Bedlam Farm Blog Journal by Jon Katz

20 April

The Nicest Thing At The Mansion: What Matters Is That You Show Up

by Jon Katz

I’ve learned in my almost four years of working at the Mansion that it doesn’t matter so much what you do when you come. What really matters is that you show up.

Maria came to my reading workshop with me today, we took turns talking about our life on the farm, our life together and we each read stories from special books for the elderly.

They had a grueling year, they love fresh faces and new stories.

Health regulations permit only a handful of residents to attend, but each one thanked us for taking the time to come and read to them. I think when all is said and done, it might be the nicest thing I ever do.

I love going there, reading to them, watching their responses, answering their questions. Zinnia comes in, greets everyone, and then goes to sleep.

The reading sessions usually last an hour. On Thursdays, I teach a meditation class.

We were both touched by their gratitude. “Thank you so much,” said one, “for coming to see us.” It does feel like the nicest thing I do.

This Friday I’m going to Bishop Maginn High School to meet with Pan, a refugee from Myanmar who is struggling through the violence there after the military coup.

Many of her relatives have fled into the forests to escape the military. I’ll write about her next week.

___

Tomorrow, Maria and I co-host our new radio format, “Katz And Wulf on Animals,” from 2 p.m. to 3 p.m. on WBTNAM.org. You can stream it live here.

Our focus remains on dogs, of course, but Maria and I share a life with animals, so we will talk about that also.

You can stream the show, or call the show: 802 442-1010 or e-mail me [email protected] or Maria – [email protected] with questions. Check us out, and thanks.

20 April

Amish Prayers: Do Something Good Today. “Blessed Are They Who See Beautiful Things In Humble Places Where Other People See Nothing…”

by Jon Katz

I woke up worrying about today. I ended up praying for peace and community.

I worried about what might happen across the country today if former officer Derek Chauvin Cauvin was acquitted of all the charges against him.

Even on my farm in upstate New York, I could feel the energy swirling around me.

I decided, as I often do, to do some good.

As I came downstairs, a package from Amazon came. It was a coloring book of Amish Prayers I had ordered for Moise Miller’s children up on the hill. It was a coloring book.

I was unsure about it.

I knew the family would love the book, but I didn’t know if the girls would be allowed to use crayons or colored pencils. I couldn’t find any guidance in my Amish books.

I wrapped some colored pencils in one of the small Amish necklaces I had purchased and put it with the book.

I just decided to follow my own spirit. I drove over to Moise’s farm and drove up the hill. As I pulled by the temporary farmhouse, Little Sarah and three of her sisters came out to say hello.

Tina the dog appeared out of nowhere, tail wagging to greet me as I got out of the car. “Here are some coloring books,” I said. “Are the colored pencils okay?”

The girls nodded yes, and turned the car around, and headed down the driveway. I looked in the rearview mirror and saw the girls running down the hill after me.

Tina was with them.

I stopped the car. They rushed up to my window. “You forget your bracelets,” they said. “They are yours, you bought them.”

That’s okay”, I said.” You can use them to keep the pencils together. They are too small for me.” I knew they wouldn’t wish to wear them.

They stood watching me as I drove down the hill, then they turned and began walking back to the house.

I remembered one of the Amish prayers and I said at the bottom of the driveway as I headed for home:

Blessed are they who see beautiful things in humble places where other people see nothing.

It felt good to do something good today.

20 April

Farm Journal, April 20, 2021. My Life Today

by Jon Katz

An interesting Tuesday. At 11 a.m., I’m heading for the Mansion Assisted Care Facility, we are resuming my weekly readings now that I’ve been vaccinated and so have all the residents.

That should be an hour, I have six books to read in part, usually one chapter at a time.

Maria is coming and we hope to tell some stories of our lamb Robin and the struggle to keep him alive.

Afterward, time permitting, I’ll go to the gym for a 30-45 minute workout on a bike and also some light weights. I hope to get to Saratoga Springs to try out a simpler bike my friend Caleb thinks would work for me.

If I get there,  and I can get it going, I’ll bring it home. An amazing journey, the bike business.

Later in the day, I hope to bring an Amish Prayer Coloring Book I found online. I got some colored pencils to go with it, but I’m not sure Amish kids used colored pencils or crayons.

I guess we’ll find out. I’m sure they’ll like the prayer book in any case.

My life seems full these days Later, I’ll prepare for the radio show Maria and I are doing together on WBTNAM called “Katz and Wulf on Animals.”

Our first appearance together will be tomorrow, Wednesday, the 21st at 2 p.m., EDT. You can live stream the show from anywhere here. You can also call in (I hope some of you will) with questions about your dogs or other animals: 802 442-1010. You can also e-mail me with your questions: [email protected]

Tomorrow at 2 p.m. 802 442-1010.

I’ll be checking my research tonight. I don’t believe in blowing smoke out of my butt, I want the show to be thoughtful, researched, civil and credible. Check it out. If we get a lot of calls we can’t handle, we’ll expand to two hours.

Photo: Neighbor’s dog Tina.

