27 September

Hey Horse. Sunrise Whinny.

by Jon Katz
Hey Horse
Hey Horse

Got up at 5:30 this morning to let the dogs out, it was cold. Out in the back yard, by the gate, Chloe heard me walking around and let out a move quality whinny, the kind I was used to hearing in old Westerns when I was a kid. I grabbed a carrot from the refrigerator and went out to say good morning back to her, “Hey, Horse,” is what I say, and I gave her a carrot. She knows what she is doing.

27 September

Whose Dog Is Fate Anyway? Hannah Wants To Know.

by Jon Katz
Who Does Fate Belong To?
Who Does Fate Belong To?

Whose dog is Fate, anyway? Hannah wants to know.

She posted this message on Maria’s blog a few days ago: “It seems that you didn’t get a dog for yourself after all. Fate is obviously Jon’s dog. Perhaps a Border Collie is not a breed that fits with you. I know that you were considering a Golden Retriever; can you still see one as your personal dog? You deserve a dog that’s yours and yours alone.”

Hannah does not have the best manners, but she is asking a question a lot of people have been asking in recent days. It is good to answer it directly, this is all part of sharing one’s life.

I’ve been putting up a lot of photos and videos of Fate learning to  herd sheep lately, they are fun to write and post and are very popular with the people who follow my blog. Fate’s evolution as a working dog has been fascinating for me, and hopefully, for you. I have tried to be honest and open about it.

It would be natural – and appropriate – for anyone to wonder what the new dynamics of our dog life are, a few months after Fate’s arrival, a year or so after we lost Lenore and Frieda. I have surely opened the door to that, I accept that.  Is Fate, as was originally reported, really Maria’s dog, replacing Frieda?  Or is she my dog now that we are working together.

I found Hannah’s post to be somewhat rude and a bit offensive – there is the weak woman and the unfeeling man, stealing her dog for his own selfish reasons. I fear that Hannah is writing more about her own life than mine. Her post is demeaning to both of us.  But that’s a different matter. If Hannah really knew Maria, she would never have posted that message. And Maria posted her own.

But the questions about Fate, coming from her and other people, are quite valid.

One confusing thing about sharing one’s life is that people see what we post but they don’t see what we don’t post. And we do not publish a lot of things. Maria’s blog is very different from mine, she writes primarily about her work, her evolution as an artist, and the affect our animals have her feminism, her art and the ways in which some of our animals – the cats, the donkeys, the horse especially – affect her intuition and growing sense of voice and strength.

I am committed to sharing my life, I write about many things. But I keep much of the blog focus on the animals and my working with them, that is still the core of the blog, for all that the subjects may wander, from spirituality to horses to animal rights.

Maria’s blog is about her art and the things that affect it. As Maria’s own feminism has evolved, so have the feminist images and figures in her work. So has her own sense of identity and voice. That’s what she writes about.  I’ll leave her to speak about that, and about Fate, her voice is loud and clear these days.

You may recall when Fate came, I loudly proclaimed that she was not going to be trained to work with the sheep. That was Red’s province, and it would just confuse things. Maria I were both thinking in terms of Frieda, who made Maria feel safe when she needed to feel safe. Frieda was very protective of her. Frieda was a one-person dog, for sure, as both Rottweilers an Shepard’s often are.

(Lenore was already changing that dog dynamic for Maria when Frieda died. Maria loved walking with Lenore, loved the fact that she could bring her anywhere and trust her with anyone. That was not possible with Frieda, and Maria was changing her idea of what kind of dog she wanted.)

The border collie people – especially those with puppies from strong working lines – were laughing at me from the beginning when I said Fate would not work with the sheep, and they were correct of course. My own hubris at work and right out there for everyone to see. I learn every day, mostly that I need to learn more every day. Another good reason not to judge other people. I’m too dumb.

