15 September

Dancing To The Grave: Living The Life That Awaits Us

by Jon Katz
Letting Go
Letting Go

The writer and mystic Joseph Campbell is a guide to getting older for me. Campbell wrote that we must be willing to let go of the life we’ve planned, so that we may have the life that is waiting for us.

The young believe that growing older is about being old, but the older you get, the more you see that each of us is getting older all of the time, every hour of every day, from the day we were born. We are all getting older every minute. And getting older is, in fact, so much about letting go of the life we wanted and expected, and living the life we have.

Living with Fate is a lesson in perspective, she is all about the joy and energy of being young, when I go out into the pasture and see her rocketing around with such glee and drive, I am  reminded of being old, 68 years older than she is, as if I am trapped in a slow-mo Iphone video. Her manic passion is infectious, but it is also humbling. She goes 100 yards for every one or two I walk, and her feet never seem to hurt.

I was listening to the radio in the car the other day, and there was yet another slick how-to-live-happy book-peddling doctor on talking about “wellness,” and how difficult it was to get older, how the challenge of being older was to understand that quality of life diminishes, that our body and libido  fail, our spirits sag along with our muscles, we are prone to chronic diseases. It is very difficult to be happy when you are old, he says.

I turned the radio off and watched some crows sitting on telephone wires instead.

I am familiar with the tone and language of these best-selling doctors, they are often glib, soothing and slightly sorrowful to be spreading the sad news about aging and being healthy. And they are, to a one, patronizing.

The young do not buy books from doctors, of course, because they are generally healthy and do not believe they will ever die, They are presumed to have better quality of life than older people, although the good young people that I know are stressed out of their socks by the expectations, dramas, pressures and conflicts of life in America.

A young man speaking to CNN online lost his job, home, dog and best friend to a savage wildfire in California this week, he barely escaped with his life, and when he was asked how he felt about it, he said, “well, I’ve lost everything, really, and the worst thing is that I have a credit card payment due on Monday, and I can’t imagine how I will pay it.”

That struck me as more painful even than the soft-talking doctor (why do they all sound like Mr. Rogers?), the idea that with all of that loss, this young man was most worried about his credit card payment. That is a rough and cold way to live, I wish he could let go of the idea that money and credit cards payments are  everything, but you can’t blame him,  it is all around him. Perhaps now, he can let go of that life.

Karl Marx said that capitalism was all creating a world where we only need about 10 per cent of the things we are manipulated into buying and made to believe we need. In my life, I have seen that this is often the truth. I don’t have any credit cards now, I do not miss them. I let go of many of the ideas I had about what I needed, and I find I do not need most of the things I had.
I don’t really think quality of life is always good for the young or always good for the old. My libido is a lot better now than it was 30 years ago, and I have two chronic diseases – diabetes and heart disease. I do not recall ever being happier, more productive or more engaged in the world.

I can’t generalize about people, it is not one thing to be young, it is not one thing to be old.  I do not understand how any active mind can join the “left” or the “right,” I don’t care to be labeled.

Is it really easier to be old?

Many of the college kids out West are lining up to cheer Donald Trump, and I can only imagine how alienated and confused they must be flock to such an angry and bewildered leader. For me, the only thing worse than listening to Trump would be liking what I was hearing.

And all this in the country founded by the brilliant minds of Jefferson and Paine and Adams, the inventors of an open and enlightened society. I hope they are not, in fact, looking down on us, I can almost hear the gnashing of Washington’s wooden false teeth.  What, he might wonder, did I freeze for through all of those winters?

When it comes down to it for me, I think Campbell had it right.  I am learning to let go of the life I imagined, coveted, even had. My life of six months ago is gone,  so is my life of last week, let alone the life of my young dreams. But a rich life is waiting for me, every single day, filled with love,  friendships, lessons, challenges, new hopes. And sore limbs.

Working with Fate is inspiring for me, because we represent the opposite ends of the biological spectrum, she at the beginning of life, me towards the end. I have let go of moving that fast, of possessing that much energy, or even that much joy. It is tiring just to look at her.

