Bedlam Farm Blog Journal by Jon Katz

9 May

Hope Springs Eternal: The Little Dog That Could

by Jon Katz

I have the greatest admiration for Bud’s determination and drive. A year or so ago, he saw a chipmunk run-up that maple tree. Every day (like Rose and the imaginary squirrel) he goes to the base of the tree, looks up, barks from time to time.

Bud never quits, he never surrenders to the smallness of his being in a big world. His courage and focus is inspiring. One day….He’s got a couple of moles, but never a chipmunk…

9 May

Happy Mother’s Day: We All Can Mother, We Can All Be Mothered

by Jon Katz

Happy Mother’s Day to mothers, and to those of you with a mother still around and those of you who had a mother, which includes just about everybody.

I am learning in life that any of us can be a good mother to some other living thing, human or animal. Maria, my wonderful wife, is a mother to all of the animals, although she sometimes denies it.

She insists she would have made a terrible mother to humans. I insist she is wrong.

I came into the kitchen last night and I saw that the door to the pantry was closed. Maria had spoken earlier about giving the chicks a chance to walk about and explore the world a bit.

There she was, of course, sitting on the floor with a handful of mealworms talking to the chicks, feeding them by putting the dry worms on her socks, and encouraging them to get off to a good start in life, which is what all good mothers do.

I choose to do some mothering myself. I’m not bad at it. The idea transcends gender, although men don’t have to suffer the pains of childbirth.

My mother is long gone, sometimes I miss her, sometimes I don’t.

Happy day to you, Mom, wherever you are.  You did your best under rough circumstances.

Happy day to all of mothers, men or women. Happy Mother’s Day to all the living beings, plants, and animals (even trees) that need mothering.

That would include every living thing.

8 May

Visiting Moise: Ransomware, Emotions, Blueberries. So This Is What Family Can Be Like

by Jon Katz

In all my life, I’ve never had people in any of my families gather around me, lean against me, and ask me to help them understand a true story of modern and dangerous life in America.

And help them feel safe.

As I sat in the welcoming kitchen Saturday afternoon, the sun bursting through the clouds, children all around me, Moise sitting in front of me, Barbara listening carefully, the family asked me to explain rumors of a terrorist attack on a pipeline that a donut customer told them about yesterday.

I hadn’t been online all day and quickly took out my Iphone and went to the New York Times and then the Washington Post apps to see what they were talking about.

My Iphone fascinates the family; I feel like an alien just landing with a mysterious device that does things no one in their world imagined machines doing.

These are things the Amish both fear and sometimes need. So much of the outside world is incomprehensible to them.

These are things I fear and almost always need.

For the first time, sitting in Moise’s kitchen, I fantasized about a world where we did not need devices either. Or of hackers. I said that aloud and Moise, mysterious as always,  smiled.

Everything came out of my phone, photos,  money, blueberry bushes, weather, news of the world.

I learned right away that the rumors were partly true – one of the nation’s largest fuel pipelines was forced to shut down a pipeline that carries refined gasoline and jet fuel from Texas up the East Coat to New York.

The family needed comfort and news they could trust. The term “terrorism,” which they were told had happened, had a precise meaning for them, all threatening and upsetting. Theirs is a non-violent faith.

So there I was, sitting in their warm and spotless kitchen, the boys coming in to get the mud off their boots, the girls washing their hair and keeping the kitchen stove and floor spotless, Moise taking advantage of my visit to talk blueberry bushes – which I can do now with the best of them – and prepare for the bushes arrival and quick placement into the ground soon.

This is a big new responsibility for me, and I don’t want to screw it up and let Moise down.

Suddenly, the children were all gathered in a circle around my chair, leaning on me, leaning in close, listening to my every word.

I felt that they might have been waiting for me to come and explain this rumor to them.

Moise was sucking quietly on his pipe; Barbara was listening to me intently. The big black gorgeous stoves were silent in front of me.

All the baking was done there.

“Could you tell us what is happening?” Mose asked me. “Is there terrorism?” Moise was calm as always, steady and giving nothing away; his family seemed worried.

Of course, I thought, their farm depends on diesel fuel for so much, and the rumors were frightening and could affect them directly.

“Do any of you know what ransomware is? ” I asked. No one did.

I explained that Ransomware is about ransom. In this case, the ransom was to get stolen information back.

I know they know about that word.

Ransomeware, I said, is a malicious code implanted by software criminals in a computer or network that allows a hacker – an information thief – to take control of sensitive and important information on some else’s computer and to hold the data for ransom, demanding payment from the owner for the information’s release.

