Bedlam Farm Blog Journal by Jon Katz

2 July

Two More Cords: My Willa Cather Wife

by Jon Katz

“I was something that lay under the sun and felt it, like the pumpkins, and I did not want to be anything more. I was entirely happy. Perhaps we feel like that when we die and become a part of something entire, whether it is sun and air, or goodness and knowledge. At any rate, that is happiness; to be dissolved into something complete and great. When it comes to one, it comes as naturally as sleep.” 

— Willa Cather, My Antonia

This is my favorite Willa Cather quote, it reminds me of Maria and her love of her life, and her completeness and happiness as an artist, a lover, and a partner.

Whatever we had missed, whatever we had lost, we now possess together, the precious, the incommunicable present.

That is happiness, I think, to be absorbed by something complete, something great. When it comes to one, it comes as naturally as breathing.

Maria agrees that she would have made a wonderful Willa Cather prairie wife, except her career as an artist might have been hard. With no Internet, there would be no way to sell her fiber art, but I’m sure she would have found a way.

Maria and I balance once another perfectly. The few times I’ve tried to stack or cut wood have been disastrous. Once I nearly chopped off a foot, I’ve smashed my toes dropping heavy wood on them, strained my back, and end up with splinters or mosquito bites.

The wood I managed to stack usually falls over.

My wife has no such difficulties. She is lean and wiry, has boundless energy, knows how to stack corners the right way, and tosses heavy logs around like they were sponges.

She loves to work and loves to be outdoors, and relishes the hard, sometimes gritty, chores of the farm. Heat doesn’t bother her, nor do bugs.

I had no sense of this when I met Maria 12 years ago, I only knew her as a brooding and shy artist who yearned to be free to do her art. She was wary of manual labor when I met her, and skipped it for a while.

Now, manual labor is her choice, no one else’s, and she relishes it. I am always in awe of how we fit so well and easily together, I am nothing but lucky.

She never gets a splinter, drops one on her foot, or wrecks her back. So far, she’s stacked five cords of firewood, we are just about ready for the last two. I expect them to come sometime next week.

Our shed is almost full and when the wood comes, we will be set for winter. Hay in the barn, the shed filled with wood for the stoves.

2 July

Minnie In Autumn

by Jon Katz

Minnie is about 12 years old. Soon after we moved into the New Bedlam Farm, she was attacked in the night by an animal intruder, and her leg was so severely injured we had to choose between amputating it or euthanizing her.

I leaned toward euthanizing but Maria was uncomfortable about it.

We both felt that Minnie seemed to want to live. We amputated the leg, and it was a  long and painful recovery for her.

To this day, I’m not sure amputating her was the right choice. My own animal ethics tell me it is wrong to subject animals to traumatic medical procedures they couldn’t possibly understand or consent to for the pleasure of human beings.

I think it has become a socially acceptable kind of animal abuse. A lucrative one also.

That, I know, is a majority position.

Minnie has done well, after a few rough years.

Once a fierce hunter, she has slowed down, content to grab the occasional mouse or chipmunk or baby rabbit.

She is getting older, and most of the time, she’s happy to sit in the sun on Maria’s Fiber Chair.

Maria and I had just become friends and were having lunch when a waitress in the restaurant came over to me and said a feral cat had given birth under her porch. Would we like one of the kittens? Maria came with me to get her, and the rest is history.

Minnie lived in the big red barn at the first Bedlam Farm, she lived with the chickens, I think she thought she was one. Before she lost her leg, she was often out in the meadow searching for one rodent or another.

Minne loves to be near the garden. She lives outside in the summer and fall, she and Flo come in during the bitter winter nights from December through February.

Maria is closer to her than I am, but Minnie means a lot to me.

Minnie is a verbal cat, she loves to talk to Maria and me, she has something to say every time she sees us. Minnie is the shyest animal on the farm, she runs off to hide when any stranger appears, Born a feral kitten in a feral litter,  she trusts no one but us.

2 July

Video: Christening The Composter. “Mr. Green.”

by Jon Katz


We christened our new Composter today with manure from the donkeys, chickens, sheep and orange peels and eggshells, and bread crumbs from breakfast.

We also put in some Composter starter tablets to help jumpstart the composting. The Composter is right next to our exploding vegetable garden and a few yards from the new solar panels which have provided 278.18 kilowatts so far.

We’re eating vegetables from the garden every day, have given up plastic bottles and are reassessing what we buy, where it comes from, and how it is packaged.

Maria has taken to calling me “Mr. Green.”