19 April

The Story Of Tina, An Amish Dog With A Back Story

by Jon Katz

When I first saw Tina, she was sleeping in the midst of horse carriages, people digging, people plowing, people chopping and sawing wood.

She was unfazed by the nose, the big horses trotting practically over her, the activity all around her. I couldn’t imagine how any living thing could sleep in the middle of all that activity.

At one point, she got up, and I saw that her left front leg was cut off halfway down. I went over to say hello to her, but she ignored me and walked away.

My relationship has changed. Tina and I have bonded big time, and I think she knows the sound of my car now; when I drive up the hill, she is waiting for me just outside the car door, demanding a belly rub or kiss on the nose.

Tina came with the Millers from their previous home way up near the Canadian border. Her leg was partially sawn off on another farm; they took her, helped her heal (I didn’t ask how.)

Moise tells the story of Tina and her chopped-off leg simply and without emotion or drama. He does not say she was abused or suggest she’s had terrible luck.

Tina hangs out with the children when they work, sleeps inside the house by the woodstove. There is plenty to do and explore on the Miller farm for a smart and active dog.

I was curious about Tina, as I was already getting regular e-mails about how cruel the Amish are to animals. The hard-core animal rights people are not always hopeful about people or optimistic about their humanity.

They sometimes see too much.

They were warning me that the Amish – they never use the word “some” – run puppy mills and shoot their horses in the head when they get old. They assumed I would discover these horrors for myself and turn on my neighbors.

So I was curious to see how they treated Tina, who is, basically, a rescue dog.

The children paid attention to Tina but rarely spoke directly to her or reached down to play with her.

She followed them around the farm, devoted and watchful. I noticed that nobody touched her, or made those cute dog noises around her, and she kept herself in the background when there was work.

She wasn’t quite a pet, but she wasn’t a working tool either. She would pop up, then say hello, then disappear, much like Moise himself.

I think Tina is somewhere in the middle between a pet and a farm animal, but she was anything but abused. She was not afraid of people, didn’t cower or tremble when touched.

People were always going in and out of the temporary farmhouse, and Tina could always get in when she wanted to.

Tina was my kind of dog in many ways, sweet, smart, busy, and a little crazy. The sawed-off leg didn’t seem to slow her or bother her at all. Her eyes were full of love, like Fate.

One day I sat down next to my car, and Tina, curious, appeared out of nowhere and came over to me, slowly and carefully. I sat still, waiting for Tina to study me and decide if she wanted anything to do with me or not.

I talked with her, let her smell me and get used to me, and then when she approved, I found her sweet spot at the bottom of her chest.

She swooned and fell in love, not before a careful sniffing of every inch of my body. I fell in love too. Those eyes.

Tina decided I was all right, and after that, she comes running whenever I showed up.  After a few joyous licks and scratches, she would take off and get back to work, whatever work was.

At one point, Moise came up to me and asked me what I was feeding my dogs.  I told him and then asked him what he was feeding Tina, and he said it was food from the Dollar Store; he wasn’t sure what to call it. He looked a bit abashed.

Okay, I said, how about if I bring up some dog food, you and Tina can check it out, and if you like it, I’ll supply it, and you can pay me back for it, of course.

It was a deal. I’m not sure Moise was ready to go out and buy premium dog food, but he had no objection if I did, and they could try it out.

I’m never entirely sure what Amish are and are not permitted to do, but I’m figuring out how to approach things.

Moise was clearly not somebody who didn’t care about his dog.

I asked him what work Tina did – at the Miller farm, everybody worked. Her job was to notify them immediately if she ever smelled smoke – which she did from time to time – and sound the alarm if stray animals came around, which she also did.

Moise said he plans to get a border collie to handle the sheep he hopes to buy this year. He asked me if Fate could teach a new dog how to herd. I said, er…no, not really. He looked puzzled.

I went home and brought him half a bag of the special Purina premium food I give my dogs, all three; our vet recommended it and sells it.

I didn’t hear anything for three or four days, and then when I showed up, Delilah came out to the car and said Tina loved the dog food and they were running low.

Moise came out to say hello and told me the same thing; he asked if I could bring some more, “she really loves that good food,” he said, and I said sure.

“I will pay for it, of course,” he said, and I agreed.

Moise doesn’t like to take things for free, and I don’t need to be paying for Tina’s dog food for years out of my own pocket. So it was a good deal all around. I was so glad he was accepting my advice.

The next morning, which was this morning, I went out to the vet (that’s where I buy it) and got a large-sized bag of dog food, salmon, rice, and oatmeal formula.

I brought it up to the house, and little Sarah, who doesn’t come up to my knees, walked up to the car, smiled, picked up the bag, and walked it into the farmhouse as if she were holding a stuffed animal.

Barbara came out with a stack of one-dollar bills and counted out the cost. We went over the instructions – one cup in the morning, one cup in the evening.

Tina, no fool,  was eyeing the bag as if it were a slab of steak. Being at least part border collie,  she figured out exactly what was going on and gave me several spirited tag wails.

She jumped up for a hug, scratch, and belly rub, tail wagging furiously. I’ve never heard Tina bark, but she was about to.