A friend once told me that when you are over 50, you wake up each morning and something hurts. That is true. But that is one part of life, it is not life. I do not gauge my life by ailments and pills and chronic diseases, I am neither depressed nor gloomy about where I am, I do not talk about my health much, it bores the socks off of me. I am better at being older than being young. I have no desire to live forever and will not be shocked when my time comes.

But I have the most wonderful quality of life that one could have, I learn something precious every day, am loved and love every day, I teach and I learn every day, and the creative spark burns very brightly within me. Every day I let go of the life that I planned, and I live the life that a waits me as fully and openly as I possibly can.


15 September

How To Love A Horse (I Have No Idea)

by Jon Katz
How To Love A Horse
How To Love A Horse

I am quick to embrace some change, other change confounds me. Maria loves her pony, and Chloe seems very fond of her. She seems fond of me too, she comes up to me, nuzzles me, follows me around sometimes, sniffs my pockets for food, loves to be rubbed and scratched. But I realized today that she has, to some extent, confounded me.

I know best how to love dogs, and be loved by them.

I know how to love donkeys and be loved by them.

I do not love sheep.

I love Flo the barn cat and communicate easily with her.

I do not love chickens.

I do not love sheep, nor do they love me, in part because they usually see me with a crazy dog who chases them.

I just do not know how to love a horse, although this one is affectionate, smart and has a ton of personality. The horse was Maria’s project, she took lessons, talked to a score of people (more), she grooms and rides Chloe almost every day, brings her carrots and corn and apples, talks to her, listens to her.

I mostly stick to the dogs, and sometimes, the donkeys. I am not as naturally affectionate as Maria, nor as open. Chloe seems big to me, and she communicates very directly and on her very own terms. I hear that is what ponies are like. Today, she decided to walk with me around the pasture, she wanted me to rub her nose, talk to her. I did that, and shooed the flies away from her. I stood with her while she grazed.

Every now and then, she lifted her head and brushed it against me, if I moved away, she moved with me and grazed next to me. I see that a horse is less direct than a dog, more restless than a donkey.

Chloe is very serious about food, much as Red is serious about sheep. She has a short attention span, and a very strong willed. She likes to take short walks with me, but she is so big and strong it makes me a little nervous. I am not drawn to grooming her. She is careful not to knock me down, and I trust that, and she is also careful to step around Fate or Red. She stepped on Fate once, when Fate ran under her hooves, and it was scary but not for Fate. It didn’t happen again.

I am happy to have Chloe on the farm, Maria is thrilled to have her, it is good for photos, our blogs, our writing and our work with animals. Chloe has a huge following now, it will be bigger at the October Open House, I suspect. She loves crowds, a good Bedlam animal.

I see horses show affection by being near you, by brushing against you, by letting you touch them. She whinnies loudly when she sees me or Maria and comes running. She is very much Maria’s pony, not mine. I’m good with that. I can’t imagine riding her, and find the grooming and tack stuff complicated and it gives me a headache. You can’t just walk a horse, you have to unravel a ton of leather and harness and bridle and arrange it like a complex Lego set.

Sometimes I see that Chloe is flirting with me, I feel it. I’ve started talking back to her, looking for sweet spots to rub. I do not ever want to ride on her.

Maria has a great gift with animals, her emotions are right on the surface and she talks easily and naturally to and with them. I am much more closed up than she is, much more guarded, I think. Chloe seems very big to me, a very alien mind. I have to do these things alone, I don’t really want to talk to anybody about it, I want to feel my way through it. That can take a long time and it is nice, in a way, that I have time. She is not my pony.

I was reminded today that all I have to do with Red or Fate is open the door to the yard, and the gate to the pasture. And we are in business. Nothing is that simple with a horse.

The truth is, I do not yet know how to love a horse, or be loved by one. I think I will get there if I want to, and I think I do.

