15 December

2014: An Unexpected Year, Hearts and Horses and Lambs And Open Houses

by Jon Katz
An Unexpected Year - 2014
An Unexpected Year – 2014

This was an amazing year for me, a landmark year, an unexpected year in so many ways. One of the great years of my life, a coming of age, a grounding time, a learning time. In the Spring, I might have called it the year of the horse. A year ago, I could not have imagined being up to my neck in a New York City conflict involving draft  horses, it was the farthest thing from my mind. It changed my life.

I was drawn to the  drama of the New York Carriage Horses, under siege from animal rights groups, millionaire developers, a righteous mayor. I raced back and forth to New York a half dozen times taking photos, talking to the carriage drivers, gathering facts and information. I think the horses and drivers are okay now, I am not sure they need me any longer or even want me around. The horses are not going anywhere, perhaps they will stop visiting me in the middle of the night and rousing me up to get to the computer. I will not forget them or walk away from them, they are in my heart and spirit now, and for good, along with their drivers.

The horses awakened me to our ancient connection with them, and the need to save them from diminished and irrelevant lives by well-meaning but often cruel people. I learned again that we cannot love animals if we cannot love the people who own, live and work with them. So I am a person who talks to horses now, and often. How wonderful is life.

I might call it the year of the heart. Open heart surgery was even less expected than the horses, I thought myself healthy and busy and engaged until May and June, when I started struggling to walk up even a mild hill. In the bovine denial that marks so many men, I decided I had asthma and struggled some more, until I was in a near state of collapse and a nurse-practitioner saved my life by sending to the hospital. A wondrous experience, powerful and surprising and challenge. Changed my life also.

It was the year that fear left me. Perhaps nothing changed my life more than that. The panic and debilitating anxiety that has plagued and damaged me and others for almost all of my life finally succumbed to years of therapy, self-examination, spiritual work and determination. It went away. I did not wish to end my life in fear, so I am not and will not. Perhaps this is why I was not afraid for a moment to have my surgery, and face my destiny. I was astonished to defy all of the doctors and analysts – I was a valium addict for 30 years – and work my way through the fear, live to see it move to another place.

It was the year when Maria and I began to be one thing. For most of my time on these farms, I was alone, people send messages and packages and e-mails addressed only to me. This year, it became me and Maria. We began to be seen as different parts of the same thing, not as different things. We became an idea, true or not, that spoke of encouragement, creativity and connection, and the promise and meaning of love.

We both care about our separate identities, we are not one thing but two very different things, but there is a powerful space where we come together and represent something that neither of us fully understands, but are in awe of. Every day of my life, I get messages expressing gratitude for sharing our lives together and for the hope and promise and creativity that it brings. Even if we don’t quite understand it, we are touched by it and inspired by it. Almost all of my messages now begin “Dear Jon and Maria,” or “Dear Maria and Jon.”

It was the  year of the Open Houses, one in the Spring, one in October, thousands of people came from all over the country to see us, our farm, the donkeys, dogs and barn cats, to take photos, walk in our sweet little town, meet one another drink in the spirit of the place, another thing I don’t quite understand but am humbled by. We will do it again in 2015.

2014 was the year of Gee’s Bend, when Maria set off on a pilgrimage to work with the women of Gee’s Bend, Alabama,  who have made their beautiful quilts from discarded clothing and fabric, the quilts that inspired her art and shaped it. The trip was so important to her and to her art and life. She came back nourished and changed.

We were taken aback by the drama of lambing, it was a struggle from the first day, an exhausting, exhilarating and emotional experience. We have a nice flock of sheep, they are healthy and beautiful, we were saddened at the losses – Jack, Ma, Zelda’s lamb. It was a rough, bloody and expensive business. We were taken aback by it. That is life, our life and the real life of real animals.

Red was the man of the year at Bedlam Farm, this extraordinary dog, taken from a farm in Northern Ireland, brought to me by way of a wonderful woman in Virginia has shaped and defined my life, working hard to manage our sheep, becoming my soulmate, initiating his work as a therapy dog working with veterans freshly returned from war, visiting the sick and the elderly, walking with me through cardiac rehab. I may have struggled to find friends in my life, Red has too many to count. He has friends and admirers everywhere, he is welcome everywhere, he goes just about everywhere with me. Red was profoundly unexpected, he lives the life I promised Dr. Karen Thompson he would have, he is everything she told me he could be, and then some more.

If Red is the man of the year, Simon is the symbol of the year. A symbol of abuse, of compassion, of connection and nurture. He is also much loved, and viscerally loving, a great ambassador for the vanishing world of the donkey, among the earth’s most remarkable creatures, the subject of my 27th book, “Saving Simon.” It was a pleasure to save Simon, it is a pleasure to live with him.

2014 was also, of course, a year of struggle, as all life is. I had the surgery, we struggled, as so many have, with the changes in work, the economy, with the aftermath of the brutal recession. We have always understood a creative life is often not a secure life, that was our choice, we embrace it. It was the year we surrendered to reality and gave up on the first Bedlam Farm, a beloved and creative place for me, we are letting go of it, a disappointing and unexpected decision. this wonderful place still looking for a buyer after three years. We needed to accept that we could not keep it any longer, it was a hard a decision as it was a good one.

There were many other unexpected things that happened to me in this quite astonishing and rich year. I  wrote a play. I made a close and beloved friend. I left my publisher of 30 years for another publisher, and it was a sad parting after all those good years, it did not end the way I would have wished, but I will always be grateful to Random House for editing and publishing my books for so many good years. The disposable person is part of life now in the Corporate Nation, and it is our my job to accept it with grace and not be diminished or defeated by people who might see me and my work as disposable. We are not, unless we choose to be. And I am not done yet, far from it. I have a great new editor and publisher, I am hard at work on my 28th book. I hope to do a dozen more.

2014 is also the year of my beloved blog, bedlamfarm.com, on track for more than four million visits this year, a coming of age for me, my life, my work. I thank you all for being here.

On a less seismic note, I got a roof rake to get the snow off the roof, we put a frost-free water line out to the pasture, we tiled the bathroom downstairs, and have undertaken to scrape the old wallpaper off of the dining room walls. I got a new desktop Apple to replace my aging laptop. I got a new Canon through Kickstarter. We even got some storm windows on the downstairs window – next year, the upstairs too.

Don’t you think that’s enough? I think that’s enough for one year, I can hardly absorb it all, this was a landmark year for me, it gave me strength, focus, purpose, and, I think, health. I hope you all had as rich and productive a year, I wish you an ever better one in 2015.


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