16 November

Big Red Dog. What God Says.

by Jon Katz
Big Red Dog

When I first spoke to Dr. Karen Thompson, she told me that she believed that God wanted Red and I to be together. I thought this was odd, and I did not believe it. Karen is a powerful woman with good instincts and she has shaken up my ideas about me, God and dogs. I cannot really imagine how she decided that Red and I belonged together, but I will not be so quick to raise my eyebrows about the spiritual leanings of people.

I don’t really remember life before Red, he is one of those dogs that slips into your life like a limb and works his way into your heart and the hearts of lots of other people. Red is a potent mix of intense and affectionate. When he goes through the pasture gate, he is transformed, his ears go up, his body rigid, his eyes light up like yellow lasers. On the other side of the gate, he is as affectionate a dog as I know. Yesterday, a friend – Mandy-Meyer-Hill the founder of Stairway Healing Arts –  invited me and Red to a meditation group she is starting. Do you want me to bring the dog?, I asked. Red and Mandy have a special connection, she drove to Virginia to pick Red up and bring him to Bedlam Farm. He melts into the ground when he sees her.

We came to her meditation room and at first, Red went up to greet the other people present. They were all still. He looked up at me and I shook my head and pointed to the space behind me and he walked over and lay down there. I held up my hand, as in “stay,” and he went to sleep. When the bell sounded, he got up. Today I went back and Red simply went into a corner and went to sleep, and remained still for half an hour.

As great as his herding skills are, and they are great, this is his greatest gift. He can enter any space and understand what he is and isn’t expected to do.  Right now, he is lying under my desk quietly as he always does when I turn the computer on. What God says.

16 November

Bedlam Farm: First Sight. When The Heart Calls

by Jon Katz
First Sight

In 2003, I decided to take a drive and see the beautiful small town of Hebron, New York, which I had heard a lot about. As I came into town, I looked up on this hill and I saw this beautiful old farmhouse nestled on the side of the hill, several big old barns surrounding it. Even from the road, I could see that the barns and house needed work. But I was enchanted by the place, fell in love with it. I pulled the car over into this same spot where I took the photo today – Red and I went to the farm to pick some things up –  and I called a local realtor. I said I wanted to buy the farm.

She said the farm was not for sale, so I turned around and headed back to my cabin in Jackson Township. Several weeks later, when I was back in New Jersey, the realtor called me up and she said, “hey guess what, your dream farm is on the market.” I made an offer over the phone.

“Don’t you want to see it first?,” she said, incredulous. No, I said, I’ll see it soon enough. I want to live there. I want to write there. So I did buy it, and I see now that this is no longer the way most people buy homes, if any other than me ever did. It is risky to follow one’s heart and few people are encouraged to do it. Yet that impulsive, even reckless move led to some of the most wonderful things in my life – seven books, Maria, the dogs and animals I have had.

Even since 2003, the world has changed. But when I saw Rocky in his pasture, and met Florence in her house, and Maria and I looked through the windows, our hearts called to both of us, and when the heart calls, we followed. We bought the house, problems and all.  I can’t say this is what anybody else should do, but I hope it is what I always will do.

16 November

What It Means To Be A Man

by Jon Katz
What It Means To Be A Man

I woke up early this morning and picked up my Ipad and Google News came up and I looked at the news for a few minutes. It is good for me to do that from time to time, because it inspires me, encourages me to live my life in a different way I so often see men living. I look at the news from Washington – shouts, affairs, accusations, investigations, conspiracies. It seemed to have a familiar ring to it – humanity and empathy washed away in the rooster-like posturing of mostly old and angry men, trying to beat down yet another powerful woman, and the ancient instinct of powerful men to fly too close to the sun and set themselves on fire. Real men learn, powerful men seem unable to learn or remember.

And then I saw the news from the Middle East, more angry and violent men doing what angry and violent men have always done with their many rationales and justifications. It is a rare man in power who becomes a warrior for peace. Most often in history, some angry man kills them.

So I got to thinking more seriously than the Bedlam Farm Men’s Club permits about what it means to me to be a man and how different it is from the way most men are. It is sometimes a gift to be so out of touch, so different, sometimes a curse. I don’t know if we will ever get there. I will work to get there.

For me, being a man means being a Peaceful Warrior.

For love.

For protection.

For encouragement.

A real man is a safe place, not a war zone.

A real man listens and does not shout.

Smiles, does not hate or bully.

Shows his children how to live safely and well in the world. And to love.

A real man cherishes freedom and life and does not tell women or others how to live it, who to marry, how to die.

A real man saves and helps people, does not kill and attack them.

A real man respects women and understands that in the modern world, they are better equipped to exercise power as war clearly does not work any longer, if it ever did, and men in power seem to have no new models or tools for dealing the the earth as it is. Women can save the world, given the chance, and if not, they will take the chance. A real man supports them in their struggle for a better world. A real man knows men have failed in this mission again and again.

And this, too: A real man frees his creative spark and lets it live in the open world.

He understands that loving women is not about sex but is much deeper and affirming.

He opens himself up to emotion. He feels and learns to show his feeling.

He works to heal Mother Earth, the sacred task of men and women.

He loves and cares for animals because in loving them he can learn how to be a human man.

He does not raise his hand in anger, because he knows that anger is always, always, a reality check, a call to him to learn how to be a real man.


16 November

Frost: The Winter Pasture

by Jon Katz
The Winter Pasture

The winter pasture came in this morning’s deep freeze and heavy frost, shrouding the pasture in a ghostly white. This is one of the most beautiful scenes for me, the winter pasture that settles in the country this time of year and stays until the Spring. It is one way I have to take comfort in winter and see beauty everywhere.

16 November

The Light In The Window

by Jon Katz
The Light In The Window

In the upstairs hallway, at the top of the stairs, facing the road in front of the house, we put an old farmhouse table. We had an old stained glass lamp I bought years ago from an antique dealer. Maria had this idea to put a lamp on the table, and yesterday Will Lindenoll, our electrician, put an outlet there for us. Last night we lit this lamp and it will be lit every night. It is a symbol, a guide, an inspiration, for people outside and people inside, the contemporary version of the storied light in the window that used to guide and comfort travelers in the country. Now, more than ever, we seek connection and our light is a connection, a beacon, to the world beyond.

For me, it has a different purpose now. Each morning, it reminds me to move forward, to seek light and the opportunity to lead a meaningful life. Light banishes fear and brightens my darkness. The light inspires me to do my work, to bring light and color into my writing, my blog, my photographs. The light in the window is important to me. It moves me forward in life, and gives me strength and hope. I believe in symbols like that. I love the idea that the drivers of all the cars and trucks that go by each night will see our light in the window and perhaps it will brighten their drive. It brightens my nights, another gift from the great heart that beats inside of my wonderful wife.

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