13 November

Opening Me Up: A Feisty And Independent Barn Cat Breaks Down The Wall Of A Feisty And Independent Human. And Makes Him Cry

by Jon Katz

I grew up learning to fear intimacy and keep it at bay. There was no one I trusted or permitted to get close to me until I met Maria about 15 years ago. I was too messed up to have a healthy relationship, I suffered, and so did the people around me.

Maria inspired and triggered the long and arduous process of opening me up – to love, to friendship, to take the risks of getting too close to people, which has always been painful and dangerous – and mostly unsuccessful – for me.

Well, into middle age, I began the challenging process of opening up to the reality of my existence and how far I had drifted to the life I was meant to live and wanted to live.

My vision for my blog was that writing about my life would help me be more open and honest.

You have to learn to be truly authentic to do that; there is no choice,  and my blog and photography opened me up to that and sent a sea of demons fleeing from my consciousness.

This morning, sitting with Zip, Maria came out of the house to visit with us, and she understood something different was happening inside me. I was sitting with Zip in my lap; we were both calm and at ease. I felt something compelling inside of me.

Zip and I were on a journey.

She whipped out her camera to try to capture the moment. She did. When I looked at her photos, I suddenly started to cry, shocking both of us. She was amazed and also pleased. This, she said, was a beautiful thing.

She asked me why I was crying, and I said it felt like Zip was scraping the rust off of me and my ability to open up to the warm side of the world.

Maria knows better than anyone on the earth about the difficulty of opening up and trusting someone to get close. Animals were an excellent place to start for me. I always trusted them and felt safe around them.

Opening up to other people and accepting intimacy was the most dangerous thing in the world for me, but I will never give it up again.

I think animals softened me up when I was most guarded and alone. They have never harmed or failed me, not even poor Orson, who I put down after he bit three people, including a child. He led me to the country to buy a farm.

I left my life and family alone on the first Bedlam Farm for six years except for a troubled border collie. I went there with a dog I still miss and think of often – Rose.

In his book “Pathways to Bliss,” Joseph Campbell writes about the hero journey, the great adventure of restless and troubled people who leave the familiar behind and set out to discover what their lives are really about and what they are truly capable of.

The hero’s journey is a great leap of faith, and Campbell writes about the many people who never make it all the way and are overwhelmed by the risks and dangers of setting out to discover themselves.

On the journey, he writes, there is great danger, but lucky seekers keep going and are helped by magical helpers, who often take the form of animals. Rose was a helper, as were Izzy, Simon, and Red. I was living the journey.

Maria was my human magical helper; she came out of nowhere to transform my life.

Each of these animals, directly and indirectly, began the complicated process of opening me up, something I still resist and fear. Maria was the first being in my life who showed me the rewards of opening to love, a lesson I am still learning and will always be learning.

When Maria asked me why I cried after seeing the photos she had taken of me and Zip this morning, I didn’t have an answer. I had to think about it.

It was pretty cold, but I saw Zip waiting for me on the back porch table, as usual. I put on a sweater and went outside to sit in the blue chair where he and I usually meet in warmer weather.

Zip jumped into my lap and pressed his head against my shoulder and chin. He is never still, but in my lap, he curls up and doesn’t move.

Seeing this willful, beautiful, fiercely independent animal open up to me was powerful. He felt soft and warm, and I could feel his purring in my neck and chest and my heart beating behind him. He had opened up to me, and I was doing the same with him.

I had the feeling – perhaps a fantasy – that Zip was going through the same thing as me in his life.

He is learning to open up to people who care about him and are willing to offer him love and companionship.

Like me, he isn’t looking for a score of friends; he isn’t eager to be close to a thousand people; he doesn’t care if anybody approves of what he does; he loves his independence, freedom, and sense of place.

I imagine that Zip and I are home; we have found the place we want to be.

If I get my wish, I will die here on this farm; I’m not moving anymore. I’ve come home also. I get the same feeling with Zip. I  have the feeling his first year in the world was difficult. He is hyper-vigilant.

Zip, a creature even more restless than I am,  seems to love looking at the world with me.

