26 July 2017

The Farm Dog. And Dreaming Of Hialeah And The Horses.

By: Jon Katz

The Farm Dog

Every day, Gus becomes a bit more and more of a farm dog. He goes out into the pasture, hangs out with the donkeys, follows Maria around as she does her chores, and sits in when she has her chats with her beloved donkeys. Maria is the center of a love circle that defines and inspires our farm.

Gus has joined the circle. Today, Dr. Jack from Hoof N'Paws is coming by the farm to give the donkeys their rabies and tetanus shots. Tonight, Maria and I are going to see "The Clean House," a comedy at the Williamstown, Mass., Theater Festival. I often miss the things New York City offers, yet we sit in the middle of some remarkable communities – Williamstown, Mass., Bennington, Vt., Dorset and Manchester, Vt., Saratoga Springs, and Glens Falls, N.Y. and the Adirondacks.

There is plenty to see and do.

Almost everything is 30-45 minutes away, but that no longer seems like much of an inconvenience, and it takes longer than that to take the subway around Manhattan sometimes. I'm getting an itch to go to the race track in Saratoga soon. The season opened July 21.

I haven't much written about it, but for a time in my young life, I made a living betting at racetracks up and down the East Coast, from Hialeah outside of Miami to Saratoga Springs, which is close to our farm. I never won a lot of money or lost a lot of money, a good record for a betting person. I always made enough, and a little more. The trick was to do your homework, be restrained and willing to quit the second you made enough money for dinner and a hotel.

Last night, I had a beautiful dream about going to the track. I I must have been at Hialeah, there were palm trees and a sunny sky, and waiters in tuxedos and gorgeous women with their binoculars,  pink flamingos flying overhead, gangsters and the tanned rich from all over the world.  I was drinking a rum punch, my favorite drink down there (I had a favorite drink at each different track). I had just come from the paddock where I always sent to look at the horses and see who looked spirited and who was too skittish to bet on.

I remember in the dream that I bet $100 on a horse named Golden Arrow to win in the fourth race

I must have won something, because the crowd was on its feet cheering and I was yelling and clapping and holding up my ticket. I could go crazy cheering the horses on. My best friend at the time, Al, an award winning reporter and gambling addict was standing next to me, he had lost again, owed a lot of money to his bookies and looked like crying. Then I woke up.

The beautiful park, once considered the most beautiful track in the world, has had a sad and difficult history recently, it was closed, then re-opened as a casino and quarter horse track. The stables were demolished and of the complex is in disrepair. There are no flamingos any more.

It was my favorite place in the world for a few years, I used to drive through the night to get there, and I miss it still. I was startled, my eyes got moist as I was writing this. I dislike nostalgia, I see it as a trap, often an illusion. We always think the past is better than the present, but I love the now, and that is where I live.

I don't go often enough to the track now to bet too much, but Maria has had a string of good luck when we  have gone. When I get the itch, I need to scratch it. I love the life I had playing the tracks, hanging out in bars, the stables, the paddock, the clubhouse,  meeting some amazing men (and women.) At some point, I settled down to my career as a newspaper reporter, and then got married and  had a child.

The track had no place in that life, I thought, so I gave it up. And I loved reporting as much or more.  There was a broader acceptance of what the truth was, then, and we always thought we were truth seekers.

I have had a lucky life in many ways, I've always loved my work,  for all of the inevitable bumps. In life, danger is always at the threshold. The goal is to open up to the mystery of your own life.

I smile whenever I think about the friends I made and the beautiful horses I saw during my track years. I suppose it was my first introduction into the animal world. I want to always have a rich life I look back on fondly.

Posted in General

If It Looks Like A Watermelon…

By: Jon Katz

The Watermelon Patch

For the first time in the life of the farm, we have a watermelon patch. Last summer, we gave some watermelon rinds to the donkeys (they love watermelon rinds). This year, by the hay feeder, there seems to be a large number of watermelons. We aren't positive that they are watermelons, they might be pumpkins, but I'd bet on watermelons.

They came out of a healthy manure pile – the donkeys often eliminate while they eat, and a summer of much rain and moisture. Nature always finds a way to survive. Next year, maybe a pumpkin patch.

Posted in General

The Changing Landscape

By: Jon Katz

The Changing Landscape

I see our lives and our farm as a changing landscape, the picture is always changing, evolving growing. Every morning, Maria connects to the donkeys and they confer with one another, it is one of the most beautiful traditions of our farm and our lives together. Sometimes, Fanny comes over to me and demands some attention.

