30 November

Poem. Born Strong. My Angel At Wal-Mart. “Man Up.”

by Jon Katz
Born Strong

I woke up at 3 in the morning the other night, and I was frightened, so much so that I was trembling. I went online to the Angels Support Page – a website where angels hang out looking for messages from their humans. It is modeled after Amazon’s “Contact Us For Help” page and Apple’s Tech Support System. Steve Jobs helped, he did personal tech support for God, who refused to wait on hold. It’s not like the old days where there were enough angels and enough people who believed in them that they would drop down and introduce themselves. They are only available to those people who hear them singing. Nobody in Washington gets to talk to them, and they are not seen on cable news shows.

You can contact your angel in several ways:  You can text them, e-mail them, ask a question in the live angel support forums, and you can put your phone number into a box, click it, and they will call instantly. I chose the latter, as I miss my angel and wanted to hear her voice. She is busy. She decided to take a job in the grocery section of a Wal-Mart outside of Chicago. No benefits, lousy hours, hostile bosses and little pay. But she loves her red vest and is allowed to fly around with it when she isn’t working. And she gets a free bruised orange each week.

“Wassup?,” she asked.

“I got scared,” I said.

“Hey,” she said, “I ain’t your momma.” It’s time to man up.”

“Man up?” I said. “That’s not very spiritual. I’m not a member of Congress.”

“That’s good,” she said, “cause you sure wouldn’t be talking to me.”

“Listen,” she said.

“You were born strong.

You were born with dreams.

You have greatness in front of you all of your life.

You were born with wings, and you can use them to fly.

You were born with a song in your soul, and use it to fill the world with music.

You were not meant to crawl, so don’t ever do it.

You came into the world without fear, so  don’t let anyone give it to you,  you do not need it now.

You were created with nothing but love in your heart,  so find,

and keep it in your life.”

And then, I heard her wings flap and she said she had to get back to the grocery department or she’d get a demerit.

And before she said goodbye, she said, “go live. What are you waiting for? How much time do you think you have to screw around? Be strong. Get to work.”

And so I went back to sleep.

30 November

Brawling With The Farrier. Simon The Grump

by Jon Katz
Simon The Grump

So Simon, it turns out, is not all sweetness and light and gratitude and bonding. Our farrier Ken Norman came to the farm today to trim the donkey’s hooves, and I had to be away for the visit. Maria said it was a total brawl with Simon bucking, kicking and banging Ken off of the barn walls. It was amazing, she said, close to a full blown fist fight. Ken Norman is a big and strong man, and the donkeys generally love to be still for him, but Simon was on a rampage. Ken, as always, hung in there and kept at it and got Simon’s hooves trimmed. He and Maria both said they thought it was because I wasn’t there – Simon has never had his hooves trimmed when I wasn’t present to hold his head.

When I got home, Simon followed me around like a puppy, then almost went after Red. What’s up, boy?,” I said and I rubbed his forehead for awhile. I think – and I am surprised to say this – that Simon just needs more attention. Donkeys are notoriously unpredictable and independent, but this is a new side of Simon. He has always stood still for me, even when he was nervous about having his legs touched, which he often is. I will be spending more time with him, and we’ll see.

Simon and I have this very strong connection, and I haven’t quite figured it out but we seem to read one another. I think he is agitated about something, and I felt this when the Rocky trouble began as well. I’ll need to pay more attention.

30 November

The Evolving Potholder

by Jon Katz
The Evolving Potholder

Maria’s potholders are always evolving, and I could see she was excited when I went to visit her in her spanking new Schoolhouse Studio. The style and energy are different from the previous potholders, and the potholders are the evolution of a creative soul as well as art in their own right. They are, to me, the foundation of Maria’s embrace of her art and her willingness to send it out into the world. They were always creative, but these have something very different and special about them. They are the most interesting potholders that I ever see. Check them out at www.fullmoonfiberart.com. I’m not sure if they are for sale or are going into her show December 8, but she will say on her site.