So I am the official Miller farm dog food supplier.

I fell in love with Tina and told Moise I would take her in a second if she ever needed a home. Oh, he said, we’ll take good care of her. She has a home here.

And yes, it is obvious to me that this family of Amish people – I can’t speak for them all – does not have puppy mills, or oppress their horses or work them to death. These are just no puppy mill people.

I don’t know how they euthanize sick or old horses; I don’t see it as my business.

I happen not to believe a bullet in the head is the worst way for an animal to go if the shooter is experienced, especially a farm animal.

Done properly, it is quite humane.

I was happy to hear that Tina has a good home on the farm. I’ll never fully understand why we fall for the dogs we fall for, but Tina went right to my heart. I’m a sucker for those eyes.

I am pleased she has a home where she is loved and cared for.

 

19 April

Inside An Amish Greenhouse. Being Simple Does Not Make You Poor.

by Jon Katz

Amish joke: How do you get an Amish man to the moon?” Answer: “Tell him there’s a chiropractor on it, and he’ll find a way to get there.”

It’s odd to be so struck by something without wanting to be the thing you are admiring.

I am dazzled by the hard work and creativity of my new neighbors, yet I never yearn to be one of them. I know it’s not for me, and I could never make all of the sacrifices they choose to make.

Sadly, the plain and simple life is beyond me. But my life can be plainer and simpler, and the Millers are giving me ideas about how to do that.

I could write about them forever.

I’ve been exploring faith my whole life, yet I think too much of it would destroy me. I felt this way about their new greenhouse. I was in awe of it, but I know it’s way too much for me.

At the same time, I can imagine a smaller one built in this efficient way.

My Amish neighbors, the Millers, Mose, and Barbara permitted me to explore their spanking new Greenhouse, put together in a few hours.

I was deeply impressed as well as jealous.

I’m thinking about ordering a smaller version of the greenhouse from them for our farm next year if we can figure out how to find the space and figure out how to heat it.

We have eight gardens, nine including my newly raised pine bed. A greenhouse would give us a big jump on summer. It’s also great fun, even for our little one.

The Millers have done an amazing job; they are preparing to till and plant 40 or 50 acres of fruit, vegetables, and corn. Barbara put a chair in the greenhouse and has lovingly and carefully got a couple of hundred different kinds of seeds started.

All of the containers are marked.

Sometime in May, all of these will go into the ground.

I saw the new tiller yesterday; it is beautiful, horse and hand-powered, and efficient. Moise has done almost all of the plowing by himself with two big and beautiful draft horses, and Barbara has labored to plant the seeds in her cups.

He says plowing is his favorite activity in life.

Some of the children are working – male and female – clearing the pasture of rocks, most of which will be ground to make cement, which will be used to construct foundations for a permanent horse barn and a new house.

I stood in the greenhouse today; it felt like a chapel of some kind, warm, bountiful, and exploding with life. I was impressed with the closed warming stove – spark-proof, safe.

Around me were all kinds of vegetable seeds, too many to count.

The family has almost completely transformed their 1,000 acres and are planning for a lot more. That’s going to be some food and vegetable and fruit stand soon.

Ever since religious persecution pushed them into rural areas in Europe hundreds of years ago, the Amish have been tillers of the soil – and very good ones, according to history books.

Their ties to the land have supported their plain and simple life and served as a cradle for their notions of nurturing their children, who they also see as seeds.

Moise and Barbara say a farm is the best place to raise children. They even sometimes refer to it as a “social seedbed,” writes Amish scholar Donald Kraybill, in Simply Amish.

The Amish I have spoken with believe that the farm reflects and promotes their values: responsibility, hard work, community, and teamwork.

Curious, but I feel the same way about my farm and its impact on me and Maria, even though we are so different than the Amish.

This notion of the farm is central to Amish spiritual life.

Kraybill quotes one Amish leader as saying “good soil makes a strong church where we can live together, worship together, and work together.”

I never thought of it quite in that way, yet the Miller farm does have the feeling of a place of worship.

On the farm, says Moise, he and his family are closer to God than anywhere else.

This love of soil is one of the core principles of the Amish faith. From the minute the millers arrived on the hill, they began tending to the soil, considering water, tilling, rock-clearing and nutrients.

Many things are coming together for the family; they are a testament to hard work and ingenuity.

Several people have asked me how to donate to the Amish families. I smile (with an appreciation for their generosity) at the idea that this family would ever need or accept a donation.

There is an assumption that people who live so simply and dress so plainly must be poor. I am learning that this not so. Our gadgets and cars and devices do not make us rich, they are more likely to make us crazy.

The Amish can take care of themselves, and then some. There is a drive and ambition to the farm that surprises me, their lives are peaceful but not tranquil.

I am mesmerized by what I can see, but I couldn’t survive being Amish for a week.

I showed up today when the farm was uncharacteristically tranquil. The family all take naps and rest right after lunch, especially on laundry day. The quiet was in stark contrast to the explosive energy I usually feel on that hill.

Some of the children poked their heads out of bedroom windows to say hello to me.

I can’t wait to see what the greenhouse yields and watch those fields spring to life.

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