We became instant friends, but now, something more than that. This surprises me.

I am not what people call a “cat person.” I’m not big on labels. I don’t emotionalize animals.

I have nothing against cats, but no cat has ever affected me as much as Zip.

I loved Red dearly, but he never once sat in my lap or purred while I rubbed his neck and chin.  Neither did Minnie or Flo.

Zip has found a way to break through the iron wall I put up around myself and get close. And I love it and feel emotional about it.

I won’t deny that Zip has made his way to my heart. His life touched me, and I almost instantly felt the deep connection we had to one another. As I often am, I was surprised when I learned something I should have known about myself.

We sat for a half hour this morning in the cold, looking out at our beautiful landscape while I stroked his back and scratched his chin, which he loves, listening to the geese flying overhead and watching the marsh, where Zip seemed to see so many more things than I did but was a gentleman about it. He just curled up next to me.

Curiously, I sometimes think we are doing the same thing – meditating, looking out at the landscape, trusting one another. The cat who never wants to be in a lap loves to be in mine. The cat who lives to hunt is waiting for me whenever I go outside, and after we spend some time together, he gets to go hunt, and I go to work.

The man who shies away from cats loves to be with this one, who fears getting close to people, is happy getting close to him.

(When I get inside to my office, another animal waits to be with me and help me open up. Every morning, I give Zinnia a marrow bone, and when I sit down to write, I hear the industrious chomping of a bone. This is a beautiful sound for me to write by.)

Zip and I seem in sync with the world. I guess that Zip suffered before he came to us, but I can’t say for sure. It’s just a sense I have from knowing him. There is a needy part of him. Perhaps the thing we share is pain.

At times, he seems to be drinking up the attention and love he is getting now.


Every morning,g when I come out, Zip waits for me on the back porch table. A restless and impatient creature, he waits for me patiently, and he is not a patient animal.

Zip surprises me every day. This morning, he became obsessed with something moving above him in the apple tree. He misses nothing around him.


We were told Zip does not make cats or other animal friends, nor does he accept intimacy; he doesn’t want to be in anybody’s lap and has no interest in living inside. He does fall asleep in my lap.

Perhaps this connects me to him: two intense and restless beings who find warmth, comfort, and love in one another. We are learning to love.

I don’t know how this happens, only that I feel it deeply, and it brings me back. It also makes me tremble and cry, at times something that both lifts and embarrasses me.

I suppose this is why I cried; these pictures Maria took tell the story.




    1. I agree, Florence, animals have marked the passage of my life for many years, as I have written in my books and on my blog. Zip is a spirit animal.

  1. Jon, seems like you could provide some warmth for him this winter in return for his devotion to you…no animal should have to live in freezing weather…he gets in your lap to get warm…

    1. I’ll never be able to explain the life of a barn cat to people who have never had one and know nothing about them (this means you Mary) that it cruel for them to sleep in a sheltered barn. It isn’t. Zip has shelter and warmth and a lovely furry bed to sleep in in the barn. He will remain there unmtil he is too old to handle the cold, which is about 10 years away. I am resigned to getting messages like yours for the rest of my life, and I will work to be patient and gracious about it. I’m not great at that, sorry. But I also try to be honest and speak the truth about what I feel and what is true: first, it’s not your business. Social media is a haven for yentas and busy bodies who intrude on people’s lives with often ignorant information.

      Secondly, barn cats do not get cold in the winter, they find protected places to sleep like a hay bale, a woodshed or if it gets awful, a heated cat house in the barn which we can provide (and have). We’ve had barn cats for nearly 20 years and none of them have ever wanted to come into the house for any reason in any weather unless they are ancient, sick or near death. No animal lover should have to put up with strangers on social media telling them what to do. It isn’t humane to put these animals into a strange environment with three animals apt to be hostile to them because you have decided what is best for them. That is just more abuse in the name of animal rights.

      If that’s all you have to say about this piece, it’s sad.

