1 October 2014

Grief And Loss. How I Am. Who I Am.

By: Jon Katz
Grief And Loss

Grief And Loss

Walking through the town cemetery yesterday, I came across a statue I not quite noticed before, and it touched me more than many of the others I had seen. It made me start to cry. It was a perfect expression of grief and loss. Tears of grief and loss simply welled up in me and came pouring out, Red came rushing over, puzzled and concerned, ever the therapy dog.

I have no idea what made me cry, except for the sadness in this beautiful piece, the loss. All of us have lost things in our lives – people, things, hopes and dreams, loves and memories. I am getting older now, and sometimes the things I have lost just pile up and rush through my consciousness, I feel sad about it. So many people, so many dreams, so much pain.

I have come to see grief and loss as cleansing. Also, as universal.  Grief connects me to everyone, to you. Grief does not belong to me, it is a part of every being, every life. We have all lost things, and will lose more things. Grace, for me, is how I respond to that. I do not wish to deny grief, nor let it ever consume or dominate me.

I do not see my life as sad, I do not see it as a struggle, I see it as a life, and every life has loss and grief. I wrote an e-mail to a friend I hadn't spoken with in a long while, she asked me how I was, she wanted me to help her catch up on my life, and I started by talking about the past few years – the divorce, the trouble selling Bedlam Farm, the changes in publishing, my surgery. I felt uncomfortable, I re-read the message and took a deep breath. Then I deleted all of that.

I started again.

"My life is quite wonderful," I said. "I am still writing my books, I am very happily re-married, I am healthier than I have been in many years, I love the new home we live in, I am making good and lasting friends. In two weeks, we will have a joyous celebration of our lives, an Open House to mark our life on the farm and our rebirth together. In January, we will go to Disney World, a gift from people who love and care about us."

Both messages are true, I can see myself either way. Struggle stories and lament are the currencies of our time, just check your Facebook feed, there are rivers of grief out there. But I liked the second message much better, it was true, and it was me, an authentic reflection of my life. I cannot escape grief, I cannot conjure up a life without trouble. But I can choose how I define myself, who I am.

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What Is A Still Life, Anyway? Friendship.

By: Jon Katz
Still Life

Still Life

I had lunch at the Round House Cafe today with my friend Scott Carrino, the co-owner of the cafe  – Maria was off in a different corner with her women's group, her friends Mandy and Athena. Scott came over and we ate our sandwiches together, and we talked about the spiritual side of my surgery, the New York carriage horses, his writing and the Tai Chi lessons I am about to receive from him.

My friendship with Scott has grown and deepened over the past year. We talked a lot when his dog Deo died, we have worked together on his writing, and the past weeks have seen some big breakthroughs for him. He has bravely written about painful issues in his childhood, and has begun to post regularly on the Creative Group At Bedlam Farm, a creative community headquartered on my Facebook Home Page.

Scott's ambition is to be creative every day, to write and create his music. He is there, it is a beautiful thing to see unfold. Scott is a good and generous spirit, far more tolerant and easy going than I am. His response to the travail in his life is to be a good person, every day and to do good.

I realized recently that Scott and I have become close friends, good friends, easy and honest with one another. Friendships like that among men are miracles, and rare occurrences, at least in my life. I have moved so many times, changed so many times, I have left so many people and friends behind. I do not look back much on life, but I regret that, friends are important to me, it has often been lonely without them.

I wondered, after my lunch, what it is that makes a friendship stick?  Scott and I genuinely like one another, we get a kick out of each other. We respect and admire one another. We both share a passion for creativity and an interest in it, we support one another. We stay in touch, both of us can be distracted and busy, but we always find some time for each other. Once in awhile, I will go to his farm and help out with sugaring, or just sit and talk. Once in awhile, Scott pulls into the driveway and we sit out on the Adirondack chairs and talk, it is always easy, always good. We ask one another for help, and we provide it, always. When I came home from the hospital, Scott was the first person to show up, he brought good for a week or so, he just showed up with food when we badly needed that help, we were both so overwhelmed.

We have made a difference in one another's lives. My sometimes intense personality does not bother him at all, as it does some people, he just laughs at me when it is appropriate, listens when that is right. We trust one another, and trust is like money in the bank, it builds and builds. I suppose what initially drew us to one another are the wounds deep inside each of us, but it is more than that now, it is love and connection.

