Margaret Dulaney’s new book could not have come at a better time – as we wind down from a memorable presidential election. Surely she’s not always calm but she writes that way and she speaks with a gentle voice.
The book, “The Parables of Sunlight,” is a memoir, different from her earlier “To Hear the Forest Sing,” a collection of essays from Margaret’s spoken word website that she started in 2010, “Listen Well.” Every month at her Pipersville farm, Margaret walks the short distance from the stone farmhouse to the barn to record an episode that highlights hope, love and forgiveness.
Her husband, Matt Balitsaris, records each session in the well-equipped studio he built in the barn to support producing his band’s recordings. He composes the music to go with Margaret’s podcasts.
Margaret, a playwright, and Matt moved to their Tinicum Township farm after 18 years in Manhattan. Margaret had trained as an actress but she grew weary of searching for work in New York. “Although I found some work,” she says, “I had grown frustrated by not finding enough to justify my profession, and so I picked up the pen to write for the theater.
Kentucky was Margaret’s childhood home, on her grandparents’ farm outside Louisville – horse country – and the farm had horses that Margaret rode. Just before she turned 16, Margaret asked her mother if she could spend the last two years of high school at a boarding school. She was ready to begin a new chapter in her life.
“From this time on, I lost sight of the horses. I would go home and see them in their fields, but never attempted to ride them again, and was not present when they crossed over.”
Years later, living on the Bucks County farm, fate would create another new chapter in Margaret’s life.
An inveterate walker, plowing through the woods and fields, one day she took a good look at a nearby farm. “This farm was in danger of being sold to a developer whose plan would have totally altered the landscape of our surroundings: its peace, its natural beauty, its water supply, its sanctuary,” Margaret writes in the book. “We are a community of preservationists who offered to buy the farm collectively, but the owner wasn’t interested in selling to a group.”
Matt and Margaret bought the farm themselves in 2000 and put an easement on it. The owner had let the fields, two horse stables and the house, deteriorate – she had landed with a 114-acre farm, unable to sell it, unable to profit from a horse operation.
“I don’t intend to get involved,” Margaret said at the beginning, expecting tenants to run the operation.
But there was “the Evil Tenant,” and a years-long dispute about rent and boarding horses. And a couple from Tennessee arrived to back their Arabians. The tenant arrived as the owners tried to round up their horses.
“She ranted and raved and called the police,” Margaret wrote. “... She threatened me with all the venom in her tiny, shriveled heart and threw buckets and halters, anything she could find to distract the horses.” When time ran out for her to occupy the farm legally, the tenant left.
The next summer, Allie arrived and she is the part of the story that ties incidents throughout Margaret’s life together. Allie’s life, wrapped around memories, is the focus of the book.
“That’s the prettiest horse I have ever seen,” Margaret marveled, when she arrived. And Allie had a white heart on her forehead.
She was six years old and retired from racing. Her owner placed Allie on the farm while he underwent surgery and then he gave the horse to the farm to pay for Allie’s board.
“The Parables of Sunlight” follows Margaret in the beginning as she adjusts to her new life of farm ownership, and later, dealing with the questionable gift of an abandoned and nervous race horse. Margaret rode Allie after many months – the horse had been spooked and never lost her cautious behavior.
“Horses live a long time,” Margaret, thinking of practicality, said as we talked this week. “It was crazy of me but she opened my heart.” Allie died at age 24, after a leg injury.
Margaret touches on the healing power of animals. She had Allie to walk beside her to comfort her while her mother battled Alzheimer’s disease.
“I belonged in my family,” Margaret muses in the book. “I understand there are many who don’t feel this way, who never sensed that they fit with the people with whom they spent their early years. I’m fortunate to have felt that I was meant to live among the members of my tribe.”
“The Parables of Sunlight” is filled with animal stories – owls, squirrels, many birds, dogs and cats. It will appeal to anyone who has ever loved an animal, land, or a community. Written in Margaret’s lighthearted, easy style, it is a pleasure to read, and inspirational.
Illustrations by Glenn Harrington open every chapter and a Harrington painting of Margaret and Allie adorns the cover.
“When hard times come, I think we go wrong in saying, ‘This shouldn’t be happening,’” Dulaney says. “Because it is happening, and we must find our way through. Our greatest work is in our willingness to walk alongside one another through difficult times.”
“The Parables of Sunlight” by Margaret Dulaney is available at Amazon.com, Bookshop.org, Barnesandnoble.com and local bookshops by request.