Bedlam Farm Blog Journal by Jon Katz

26 July

Playing Cat And Mouse With My Amish Family: Bad Air And Beautiful Baskets

by Jon Katz

All my life, I’ve known myself to be a troublemaker.

I have a gift for stirring the pot, making trouble, skirting around rules. When somebody tells me I can’t do something, I immediately go to work, figuring out how to get it done.

I can’t seem to help it. I’m one of those people who pushes envelopes, pokes the might, rushes to lost causes and impossible battles. As a child, I hated being told what to do, because whatever I was told to do seemed incredibly stupid and pointless to me.

I pretended to be sick, played hooky regularly, faked taking needles and pills, and secretly told my dog how to steal food off of the kitchen table.

So far, so good with my new neighbors and friends.

I am getting on very well with my “other” family, as Maria has gotten to calling it, my Amish family. I respect their rules, no games.

There is real love and connection there, amazed as I am, and as the days go by, I really do feel like I am a part of their family, if not in the family itself.

I am not known for leaving good enough alone; there is always good enough and still better.

Strong boundaries keep my “other family” and me at a distance and keep the boundaries strong, even sacrosanct. We will get only so close, but it has been closer than I imagined or expected.

The Amish live by clearly defined and fundamental rules. In the Amish world, you follow the rules or go somewhere else; they are not shy about shunning people who defy the church hierarchy. They worship the plain, the simple, and the inexpensive.

I am not much of a rule follower; I have gotten in trouble all of my life for bending, breaking, and ignorant rules, dictums, and dogma.

I have two struggles going on with Moise and his family at the moment (three, if you count my picture taking, although we seemed to have worked that to a good and comfortable place.)

Moise is a shrewd negotiator, something I also pride myself on being. I don’t think anything I do really surprises him, he just lets me know from time to time, that I’m not fooling anybody.

Moise doesn’t watch or listen to the news, nor does he want to hear about most news from the outside. I feel that sometimes I need to make him aware of the news that affects his life.

The Amish believe the news will corrupt them and their children and ravage the fabric of their society as it does the English outside of their lives. A steady diet of news in their minds is just more rain from Hell.

There is no equivalent of Fox News or CNN in Amish communities; God forbid their children would ever listen to that every single day. There are many reasons the Amish avoided being divided; that is one of them.

I’ve gathered that Moise is a fundamentalist in religion and life; he has no use for American politics, believes almost none of it, and dismisses almost all of it. If we talked about politics, I’m not sure we would like one another, but since we don’t, we learned that we could love people with whom we differ.

Yet as a connection to the outside world, a purchaser of some of their most necessary goods and things, and a trusted friend, I feel it is my responsibility to let them know some things about the outside world if the news would affect them.

 

(The barn is all ready for Wednesday, the day of the raising.)

I feel that climate change affects his farm to a great degree (I don’t know if he believes in climate change or not, and I wouldn’t ask him.) I talked to him about the Russian hackers who threatened to close down the Eastern electric grid of the United States.

Although he doesn’t use electricity or subscribe to any outside grid, such a crisis would affect him and his work and farm in many different ways.

He was curious to hear every detail of that story and asked me for daily updates.

I thought it my duty to let Moise know people were concerned about the safety of the horse buggies.

I know he didn’t want to hear it, but he eventually listened to me and is considering changing the illumination on the buggies (slowly and at his own pace.)

Today and yesterday, I began to react physically to the quality of the air. I had trouble breathing at times and had a hacking cough I couldn’t get rid of.

As a former asthmatic and someone who has both heart disease and diabetes, I called my doctor and asked her if there was a problem I should deal with. She told me that I was suffering from the awful cloud spawned by wildfires in Oregon, California, and Montana. It had spread over much of the country.

I would feel shortness of breath, dizziness, nausea, headaches, sore throat, coughing, indigestion, and fatigue.  She was correct, I think I felt all of them at once.

I really need to stay indoors as long as these clouds were hovering all the way to the Northeast.

Knowing Moise would not like to hear this news two days before his barn-raising – he told me once the fires come every year, they do not affect people here – I decided he ought to know and a good friend would not be afraid to tell him.

Moise never wants to hear anything that would interfere with work.

He and his workers were soaked in sweat and looked exhausted. The air here was a yellowish haze that smelled of smoke and made me weak and almost too tired to stay on my feet.