Lulu is much too proud to ask. Lately, there is a new element in the photograph: Gus. He sits with Maria and joins the conversation. Gus is becoming a farm dog.

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25 July 2017

Kelly Nolan: “I’m Living My Dream”

By: Jon Katz

"Living My Dream"

I'm "living my dream."

Whenever I see Kelly Nolan, the waitress, bartender, order-taker, concierge, mother, wife and friend, food runner and busboy at the Foggy Notions tavern and bar in my town, I ask her  how she is, and she almost always says "living my dream," with a big smile. She has one of the most wonderful smiles, it comes from the radiant spirit inside of her.

I try to photograph that smile every week, it has become important to me. I feel like Andrew Wyeth drawn to paint his neighbor "Christina" for so many years. I've read that artists and photographers do that, they return again and again to favorite subjects.

I was thinking about the phrase "living my dream," it is often used by hard-working people who work hard as a tongue-in-cheek reference to work, which at times can be anything but a dream. Kelly probably means it ironically – there is nothing too visibly glamorous about her hard work – yet I think there is also truth to it.

She has friends, family, comfort, work, community and peace of mind, great riches, so many people all over the world can only dream of them.

I take the phrase seriously, in part because I am living the dream. I think the goal of my journey is to discover mysself as consciousness, not just a powerless physical being. I think that is why I am drawn to Kelly, she personifies the idea of consciousness, she is gracious, accepting and comfortable with herself. She has many good and loving friends. The spirit lives within her.

James Joyce wrote in Ulysses that "if you can put your five fingers through it, it is a gate, not a door." The challenges and difficulties and suffering of life  that we all encounter – every one of us – can be looked at as offering the possibility of transformation, they can all be seen as opening gates rather than closing doors.

We will all suffer in life, and we will all die. Disappointments often come as a shock to people like me, but I have learned they are as inevitable as breathing and that they are also opportunities, every one of them. Every awful thing that has ever happened to me has led to a good thing, waiting just inside the closet.

"There is always danger at the threshold," wrote one mystic. "Leave the temporal body and let the spirit enter."

Ten years ago, I was living a lie. Today, I am living a dream.

There are still many dangers at the threshold, but I see them as gates that open, not as doors that close. In November, our world changed, and I chose to see this as the opportunity of a lifetime, not the end of the world. I still see it that way, more than ever.

I am living my dream. I have found love, community, creativity, purpose, friendship. I am understanding the ancient call to righteous deeds of good. My photographs can sometimes be my art. I love my work more and more, and I get to do it every day. I am living in nature and surrounded by animals, magical helpers every one, guiding me on my journey.

For all of my life, I dreamed of finding these things and now I am living them.

The great analyst Carl Jung wrote that there are four psychological functions that link us to the outer world: sensation, thinking, feeling and intuition. Sensation, he wrote, is the function that tells us that something exists; thinking, the function that tells us what it is; feeling, the function that evaluates its worth to us; and intuition, the function that enables us to to estimate the possibilities of any object or situation.

These functions help me to look both outward and inward, they tell me that I am alive and pursuing my dream, the great challenge of knowing who I am.

When someone asks me how I am from now on, I hope I remember to smile like Kelly does and say "I'm living the dream."


Posted in General

The Return Of The Prodigal Granddaughter: Coming Friday

By: Jon Katz

The Return Of Robin

My granddaughter Robin returns on Friday for a whirlwind visit. Her father, my son-in-law, the sports writer and author Jay Jaffe, has just published his new book "The Cooperstown Casebook," a much praised study of who gets into the Baseball Hall Of Fame and why, and who shouldn't get in at all.

He's started his book tour and he's speaking Saturday at the Baseball Hall Of Fame in Cooperstown, N.Y., about 90 minutes away from here. Emma, Robin and Jay are coming up Friday to spend a night here, and are leaving Saturday morning for Cooperstown. They're driving this time, so it will be easier for them to haul Robin and all of her paraphernalia up here.

I'll order some pizza from the Round House Cafe and make breakfast Saturday morning – bacon and eggs and country bread. I see from the photo Emma sent me this morning that Robin has changed quite a bit since the last visit. Her smile is quite as radiant as ever, her hair is longer. She still has the Pirate Eye and there is a deep sweetness about her.

It will be nice to see her and Emma again, maybe she'll want to see the donkeys this time. Someone e-mailed me and said Robin was almost as cute as Gus, which I guess is a compliment. (People are deliciously strange.) I'm excited about the visit. We have everything she needs.

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