30 July 2014

Jay Bridge And Our New Porch

By: Jon Katz
Our New Porch

Our New Porch

As one of those men who understands little about how the world works, I am somewhat in awe of those special men who understand well how it is put together and can put it back together when it is broken. Jay Bridge is a geologist who worked for years on the General Electric/PCB cleanup of the Hudson River. Afterwards, he became a craftsman, a carpenter. He is quiet, soft-spoken intelligent man who whistles while he works, loves to work by himself out in the weather, and has an intimate knowledge of wood, posts and beams.

It turns out our porch was rotting away, splits in the wood and posts had allowed rainwater to pour in, probably for years, the corner of the porch was about to collapse, several boards on the porch had rotten. Jay has been here for several days digging out the rot, measuring each piece of wood, cutting and sawing wood to replace it. We are getting there. We gulp a bit at the cost, as everyone does, but we are also grateful that we found the rot in time – Maria saw it – and that there was somebody around like Jay to fix it.

Before Jay, our friend Ben Osterhaudt, also a wizard with wood, would come by, but Ben got busy and his work took him elsewhere – men who know how things work are in great and eternal demand in our world -  I ran into Jay's wife Judy at the food co-op and she gave me his card. "You will like him," she said. I do, we had lunch together at the Round House, I enjoyed it very much. Jay is one of those men who has shaped his own life without complaint or drama. He also had open heart surgery – a tumor removed from his heart – and it is good to talk to him about it.

Someone e-mailed me yesterday to express sorrow about the porch, but I don't feel sorry. This is life, there is no normal, just life. If you live in and love an old farmhouse – ours was built around 1840 – it will take very good care of you, through storms and blizzards and winds and rain. But you have to love it back and take care of it from time to time. Like my heart, our porch was saved just in time.

Posted in General

Life’s Outruns

By: Jon Katz
Life's Outruns

Life's Outruns

For the border collie, life's outruns are limitless, they extend to the horizons. Yesterday, I took Red up to the top of the world for my morning walk, he was mesmerized by the broad and beautiful and seemingly boundless hay field. I couldn't resist, "come bye," I said, and he took off to run the field clockwise. In a few minutes, he had vanished over the horizon and I worried for a moment that he would keep running, all the way to Vermont. But eventually he appeared, running the boundary to my right, almost out of sight. "That'll do, boy!" I should into the wind, and eventually he heard me and swung towards me, excited, eyes aglow.

There is nothing a working border collie would rather do on the earth than run a beautiful wide field like this. I am inspired by Red to look at life in this way, the horizons, the outruns are there for me, every day, also. I can ignore them, or cut loose and run and run, living to the boundaries of my heart, my love and my imagination. Red lives his life to the fullest every single day. It is my hope to do the same.

Posted in General

“Saving Simon” – Pre-Order Signed Books From Battenkill Books Now

By: Jon Katz
Pre-Order Saving Simon

Pre-Order Saving Simon

My next book, "Saving Simon: How A Rescue Donkey Taught Me The Meaning Of Compassion" will be published October 7 by Random House/Ballantine – just a couple of months away – about the same time as the second Bedlam Farm Open  House. I'm excited. It's an important book for me, it marks the last book to be published by my life-long publisher, Random House. My next book, "Talking To Animals" will be published by my new publisher, Simon and Schuster's Atria imprint.

I'm very excited, it was time for a change all around, and I had a great run with Random House. As before, I am working closely with my wonderful local bookstore, Battenkill Books. Connie Brooks has ordered 1,000 copies of "Saving Simon," and I bet we will blow past that before we are done. Lots of you have been following Simon for some time.

You can order it right now from Battenkill Books and get a signed copy reserved. You can also call the store at 518 677-2515. I will also be signing books at the second Bedlam Farm Open House on Columbus Day Weekend. Details on Maria's website. Simon and I will be set up in our own special signing area.

Any books ordered through Battenkill will be signed and personalized, and buyers will also be eligible to win some of the many give-a-ways we are planning to offer – notecards, potholders, bags of free dog food from Fromm, signed photographs and free books. We don't have enough for everybody, but there are a lot of winners. Battenkill has a special pre-order page already up and ready to go. The store takes paypal and ships anywhere in the world.

Many of you know that Battenkill Books is a special place, a wonderful bookstore thriving in the middle of a small upstate New York Town. Battenkill stands for individuality, the value of the book and the local bookstore, and the very idea of local businesses surviving in our corporatized world. I am  proud to be associated with them, lucky to have them as a local bookstore. Our annual book promotions have drawn thousands of customers, many of whom continue to buy their books from Battenkill, the people there are wonderful to deal with. We have also given away tons of neat stuff.

So as of now you can pre-order "Saving Simon" from Battenkill, I will sign every copy, no matter how many you buy. The book is the story of Simon, who was taken off a farm near death by the New York State Police and brought to me. He was just about dead, he was in piteous condition. Simon has thrived with us, and we love him dearly. He taught me so much about the true meaning of compassion and his story is one of the most powerful animal stories I have ever encountered. It was not always easy – many of you may remember the painful experience we had with our pony Rocky after Simon refused to accept him. Compassion is not simple, nor is it easy.