When I saw Fate flinging herself against the gates and windows when Red went to work, I understood that she had to work with the sheep or she would go mad and make us mad. Karen Thompson was laughing over her coffee, I’m sure,  at the idea that Fate would stay away from sheep work. We would have had to build a brick wall, and she would have figured out a way to knock it down. Maria agreed with the decision, we didn’t wish to keep Fate from her destiny. We started training.  Fate and I work together every morning, and sometimes in the afternoon.

The rest of the day – all day – Fate is with Maria. She goes into Maria’s studio when Maria goes to work, she goes for at least one long walk in the woods with Maria every day. It is a cherished ritual for both of them. Maria tells me every day that Fate is the dog she wanted, a dog she can take anywhere, walk in the woods with without worry, stay with her in her studio for much of the day. She tells me very often that this is the perfect dog for her, for me, for us.

I tell her the same thing. I love to herd the sheep with Fate, I love to play with her, train her, watch her evolve. Is there a better outcome for any dog or family than for everyone to be a part of it?

Fate goes into town with Maria when she goes shopping, or to the post office, or on errands. When the four of us – me, Red, Maria and Fate – walk together in the morning, as we sometimes do, Fate is in Maria’s care. She calls her, makes her lie down when cars come, throws the ball, trains her in our daily obedience drill – come, sit, stay, lie down. Although I have had more experience in dog training, she has insisted on taking responsibility for training Fate and working with her, she does it every day.

Sometimes, when Maria has a quilt on the floor or a hanging piece lying in pieces she will bring Fate into the house to protect her work, Fate looks for me and Red and is happy to settle in with us, at least for awhile. That is the only time she is ever with me during the day. At night, we are all together, Maria blogs and reads, Fate sleeps by her feet.

Fate is a handful, Maria and I have trained her together from the beginning – except for the sheep herding. Maria just isn’t interested in that, she is too busy getting her pony to behave.

Fate’s progress and demeanor is very much the result of our work together, that is one of the things that has made her so much fun. Red is my dog, mostly, he is with me every minute of every day, either literally at my side or by my feet, or waiting for me in the car. He is never more than a few feet from me, he is in every way the most wonderful dog for me, he is my pal and shadow,  I cannot imagine replacing him with any dog, not even the very wonderful Fate. I trust him anywhere with anyone.

Border collies are not generally good guard dogs, for all the mythology about their psychic powers and intelligence. They must have work to do, but they are well-known as family dogs. They love children, they see people as their indoor flock of sheep, their inside work. They focus quite a bit on the human that takes them to sheep – Fate is keenly aware of my morning movements. But they easily and deeply attach to more than one person, given the chance. Fate loves every living thing she sees, and has tried to jump into the cars of many strangers. She is no Frieda.

Fate follows Maria from room to room, when she comes into the house from our work together, she tears around the house until she finds Maria, she rushes to the door when Maria goes out, she loves to sit out in the yard by the studio, and come in for cuddling and napping. When she comes into the house with Maria, she comes tearing around looking for me and for Red. They are soulmates.

The truth is, Fate has changed the dynamic for all of us. I think Red is closer to Maria than he was before, Fate and I are tight, Maria thinks I’m a bad influence on her, that we bring out the pirate in one another. I am pretty fond of Fate,  as is obvious. But the answer to Hannah’s question is that she is a family dog, she is very much our dog, Red’s pal, a dog of the house.

Hannah’s note was obnoxious for several obvious reasons, but also very wrong and not very intuitive. She needs to take a humility pill, they ought to pass them out with a Facebook login. This is part of the new social media disease of telling, not asking, and making long distance judgments about other people. It’s not easy to say so many incorrect things in two short sentences.

My grandmother Minnie, (assisted by my Aunt Fanny) taught me to be civil to other people. If I wasn’t, she would pinch a nostril and twist it until I screamed for mercy. Fanny liked to twist my ear if I was ever rude. She would not care for the rude people on Facebook.