In this case, the information was the computer software that made the fuel pipeline work.

They listened carefully and nodded slowly; I couldn’t tell how much of what I was telling them was sinking in.

Some computer experts have gone bad; usually, they are far away and out of reach; they steal other people’s information and demand money to get it back.

The girls were leaning against me, looking at the information I was reading on the phone; it was as if they couldn’t believe that what I was reading came out of there; they were so close I could feel their warmth and trust. Most of the girls had their heads wrapped in towels; they wash their hair often.

Oh, I said, so this is what it is like, this is what I have wanted for so much of my life and so rarely felt. I was so surprised.

I felt like a grandfather or loved uncle, coming by to settle things down. This man was not me and didn’t look like me, he was in my mind calmer than me and warmer, but he was trusted and believed.

He was always welcome, it seemed, and in some ways, he was a gift to them, and in others, they were a gift to him.

So this is what it felt like, I told Maria again and again. It was a shock that ran through my body and soul. I was afraid she wouldn’t know what I was talking about, but she did.

Maria was the first person in my life who held me and trusted me in that way and who I trusted in that way.

There was no hugging or listening or trusting in my first family, and my second family was cold and business-like, and I had no idea how to love or comfort anyone, including myself.

So there I was sitting in this huge room with a dozen people I didn’t know until a few weeks ago. They had entrusted me with the great gift of being trusted and the great task of comforting them, explaining an incomprehensible world to them, people who most often don’t want to know all that much about us.

Mosie just shook his head and said nothing; he never shows emotion; he is the ur-patriarch. But Barbara kept asking me if this meant there would be no diesel fuel available.

I said things might be bumpy for a day or two, but the company’s engineers were already working on getting the fuel flowing. It wasn’t clear when normal operations would resume, but the experts thought it would be soon.

And listen, I said, I know you heard the word “terrorists,” but I wanted to say that they don’t use guns or bombs or kill and assault people in this kind of attack.

They steal information, the very data your community keeps out of their lives and does not depend on. In a sense, you are the safest people around right now; your life can go on a long time without gasoline or diesel fuel or functioning computers.

But I know the diesel fuel is important, you will be able to get it in a day or so, if not already. And I know you have plenty for now.

Barbara nodded; I could see was relieved. The children began to walk and back away and get back to their chores. Moise said he had to get out and till the soil.

I was affected by the trust and love I felt in that room. It shook me open.

It felt so very much like the family I realize I had wanted for most of my life. An Amish family can not ever be my family, for their sake and mine.

But I see we can make a friendship together that is spiritual, loving, trusting, and important to both of us.

I went home to tell Maria about it.  She is my family now, and I am hers, and we are both blessed in that way.

We both started to cry. I was overcome with emotion sitting in that room, the children leaning into me, wanting to touch me, wanting me to explain that they were safe.

What an insane country we must appear to be to them. I never before felt what I felt in that room at that moment. I think that this is what life is really about; this is what humanity and love are. This almost knocked me over.


After I read aloud the stories about the fuel pipeline ransomware attack, I got back to business. The Amish accept that whatever happens in the world is God’s choice; they don’t question that or freak out about it, as the “English” tend to do.

They wanted and need to know what happened, but their faith tells them to let go, accept God’s will, and move on. So they were moving on, and I had a good deal of blueberry business to finish.

It was an emotional transition for me, but not for them.

I told Moise I thought we might take advantage of the moment to experiment with a few other kinds of blueberries than the 30-row brush bushes I had ordered, and which are coming soon.

He had also read and heard that it was a good idea to try two or three different kinds of blueberry bushes.

I told him I had ordered four Bluecrop Blueberry bushes; they are known to be tart and excellent for cooking and are happy and safe in our climate and good for picking and eating.

I ordered four plus shipping, which added up to $128.28. These bushes probably won’t bear fruit this year, but they are popular and much in demand.

We’ll get a look at how these bushes turn out.

I also told him I recommended ordering four one-gallon pot bushes of Nannyberrys ( viburnum lentigo).

They are described as hardy and versatile shrub, showing off all year, from the showy white flowers in May to the burgundy autumn leaf color and dark blueberries, sweet and big and good for making jelly.

Four plants plus shipping totaled $168.65. He said those were good ideas, and he wanted to see these different blueberry plants and learn about them.