Please consider buying the book from Battenkill. You can support me, the farm, Simon and a wonderful local bookstore. You can call at 518 677-2515, e-mail Connie at connie@battenkillbooks.com or visit the store's ordering page.

Posted in General
29 July 2014

Life As Art: Picking Wildflowers With Sheep

By: Jon Katz
Picking Wildflowers With Sheep

Picking Wildflowers With Sheep

Posted in General

Open Heart Surgery And The Silent Men: Recovery Journal, Vol. 30

By: Jon Katz
Open Heart Surgery

Open Heart Surgery

I saw them when the ambulance brought me to my room in the hospital, the ward was filled with men, they were the silent men I had already heard much about, the men who get open heart surgery – it is mostly men – but who do not talk about it, not ever.  Women talk about the silent men all the time – wives, daughters, mothers, sisters.

I saw it right away in the room I was in and the rooms around me. The men were quiet, they seemed depressed to me, they did not wish to bother the nurses with requests, they seemed too embarrassed, but they asked their wives to make their requests for them.

Few of them got out of bed unless prodded, and even then, they did not go far. They had no interest in walking, or talking much. They submitted humbly, even meekly, to the prodding and poking that are the routines of hospital wards.   Some were younger than me, some older. Several of them told me they were "low," they were stunned to have their hearts fail them, stricken at being unable to to do the things they had always done, uncertain about their lives, their health, their recovery and their future. "I couldn't walk to the barn," one told me, shaking his head. "I walked to the barn every morning for 60 years."  None of them wanted to talk about their upcoming surgery or even hear much about the details. They seemed discouraged to me, even defeated.

When their wives came to see them, the women often pulled up chairs next to the hospital beds, and the men and their wives would sit in silence mostly, looking up at the TV screens above the beds – the hospital charged for them to be turned on, I did not want mine turned on. The couples would sit quietly, on the eve of their great change, their great fear, sometimes holding hands, usually not, sitting in silence as they often did at  home, I suspect, watching television.

I am not a silent man, mostly, I think, because I am a writer, and I have written a bunch of memoirs and talked openly about my life for many years. I had not encountered too many of the silent men before going to the hospital. In the ICU, I would see some of the same men in the recovery rooms all around me, they waved to me, cheered me on, wished me luck, applauded when I did my laps around the ward. They did not wish to get up, they did not wish to talk, they seemed depressed even broken to me, a state the nurses told me was very common after open heart surgery. Several of the nurses prepared me to get ready for it myself.

I talked to some of the silent men, they reminded me of the farmers I photograph sometimes. Men carry so much baggage, so much weight. It is sometimes impossible for them to feel so diminished and off-balance. They feel intensely responsible for their lives, for providing. It is crushing for them to have their bodies invaded and violated in so brutal and personal a way, degrading to have their bottoms wiped by young men and women, bewildering to be so helpless and dependent, often for the first time in their lives.

There is no more asexual feeling in the world than waking up in an intensive care unit with tubes and lines sticking out of your body, catheters in your private parts, monitors attached to your heart. It is hard to imagine ever making love again, or being a whole man again in any way. I visited Don in his recovery room, and I asked him how he was. "I don't know what will become of me," he said. "Will I ever be myself again? Can I take care of my work, my family?" A heart is a tough thing to break for anyone, I think it hits the silent men in a particular way, they have no vocabulary with which to handle it.

They do not know how to be scared, how to be vulnerable, how to ask for help and take it, to keep moving, to get up and walk and walk and walk, to turn off the TV, things that are all essential to recovery and healing. I think one of the most powerful moments of my recovery was when I had to go to the bathroom and looked up at my beautiful young nurse, younger than my daughter, standing there with some wipes. "Just do it," she said, "I'm a professional."  I did it. At that moment, I surrendered to the process of healing, it was bigger than me.

I talk to Maria about how I am feeling all of the time, and another friend on the phone every day or so, and I value all of these conversations. I have become a silent man in some ways, I don't talk about my surgery either, but I write about it every day, and that is often how I learn how I am feeling. I too feel violated and broken sometimes, bewildered and unsure. I feel for the silent men, they have plenty of feelings.

Healing is not, of course, just about medicine and walking, it is a state of mind. It is so hard for many men to do the very thing they most need to do to heal – to understand what they are feeling and to share what they are feeling with the people they can trust.  Women seem to know how to do this, few men do. The silent men have hearts just as tender and sensitive as anyone, they feel the same things everyone feels, they do not have the words or the experience to talk about them. In my hospital ward I came to understand this, the silent men were eager to be with me, to listen to me, to talk to me when they could and in the way that they could. We understood one another, we shared something quite profound, even when we did not have the words.

There is a difference between being a silent man and unfeeling one. Silence, like fear, is just a space to cross. In open heart surgery, I think we all feel pretty much the same thing. We were a brotherhood bound in life.

Posted in General