People working outdoors with heavy tools for hours in the direct sun ought to know about those disturbing, smelly, and allegedly unhealthy clouds hanging overhead.

The air smelled bad. It even felt bad.

I approached him and said in a loud voice that there was something in the news I thought he ought to hear; the grimy and uncomfortable air overhead was not just summer weather; it was a cloud caused by the wildfires raging in Oregon, California, and other western states.

The fires were so bad they had created their own weather system, and it was not healthy, especially for those working hard in humid weather and direct sunlight.

Didn’t this happen every year?, Moise asked. Yes I said, but this was the worst and most extensive wildfire season in history, especially the fire raging in Oregon.

This was not normal, I said; it should be taken seriously. It is was not healthy.

I noticed that every Amish man working surrounded me almost by psychic magic and were getting as close as they could and peppering me with questions. Where was this happening? How long had it been going on? How long would it last? Why hadn’t they put it out yet? I realized that none of them knew much about it, although one or two had heard some mention of it last week.

I’m sorry I didn’t know enough to really guide them. I’m sorry, I don’t know, I kept hearing myself say.

I told them everything I knew and showed them an Iphone photo map taken by satellite showing the air mass traveling from the fires over the Northeast. You can smell it, I said, and some of them did.

They seemed hypnotized by the Iphone national weather map.

Moise wasn’t much interested. I told the men to take care of themselves tomorrow and slow if they felt queasy or ill. Eli nodded, and Moise did too.

Moise interrupted to ask if I could pick up some Amish workers in Glens Falls tomorrow; I said I couldn’t.

I could come and check on the progress the barn was making, but tomorrow was a day I needed to spend mostly at home. He said he understood; he could find someone else.

I don’t think there is anything Moise can do about the smoke cloud over the Northeast; they will certainly not stop or curtail their work. He’s worried it will rain on his raising.

That’s their business, and having told them, I have nothing more to say about it unless asked.

I won’t nag or pester.

They need to make their own decisions.

But I think I’ve found my comfort zone when it comes to the news. When I hear something I think is serious, I’m going to pass it on. Moise might get sick of me one day and turn away.

But we both have to be faithful to what a friend is.  I know he will be.

I guess that is one of the things that makes me such a pain in the ass. I can’t miss a chance to push against a rule, especially if I think the rule makes no sense to me.

___

On another front, I have been gently urging Barbara to consider some more creative and appetizing ways to display their gorgeous vegetables, which are popping up all over the place on the farm.

The family has been using indoor plastic greenhouses to display their wonderful vegetables and fruit. In my eye, they look small and a little shabby.

While shopping online for blueberries, I came across some very classy and appetizing hand and machine woven baskets on sale that I thought they would love. And they were on sale!

I approached Barbara with the idea, and she was very uneasy about it.

How much would they cost? Were they necessary?

In fact, before buying anything, I run these questions through my mind? Do they operate on any kind of power? Do they use electricity and the national grid? Are they showy or flashy, or made in any way to draw attention? Are they extravagantly expensive for reasons of pride?

Will they make others feel poor and inferior? If the answer is yes to any of these questions, I stop and look elsewhere.

I do not have a ton of patience as an online shopper or as anything else. I look for bargains, but I also look for speed and economy; I don’t want to spend too much of my life haggling over everything I buy or searching for hours for a better deal.

The Amish, on the other hand, are not impulse buyers. Negotiating is as natural to them as breathing. And they have all of the patience in the world.

They don’t want to accumulate a lot of stuff, and they absolutely never buy anything without careful, even meticulous examination. I admire this, but it is not exactly my style.

They are pleased with my online shopping and grateful but like to slow me down to make sure I find the best prices (with no shopping costs, if possible.) I need to be deliberate, patient and frugal.

The baskets are evidence of what I’m learning, how the Amish are responding, and what we are accomplishing.

I tell Barbara truthfully that I have found some inexpensive baskets that I think she will love and will be a perfect display for her selling things. They are natural, handmade, on sale, and used in farmers’ stands all over the country.

I’ll buy two or three, I say, and if she doesn’t like them or finds them too expensive, I’ll simply ship them back. My goal is to get her to look at them (they must be reasonably priced, no give on that) and not decide in advance that they are too expensive or unnecessary.

While buying blueberry bushes, I made it a point to ask the growers if they used wooden baskets, and if so, what happened to the baskets when the season was over?

I struck pay dirt here, most three their baskets away, some had the cleaned, most saved their unused baskets for next year or for Fall, when the growing season was over.