We both were glad that we moved quickly on the 30 bushes; most nurseries were sold out of blueberry bushes this week.  And I doubt they’ll be on sale for $10 apiece next year.

Maria and I agreed that if Moise doesn’t like the Nannyberry Viburnum’s, we’d be happy to plant them at Bedlam Farm.

We had a great spot for them.

Blueberry bushes need to get planted by late May and June at the last. I came to buy to drop off a giant package of  Peat Moss, we will need a lot more, and I want to make sure it doesn’t sell out first.

We talked about hole diameter, watering approach, the acidity of the soil, netting, and the precise mixing of peat moss and soil.

The girls jumped in asked me a dozen knowing questions; they clearly will be an important part of the planting and growing of this crop.

I sensed some worry in Moise and Barbara, and I realized how difficult it must be to hear an important “terrorist” attack on the country without comprehending what it was or how dangerous it.

I thought it was interesting that I came along just at the right time. And I didn’t know anything had happened.

I saw them also taking in the dizzying skill of the Iphone and its amazing ability to reach out into the world and pull in the information we wanted to know.

Our friendship has evolved to the point where we tell each other when we are going away. I told Moise that I was going to New York to see my granddaughter after being separated for a year by Covid-19.

Moise did not permit the virus to keep him apart from his family.

“When are you coming back?” he asked, and I said early Monday morning. I said I hoped he had a horse ready when all those blueberry bushes were delivered to the farm. His oldest daughter graciously offered to come and pick them up with a horse and cart.

“Don’t worry,” I said, “when those bushes arrive, you’ll hear me yelling for help all the way down the road and from my driveway.” The kids all laughed; they’ll be there fast enough. Moise and I are thinking of sending up smoke signals when we need to talk. I’m game.

My Blueberry bush campaign is moving along and quickly.  So far, so good.

I’m enjoying learning about this crop.

The 30 three-year-old bushes  I purchased on behalf of Moise should be arriving this week.

I’m nervous about this bunch; this is the delivery that will mean Moise has a blueberry crop for this year or not.

As I was leaving, Moise told me he just reached an agreement with his neighbor to lease a green pasture on her property that was no longer being used for cows. Yesterday, he began walking his cows and horses over to spend the summer there, saving him a small fortune in hay.

Moise is the best deal maker I’ve ever seen.

He has a new idea every other minute and knows how to negotiate without taking advantage of people or upsetting them. He got the pasture for less money than I’ve spent each month on some apps.


8 May

Charlie’s Going To The American Museum Of Fly Fishing

by Jon Katz

Good news today in the mail. Charlie and I are going to the American Museum of Fly Fishing in Manchester, Vt.,

Four Guest Passes arrived from the museum today. The Museum is the world’s largest public repository of angling art and artifacts.

The museum staff read about Charlie the Fly Fisherman/now a Mansion resident, on my blog and e-mailed me to offer the free passes. Charlie is a sweet and courteous man. He was aching to go fishing. When I told him we were going to the museum, he cried.

Charlie, a new resident of the Mansion, is a passionate fly fisherman, he was roused from deep depression as the long pandemic isolation winded down. A Mansion aide took him fishing on her own time.

The staff was worried about him.

They are not worried about him right now. He is all smiles.

Also in the mail today was a new wading kit for him to put on when he and I go fishing in June (it will be the first time I have ever really gone fishing in my life.

When I joined the  Quakers as a messed-up teenager, I resolved not to take animal life for any reason other than to protect people or to put it out of its suffering. I’ve kept my word.

I’m not crazy about mud or mosquitoes either.

I can watch and cheer him on.

But I can keep him company and there are two tickets for some aides if they want to go. I got Charlie a fly cap, a fly kit, some fishing books, a vest, and today, a wading suit.

He has about 15 rods in his room. We are prepared. I till go as myself, a sissified city boy who never had a fishing rod. Don’t see how it can be anything but fun.

There’s a great pizza place a half-mile from the museum, we’ll have lunch there and tell each other lies.

We are ready to go. We’ll start with the Fly Fishing Museum next week. All I have to do is sign him out and feed him and bring him back safely.

It will be a joy. I look forward to it. Then (gulp) Charlie is fun, and he has a lot of fishing stories. I hope he will understand that I can’t fish. I think he perhaps can’t imagine it.

He loves to talk about the North Caroline fishing tournament where he beat the Orvis team. Orvis, the fishing and outdoor megastore,  is right next to the Fly Fishing Museum, perhaps we will go visit and do a little strutting.

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