First off, Fate is not my dog, she is a family dog in every sense of the word. She is our dog.

Secondly, it was not Maria’ s idea to get an English Golden Retriever, it was mine. Maria never cared what breed of dog she got, she just wanted a dog.  I am sorry for Hannah’s family and her dogs if she insists that they be one person’s and one person’s alone. That, to me, is a sad formula for having a dog, for the people and for the dogs. I imagine it gets a lot of people bitten.

And then, there is this. Maria is a strong human being, a strong woman. I do not take advantage of her in any way, nor would she put up with it. She has the dog she wants. We don’t do that to one another.

I thank all of you who asked about Fate in good faith, that is part of what we do here, talk about our lives. And I am especially grateful to those who did so with a good and open heart. I don’t write this in the spirit of being defensive, I feel very good about Fate and the work we are doing, this is one of those questions that deserve an answer, not a lecture. You can read Maria’s response to Hannah here.

Fate is a journey we are all sharing, and I appreciate it.


27 September

Big Landscapes: Mass MOCA

by Jon Katz
Big Landscapes
Big Landscapes

Mass MOCA’s building is itself a huge landscape, but the artist Clifford Ross contributed a giant one, Maria almost disappeared standing in front of it. I have never seen a more evocative space for the showing of art. I always loved art from a distance, but Maria has brought me into the world of artists and museums in a new way, and I love it very much.

We love rushing off to this or that museum, we wander around until we get tired or distracted, we don’t study too much or get too heavy about it. We stay for an  hour or two, we drift around, stopping if something grabs either of us. Maria is a sensual person, she needs to see art, she needs to go see art to refuel herself, to replenish her creative energy, I enjoy seeing how museums like Mass MOCA just fill her up.

We are within easy driving range of three museums, the Clark and the Williams College Museum, both in Williamstown, Mass. and Mass Moca, just a few miles from there. Our small town is ringed with treasure – Saratoga, Vermont, Massachusetts, museums,  all minutes away.

We don’t quite know why we haven’t been discovered yet, some of us are praying we are, most of us are praying we are not. We have everything we need here, and a special thing that we need – a quiet space to get away from the things we need and see the mists on the mountains every morning and hear ourselves think.

27 September

Mass MOCA: Spaces And Shapes

by Jon Katz
Spaces And Shapes
Spaces And Shapes

The Massachusetts Institute Of Contemporary Art is located in a vast old mill in North Adams, Mass. part of the heyday of American industrial might, when we actually made things as well as bought them. It is a stunning space and the perfect show case for Francesco Clemente and his hand-painted fabrics and tents, all set in this breathtaking industrial space. I couldn’t believe the lights, lines and shadows in one frame, I was touched by what it evoked.

27 September

Video: Wave Landscape At Mass MOCA

by Jon Katz
Clifford Ross
Clifford Ross

If you live in a small upstate New York town, you need to get out every now and then, we aren’t going to Florence anytime soon, so we have perfected the short and sweet jaunt, sometimes a day or two, sometimes just a few hours. You have to keep the hinges oiled, stretch the boundaries, exercise the mind and the imagination. We love our small town, but if you don’t go anywhere, life can get, well….small.

Today we knew we needed to get out,  I was sick for a day or so and Maria has been working hard. We went to one of our favorite museum’s MASS MOCA, the Massachusetts Institute of Contemporary Arts, a huge, sprawling and amazing re-converted mill in North Adams Mass., about an hour from us.

You can get lost in this cavernous place, it is an architectural marvel and a grand showcase for big works and big artistic imagination. We were dazzled by Christopher Ross’s stunning photographic and video representations of wave landscapes, and I took a photo and a short video for you to see.

Ross has captured the beauty and rythyms of waves in a way I haven not seen before.

On the way back, we stopped in Williamstown, Mass. for an early dinner – lamb burger for me, a falafel wrap for Maria. As always, we are glad to be home.

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