I kept a list of the latter and started calling them a couple of weeks ago. I found four who had a lot of unused baskets and would sell several of them to me for half price – in some cases, that was as little as $10 or $12.

I could win on shipping costs when the prices were that low, I  had to be merciful. I ordered three, kept them in the farmhouse, and waited for my shot.

The girls wade in. Lena usually says the thing I want to buy isn’t needed – she’s Amish all the way – Delilah and the others will say they’d like to see one before they decide, they’ve seen baskets of fruit and vegetables, and they are a nice way to show the fruit that is on sale.

Moisi is aware of these deliberations, but he doesn’t step in.

But I know this will be a tough sell.

The Amish love to do what has always been done and generally resist doing what has never been done. To some, woven baskets are just like Ipads, a new kind of technology they don’t need or want in their lives.

I push a more pragmatic approach.

They like selling the things they bake and the things they grow, and I point out the baskets are natural, not technological. and now showy in any way. They wouldn’t be showing up the Amish who didn’t use them. Wooden baskets are not glamorous.

If you think about a good supermarket, there are baskets displaying food all over the place, and nobody knows what will sell better than supermarkets.

As I did with Moise, I pointed out that baskets did not challenge Amish laws values, or traditions in any way.

Barbara likes to sell her things but also wants to keep to her faith. It isn’t simple.

Just give the baskets chance a chance to live is my strategy. I buy the first one myself if it’s inexpensive enough and bring it to the shed where I leave it on the porch.

No one says a word the next day, and when I drive by, the basket is full of cucumbers. So I sneak two more onto the food shed floor and drive away. That’s what I mean by never leaving good enough alone.

This morning, I got to call Maria and claim a significant victory. “The baskets are on the front porch of the shed,” I exclaim, “and there is fruit and  vegetables in them; one basket is already sold out.”

I’m sure Maria was rolling her eyes at this point, but she understands how I think and congratulates me.

When I got up to the farmhouse, all the girls and Moise’s stepmother talked about how nice the baskets looked, how quickly the vegetables disappeared.

“I wonder,” said Barbara, “if you could find me a bushel basket – a basket that holds one full bushel” – she said, doubting that I would know. “And maybe a half bushel basket, too,” she said hopefully.

There was no longer any question about the baskets; she paid me right away for them and said she wouldn’t mind a couple more, assuming they weren’t expensive. She didn’t want any that were expensive.

I said “I am a friend of Moise Miller. I don’t do expensive..” She laughed.

I found a bushel basket and am still looking for a half bushel basket. I think I might know where there is one.

I was delighted about the baskets. They looked great. And I told the truth. They were not expensive; they were a steal for baskets like that. (I should say I will never lie to people who never lie. That would be an awful breach of trust.)

I’m going to be careful about this. I don’t want to push anyone in the family out of their comfort zone or in defiance of their traditions.

So I pick my shots. If the answer is no, I don’t pout; I move along. When the answer is yes, I feel good about myself and my ability to be a useful friend as well as a pain in the ass.

I was thinking that with an Amish friendship, one reason it can work so well is that we really don’t ever know too much about the other. I have to think about that.

26 July

The Beautiful Mess That Emily And Maria Made. Boundaries And Friendship

by Jon Katz

As a general rule, Maria and I keep our distance from each other’s friends. Since we work in the same place and live in the same place, boundaries become important; we are both independent, we both feel the need for our own work, lives and space.

Besides, she has many wonderful close friends, and I don’t have any in the conventional sense. It’s easy for us to maintain our boundaries.

Sometimes these two artists – weekly actually – manage to interact, and while Emily Gold and I rarely see or speak to one another, I feel a close connection with her as well.

They are both texters, and they ping back and forth all day.

Emily is one of those remarkable people you run into from time to time (rarely) who simply stand out. Emily is that combustible combination of talent, smartness, honesty, and caring.

Last week, Maria told Emily that she was stuck creatively (this happens for six or seven minutes every month or so). A few days later, Emily came roaring over with art supplies she bought so she and Maria could work together.

This is very Emily. She has a lot of empathy for her friends.

It worked; Maria took off like a rocket after Emily came. I was invited (briefly) into Maria’s studio to see their progress with Gelli prints, which I never heard of but fell in love with.

I was not really comfortable visiting the studio that day, I felt the day belong to them, it was not a family affair. But I only stayed long enough to tape a video and pass it along to Maria.

