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

The Curious Drama Of The Deer

By: Jon Katz
The Lives Of Deer

The Lives Of Deer

Deer occupy a curious place in the animal-human universe. The monk and writer Thomas Merton thought they were profoundly spiritual beings, he sat in his hermitage watching them for hours. Many people love their simplicity and intensity. Others hunt them and many find them pests – they are called the rodents of nature.

They routinely savage crops and flowers and many panic at the sight of humans and their cars and are often killed on roads. We have hit and killed two. They were here first, of course, it is us who invaded them. They do not ever look for trouble, they often find it, beset by human trucks, developments, hunters and by coyotes, disease and starvation

I respect the many good hunters. They are in many ways, the best friends of the deer. They cull their herds, kill them humanely, respect them for food.

They are understandably terrified of humans, they rarely seem to come to terms with them. We know people who feed them every day and get close to them, I do not believe it is ethical to feed undomesticated animals, and treat them as pets. I think that kills many more animals than hunters do.

I come down somewhere in the middle. I admire their beauty and the sometimes idyllic sight of them grazing in misty fields, but although they have long lived among humans, they have never really been domesticated or come to terms with their invasive and destructive neighbors.

This beautiful doe touched my heart, she was trapped in our fences today, she was throwing herself against the fence so intensely I was afraid she would break a leg or trap herself, then there would have been no alternative but to call the police and have her killed.

Our border collies have no interest in sheep, neither Red nor Fate gave her a second look, for which we were grateful. That would have made a bad scene a lot worse. I wished the doe would trust me a bit and let me open the gate, but the very sight of me sent her into a panic and I stayed back. When she came running in my direction and past me I took her photo. Otherwise, we were not near one another.

Finally, she jumped over the fence and got to her mother.

Maria loves deer, she believes they are beautiful and peaceful creatures. I see that, when you pay attention to them, they are lovely. I wanted this doe to get back with her mother, who was hiding somewhere on the other side of the fence.

We humans are the most destructive species on the planet, only dogs and cats and horses and donkeys (and some elephants) have figured out how to survive among us. Mostly, they do it by tricking us into thinking they love us unconditionally. The deer have not figured that out yet.

Posted in General

Animal Adventures – Trapped

By: Jon Katz


There are always stories on a farm, no two days are ever alike, and the animals challenge us constantly to alert, humane and informed. This morning, we awoke to find a doe trapped in the dog run behind the house, she was frantically throwing herself against the fences, especially when she saw the dogs (we didn't know at first that she was there, fortunately border collies have no interest in running down a deer – if it can't be herded, it is of no use to them).

Somehow, she had gotten in, but couldn't get out.

First, stay calm. Second, don't make things worse. We opened the dog gate into the pasture – she was frantic, throwing herself against one fence after another – and then withdrew. We were afraid if we got close, she would jump the outer fence and run into the road.

We remembered that she and her mother live out behind the far pasture beyond Lulu's Crossing, towards the back of the farm. Maria went out and opened the side gates and the gates to the back pasture, I went out to get on the far side of her and steer her towards the open gates.

She ran back and forth and then, as I held my arms out, she managed to jump over the back fence, right where she and her mother usually hang out. We were sure the mother was nearby watching. We were grateful we had the dogs we have (and not Frieda) and we are calm and steady in animal emergencies and dramas now, we have had enough to be seasoned.

It all ended well. Usually, if they can get in, they can get out, but this young doe was throwing herself against the gates (even before we came out, we could hear) and could easily have broken a leg. Sometimes, deer don't see fences or understand them. Another morning at the farm.

Posted in General
28 August 2016

Portrait Show: Treasure, Dreamcatcher. September 28.

By: Jon Katz
The Dreamcatcher

Treasure, Dreamcatcher

Maria and I finished framing and matting all but one of the 25 portraits that will be in my portrait show at the Round House Cafe, it is called "Cambridge People: Portraits Of The Unseen." The portraits capture a wide range of people in my small but individualistic town.

In the sense that rural life has largely been abandoned by government bureaucrats and economists, I wanted to capture some of the faces of the people who live and work here, who make up our community.

Above is one of my favorite photo subjects, Treasure Wilkinson is a transplant from Rhode Island, she rescues animals, raises goats and works on her dreamcatchers and other Native-American objects.

She almost always has a cigarette dangling from her lips (she claims to only smoke a half-pack or so a day) and on hot days, she shares her gatorade with the goats. She also has great tattoos. Treasure is our friend, she has a great heart and generous spirit and adores every animal she sees.

My portrait show – the first portrait work I have ever done – will be hung in a week or so, there will be an opening reception at the Round House Cafe, 1 Washington Street, Cambridge, N.Y., 12816, Sunday, September 18, 2 to 4 p.m. Most of the subjects and their families will be on hand.

The show will be up for five or six weeks and in the Round House during our October Open House At Bedlam Farm, which will be held the Saturday and Sunday of Columbus Day Weekend. Details on Maria's site.

