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23 April 2014

Take Me Out To The Pasture

By: Jon Katz
Simon With Hen

Simon With Hen

Simon seems to have graciously acceded to the gray hen's imperious use of him as farm transport. She hopped up on him today and hitched a ride to the outer pasture, where there were many bugs and seeds for her to eat. She cleaned his backside of ticks and dirt along the way, a payment perhaps for the ride.

I think she walked back, but I'm not sure. I think she is the new hen of entitlement. Simon is a sweetheart as long as you don't go after his hay or grain or treats.

Posted in General

Saving Sebastian

By: Jon Katz
Saving Sebastian

Saving Sebastian

I said no to saving Sebastian this week, I thought about it over the weekend and was reminded again and again why it was not a good idea for me, my family, my animals or my life. I think it would not have been good for Sebastian.

He seems, from all accounts, a loving, bright and energetic border collie with a troubled and uncertain history and some severe issues relating to anxiety. A dog like that needs a lot of time and patience, and I don't have much time these days, I've been to New York or other places a half dozen times in the past month alone, I am undertaking a huge book writing project – "Talking To Animals," and I have great peace and harmony and work with the three dogs we have.

I am flattered by the idea that I am the perfect person for this dog, at another time and place in my life, that might have been so, not this time or place.

Red is an amazing dog for me, a therapy dog, a work dog, a companion dog. Lenore is an active and enthusiastic Lab, she needs walks, attention rides around in the car. Frieda, after years of long and hard work, has settled, she is aging, she needs to be walked separately now and monitored for a growing number of health issues. They all need work, attention, continuous training and love. I am determined that my dogs get everything they need and live their lives to their fullest potential. That takes a lot of time.

Maria and I work constantly, day and night, usually seven days a week. Writing books and essays, blogging, taking photos, making quilts and hanging pieces and  potholders, tending to an old and creaky farmhouse, caring for food, water and health issues for donkeys, sheep, barn cats and chickens and dogs. Red and I herd sheep, visit with veterans, Maria sells wool, makes artful things almost every day. I write books, blog repeatedly, take my photos, I am involved in writing about the carriage horses and the larger issues relating to animals that arise from that story, I am publishing an e-book about them, negotiating for a new publisher for my books.

My blog is precious to me, there are a number of projects I need to work on relating to it, and money is an issue for us. We have to be careful about what we undertake. An anxious border collie is a fascinating thing, but in the canine sense, it is much like bringing an explosive device into our world.  It affects everyone, us, the dogs, the donkeys and sheep, the chickens and cats. Sebastian (now Pockets) deserves peace and quiet and attention. I am pulled in many different ways, training a wonderful but crazy dog is not Maria's thing. She is stretched thin, as am I.

Sebastian has a lot of issues, he needs to find a home for good, for the long haul, with lots of focus and time for him. That is not my home. I imagine he can be saved, I know that not every dog can be saved. The people who know him love him very much, that is a good sign for him.

The rescue impulse is a powerful one, but sometimes, saying no is just as loving as saying yes. I do not wish to see dogs only through the prism of rescue. That can fill up a life in a flash. I need to love my life, protect the space I need in my head for my wife, my writing, my photography. Sebastian needs and deserves something else. I hope he gets it. The people at bigfluffyrescue are determined to save him and find the right home for him. I think they will.

Posted in General

The Two Jons: Voices From The Other Side Of Life

By: Jon Katz
Voice From The Other Side

Voice From The Other Side

Family is a complex thing for me and for many other people, it is the template for our lives so often, it is, for me, the puzzle never solved. My best friend when I was a child – the only memory of my childhood – was of my friendship with Jon, a cousin. We lived a few blocks from each other and we spent a lot of time together. I don't remember too much about him.

I do remember hanging out with him after school, walking through the neighborhood, eating ice cream together. I remember going to family functions and being with him, I had a good feeling about him. I remember him as kind, gentle, easy to talk to.  We even had the same name.  Jon is really the only thing I remember from those early years apart from some things I don't wish to remember. When we were nine, he vanished one day, his family moved out to the Midwest, I learned, we never got to say goodbye or speak again for many years.

I lost track of him, never heard from him, never tried to contact him. One evening, at a book reading in the Southwest, a man came up to me and introduced himself to me, "you don't recognize me do you?," he asked, and I didn't. It was a cousin, I think, perhaps an uncle,  but I was in a bad place on that time, I had shut out everyone in my family, I had come to see family as a disturbing and dangerous thing. On that book tour, I took a cane along, I don't know why, honestly. I had hurt my back in a fall, but I didn't really need a cane and threw it away shortly after I got home.

