Author Jon Katz (Peter Hanks)
Writer Jon Katz moved from the suburbs to a rural farm, and has never looked back. Katz tells host Steve Curwood about his many four-legged friends and his latest book, “Dog Days: Dispatches from Bedlam Farm.”
CURWOOD: Five years ago, Jon Katz left behind his life as a mystery writer in suburban New Jersey and took to the hills of upstate New York to buy a farm. His growing menagerie of dogs and farm animals, and sometimes rocky transition to rural life has provided him with plenty of material to continue writing. Jon Katz’s latest book is called “Dog Days: Dispatches from Bedlam Farm.” Hello, Jon.
KATZ: Hi Steve, thanks for having me on.
CURWOOD: So, how does a guy from Jersey wind up on a farm?
KATZ: A good question. My wife also asks this quite often and um I’m working on that. You know it was never my dream to have a farm. I’m not sure I ever really set foot on a farm other than to buy some corn, in my life. I was driving past this place and I looked up this hill and I saw this sprawling old farmhouse, Civil War farmhouse, with four collapsing barns on a beautiful hill. And I just wanted it. And I thought being middle-aged does not mean to me that I have to stop learning and growing and changing. So I think it’s neat to pursue a dream at that point in life when you’re in danger of kind of closing up a bit, shutting down a bit, getting rusty, to be thrown into this new and very enthralling experience. It’s been good for me as a writer. It’s been good for me as a human, and I’m very grateful for it.
CURWOOD: Now, your new book is called “Dog Days” does this just mean summer, John?
KATZ: Well, it means summer. It means a bunch of things. But I discovered in researching the book, it was a specific period of time, July 3rd through August 11th that the Romans called the dog days or the days of great heat because Sirius the dog star rises with the sun during those days and the Romans blame those two stars for the warmth. When I learned this I took my two dogs up the hill behind the farm and sat there at four in the morning and waited for Sirius to come up. I wanted to check this out, being a former journalist. And it’s true this quite beautiful star pops out with the sun. So, it’s become a tradition on the farm now, several times during the dog days, which also to me are a state of mind, kind of a time where even in America we slow down, take a breath. To me it was about reconnecting with nature, which is sort of what had happened to me on the farm. Reconnecting with animals, reconnecting with the animal parts of me. The term kind of fleshed out for me.
CURWOOD: I’m looking at the cover of your new book, “Dog Days, Dispatches from Bedlam Farm” and who am I looking at on your cover?
KATZ: That is Izzy who is lying right at my feet as we speak. And he’s my media dog. He accompanies me on the book tour. He came from a farm nearby. People bought the farm and left him and another border collie pretty much on their own for four or five years. And he came to me, of course to train and of course find a new home, naturally. And he’s still here, naturally, as is the other dog. And so it goes. The motto of the farm should be “one thing leads to another”. Which is how I have four donkeys, two steers, a cow, a rooster, a bunch of sheep, and tomorrow two goats.
CURWOOD: (laughs) Ok, now I want to ask you about your other border collie, Rose, and tell me a story about her when you bought a new ram back to the farm.
KATZ: Well, Rose is my hero. Rose is a four-year-old border collie. She is really the farm manager is the best way I can describe her. And Rose is waiting for the ram. Usually they’re pretty belligerent. They can butt and bump into people. In the case of last year’s ram, I believe his name was Rumsfield. And he came in and everyone warned me to be careful around him. And Rose is eyeing him carefully. I let him in and he struts around and kind of unnerves the ewes and glowers at everybody and butts towards me and then I let Rose in. She marches up the hill with her head to the ground giving him the eye and he rushed out to challenge her. At which point she circled around him and came up behind him and attached herself to his private parts and hung on. And I heard this piercing scream and he ran around for a couple minutes. And then she ran around and was waiting for him on the other side and nipped at his nose and spun him around in circles. And he eventually ran into the center of the flock of ewes and hid.
KATZ: So much for the tough guy.
CURWOOD: So you call your place Bedlam Farm and it certainly sounds like it. You have all kinds of animals there and then you have a steer named Elvis.
KATZ: Elvis was a little more complicated story because a dairy farmer came to my farm one day and said he had a problem. First time in 45 years that he had a steer he could not send to market. He was looking very uncomfortable because farmers don’t usually have a lot of trouble doing that. He called him Brownie at the time. He said, “I have this guy named Brownie. He just doesn’t want to get on the truck. I feel like he knows me. He follows me around. He puts his head on my shoulder. He’s staring at me all the time. I just can’t put him on the truck.” Of course I realized that a farmer can’t really keep a steer as a pet. That would look bad. And giving him away for free would be even worse. So, he has to find a big enough idiot to take him and feed him for years, which he thought he had found in me. Which he did, I bought him for 500 bucks.
KATZ: He is very sociable. He comes up and puts his head on my shoulder and he likes to kiss me. He eats my hat. He can be a little drooly. You have not been kissed until you’ve been kissed by Elvis. Elvis reminds me a bit of Shreck, you know he’s very loveable and very big and people tend to run when they see him. He is sweet. How can I tell you? I never thought I would know a steer. I never thought I would love a steer. But I go up in the morning with him and we sit and stare out at the green hills of Vermont. And he has this great contemplative quality. He can sit for hours and do nothing in particular with great enthusiasm. So, I’m very fond of him.
CURWOOD: So, John Katz, you’ve been doing this now for…this is year five?
KATZ: Yes, this is the fifth year.
CURWOOD: So, you’re in this for the long haul?
KATZ: Yes, absolutely I feel you know there’s a physical component to running a farm. I had my troubles there. You know I had um frost bite, a lot back trouble, I’ve fallen down many times, ice is brutal, there’s a lot of lifting. There does come a point, I’m sure where you have to kind of be realistic about it and say you can’t do it any more but I don’t feel even close to that point. I’ve gotten some really good help. And I see the farm as a very, very positive beautiful experience for me. I just, there’s 20 more books I want to write. So, I just feel I’ve come home. I don’t feel I’m in a strange place. I feel I am where I belong. I couldn’t explain why that’s true but it is.
CURWOOD: John Katz’s newest book is called “Dog Days, Dispatches from Bedlam Farm” Thanks so much John.
KATZ: Thank you very much.
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