1 July

One Man’s Truth: Trump And The Revenge Of The Nerds

by Jon Katz

Donald Trump is learning the hard lesson of the bully now.

In a shockingly personal press conference, New York Governor Andrew Cuomo continued his dismemberment of the President’s handling of the coronavirus.

He gave the President another pounding at his daily press conference today.

I’m not sure I ever saw a President dressed down in so controlled and devastating away.

And it is telling that Trump, who responds to the smallest slight, has yet to answer Cuomo’s detailed indictments of his leadership.

The President seems afraid of Cuomo, whose credentials when it comes to the virus are so much more credible than his own. Cuomo has gotten into Trump’s head.

The New York governor challenged the President to stop lying and hiding and tell the truth to the American people about the pandemic bearing down on them and altering their lives.

The thing is, said Cuomo, some people do listen to the President of the United States, even if it is Trump. The buck stops with Trump said Cuomo, he needed to speak up and lead.

“You were in denial from Day One,” Cuomo said directly to President Trump, “and the country is suffering because of you.” It’s time, he said, for the President to tell the truth to the people and admit he was wrong.

You wouldn’t be giving up anything, Cuomo added, everybody already knows you were wrong.

For me, it was bigger than politics.

It was the Revenge Of The Nerds.

Donald Trump is a bully, which is a shame in away.

His cruelty and penchant for attacking the weak and the helpless obscured the good and overdue things he sometimes tried to do. I’ve never known or met a worse bully. He is frighteningly oblivious to the suffering he can cause.

I think many of us had a Trump somewhere in our lives. The unease goes deeper than disagreement.

As President, he never wanted to persuade or invite people into his plans and visions. He simply demanded to do what he wanted and punished anyone in the way. Our problems just got too big for him, but his defeats never seem to humble him.

I need to admit that there was something personal in my response to what Cuomo was saying, and I know – I could feel – that so many people felt the same way I did today.

This is a psychic thing that connects every victim of bullying to every other.

I felt a chill up my spine and almost misted up listening and watching to Cuomo, who seems to have found the best of himself in this pandemic, just as Trump revealed the worst.

Cuomo gave the President another blistering, even eloquent, lesson in leadership and truth.

And the context became clear. He was going after a bully, one of the biggest bullies in the world. People may laugh at a bully, but nobody likes one.

Cuomo said the upturn in coronavirus cases was frightening, and he was deeply disturbed by it.  He knows as much about the virus as anyone, and his alarm and gravity caught my attention.

Something bad is happening; he is worried.

But also, something good. I am beginning to see that our battered and weary country is rising; if you add the pieces together, there is the beginning of a new kind of revolution.

People are sick and tired of being bullied, literally, and figuratively.

You can intimidate people with bullying, but you can’t lead them in that way, not for long. The greatest and most powerful revolutions often start very quietly, hidden in the shadows.

“Courage is fire,” said Benjamin Disraeli, “and bullying is smoke.”

The pandemic and the killing of George Floyd will be seen as historical events, turning points. This feeling of something revolutionary is perhaps why it feels so very different from other protests and conflicts.

Andrew Cuomo has decided to be a warrior in this new kind of revolution.  His assaults on the President are different, more grave. So are the kids on Tik-Tok, their dismantling of the Tulsa rally is feeling a bit like Concord to me, the first shot, not the last.

This all touched me. A bed wetter also prone to accidents in school, I was the dream target of bullies; I was small and asthmatic and terrified,  a sitting duck.

I feel bullying very personally; it is no small thing to me.

I remembered one day when I was in my schoolyard in Providence.

The schoolyard was a dangerous place for nerds; the teachers never policed or monitored what was happening there. We were on our own. Bullying was not considered a crime then or a kind of abuse; it was just life with kids.

Charles was a sixth-grader, a bully who walked up to me during recess and started pulling my pants down in front of everyone and exposing the accident I had had in the schoolyard.

He called me the “wee-wee boy.”

He couldn’t stop laughing, and a lot of kids in the yard were laughing with him. I was crying and trying to run away.  This was a different world. I knew not to ask for help or even tell anyone about it.

I was so frightened I  had soiled myself further.

Jimmy, an older boy, who did not know me,  came over from the other side of the yard. He stepped between Charles and me. I ran behind him.

He walked right up to Charles, a bully who had been tormenting me for weeks, grabbed him by the collar with one hand, punched him in the stomach with another, and threw him to the ground.

“Listen,” he said to Charles, “if you ever touch this kid again or even look at him, I will drag your ass out into the street and piss all over you.”

I couldn’t believe it; it was perhaps the first time I realized there was justice in the world. Charles, crying now, ran off and never came near me again.