People who saw me on that book tour always ask me about my health, I didn't realize at that time I was beginning my long and spectacular crack-up and I felt sick and must have looked ill. I was alone and in a loveless life, I felt old, I think, I began to act that way. I felt my life was ending, I was beginning to be as ill as I must have looked, but it was not my body that was hurting, it was my mind and my heart. I talked to Jon – I was certain it was him – a bit, then fled the bookstore. I barely remember meeting him, I was not, as the therapists say, available.

I should say that my family was shattered not long after Jon left, and even before,  torn apart in the most awful and enduring ways. We have never recovered, I shut family out of my left, I shut out the past.  I did not see my mother for a number of years before she died, I rarely, if ever, spoke with my father, I have only spoken to my brother two or three times in the past decades, I love my sister dearly, we were so close as children, but life tore us apart and I speak with her once or twice a year, it is all we can do, really. We talked last night, one of her dogs is dying of cancer, and it is a time when she needs me to be in touch and wants me to be in touch. I am grateful for the chance to be a brother.

There is no ill will among us, that would perhaps be easier to bear. After I hung up with my sister,  who was very sad and who talked about a number of issues in her life, I felt especially sad about my scattered and disconnected family, I remembered Jon, and I felt a strong wish to find him and talk to him.  I don't know why. Mind and memory are curious things. My memories of him were still so strong. Thanks to the Internet, I tracked him down in a couple of minutes,  I found someone by that name, a lawyer practicing in the same city where I had seen that relative at my book reading. It had to be  him, I called his office and left a number, "I said this is Jon, if you are the same Jon I was best friends with, you will know me and please call," and I left my number.

This morning, just after I sat down to write, the phone rang and it was Jon. "It is me," he said, "is this you?" I swear, something in the voice touched something deeply inside of me, I nearly cried.  I spent the next two hours on the phone with him. It was as if we have never stopped talking. He remembered me well, he also had often thought of me, he remembered a quiet and shy boy who was always reading, who always had a book with him. We filled one another in on the happenings in both of our lives and our families, he was curious to know about my family, there were all kinds of rumors but no one really knew what had happened to all of us, what was going on.

I think the most striking thing about the call is that I know nothing of who I was then, I remember nothing, I have blanked all of it out. Jon painted the portrait of a quiet and shy child, a voracious reader, he said he didn't think he ever saw me without a book in my hand, I don't recall that or what I might have been reading. He said the last time he saw me, I was sitting on a fire escape outside of my grandmother's apartment reading a book. I bet it was one of the Hardy Boy books. Jon, I found, is still gentle, still thoughtful, still grounded, still a friend. We are different, I think, we made different choices, I think he would find my life unbearable, and his the same for me. But that didn't really matter.

I was already making up stories in my head, living inside of my own world. He said I always seemed to be in my own head. It was striking to hear this voice from the other side, from so far back. To see this portrait of me, painted by my first friend. All of my life I have avoided the people in my past, and here I am, tracking down one of the first. Isn't life curious?

I told Jon a little of what I do remember of what happened in my family, he listened quietly, he was, he said, very surprised, he had no idea. In that world, families kept their secrets, there was little understanding of psychology or even medicine. He had some of his own. Jon's family has hung together, stayed in touch, supported each other. I felt a pang about that.

Jon is thinking of doing some writing, he is in his 60′s and wondering how much longer he wants to practice law.  I gave him my creative spark speech, he got interested. We traded cell phone numbers, e-mails.  We hope to see each other again, we mean to stay connected, I got an e-mail from him minutes later saying he was grateful I had looked for him and found him. "It matters," he said on the phone. It does. I don't understand this in some ways, but I know it is healing, I know it is good.

I am always trying to talk to that little boy with the book, and Jon knew him so well.

Posted in General

Jukebox, The Bog. My Life.

By: Jon Katz
Jukebox, The Bog

Jukebox, The Bog

The bog is a cozy bar and restaurant in my town, it's hamburgers are considered to be among the best anywhere, it is a great place to go on a windy or rainy night, there is a roaring wood stove, a jukebox, a pool table,  a video game machine and a long wooden bar filled with regulars. It has a classic kind of American feel to it.

Posted in General

Maternity Meeting

By: Jon Katz
Maternity Meeting

Maternity Meeting

Maria held her daily maternity meeting this morning in the barnyard, the ewes are getting heavier by the day, bagging up, lying down, their stomachs hanging low to the ground. No sign of anything imminent, but then, with sheep, you never really know. Friday, Maria and I are going to Vermont to pick up the wool from last Fall's shearing, Maria will sell the yarn on her website.

Posted in General