30 November

A Humorless Dog

by Jon Katz
A Humorless Dog

I love Red dearly, he and I could not be closer without being disturbing. Yet I have discovered something about him that I ought to share. Red is a humorless dog. Some dogs – Lenore – have a wonderful sense of humor. They seem to grasp the absurd nature of life and are always smiling about it. Other dogs, especially the great working dogs, are nearly humorless. Rose was humorless. She found nothing that was absurd funny and could not laugh at the foibles and ridiculousness of life. Or sheep.

Even Frieda has her playful moments, when she is not terrorizing bikers or guarding the farm. She grabs toys, prances, and her eyes can practically twinkle with mischief. Not Red. You will never see a photo of him smiling or twinkling. He is a serious dog. Perhaps all of the great working dogs are that way.

Red is like Rose in some ways. You could not hope for a better dog, really, but I see that he has no sense of humor. He tolerates no mistakes, foibles or eccentricities in sheep or anything else. He is always on alert, ready to work, his sense of purpose and focus unwavering. Every time I stand up, he is at the door, ready to go. He seems impervious even to Lenore’s charms, although he will on occasion try and play (a/k/a) herd her.

Even when Red is loving up his growing list of girlfriends, he is all work. He approaches them, eyes wide, head up and waits for the oohs and aaaahs and cuddles he always gets. Love is as important to him as work. But I don’t yet see any signs of a sense of humor in Red. He cannot be distracted by talk, treats or admiration. He is like a laser that points in one direction, then another.

Even when he is hanging out with me, which is almost all of the time, he is either lying by my feet or heading for the car or the pasture. I have a great dog, but I think he is a humorless dog.

30 November

One Man’s Meat: E.B. White And Me

by Jon Katz
One Man’s Meat

I was very happy to be asked this week to provide a jacket blurb for a book Tilbury House is publishing next Spring called E.B. White on Dogs,” a collection of White’s dog essays edited by his granddaughter, Martha White. E.B. White was a brilliant writer and essayist – his book “One Man’s Meat” was an important inspiration to me in my coming to Bedlam Farm and writing from there. White, a New Yorker writer as well as an author bought a saltwater farm in Maine relatively late in his life in his life and “One Man’s Meat” is a collection of his gentle, generous and beautifully written essays on rural life, and also his life with dogs and other animals.

White has always been the writer I wish to be. I love his elegant and rational style of writing. I remember his mythic essay on encountering nature, “Once More To The Lake.” I also share his notion of a writer’s duty: “In a free country it is the duty of writers to pay no attention to duty.” He once begged his readers who bombarded him with letters to understand that “there are 10,000 of you and one of me.” I wonder how he would handle Facebook. With grace and humor, I think.

White pleasure in many of things I take pleasure – the beauty of the country, bingo games, merchants who know you, chicken dinners, the simplicity of the people, their strong connection to family and place, their wellspring of humor and lore.

I sometimes think that fear springs from not accepting who you are and what you wish your life to be. Of not owning up to it, or being afraid you will pay more for it than you can afford. White seemed to have no problem with that.  White’s vision of his life is believed to be vanishing in America, thought to be gone forever. His ethos was at the heart of what many of us would call the national identity – a genuinely participatory democracy, pride in individualism, self-discovery and most of all, self-reliance.

White did not live to see these ideals come under ferocious siege from corporatism and greed, the shackles of health care, the disruptions and distractions of technology, the corruption of politics by money and media, the destruction of meaningful work,  and the struggle of individuals to survive in a world that is ever more divisive, expensive and complex. The very idea that one can buy a farm, live one’s own life,   live at home under their own steam  until the end of their lives seems a remote fantasy. I can hardly bear to hear about the politics I once loved to cover as a reporter. Click on cable news and see the new national identify every day – money, anger, self-interest, rigidity, exclusion of ordinary people from the process.

But I don’t mean to slip into lament or nostalgia. I have a great life, and I believe these values are not gone forever, or gone at all. This man’s meat – my meat – is about the very things White admired. I seek individuality, the joy of self-discovery and am struggling every day for a life of genuine self-reliance and independence from all of the things I am told I must have to live a safe and healthy and secure life.

Another thing I admired about White was the gentle, affectionate, but never overly sentimental way in which he wrote about his dogs. He loved them and had much fun with them and always kept an eye on what it was about them that made us smile, not cry.

I am very grateful – honored –  to be blurbing his book.

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