I think, in an odd way, of our friendship as a still life, difficult to define but clear enough when you see and feel it.  And beautiful. I am working on friendships, I might be making another friend or two as well. Life's miracles, once one opens to them. Friendship is a sign of my healing, and not from the surgery. A sign of opening, of growth.

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Carrots

By: Jon Katz
Carrots

Carrots

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Lines

By: Jon Katz
Lines

Lines

When I first started taking pictures, a famous photographer offered me advice. One of the first things he told me was to never include telephone lines in any of my photos. They break of the sky, he said, they are an ugly intrusion in landscapes. Ever since then, I have always worked to include phone lines in my landscapes, they are part of the reality of life to me, they speak about truth. This photo is all about lines, and this is why I loved Beavis & Butthead. Because they were stupid, they were free. Because they did not know what they were supposed to think, they could think.

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The Carriage Horses: Saving The Vanishing Animals Of Our World

By: Jon Katz
Who Will Save The Dying

Who Will Save The Dying

The World Wildlife Fund (WWF) reminded me this week why I care so much about the New York Carriage Horses and why their fate is a matter of the greatest urgency to anyone who loves animals and wishes to save them in our world. There is not much time, and every animal we can keep among us is precious. For people who love animal rights and who love human rights, this is our Gettysburg, our stand, our truth, a struggle over the future of animals that cannot be lost.

On Tuesday, The WWF reported in a massive and detailed survey that more than half of the animals on the earth have died since 1970, horrific losses that can never be replaced, an ongoing catastrophe that can never be undone.

The carriage horses must not be a part of it.

Global wildlife populations shrunk by 52 percent between 1970 and 2010, according to the group's biennial Living Planet Report. Tuesday’s numbers almost double 2012’s projections, suggesting wildlife decline is happening at a much faster rate than previously believed.

The report tracks population changes in more than 10,000 vertebrate species. It also examines consumption of goods and resources, greenhouse gas emissions, natural resource availability and other bookmarks of humanity’s ecological footprint. Climate change and the ravages of human beings are the primary reasons for the staggering decline. Anyone who presumes to speak for the rights of animals ought to read this report and think of  how the animals of the world can be saved, not banned.

The report breaks wildlife populations down into three major categories: Terrestrial, freshwater and marine. Terrestrial populations – like elephants, tigers, lions and rhinos – saw a 39 percent decline, as did marine animals. Freshwater animals – like frogs, salamanders, shorebirds and non-marine aquatic life – were hardest hit, with a population decline of 76 percent.

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How does this relate to the New York Carriage Horses?

These horses are among the safest and most secure animals on the earth. Animals in the wild – the place some people who call themselves supporters of animal rights  insist all horses should be – are disappearing at a horrific rate. The New York Carriage Horses live long and healthy lives, doing valuable work for human beings who – unlike most of their peers on the earth – take good care of their animals.

We know now for certain that the horses are not abused or mistreated, they are well cared for and among the most fortunate animals on the earth. We knew this even before the World Wildlife Fund report, but that does add some perspective. The horses in New York with their big bellies and shiny coats and long lives are not the animals in need of attention and rescue.

Animals without such work and human connection are disappearing all over the world, in part to human development, says the WWF, in part to global warming. The carriage horses have both, and are thriving. Yet they are in peril as well.

The great irony of the carriage horse controversy is the great and wrong-headed arrogance and ignorance about horses and animals it has exposed, both in the city's mayor and his allies in the animal rights movement. The carriage trade has managed to find a way to keep some of the last domesticated animals in our country in our greatest city, and to keep them healthy and safe. This is precisely what the rest of the world is desperate to learn how to do.

The people in the carriage trade have found productive and profitable work for the horses and managed to develop systems of affordable and realistic care that have been praised by one equine advocacy group after another, and a long list of equine veterinarians, hordes of regulators, police monitors and horse associations.

Just think of it. In New York City, we can see these beautiful draft horses every day – watch them as we pass, touch them if we wish, ride in the carriages if we like. We can see them outside of a zoo or farm or reservation, working and standing safely among us, for us to see, for our children to see, an extraordinary connection to our past, to our troubled planet,  and an opportunity for our future.

