4 September

Farmer’s Wife

by Jon Katz
Farmer’s Wife

On Monday afternoon, Maria and I went to the New Bedlam Farm to meet farmer Nelson Greene and put 299 square bales of second cut hay into the hay loft on the second floor and some down below. The farmers backed their huge trailer up to the hay door and Maria hopped up onto the wagon, climbed into the loft so that she could catch the bales that were suddenly being tossed at her by very big and strong men. One bale knocked her over, but she got up, got the hang of it and started catching these bales – 50 or 60 pounds each – as rapidly as they were thrown.

Down below, I was hauling a few into the lower portion of the barn and taking photos. I could not catch any and my back would not have agreed to hauling more than a score of bales. Jenna and Ajay hopped up to help Maria and then I heard one of the farmer’s sons tell his sister – “wow, that girl up there is tough, she is catching them as fast as I can throw them.” When I met Maria, she was an artist who also had done some restoration work. She had not had much farm experience, or much experience caring for livestock. As happened with me, so many of her ideas changed – in the real world, some animals can’t be here, some are too expensive, some will die. She has a gift with animals, a trainer’s sense of how to talk to them and handle them, and a ferocious appetite for hard work, for the grittiest of farm chores.

She goes up and shovels manure, sweeps out the chicken roost and tosses hay around with the strongest farm boys. She is agile, strong, and willing. I am very surprised to see the way in which she has learned the life of the farm and eagerly taken on the responsibility of running much of it. I did not expect this, but it is quite wonderful, it makes our lives so much easier. I am doing much more myself.

The best thing is that Maria has not surrendered her art in any way to work on the farm. Quite the opposite. Early in the morning, she is in her studio concocting streaming pieces, quilts, potholders. We meet to do chores, to walk together, to check on the animals. She is back in her studio until dusk. How striking that she manages both so efficiently and devotedly, sacrificing neither for the other.

I always hated the number of people I had to hire to live my life, and we aren’t doing that anymore, thanks to this quite amazing farmer’s wife. And partner.

4 September

Ajay At The Crossroads

by Jon Katz
Ajay Rubin

I told Maria a few months ago that one of the things I wish to do at the New Bedlam Farm is broaden the blog a bit – dogs and animals and my life with Maria will always be the centerpiece. I want to write more about the people around me, especially if there is relevance in their lives for others. The words were hardly out of my mouth when Ajay Rubin came bobbing along in the river that is life.

Ajay came by way of Jenna Woginrich, herself on the hero journey, a writer and homesteader, a pilgrim reinventing her life in a brave and daring way. Ajay and Jenna have been best friends for years, since high school, and they know one another the way close siblings do, sharing their own secrets, experiences, interests and culture. Ajay has been drifting in his life, looking for purpose and meaning, and struggling with the choices he feels the world offers him. Jenna invited him to come up to Washington County and see if there is anything there for him, and Ajay spent the summer as a farm intern at Common Sense Farm, a religious community in Cambridge, N.Y. When summer ended, he left and was living at Jenna’s until it occurred to all of us that we could use a caretaker in our temporarily empty new house. We also need some help moving in and getting the place ready.

I don’t know anyone who has as few material possessions as this man. Ajay owns just about what you see in this photo – no car, health insurance, bank account, tools, computer, iPod. He does have a cell phone, a few changes of clothes, and some books. I hope he has a winter coat. He sleeps on an air mattress and does not seem to want a bed, which we offered him.

He does not get or receive e-mail, although he does love to text. He’s a talker, a story-teller, sometimes at ease, sometimes insecure. I like him a lot. He has a good heart, an easy laugh, a gentle manner. He talks a lot. He likes to help. Maria likes him too. I am bringing him some books. Making sure he has some food. We are already arguing about responsibility and the nature of reality. Ajay rejects anything to do with paperwork, corporate or political life, or banks. Good luck to him. We are discussing the tradeoffs of life. He has some growing up to do, but then, he has time to do it. I wrote a book “Geeks,” about a kid like Ajay, but Ajay is not really anything like Jesse Dailey, and I have learned quite a bit about tampering with other people’s lives since then.

I’ve only known Ajay for a couple of weeks. He is “wicked smart,” as Jenna suggested, honest and hard working. He has no clear idea how he will live or evolve in the world, and I have no clear idea how he will either, not that this is really my business or responsibility.

