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“Your real duty is to go away from the community to find your bliss.” – Joseph Campbell
24 September 2016

Remembrance: Me And Carol

By: Jon Katz
Me And Carol

Me And Carol

This wonderful painting of me and my first Donkey, Carol, hangs on our newly painted living room wall under our paper star light. It is perhaps the one image I own that causes me to tear me up if I look too closely. It was painted by a wonderful Vermont artist named Christopher Smith.

Like most special art, it captures a time and place as well as an image or color.

Smith captured the time when I first came to the original Bedlam Farm, before most of you reading this knew me, before I met Maria, cracked up, fell in love with the country, and realized I had to give rebirth to myself in order to survive.

It seems like a hundred years ago that I met Carol on an eastern Pennsylvania sheep farm where I had gone to learn how to herd sheep with border collies in the hope of saving my dog Orson. On the farm was a lonely old donkey named Carol, who lived on a think patch of grass and meadow by herself, she had never seen another donkey.

I fed her apples and carrots and when I came to herd sheep, she broke through the fence a few times, chased the dogs and sheep away, and hung out with me. When I brought the sheep to upstate New York on my farm, the farmer put Carol in the trailer. You love her, you feed her.

Carol was not like Lulu or Fanny. She was as smart as she was grumpy. She would often kick and bite me for good measure, especially when I tried to give her one of the many injections of pain-killers and antibiotics she was supposed to get for her foundering legs. I would stick her in the butt and run.

I still have frostbitten fingers and toes form chasing her around the pasture with her medicines. The only time I could really calm her was when I brought a boombox with Willie Nelson CD's into the barn along with a bucket of oats. Carol adored Willie Nelson, her ears would go up when she heard his voice and she would purr like a kitten and put up with anything I wanted to do.

We spent many cold evenings in the old barn together, me munching on my granola bars, she on her bucket of oats, the two of us swaying to old Willie Nelson sounds. She found much peace in that  barn, I think, and comfort. I put a lot of straw down for her, she had slept for years on the cold and wet ground.

She was eerily smart.

She studied my gate-latching habits, and when I was away, she would lean over the gate, unlatch the chain and wander around. Once I came home to find her in the kitchen, the door had either blown open, which happened, or she had nosed it open, which she knew how to do.

Once in the kitchen, she opened the cabinets and was helping herself to my cereal boxes, which were strewn all over the floor.

Carol loved making a fool out of me, she did it often.

She ignored my demands to leave and I had to spray her with a fire extinguisher to get her out of the kitchen and back to the barnyard. My local and ferociously determined border collie Rose would take on coyotes or enraged rams, but she would not go near Carol, who would have been happy to kick her over the barn.

There was no way Carol would submit to a lowly dog pushing her around, and Rose, for once, knew she had met her match.

Carol rolled over one evening and got her legs stuck under the pasture fence, and I rushed up to her and pulled her legs out from under, one by one. She got up and kicked me halfway across the pasture. Your welcome, I said, and limped back into the house.

Carol and i did love one another, and she would let me  take her head in my hands – this is the image Smith captured – and talk to her, sing to her, and rub her chin. She favored chocolate chip cookies and granola bars, and was happy to bite me when she wanted to show who was boss. I still have my Carol scars and my many Carol memories.

One day, a woman who identified herself as a Jewish Donkey Spiritualist – this was true, she actually was – called me up to tell me  that she had driven by and that Carol was existentially lonely and needed to be with another donkey.

Thus came Fanny. A few months later, Carol, who was, in fact, happier and calmer with Fanny nearby, keeled over from a stroke in the pasture. The vet put her down instantly, there was nothing she could do. My wonderful donkey Simon died some years later in much the same way.

Thus came Lulu, we couldn't have another existential lonely donkey.

The next morning, they came to haul Carol away, and I bawled like a baby when she left for the last time. I think I loved Carol's independence and fierce integrity. She never sold out, gave up, or surrendered, and it was a miracle she lived as long as she did. I know she loved me in her own way, because I was the only one who could come near her.

That painting speaks to me of the great excitement and wonder of my coming up to my farm, sending my life was about to change forever. You don't forget the animals who accompany me on journeys like that. It was a miracle I survived as well.

I was so alone in that time, so challenged and overwhelmed, and Carol was such a symbol and a marker for me. Two lost souls, heading out on a great adventure together, as men and donkeys have done for centuries. I'll keep that painting up on the wall my whole life.


Posted in General

Farm Empowerment Program: Fiberworks At The Open House, Gutters, Beautiful Yarn

By: Jon Katz
Farmhouse Empowerment Program

Farmhouse Empowerment Program

We headed out to Brandon, Vt. this morning to pick up two boxes of skeins of yard  (she will count them and offer them for sale tomorrow) and some roving made from the wool of our sheep, and Maria turned and looked up at one gutterless section of our back roof and said, "let's put a gutter up there ourselves."

I was, as usual, shocked by hearing of yet another thing that she seems to know how to do, and that I have never done or known how to do. Great, I said, I've wanted a gutter there for as long as we've been in the house. There are two parts of the back roof, one has a gutter, the other is a veritable waterful, especially in the winter, when the water freezes up, then melts and the back porch becomes an ice pack we have to attack with an ice chopper and many bags of animal friendly salt.