Nobody asked me to stay and I was grateful for that.

I do love seeing how this two spark one another and get each other going. and experimenting Each will not permit the other to be down or discouraged for long, and let’s face it, being an artist can be lonely work.

Emily and I hit off from the first. She doesn’t mind smartasses and is not intimidated by men or anyone else I can think of. I  love and appreciate her work.

She and Maria, both creatives who rush to each other’s side at the first sign of malaise, care very much about each other and living in the country as we do, it is precious to find a friend like that.

I’ve never quite been able to do it, perhaps because men are dumb that way, or perhaps I have too many lumps in my head to know how to do it.

A beautiful mess is the right word for their day together, they made a lot of beautiful prints, and they made quite a mess.

I could hear them laughing all the way from the studio into my study. It was a nice sound.

I was in a supporting role; I made lunch and boiled some fresh corn. We all had a nice talk about kids and creativity after lunch.

I guess Emily is my friend too, not in the way she is Maria’s, but in our own and different way. I admire people as talented as she is, check out her blog, and I respect people who take their work as seriously as she does.

The fact that she is such a good and thoughtful friend is impressive.

What is the secret to a creative life? For me, that’s simple.

You get up every day and work a bit harder than the day before, and you keep doing it until you get where you want to get.  You stay from day jobs, they are creativity killers.

Creativity is like anything else – you get out of it just what you put in. I believe the creative spark is inside of all of us, the lucky ones get a chance to see its light.

Emily and Maria both get that, they don’t need to be told anything by me. But sitting with the two of them, I felt I was at home with my true family.

I doubt I will see her or talk to her again for months, but it will be nice when we do.

Emily wrote about the visit on her blog today. It was nice to read that she felt as good and welcome here as we felt so comfortable because she was her.

I love the idea of the beautiful mess, in part because I feel it describes my life so closely.

26 July

Two Days To Go For The Big Barn Raising: Guess Who I Met On The Road This Morning?

by Jon Katz

This morning, I went up to the Miller farm, as I often do.

This morning, I brought a one-peck basket for Barbara and the girls to gather and sell vegetables.

Barbara asked me if I could find a bushel basket (yes) and a 1/2 bushel basket (no luck there yet.)

I check in to see if they need more candy bars for the raising (they need one more box) and also if they need ice cubes to cool the drinks of the many additional workers headed their way.

I can do the candy bars today. I’ll track down the baskets.

The men were all at the worksite, tidying up,  sawing lumber, getting ready for the big day Wednesday.

______

I had a surprise when I rode past the barm; the two huge brown draft horses I’ve seen hauling so much lumber were standing right by the road and starting to walk into it.

Our road is a busy high with curves, and a collision between the horses and a car was not possible to bear.

I pulled the car right in front of the horses sideways to block any further movement and hopped out of the car with emergency lights flashing. I just hoped nobody was racing around that curve.

I waved to the cars coming to slow down, and they did.

The horses and I know one another pretty well. By then, I remembered to stay calm and be clear. I’m not Amish, so I can boast a bit. I did a good job.

I took hold of one of the harness straps on the left side of the horse on the left side of the wagon and clicked softly, as I’ve heard Moise do.

The horses walked alongside me, and I got them on the dirt path that runs along the front of the vegetable crops a few feet from the road.

The horses came easily and without any struggle.

I know they are obedient horses; I just had to be Amish-y for a few minutes and get my head and demeanor straight. They sure are big. If they chose, they could run right over me. But that would be un Amish like, I thought.

The horses are as calm as everyone else up there.

Once the horses started moving, I jumped back into the car and pulled it right along their outer side so they couldn’t turn into the road.

They walked slowly, right alongside, as I imagined they might have been trained to do.

It seemed a long way, but it was only about 100 feet to the shed. I have to be honest; once I got them away from the road, I wasn’t nervous at all. This would be fun.

I got the car right next to them, and they walked quietly but steadily to the shed.

Barbara, one of the Amish daughters was inside, stocking the shed for the sales today. She was quite shocked to see me and the horses coming but she pulled off a great movie-like stunt out of the golden days of Hollywood.

She jumped right up onto the long wagon they were pulling, took a wide chariot stance got the horses turning up towards the farm.

By the time I turned around and got up to the new barn, she came down the other side looking like a warrior queen on her chariot.  She was magnificent, holding the reins in a firm grip and giving her commands.