      We don’t need your reminders to worry about Zip or tell us to care about him, it is understandable, I suppose, but annoying and offensive. We are not into this so that our animals can suffer, they are all healthy and get to live a long life. It’s my job and Maria’s to worry about Zip, you can do what you want with your own animals. I don’t tell other people what to do because I have a computer or presume that they are too dumb to know what to do, which is insulting. It’s not my business. It does feel good to get this off of my chest. Best to you.

  2. I’m in my 5th cat and each one has wormed his or her way into my heart in their own individual way. Sophie would actually hug me around the neck. By the way, there is something so touching when I see a man kiss an animal on the head. Cat, dog, donkey, horse, any mammal really. Thanks for being so vulnerable, Jon.

    1. I am affected by and appreciative of so much of what you write, for many reasons. I’d like to thank you for the ultimate response regarding Zip , barn cats , and winter. I’ve been hit with this too but could never worded my response so clearly and inclusively as you have, and as I get older my words continue to fail me. Another big one for me was harassment over why I didn’t rug my horses up for the winters, although I never clipped them. Didn’t matter that mostly they had Northern European and sub- Arctic origins, although the ones from hotter climes did well for the most part ,too . I would patiently try to educate this people who would equally patiently wait me out and repeat themselves because what they had to say was ultimately the only thing that interested them. They were deaf to hearing Id actually had a few horses who visibly hated blankets. My appreciation for animals includes the fact that they accept and evaluate without bias what comes to their attention, without bias, which is something people inclined this way, should consider adopting. I am always inwardly cheering when I read in your blog about animals because it is so realistically and sanely balanced. Thank you for offering us both your vulnerabilities and your strengths.

  3. the intense bond you are experiencing with Zip is so heartwarming and healing to read about, Jon. When the connection is there…….it happens…..whether human or animal in nature. We cannot force it…..it just happens when it is right. I’m so glad you found each other….and are giving and accepting of what each of you needs and wants. It is priceless….and yes, crying for that……is good. It just means (to me) that you are embracing it all. There is no better thing than that.
    Susan M

  4. While our living situations are different, Zip reminds me of our ~1.5 year old boy Tora. Our house is Tora’s Bedlam Farm. He waits for me in one of our rooms and hops on my lap when I settle there each morning – but he has business to attend to and so after a few minutes he’s off my lap onto his next job – he specializes in stink bugs and Asian Lady Beetles (we don’t have mice). I do feel a special bond with him that is more intimate than with our dogs. Cats truly are special creatures

  5. I enjoy reading your blog. I have read your dog books and I am now reading “Saving Simon.” You have always been truly authentic about your feelings and actions and should not have to explain yourself. It is clearly evident that you and Maria love and care for all your animals. I am thankful for both of you . You have come a long way on your journey and it is a leap for you to be able to show and talk about your feelings. Sending light and love.

  6. Growing up in an abusive home, cats provided comfort and sorely needed love. Ours were all barn cats, a few with the privilege of visiting inside while being held. Each had a special personality and a way touch our lives. We, myself, my sister and brother, each had our own special pet. They waited for us after school and came in for treats and snuggles. We shared secrets, thoughts too scary to speak aloud. As adults, each of us are cat people. Our children grew up in loving homes with cats. With the help of trusted adults and education, we broke the cycle of abuse. I believe sharing love with our cats was a beginning. Your connection with Zip is exactly what both of you need.

  7. I never thought I was a cat person until I got “chosen” by a cat! It is a beautiful and oddly intimate thing. These photos of you and Zip really show how precious your friendship is. As you say, you are both fiercely independent and yet each of you recognizes in the other something he appreciates.

  8. Ahh, the tears when some light gets inside a crack in the fortress walls. I know those tears well. Animals have no guile, no malicious motives, no agenda. They are naturally authentic. I think that we can literally feel that in our bodies when we are around them. I wish to be more like them, especially cats. As you said, Jon, they are fierce, independent, judicious about upon whom they bestow their love, wary and completely themselves, no matter where they are. Funny, we humans may be at the top of the food chain, but we come in dead last in awareness and simplicity of being. Some of us know this, and are trying to evolve.

  9. The pic with both of you in profile, staring straight ahead is awesome! It’s a classic! Was that with your iPhone?

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