Ajay would like to be an off-the-grid farmer living a sustainable life. He is intrigued by writing, but has no tools with which to write, not even a notebook. His idea is to find a farmer who will let him cultivate some land next Spring in exchange for farm work, vegetables, odd jobs. He would like to camp out at my farm or some other farm next year and begin learning how to farm. He loves Washington County. His idea is to build a camp out in the woods and live by himself. I am not sure this is a fully developed idea, especially in the winter. Images of one of Jon Krakauer’s characters float into my head, the troubled young man wandering off into the barren wilderness.  I can picture me and Red finding him frozen in some hut out behind the farmhouse or buried in three feet of snow.  The fact that we are even discussing it is quite shocking and interesting to Maria and to me. I should have laughed him out off the porch, but somehow, I did not.

Part of me wants to help guide Ajay, and I need to be careful about that. He is a big boy and can take care of himself. Part of me would love to follow his journey, as it touches a lot of chords with me, including my heart and my own hero journey in the world. I think I would be terrified to be Ajay, but he is not. He is brave and seems to me to be quite alone apart from his great friendship with Jenna.  Maybe he can work something out with us. Maybe with another farmer. Maybe Ben could use some part-time help. The two like each other and Ben is in much demand around here.

So I will share his search for his place in life, insofar as he wants me to, and I can. Stay tuned.

4 September

Red Back To Work

by Jon Katz
Red: Back To Work

Red is supposed to rest for another week or two but I took him out to bring Maria’s sheep down – a short distance over mostly flat ground – and he zipped up and got them. I’m going to bring him back slowly, but those of us with border collies know it is not simple to keep these creatures calm for weeks. I’m being cautious, but he was eager, efficient and barely worked up a pant. He was getting a little wild-eyed.

4 September

Ajay And Red: Buried Treasure

by Jon Katz
Buried Treasure

Red is tough on sheep but a sweetheart with people. He loves to hang out with Ajay and Ben.  Ajay is excavating the network of beautiful old slate stones and pathways that surround the house and have been buried for years under sod and grass. He’s found three more and is digging them out. The stone is beautiful and a great thing to see come alive.

We are eager to see what else Ajay digs up. A farmer friend told me that slate walkways were a sign of affluence in the mid 1800’s, not to mention a respite from all the mud and manure.

4 September

Two Farms: Update

by Jon Katz
Two Farms

I surely feel the pressure of owning two properties, fixing up a new one, preparing to move and sell the first. I am sleeping less, my mind is spinning more. I give myself updates every hour or so, so I’ll share those with you. Ben is just about finished with the slate repairs on the roof –  took much more time than we expected and cost more, although Ben is both honest and very reasonable. It could have cost a lot more. Tonight he is going to spackle the living room, which Maria and I will begin painting this weekend.

Otherwise, Ajay is living in the house. He has cleaned out the barn, stacked the new firewood in the woodshed – three cords – and is digging out the beautiful slate walkways buried around the house. We have painted the kitchen, bathroom and pantry. He is amazingly helpful and hard-working. And interesting (more about that later.) We have our hay in the barn, at least until January.

Ben hopes to work inside for a few days – new banisters, support beams in the basement under the living room. He needs to pry open the windows, most of which have been closed for years.  He will begin work next week on a Pole Barn/Shelter for the donkeys and sheep, which will be attached to the barn, cheaper and easier than building a free-standing one. He will then work on Maria’s studio to get it ready for her, and if there is any money left, do the masonry work necessary for our big wood stove, to go in the dining room.

The cable company is coming to the farmhouse Friday to hook up our new cable Internet/TV/Phone set up. I am so eager to get cable, I cannot even tell you. Even more blogging and photo showing. Maria will have cable in her studio. The electrician comes next week to put in 200 amp lines to the house, replace the outlets, put some power into the barn. Also next week Todd Mason comes to begin work on the fences for the donkeys, sheep and Rocky. He is also building a dog run next to the house. Lots of traffic on that road, so fences are critical all around.

Meanwhile, Common Sense Farm is deciding whether or not they will come and help take the old barn down. If they don’t, it might have to wait until winter. If we do all this, that’s about all the money there is.

Meanwhile, people are looking at Bedlam Farm. No buyers yet, but someone is taking a second look tomorrow. There is definitely an uptick in traffic as people seek to take advantage of low prices and low interest rates. Someone will make some money off of Bedlam Farm down the road, and I understand it will not be me.

Soon I will be on book tour for “Dancing Dogs,” and hundreds of book orders are coming into Battenkill for me to personalize and sign (thanks. 518 677-2515). I am signing a huge stack of “Lenore Finds A Friend” tomorrow and I will be in the bookstore in the afternoon if anyone wants to call and talk to me.

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