I did go to the Sunnybank Gathering last weekend.
It was wonderful. And inspiring.
I’ll post a much longer entry, probably tomorrow, once I finish editing my pictures. What I will say right now is this:
I went to Sunnybank largely because it was someplace I’d wanted to go since I read Albert Payson Terhune’s books as a child. And while I was there, I found myself more relaxed than I’d been in a long time, happy, a bit sad (for a good reason) and above all, inspired.
While the house is no longer there, having fallen into disrepair and then been torn down, there is enough left of ‘The Place’ to connect you to the books. You still drive down the narrow, winding driveway, where Wolf herded the harum-scarum puppies out of the path of early automobiles. There is now a parking lot where the house once stood, but if you can ignore that fact, exercise your imagination, you can look around and picture how it must have been to sit on the veranda of Sunnybank or walk its grounds.
The root cellar remains, you can see foundation stones from the barn peeking through the grass, and a replica of a puppy house has been installed where the original once stood. The pond has been filled in, but its foundations have been retained and now a stone frog leaps from a cluster of lovely grasses. The line of larch trees still marches down to the landing on the lake, and while I was there, no speedboats were cruising by — you could close your eyes, listen to the silence, and imagine yourself back at the turn of the Twentieth Century.
Or rather, you could listen to the barking of collies and think yourself back to Terhune’s time. So many collies (and shelties), in so many colors — sable and mahogany, tricolor, white, different permutations of merle, black and white — and all of them friendly and welcoming, even to total strangers like me. As if they were saying, welcome back to the place that made our breed famous! Along with collies, I saw borzoi, a chihuahua, a couple of other toy breeds, a staffordshire terrier (I think) and a corgi, who sported a bow for a tail.
I went to Sunnybank, uncertain what to expect. I got out of the car, said hello to the lovely ladies from Ohio getting out of the next car, and promptly was made to feel welcome. They gave great advice to this newbie on what to do first, outlined the whole day for me — and any hesitation I felt just melted away.
I did feel a bit sad (alright, I teared up!), when we went to the gravesites of the Sunnybank dogs. Yes, their graves have been preserved, at least those that could be identified a hundred years later. The kennel dogs are buried in one spot, along with two of the Township’s K-9 officers. The champions — known through many of the stories — are buried by Champion Rock, including one of my personal favorites, blind Fair Ellen. Bruce and Jean are buried elsewhere, and then, there is the patriarch, the dog who started it all, Sunnybank Lad. I’ll admit, when I saw that stone, “Lad, Thoroughbred in Body and Soul”, I wanted to cry.
But more than anything, I was inspired by my visit. Why? Because, this park, this preservation, was not undertaken by government. It was driven by people who love these books, love the dogs in them, love collies — and therefore entered into years of organizing, fund-raising, lobbying and politicking, all to save this little slice of American history. Not the usual ‘grand’ history of war or politics, but a personal, beloved history for so many people who grew up with these stories as part of their childhood. Ordinary people who took on a task of saving something personally important to them, and who continue to fight to save it, against the encroachment of time and ongoing vandalism.
A lesson to be remembered by us all. When it’s important to you, you can, and should, stand up and fight for it.