Maria, who has a master degree in the arts, and who worked in a frame shop for seven years while she went to school, did the matting and the framing herself (I was permitted to help after washing my hands). I am so lucky to have her.

Her work helped us to keep the costs down – it still cost more than $1,000 to print the photos and buy mattes and frames, but I hope to sell the portraits for $150, I do not like the idea of photo shows were the pictures cost $400 and up. In any case, this is a project of the heart, I don't expect to make money.

It is really a kind of love letter to my town, which has given me a powerful sense of community. The portrait show was inspired by Kelly Nolan, whose smile and brave encounter with the camera inspired me to do more. She is one of the unsung heroes of the town.

I loved doing the portrait work and will keep at it. There are two color photos, and the rest are black and white, taken with my monochrome camera and my used Zeiss lens, which was a great purchase.

I set out to find good and hard-working people who represent different elements of our community, and beyond that, of the faces of rural America. I'm excited about it and proud of the photos. I got a tingle up the spine seeing them framed.

Posted in General

Poor Fate’s Lament

By: Jon Katz
Fate's Lament

Fate's Lament

Poor fate, she was piteous and pleading Sunday. Saturday, she stepped on a sharp piece of glass and bled quite a bit, she has been banned from working, her heart is broken. When Red and I went out to the pasture, she howled like a stricken wolf, she was beyond consolation.

I have rarely heard a more piercing or wrenching sound from an animal.

By the afternoon, I was weakening, she wasn't bleeding or limping, she looked fine. She should not be running for a day or so, at least, but she was breaking my heart, staring at me through the screen. I am not as strong as I would like to think sometimes.

This look proved too much for me, I let her out around 5 p.m., she ran to the sheep and around them for several minutes, and then I called her back. No blooding, no limping. Tomorrow, we will take it easy again, or that is my plan in any case.

Posted in General

When Life Becomes Art: Finding What Moves You

By: Jon Katz
Finding What Moves Us

Finding What Moves Us

Maria and I have been together for about eight years in one way or another, and it is only recently that I have realized how our lives have become our art, how our art has transformed us.

Life is like that, you often are too close to it to see it.

When we met, Maria was struggling to become an artist, I was struggling emotionally and literally to remain a writer.

Maria was the first person in my world to encourage me to become a photographer, so many other people told me why I couldn't do it. I was one of the first people in her life to tell her she could and should fulfill her desire to become an artist.

It was not a job, I told her, it was a destiny. She persuaded me that I was an artist already, it was not up to them, but to me.

In so encouraging one another, we found the pathway to love and began the re-construction of our own battered myths.

Today, I am understanding that I  an artist as well as a writer, and she has become a writer as well as an artist. We have both unleashed something powerful and suppressed inside of us. We were both living substitute lives.

In a sense, the distinctions between the two are artificial, each one is also the other in many ways. Maria's trip to India in February is clarifying to both of us that she has found her myth, her story, and she is accepting it and living it. In recent months, her writing has changed and deepened.

She no longer thinks about what she is going to write, she writes to discover what it is that she thinks. That is what writers do.

Today, another powerful and insightful piece on her blog – Living My Myth – about her hard work to find her story:

“Jung wrote that the way to discover your myth," she wrote, "to discern your true identity is to observe your dreams, observe your conscious choices, keep a journal, see which images and stories surface and resonate and speak to you. Look at stories and symbols and see which reflect your heart and soul.”

This is what she has done, this is how she found her story and herself. The passage to India is much more than a trip, it is an evocation, a call.

Prestige, insecurity, social status, self-degradation, lament and complaint, anger and resentment, voicelessness, dis-empowerment – all these began to disappear, and in both of us as we began to find our true selves. If these traits and emotions can never be completely vanquished, they can be understood and contained. They need not dominate us and our lives. They need not define our story.

They can be put in their place.

First, writes Joseph Campbell, you must find in yourself that which moves you. It must move you on the level of being an ordinary human being, not a God, and it should move you in a way that is appropriate to your stage of life. You must learn to know what the archetype of your stage in life is and live it.

Freud wrote often of his surprise at seeing forty-and-fifty-year old "infants" weeping on the analyst's couch (I know, I was one of them). They all, he wrote, lacked the confidence in their judgements and were always looking outside of themselves for approval and direction.

It is, I believe, painful and difficult to find our stories all by ourselves. It is not always enough to look in the mirror and yearn for something else, or speak poorly of our lives. Encouragement has saved my soul, and I believe it saved Maria's, and it came from many places, including from some of the people reading these words.

Encouragement is the currency both of love and friendship.

This is, I think, the story of self-discovery. James Joyce called the unfulfilled life esthetic arrest.

All around us there is talk of revolution, someone is always seeking a revolution. But revolution doesn't really have anything to do with breaking something down or tearing it apart.

It has to do with bringing something forth. The true revolutionary finds the zeal in him or her self and brings it out. There is nothing more revolutionary that that.

That is all we have, all that is given to us: one life to live. God said in the Kabbalah that the only true sin is to not live it.

Posted in General