21 December 2014

The Artist And The Dining Room Wall

By: Jon Katz
The Artist And The Dining Room Wall

The Artist And The Dining Room Wall

Last week while scraping the wallpaper off of the dining room wall – we are both obsessives, we like to spray and scrape things – we got this idea of taking a section of the wall and turning Maria lose to turn it into a piece of art. She loves the idea and has been mulling it all week.

I'm not sure what she is thinking, she didn't want to talk about it and I like surprises, so we'll see. She began work in earnest this morning, we sprayed and scraped a bit and she has  a bunch of art supplies. This has touched the imaginations of a lot of people, certainly including mine. I can't wait to see what she does, and I love the idea of this deconstructionist art, of taking a section of this old wall and using it's natural elements and some other things to make an original piece of art out of it, something very natural to us and our way of life.

I'll keep you posted throughout the day and beyond. I'm going to leave her alone for a bit, she does not like to be observed while working. Me either. It's great for us to have this idea and have an artist in residence who can pick it right up.

Posted in General

Over The Top, Thank You: The Farrier’s Winter, The Human Spirit, The Real News

By: Jon Katz
Over The Top: The Farrier's Winter

Over The Top: The Farrier's Winter

Just before sunrise this morning, Sunday morning, Ken Norman went over the top in his request for $17,600 to help him get through the winter as he recovers from a double-knee replacement scheduled for December 29. I know, because I put him there, I couldn't stand it any longer as he edged within $48 dollars of his goal, I grabbed my credit card and pushed him over the top, joining the 267 good people that joined him on gofundme to raise the money he needs in one single day.

It was a thrilling, poignant and astounding thing to see. You will ever read about this on the news, the cable argument ghouls will never talk about it, the leaders of Congress will never cite it, but was as important as any of the sometimes sad and awful stories that assault us every day, because it revealed the true power and nature of the human spirit. People are eager to do good, given the chance, there is a generosity of spirit, empathy and compassion that is perhaps the most powerful and inspiring force in the world. Thanks to all of you, on behalf of Ken Norman, a good man in need of help.

This, I think, is what Christmas means, at least to me.

It was a shocking and humbling thing to see, my eyes were definitely moist this morning.

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I live with animals and make my living writing about them, but I have always had an uneasy relationship with some parts of the animal world. To me, the most vocal parts of animal rights movement has become disconnected from animals and people, and cruel, this movement too often uses the love of animals to hate and harm people; the rescue movement sometimes seem to have lost perspective to me, pushing us to see all animals as piteous and abused, sometimes rescuing animals blindly and without thought. I do not want my dogs going over any bridge when they die and waiting for me, and I do not wish to meet them there for all eternity. My animals are not children or furbabies.

I love animals, but sometimes feel out of sync with this diverse universe, as enmeshed as I am in it. I love my dogs, donkeys, chickens, barn cats, and even, once in awhile, my sheep. I often feel out of touch.

This year, I think that my perspective has changed, my involvement with the New York Carriage Horses and the people who own and work with them and love them has awakened me to the existence and possibilities of a new community, a new kind of social movement, one which works to keep animals in our world and which treats animals the people who love them with dignity, compassion and respect. And which is passionately devoted to the most basic right of any animal – to survive safely in our world.

This is a community I can belong to, I can love, and I saw it emerge from the shadows yesterday and rush to the aid of the farrier and animal lover who was facing a hard and frightening winter with his wife, daughter, and more than 30 horses and donkeys. Ken is member of my tribe, so were the people who eagerly and graciously appeared to help him in such a short time.

He and his wife Eli – and all of you, I see – are my brothers and sisters in our life with animals, in our love of them and our love of the people who live and work with them.

We never really imagined this would all happen in one day. A week ago, Ken came to the farm to work on the hooves of Simon and Lulu and Fanny, he is working in overdrive to get all of his equines done before his surgery. As he was leaving, he mumbled something about losing his income for three months, perhaps going online, to gofundme, to raise some money. Maria was as excited as I was, she is the most generous spirit in the world. Ken asked if I would help, and I said, of course, it was a gift to be asked.  I have watched this loving and gracious man descend into pain and struggle as his knees deteriorated. It is great he is taking care of them. I was happy to help, Ken is a brilliant farrier, but he pointed out that he was no writer.

And what a gift to me, and all of the people who contributed. I think of this winter now, all of you who helped Ken meet his modest goal (he can use every dollar he gets, should anyone be inclined to give more).

This is my pledge to my winter on the day of the Winter Solstice. On every cold day, I will think of the wood and fuel Ken can buy to keep himself and his family warm. Every time we feed our sheep and donkeys,  I will think of the hay Ken will be able to feed his horses and donkeys, many of them rescues, as he recovers from his surgery. Perhaps he will be able to hire some help to plow the snow on his farm or work the tractor as Eli helps care for him – I know what it is like to have someone care for you after surgery.