Without the carriage trade, these horses – almost every one a rescue from slaughterhouse-bound auctions – would be numbers in the World Wildlife Fund's devastating report. They have, for all of their existence, lived among people and worked with them. In a just world, the carriage drivers would be invited to a big ceremony at City Hall, given medals for aiding the environment, for preserving the lives of animals, and for providing care that is far beyond what the vast majority of horses in the world could ever hope to receive.

Instead, they are being threatened, assaulted and dehumanized,  fighting for the lives and their sustenance at the hands of an enraged and irrational fringe movement – a millionaire developer's mid-life hobby –  that hides behind the love of animals to cruelly abuse people. And a naive mayor who doesn't seem to know a horse from a groundhog.

The most urgent right of animals is to survive in our world. If the animal population continues to decline at the current rate, there will be few, if any animals, they will exist only in images, videos, zoos, the preserves of the rich,  and online archives. If the carriage horses leave, they will never return, yet another tragedy for animals that can never be undone.

They will never been seen again by the vast majority of people, including the many children, lovers, visitors and romantics who especially love them.  They will be sent out into the holocaust destroying the animal population on the earth. More than 155,000 horses are sent to slaughter every year in Mexico and Canada, overwhelmed horse rescue farms say they cannot come close to keeping up. Even if places were found for each of the 200 carriage horses in New York, that would mean 200 other horses would die painful and unnecessary deaths.

Are we really to accept an animal rights movement that seeks to take animals from us, make it ever more difficult to adopt and live with them, and articulates the idea that animals like horses can be killed in order to be saved from people who wish to care for them? Is that the vision that will save the animals in our world from extinction?

Animals without work and purpose, without special connection to human beings are perishing. If the horses are sent away, no one can protect them from the animal diaspora well underway, accelerated by human ignorance and cruelty and climate change.

People who love animals are fighting all over the earth, from farmer's markets in Europe to the new farms of the young, to help the environment by bringing back draft horses and mules to replace tractors and trucks. In New York City, which claims to be one of the most progressive cities in the world, the mayor and his supporters in the animal rights movements are fighting to replace the horses with expensive electric cars requiring artificial power and made of metal and ore, and claiming they are ecologically superior to horses.

This is perhaps the only place in the world that claim is being made,  (Google it for yourself. I did.)  I often wonder how this claim can be made with a straight face.

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The carriage horse controversy is important beyond the New York horses.

There are many issues in this conflict – including the question of freedom and the role of government. Democratic governments exist to preserve freedom and protect property. In New York, a mayor who travels the world claiming to be a leader of the progressive political movement in America endorses a campaign to deny the people in the carriage trade their freedom and way of life, and their property – the horses. If the mayor knows little about horses, he seems to know less about justice or humanism: it is not progressive to persecute people without cause, to deny them their way of life without due process or dialogue, and to take their property – their animals – from them.

Beyond that, the future of animals is the world is no longer a scientific or remote debate. Animals are at the crossroads, and if the animals of the world cannot be made safe and secure and preserved, human life will almost surely follow them to decline and extinction. People do not exist apart from animals – a seminal message in the carriage trade conflict – we exist in partnership with them, and always have. Their fate is not separate from ours, their future cannot be separated from ours. Their path is ours, that is the real message of the carriage horses, it is being heard all over the country.

Of all the animals on the earth, horses have the oldest and closest ties to human beings, we have built our world together with them. New York City too. If they are banned, our souls and spirits will go with them.

The carriage horses are a symbol of this great and important moment. They speak to us of the future of animals. They speak to us of the way human beings treat one another. They speak to us of the future of the earth. If the New York Carriage Horses vanish from our lives, as the animal rights movement seems determined for them to do, they will join the awful list prepared by the World Wildlife Fund.

It is time, finally, to decide if we want animals among us, or not, and if so, what we are willing to do and sacrifice to keep them here. For me, it begins with the carriage horses, loved and healthy and well cared for animals thriving in the midst of the great city, offering symbolism, comfort, entertainment, profit and history to countless numbers of people. For me, the campaign to save the animals in our world begins here, on our biggest stage, in Central Park, in the stables of New York City. All of the world is watching, waiting for a sign, a message.

For the sake of the animals of the world, the message they must see is that finally, at long last, one of the most important cities of the world says, "enough, enough. We want to save the animals in the world, we want to keep the horses here. It is time. It begins with the New York Carriage Horses."

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