Jimmy walked away. I followed him and asked him why he had helped me.

“Because I hate bullies,” he said. “They are all cowards, and they all need a beating, and once they get one, they just go to pieces.” I think of Jimmy almost every time Trump sends out one of his vicious tweets.

I thought of him again today, as Trump continued to be pounded by the nerds and angry people of America, from Republican Senators to Generals, NBA and NFL stars,  former aides, and employees.

His niece is trashing him in her new book; he is hated by black citizens,  former prosecutors, and, according to the polls, by women who felt his bullying in the most personal way.

From the first, they knew who and what he was.

And last but not least, he is being abandoned by millions of Americans, who say they will vote for someone else.

I flinched every time I saw Trump bully someone in his vicious way, which was almost daily. I confess that it has been hard for me to watch.

I wondered that we had all gotten used to this cruelty, just like kids in schools.  His many followers just don’t seem to care.

He made fun of the way people looked and talked, demanded that his opponents go to jail, and suggested without any evidence that a TV anchor who criticized him murdered an aide who disappeared years ago.

I try to be even-handed in my writing, but Trump’s bullying has tested the morality and decency of every person and me in the country.

I can either pass this test or fail. Looking away isn’t a choice for me.

“Not everyone has been a bully or the victim of bullies,” wrote author Octavia Butler,” but everyone has seen bullying, and seeing it, has responded to it by joining in or objecting, by laughing or keeping silent, by feeling disgusted or feeling interested.”
I believe bullying is one of the reasons so many people fear Trump beyond politics; you might be amazed at how many people say they were bullied. They know the look. And he means to frighten people.
The more power one has, the worse and more disgusting bullying is. It is unthinkable for me to see someone as powerful as our President bully a 16-year-old girl for caring about the environment.

Trump has been a Bully President ever since he went after that Gold Star Family mourning their son and made fun of a disabled New York Times reporter and made fun of a women anchor who asked a tough question; he suggested she was menstruating.

Lots of people have found ways to dismiss this, rationalize it, ignore it, or to accept it.  Some laugh, some are disgusted. Ignoring it is a Rubicon I can’t cross in the name of even-handedness.

I fight back the feeling in my heart that says everyone who supports him is a bully, no matter how they rationalize him or look the other way. Lots of good people support this behavior.

I will have to think about it more; I can’t grasp it yet.

Today, there is this piteous image day after day, thousands of people dying, the President silent, hiding behind all those Secret Service agents.

At night, he sits up in his bedroom alone, re-tweeting bigots and white nationalists, obsessing on confederate statues, watching cable news,  threatening students and protesters, trying desperately to ignite some kind of race war and violence that will allow him to rush in and save the day with his federal cavalry.

He presented himself as a Disrupter, but the pandemic has exposed him as a Pretender.

The football people call what he is doing a Hail Mary Play. It’s the last resort. Except in football, nobody gets killed or gassed or thrown in jail.

President Trump made one comment about the coronavirus this past week; he said the virus was “going to sort of just disappear.” He said he was all for masks, but he would not wear one.

Yesterday, 48,000 new cases were reported in the United States, and 130,000 Americans have died.

One of Trump’s strategic weaknesses is that he cannot acknowledge error or change course.  In most campaigns, Tulsa would have left heads rolling and blood all over the floor.

The disaster in Tulsa did not deter him.

He’s planning another one in Jacksonville.

He can’t be bothered by the death of so many Americans, or the fact that there are  100,000 new cases a day.

In a late Tuesday night tweet, Trump promised to veto a defense spending bill unless lawmakers strip language that required that bases named after Confederate leaders be re-christened.

Amid the most intense racial turmoil in a generation, he is fighting hard to preserve monuments honoring the defenders of slavery.

The most disturbing part of this is that he doesn’t seem to know this isn’t working or care, and one has to wonder how far he will go to get the explosion that he wants.

Trump has lost his way. It is over.

You don’t have to take my word for it, just look into that puffy face, and those tired and angry eyes. He has the smell and look of defeat.  He is rumored to be sick, and I can’t verify that myself, but he sure looks sick.

He has already given up trying to win; he is just trying to hang on in the only way he knows – by bullying.

Apart from all the other noise, the sound you hear is of all the rats jumping off of the ship. Even Lindsey Graham is blowing him off.

When Trump insisted that Barack Obama had committed treason, Graham said simply: “I don’t know what he’s talking about.”

In Trumpland, that was a mutiny.

In the context of politics, it is difficult for me to fathom a national leader who will not speak of this pandemic.