15 September

Making Hay

by Jon Katz
Making Hay
Making Hay

We usually start bringing hay out to the animals in late October or when the first hard frost comes and the grass is no longer nutritious. We also have a big new mouth to feed, Chloe the pony and she eats a lot and continuously. We control her time on lush grass, but she has turned the back pasture into smooth carpet, as horses will do.

The grass is also very dry and turning brown, it has been a  hot, dry summer, one of the driest in memory. If the climate continues to change in this direction, it will be expensive and challenging to keep animals. We’ve begun bringing out a third of a bale in the afternoon, once a day, and the animals are gobbling it up, something they don’t do if there is good grass for them to eat. They prefer good grass to hay, but not dried up grass.

In parts of the South and West, where there is drought and heat, hay is costing $10 a bale, that will be a crisis for farm animals and for the people who own them.

We’ll say what happens, maybe it will rain, but I have the feeling our animals will be on hay by the end of the month or the early weeks of October. We might need to have more hay on hand.

15 September

Blue Star In Bedlam: Pamela, Horses, Kids, Coming To Our Open House

by Jon Katz
Blue Star In Bedlam
Blue Star In Bedlam

I believe Blue Star Equiculture to be the future for animals in our world, and also a model for how people can be treated and work together in a world that desperately needs us to get along. If we cannot heal ourselves, we cannot heal the world.

Pamela Moshimer Rickenbach, our very great friend and one of the founders of Blue Star, is coming to the Bedlam Farm Open House on Columbus Day Weekend (Saturday And Sunday, 11 to 4 p.m.) along with two draft horses, a trailer and some of the now famous Blue Star kids and volunteers and staff.

Two gorgeous big work horses, Merlin and Foxy will be coming her too (I think the donkeys will melt down) and be available to people to see, touch and learn about. Visitors can also buy some wonderful art, watch me herd sheep with Fate and Red, meet Chloe, our donkeys, and also hear some poetry read, listen to some singing and songs and hear about the work Maria and I are doing in our lives and on the farm.

We want to share our fortunate lives with you, and Pamela is a very special part of our lives. Hopefully, we will take a minute or two to remember our friend Paul Moshimer, who took his own life a few months ago, he will be honored and missed. But Blue Star’s great work goes on, and then some.

At Blue Star, animals are loved and understood and cared for, Blue Star is about keeping working animals in our every day lives and also remembering to treat the people who live with them and love them well also. This is the future of animals – finding work for them, keeping them among us, treating them lovingly and well, remembering that we cannot love animals if we do not love the people who live with them, care for them and work with them.

This is the Blue Star idea, the new way, the future of animals, their true rights.

Pope Francis reminds us that Mother Earth, our sister, “cries out to us because of the harm we have inflicted on her by our irresponsible use and abuse of the goods with which God has endowed her. We have come to see ourselves as her lords and masters, entitled to plunder her at will. The violence present in our hearts, wounded by sin, is also reflected in the symptoms of sickness evident in the soil, in the water, in the air and in all forms of life.”

Blue Star is very important to us, and to anyone who loves animals and cares about our planet. It speaks to us of harmony and hope and community and encouragement, the horses remind us that we are at a crossroads, and we will either live in harmony with one another or perish together. Blue Star is the best place I have seen to learn those lessons and understand the solutions. Pamela will be available to talk to us about that very urgent and powerful idea. Please consider helping them if you can.

Pamela isn’t certain who is coming, but she says some of the Blue Star  kids – Brian, Zoe, and perhaps even Mithra – will be here. That would be great.

This Open House promises to be very special. More than nine artists, including Maria, will present and sell their very wonderful work in her studio, some great animals eager to meet you. Chloe loves apples and carrots, so do Lulu and Fanny, Flo the barn cat is likely to crawl in your lap Fate is eager to jump on you against orders, and will gaze meaningfully into your eyes if you are still.  And now, thanks to Pamela, two gorgeous big draft horses to grace our farm. There will be lots to do, lots to see, including the progress Fate is making working with the sheep. I’m always happy to talk about that.  Details on Maria’s website.

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