13 September

The Wonderful Beauty of Grief. Spinning Gold Into Straw.

by Jon Katz
The Awful Beauty Of Grief

The publication of my e-book “The Story Of Rose” has brought many messages of grief to me from all over the world, and it has brought me back to an understanding of my own feelings of grief, which differ from those feelings of many others. Grief is personal and individual and we all feel it in our own way. Every day, I am startled to read that someone is crying, weeping sometimes, over the death of my dog Rose, or of Izzy or Orson before him, and I have been thinking about what grief means to me, and of how I think of it as a beautiful and cleansing thing.

A dazzling thing, a rainbow tapestry of all the colors and meaning of the world. Is something wrong with me? Am I cold and closed down?

It is still difficult for me to understand why people far away would cry for my dog when I have not cried for her, not once after I cried for her on the floor of the vet’s office as she lay dying. And once before that, when I found her lying in a pool of her own vomit, helpless and fighting for her dignity. What is it about grief that it can be experienced so differently, and that I experience it so differently? I do not fault anyone else for the way they grieve, everyone needs to do it their own way. But I do want to talk honestly about how I experience it.

Grief to me is not about crying. There is an wonderful sweet beauty to grieving for me, it is an interior process, a deep and rich melancholy that passes through me and over me like a cool summer breeze or the sounds of rustling leaves in autumn. Death for me, is a form of life itself, an affirmation,  for nothing can die without having lived. And nothing can be grieved without having been loved.

Grieving is not a sad thing for me, not a cause for weeping. We will all die, and everything we love shall die, and I  do not want to experience each death of a human or animal as an awful thing, a horrible and unexpected shock, evidence that God could not exist or that the world is a cruel and horrible place. Why would we not expect death we it is our one universal experience, the place where left and right means nothing, and there is no need to fear money or illness or anything else?

We all live our lives to their fated end, however long or short, however we die, and Rose lived hers, fully and richly. I do not mourn her life, I celebrate it, I am grateful for it, it was a beautiful thing to see, it made me happy, and insofar as dogs feel these things, I think it made her busy and content. She lived the life of a dog to the fullest, and what more can a dog really want? And what more could I want than Maria, Simon, Frieda, Lenore, Red, my work and farm? Why would I need to mourn in the midst of so many riches? How selfish, how greedy that would be.

Every day people ask me why I don’t mention Orson today, or Izzy tomorrow, or Rose yesterday? Have I forgotten them? They seem to be suggesting that I am callous or hiding something, something they do not forget, that they remember. That they loved my life more than me, loved my dogs more than me. I do not forget, neither do I mourn and grieve. There is a difference. All of these people and animals, living and dead, touch me, shape me, make me who I am. There is not a need to grieve for them, they are embedded in my soul, my consciousness, my writing and work, my love and life. And the last thing I want for my dogs, my life, my work, is for it to be the source of other people’s grief. They are not that for me.

So what, then, should I feel badly about? Why should I weep for a life like Rose’s? Or Izzy, pulled off a farm where he was a abandoned and given the gift of comforting those on the edge of life?  Why should anyone grieve for a life like that? What is it about us that we deny the reality of death so determinedly and cannot see the powerful and ecstatic experience of grief, it’s closeness to love, it’s testament to the power and wonder of life. A part of me loves this powerful ballet of grief, and when I think of Rose, as I do when I get so many messages about her these days – so many people experiencing her for the first time – I understand why people cry, I do, and perhaps I can one day explain why I do not cry for her, or about her. She was nothing but a gift, as are all things we love, and just as I have learned not to lament my life in pity and struggle stories, not to moan about the price of gas or the rising cost of things, or this economy, not to waste my time in complaint and lament, so  I am hopeful and determined that I will not turn the death of everyone and everything I love – for this is inevitable – into just another continuing lament about the woes of the world, another way to spin gold into straw.

Everything I love and know will die, and I will not be grieving for everything, it is not how I wish to spend my life.

The death of Rose, as of other things I love, will hopefully mean so much more than that.