I've asked a half-dozen carpenters, handymen and freelance workers to  put a gutter, but they have all blown me off, nobody seems to want to do it, or perhaps it is more trouble than it is worth for them to do. I'm almost given up on it, even though this winter is supposed to be brutal.

We went and picked up the yard (it is quite beautiful, photos in the morning) then headed straight to the hardware and a conference with Nikki. I brought  phone photos of the roof and we left with two 10-feet sections of white gutter, a hacksaw, screws, downspouts, connectors and drill bits – $80 worth at Ace Hardware.

I am joining in on this one. We have a bagful of screws and connectors and will be at it in the morning. Photos coming.


The October Bedlam Farm Open House, Saturday, Sunday, 11 to 4, is shaping up to be something very special, Maria is organizing some amazing fiberworks. Two artists and spinners – Suzie Fatzinger, and Susan Smith  – will be bringing their spinning wheels under a canvas canopy, spinning  and knitting with wool from our sheep.

A lot of other things will be happening – art show, cow milking, poetry readings, shearing (the Gang Of Four get taken down) , farrier trimming, sheepherding, talks. We will again be asking for a $5 donation to help defray the costs of the Open House, which seem to be growing. The donation is voluntary.

You can come into the pasture and watch Jim McRae take on the imperious Gang of Four Romneys, who have not been shorn in years. Deb Foster will bring people out to meet the donkeys and Chloe, bring some carrots.

I'll be conducting regular herding demonstrations with Red and Fate, and no two border collies ever approached the sheep more differently than these  two. People can meet the donkeys and the pony as well. (Please, no dogs, our animals don't like strange dogs). Minnie the barn cat will love to sit in visitor laps, Minnie will most likely not be seen. She is shy around strangers.

Fate and Red are media and crowd prostitutes, they love to pose and get hugged.

We are both excited about this Open House, I think it is closer to any other to the idea we intended – a show of great affordable art by Maria and other exciting artists,  a celebration of the art and craft of rural life. I'll be talking about my work, Maria will be talking about her art and her trips to India, several poets will be sharing their work.

As for me, roof gutters will join the growing list of things I do now that I never did – gardening, scraping wallpaper, painting ceilings, skirting wool, and mowing, to name just a few. If she lets me up on a ladder, I'll try to clean up the one gutter we have, stuffed with leaves.

I see it as a Farm Empowerment program, I am growing happily into where I live. I love learning things I never knew and doing things I never did.

A bunch of things are going on in our town for visitors to our Open House – a special play from Hubbard Hall, a fund-raising dinner for the Round House Cafe at Pompanuck Farm. Details of all of this here.

Posted in General

Pony Commentary: What Is Chloe Saying?

By: Jon Katz
Pony Commentary

Pony Commentary

When Maria gave Chloe her morning, she had something to say about it, but I can't imagine what is was. I thought I would leave it to the good readers of my blog to figure it out. I think she was jeering at us, complaining because we didn't have a carrot Perhaps she was complaining we were late opening up the pasture gates. Ponies have their own ideas about things. You can tell us what you think she's saying.

Posted in General
23 September 2016

Cathedral Of Love And Family

By: Jon Katz
Cathedral Of Love And Family

Cathedral Of Love And Family

Maria and I took Emma and Robin out to lunch, like all New Yorkers, Robin is getting used to eating out, she sleeps or sits quietly, even in noisy and crowded restaurants. Emma seems somewhat transformed by the arrival of her first child, I remember that it does alter one's life and perspective, sometimes quite dramatically.

In a month or so, she has to return to work, work is a central part of Emma's life, but she wishes she had more time with the baby. Most women in America get no paid child leave, Emma does get some.

The restaurant we were in had a kind of spiritual and cathedral feel to it, dark inside, colored glass all around.  It seemed to me to be a cathedral of love and family.

We talked so warmly and easily through lunch, my daughter is changing before my eyes.

It was starting to sit there across from my daughter looking so lovingly at her daughter. Life is rich and mysterious.

Posted in General

Editorial Conference: My Editor. Life Is Good.

By: Jon Katz
My Editor

My Editor

I meet with Peter Borland, my editor and the boss of Atria books, my imprint at Simon and Schuster, my publisher. We talked for about two hours, about my new book "Talking To Animals," about how we could try and sell it, and we talked about my next book, my 30th, 'Lessons Of Bedlam Farm," just getting underway.

It means a lot to me to talk to an editor about my book, I love editing and need it, and it always makes my work better. Editors are also business people these days, and marketing is a much a part of the process as writing. Peter urged me to let "Lessons" breathe, to step back and provide mood and detail, he wants it to have a gentle and literary feel. I told him the sub-theme of the book, which is about what animals have taught me on the farm, is that life is good.

A timely message.

Peter had the first proofs of "Talking To Animals," and I was excited to browse through it on the train home.

One of these days, in a few months, the actual book will arrive. You can pre-order it anytime through my independent bookstore, Battenkill Books.

Battenkill is my local bookstore and a wonderful one, they are deserving of your support.

I will sign and customize an book sold there. The book is selling for $26 and we are working on gifts to send back with the books – we are considering post cards with photos or tote bags. You can pre-order here.

Posted in General