I will think of his daughter, Nikolene, the Bedlam Farm Barn Fairy, who will have everything she needs as she rides and feeds her beloved donkeys, Jesus and Jeannette. Ken will have help for his medical bills, and the thousands of dollars in veterinary care he needs to spend to keep his animals healthy and safe. That will warm my winter, will brighten the dark and cold days, will lift my heart and soul.

And I will think of this new community, this new social movement emerging, a place of comfort and connection. I am not out of sync here, not out of touch. I am learning to love, learning the true meaning of compassion, as my donkey Simon and Maria and my dogs have taught me. It is where I belong, where Maria and I belong. This morning, I trawled through the names of the many people who contributed to Ken's fund and I know so many of them, they are familiar to me. So many have e-mailed me,  have posted on my social media, have bought my books, come to my readers, sent me messages, joined the creative groups on Facebook that were sparked by Bedlam Farm.

I need to say I was also touched by the many people in the New York Carriage trade who shared Ken's story and send their hard-earned money to him. Thank you.

I thank you, you are my brothers and sisters too, and I think it is fair and accurate to say that I love you as well. I am learning to love, standing in my truth, finding my place in the world. I think you are it.

I am so happy for Ken and Eli this morning. I know he is grateful, even though words are not his thing, really, but feelings are. I know that this money will not meet all of his needs this winter, if anyone is inclined to keep on giving, I know he could use it and use it wisely and well. I will keep you posted on his surgery and his recovery and his progress. I'll get up to his farm and take some photos when he is home.

We make our own news, we are not bound by their news. You made a lot of news yesterday, you are all a light unto the world.

Posted in General
20 December 2014

Barn Cats Make Peace: The Cold Is A Peacemaker

By: Jon Katz
Barn Cats Make Peace

Barn Cats Make Peace

Minnie and Flo aren't exactly enemies, but they aren't friends either. Barn cats are notoriously territorial and these two are rarely near one another, even in the house. Quite often, Flo will challenge Minnie and sent her scurrying away, Flo is sweet to people but not to Minnie. So we were surprised this morning to come downstairs and see the two of them sleeping together on a living room chair, not just sitting together but pressed against one another.

It was a neat thing to see, and the cold might have had something to do with it, but the stoves were going and the room was not especially cold. Perhaps they are finally drawing closer to one another, the ways of barn cats are mysterious and often unknowable.

Posted in General

Community: Appreciating Tyler

By: Jon Katz
Appreciating Tyler

Appreciating Tyler

Every week or so, there is a brief message on the answering machine from Tyler Lindenholl, our neighbor and friend. The message says "hello, this is Tyler. Do you have any work for me to do?" Ever since a friend passed me Tyler's hand-written card, offering to do chores big and small, he has been a part of our life, a part of the farm, a part of our community.

On a farm, there is always something to do, usually there are not enough people to do it. I always call him back, and in a few hours, he comes rumbling over in his small ATV, the engine roaring and sputtering. He comes roaring through the empty corn fields, his house is about a mile and two cornfields away.

I was not fortunate enough to have a son, I lost the one we had, but if I had one, I would be proud to have a son like Tyler. He is smart, strong, gracious and very competent. Tyler appeared in our lives around the time I had my open  heart surgery, and while much of the summer is a blur to me, I remember this young whirlwind appearing regularly at the farm, mowing, stacking, cleaning, raking, shoveling.  I had been wondering how Maria could possibly get all of the things done that needed to be done, but then this young dervish appeared, he works like the Tasmanian Devil.

It would have been a much tougher summer without him. At the Open House, Tyler took charge of parking, and handled hundreds of cars for two days.

I have recovered from my surgery, I can do many chores, but there is still much for Tyler to do here, some things I still can't do, somethings I can one day do. Tyler knows and loves the dogs, they love him back, he comes and goes when he pleases.  If he needs a drink of water, or call home, he just comes into the house.

At a time when there is so much fear and distance between young people and adults, there is no tension or discomfort between Tyler and us. We are at ease around one another. He is gracious, quick to smile, curious. He is sort of a human Red, he works and works and rarely loses focus.  Maria and I are both very fond of him and impressed by him. He is coming to my Hubbard Hall play in January, he follows the blog once in awhile, we talked about Disney World today.

Tyler is a renaissance man, he is an athlete and working hard at  his school work, he is getting great grades this year. He has a Kindle and is considering the books he wants to read. I think he is one of those people who can do anything he sets out to do, although I don't know if he knows that yet. For Maria and I, our move to Cambridge has made us rich in friends and community, and we have friends who are younger and friends who are older.

Tyler is a gift, we will be watching for him and rooting for him, he is someone who is special.

Posted in General

Red At Work: Afternoon Chores

By: Jon Katz
Afternoon Chores

Afternoon Chores

It was bitter cold today, and beautiful. I looked up and saw this winter tableau, the sheep waiting for their hay, Red on station prepared to keep them in their place. He was watching them, they were watching him, and both seemed to understand each other, as happens with border collies who know what they are doing, and sheep.

Posted in General