I got to the barn first. Moise and his crew were inside on a coffee break. This would be sweet, I thought.

They were having coffee while the older man down the road was rounding up their horses, and his daughter was riding them back to the barn.

“Hey, Moise, your horses were in the road,” I said not too quietly. A lot of heads snapped right up. Before they could move, I said it was taken care of.

“I walked them back, and your daughter is riding them right to the barn.”

At that time, Barbara (not the mother) came gliding up the back road to the barn. She jumped off, tied the horses, waved, and headed back to the house.

I had some fun with Moisy.

“What is this?” I said, “you’re on coffee break while your draft horses are on tour outside the farm?” (This was a fairly gross exaggeration, but I was going to run with it.)

Eli’s eyes were about to pop out of his head; the young Amish men were looking at me like I just stepped out of a spaceship.

I pretended to be upset and tried to glower. Moise wasn’t buying it.

“This looks like something the English would do,” I said, pretending to be indignant. I have fun poking Moise now and then. He never speaks poorly of English or anyone else. I don’t think he minds when I do it.

Moise was l laughing by now and was puffing away on his pipe.

The sight of Moise and Eli and their workforce all sitting in a circle talking and taking a well-deserved rest and the image of Sarah riding in on her huge chariot would have both made for stunning photographs.

The restrictions on me are chewing me up.

One of the things I love about Moise was this: Almost anyone else in his position would have asked me not to mention the near escape of the draft horses or the fact they broke their tether and took a walk.

People ask me not to take pictures if their eyebrows are too long.

It never occurred to Moise to stop me from anything I might do with this. I didn’t have a picture, but I had a pretty good story.

“Damnit,” I said, forgetting not to curse, “now I wish I had a camera.”

I didn’t want to break up their rest period; it is well deserved. I waved and headed back to the car.

“Johnny,” I heard Moise yell behind me, “thank you (horses are important to the Amish); at least you got something to write; you got one of your stories!”

He got me there. He understands what a good story means to me. I had nothing to complain about.

I shut up and left.

26 July

Morning Run, Maria and Fate

by Jon Katz

Every morning, Maria and I take Fate and Zinnia out to the yard to chase after those “fetch” balls that give working dogs yet another chance to use up their energy.

Zinnia and Fate need at least 45 minutes of exercise a day, and they get it every day through walks, ball throwing, or running around the pasture.

As a steward of my dogs, I take this seriously. Dogs that get regular exercise are calmer, have better behaviors, and are grounded.

Fate is the after of the two; it is a pleasure to see how fast she moves, how high she jumps, how long she can keep it up. We’ve never tuckered her out yet.

Zinnia loves to chase the ball, but in the summer sun is not as resilient as Zinnia. In warm weather, I limit her runs to 15 to 20 minutes at a time, two or three times a day.

It is always a joy to see these two running hard and leaping through the air. This is what they are bred to do.

26 July

Update, George Forss And Family

by Jon Katz

George Forss, my friend, and photographer made friends easily, stayed in touch with them, and kept them. I got his blog every day when his neighbor’s wi-fi was working.

I’ve received many inquiries about him from all over the country – he died last week in bed and at home above his Ginofor Gallery.

Here’s what I know.

The initial plan was for George to have a funeral, that was changed. He was cremated last week. I was not involved in these decisions; I can’t offer any additional details.

There are tentative plans for a memorial service for George sometime in the Fall, possibly at Bedlam Farm. That is not firm.

His friends are seeking an attorney to oversee his estate, such as it is. He apparently left no will.

A local family takes care of his brother Mickey, making sure he is fed and taking his medications. They know him well and have been helping to care for him for years.

He knows and trusts them.

I saw Mickey yesterday; he is well, healthy, and seems well cared for and content. His welfare and future are under intense consideration.

I’m hoping to bid on George’s ancient Alien Investigations Van one day when his estate is being settled.  That would be the best memorial for George for me.

He offered to sell it to me once, but I wasn’t sure if he was serious or expected me to continue his alien searching.

It is the best way for me to remember George, I’ll park his van right in our yard, and if possible and affordable, get it fit to drive.

George’s longtime companion and fellow creative Donna Wyndbrandt is in Vermont. She seeks privacy and does not wish to contact anyone from her former life right now. I have not spoken with her.

I don’t expect there will be any further developments regarding George’s death, or that I will necessarily know about them. If I do hear anything, I will pass it on, and thanks for loving George.

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