does that mean the we’ll miss the whole Donnelley contingent? But since Amazon doesn’t commit to mailing before May 18, that may give me the opportunity to read the book before I find the occasion for you to inscribe it, perhaps at another outing to Green Chimneys. I have taken our two grandsons (11 and 13) there often, and they love to work on the farm, cleaning up after the chickens, horses or whatever. Having grown up on NYC’s cement ground cover, I particularly enjoy seeing their natural affinity for real soil.

    All the best for your continuing literary success, and thanks for sharing the best blog I’ve yet seen. By the way, at least my son managed to be a Philosophy major (at Princeton), and is now in training to be a brain surgeon – I think based on his fascination also for the complexity of the human mind and spirit.

    Regards from an Ivy Leaguer who managed to leave Manhattan after high school, returning often many times per week, but still enjoying the quiet and lush nature of Westchester, Michael Otten

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