13 September

Red And Rocky: Finding A Way In

by Jon Katz
Finding The Way In

Every day, Red walks into the barn and stands where Rocky needs to go. For the blind pony, the topography is different, as you can see. He has to make it past some new poles and Red walks a few feet in front of him, and stands and waits, and Rocky sniffs and walks up slowly, until he smells or senses Red and moves forward. None of this is done with any training – a pony and a dog communicating with one another in ways that are beyond me but which are mesmerizing to watch.

13 September

Pole Barn Progress

by Jon Katz
Pole Barn Progress

Day three of the Pole Barn Project and Ben has all the tin roofing up and is putting up braces and mounts to strengthen the roof against snow and wind. The barn is easily big enough for the donkeys, Rocky, and Maria’s sheep. Big enough for the dogs too, if they want to hang out there, which Red seems to and Lenore would be happy too, if I let her (not.) Rocky is still working to figure out the new poles, Red still helping make the crossing. He’s getting there. So is the barn. Ben is putting wooden siding up tomorrow.

13 September

Introducing The Manly Potholders

by Jon Katz
Manly Potholders

The Bedlam Farm Men’s Group – me, Red, Rocky, Simon, Strut, George Forss – are tickled that Maria has finally broadened her sensitivities and made nine potholder with what she calls a “manly” feel – they look pretty nice and artistic  ($15 plus shipping) and normal to me, which is to say they are pretty and classy – for those of us men who are often in the kitchen, who love to be there, and who are finally getting some respect for their hard work and nurturing instincts. She has made a bunch of them with men in mind and has just put them up on her website. About time.

It’s interesting to see this evolution in her work and in my life, too. Maria can cook, but doesn’t much like it. She is a whiz-bang shopper but would rather be making art. She does more chores in a day than even I can photograph. An interesting twist in our relationship is that I love to shop and cook almost all of our meals, and I have found creativity is just as important in shopping and cooking as in writing. I want one of these potholders. I use them all of the time and I think it is sweet that she is thinking of us guys over there in the very female-centered Studio Barn. You see them on her red-hot website.

13 September

The Exquisite Beauty Of Training A Dog

by Jon Katz
The beauty of training

I am sorry to see that the number one dog training book in America is called “Training The Perfect Dog,” because, to me, wanting the perfect dog – like wanting the perfect child – has nothing to do with love, obedience, discipline or training.

For me, training a dog is an exquisitely beautiful experience. The most important part for me is that I do not ever read training books – expensive and complex volumes that generally tell us to do things most of us – me – could not possibly do. Dog training is a sad disaster in America, I think. The North American Veterinary Conference did a survey a couple of years ago estimating that less than 3 per cent of America’s more than 73 million dogs are trained at all. No wonder.

People are asked to make some dreadful choices – be a pack leader and think like a dog, try and be positive in the face of nearly continuous provocation and confusion – or try and read a dog’s tail and body movements to a degree I have never found remotely possible in my life or on any walk.

For me, training is done in just the opposite way – inward, personal, individual. Where do I live? How much space? Traffic? How many people? How much noise and distraction – cars, other dogs. The idea that anyone – me included – could offer universal ideas for dog training seems so absurd to me, yet it does explain why so many people abandon dog training. It is hard and no one outside of themselves can really tell them how to do it.

Training a dog is easier for me than many people. I generally get my dogs from great breeders who breed for temperament, health and demeanor. My odds go way up with dogs like Lenore and Red. I do not get dogs for moral reasons or to feel good about myself, I get dogs that fit into my life and make sense for me.

I have a farm, plenty of space, few distractions. I am home most days. I have room in the house for crates, no close neighbors to complain about noise. If you are different from me, if you live in a Louisville suburb with three children, then I have little to offer you. Dog training seems like a pyramid scheme to me, a few people getting rich telling other people how to do things most of them can’t or won’t do.

For me training is about learning how to talk to my dogs. Finding out what the love, and using it against them. Maintaining my dignity – I will not be jumped on, have squabbling over food, be pestered at the table, be bothered with balls in the house. This is about my dignity, my work, my peace of mind. I will give them good lives, they will honor mine. Dog training is intuitive, it comes from with it. It is empowering, once one puts all the books away and stops seeking the guru with all of the answers.

You are the guru. You know your dog. You have the answers. That is the exquisite beauty of training a dog.


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