As someone writing about politics, for now, I would much prefer some emotional distance so that I can be both observant and detached. Today that was difficult.

Since 2016, I’ve been proud that several Trump supporters have remained on my blog and felt comfortable here. I always saw it as a measure of my tolerance and open-mindedness.

I never wanted to embrace the labels of the left or the right, and I still don’t.

It was Emma Goldman who said, “if I can’t dance to it, it’s not my revolution.” I can’t dance to bullying.

When I began writing about politics, many, if not most, of the Trump people left and almost all of those who remained registered disgust with me or assured me my blog would go to ruin.

Social media trolls – the bullies of the Internet – threatened me, as is commonplace now. I had to take some threats to the police.

I don’t know how to feel about people who would support the behavior of this man, who has used his Bully Pulpit so viciously and dishonestly and encouraged his followers to do the same.

I don’t have answers for them; I don’t know what to say.

I will work hard to take my own advice and respect the different views of other people.

But today, I found myself cheering for my Nerd governor and the Nerds who are rising all over the country in their revolution, announcing loudly that they won’t be bullied anymore.

I will work harder to try to understand what has happened to us.

Sometimes,” wrote Frantz Banon, the author of Black Skin, White Masks, “people hold a core belief that is very strong. When they are
presented with evidence that works against that belief, the new
evidence cannot be accepted. It would create an extremely uncomfortable feeling, called cognitive dissonance. And because it
is so important to protect the core belief, they will rationalize,
ignore, and even deny anything that doesn’t fit in with the core belief.”

I think of those many people who stood up to Donald Trump out of conscience and public service and were humiliated, driven from their jobs, and savaged by the worst kind of public bullying.

My grandmother warned me never to pick on anyone for something they couldn’t help or were smaller than me.

If she knew it, why didn’t the President of the United States? Must we ask future presidents if they are bullies?

I realized a few years ago that I could use the Internet to do good, or I could use it to harm. The President had the same choice. I think that is when I began to lose faith in him.

Lately, I am proud to tell his supporters to piss off when they try to bully me. I don’t let anyone bully me anymore.  I thank Jimmy for his support; if I could find him, I would thank him personally or send him a box of dark chocolates.

I can’t pretend to be detached today.

I was happy to see Andrew Cuomo step up and unload on the biggest bully America has ever known, Cuomo is a street kid from Queens, but he has the Nerd’s love of data and reason.

I am happy and uplifted when I see the Nerds speaking out all over the country, painting “Black Lives Matter” in the street in front of the White House and Trump tower while the Mad King, wounded like a gored bull, rages around the People’s House and calls the protesters names.

I am glad I am not the one to tell him the tweets are losing their sting, a Trump-loving neighbor of mine up in the country said Trump now reminds him of little brother, “a whiny brat who still throws tantrums.”

Bullies were a fascinating and frightening element in my childhood. They haunted me for years.

I saw a lot of them in the schoolyard, and around the neighborhood, none of them liked me or pitied me. Some of them would chase me home and dump my backpack on the ground. I learned to take the long way home.

I wish I knew then what I know now.

The bully is a broken person, usually more frightened than I was, angry and hurt. I’m not evolved enough to forgive them for their sins, but I have learned that Jimmy was right.

Once somebody challenges them, they tend to go to pieces.

It is a remarkable thing for me to see this being played out so far above my head and from my own experience. At least I get to write about it.

The bully reigns for a while and hurts people for awhile. But sooner or later, the schoolyard turns on the bully and takes revenge.

I am coming to see that I often felt bullied by the way President Trump has governed and was so dismissive of people like me.

Nobody wins in a drama like the one unfolding now, not the bully, not the bullied, certainly not the country suffering so much pain and neglect.

But I was a devout Perry Mason fan.

The good guys always win in the end.


1 July

Kisses To Mom Earth: The Composter Is Here

by Jon Katz

Our new composter came today, another smooch for Mother Earth. Maria put it next to our vegetable garden, which is exploding, and just up the hill from our new solar power system, which has produced 262.21 kilowatts in under a week.

I am eager to get our first bill soon. And my new Hybrid Toyota  Rav 4 is helping out. 41 miles to the gallon, I’ve spent $32 in gas over the past two months.

We are especially conscious of helping the environment this year. We are one family, one small farm. We will do everything we can do help the earth now.

In the summer, we grow much of the food we eat, the solar power is a beautiful step for us, and we are studying compost suggestions and gathering information. No meat, bones, processed chemicals, etc.

We’ll be using the composter starting tonight (we have to clear out some grass, it needs to be on soil.)

This feels good, it’s about time too.

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