29 May 2015

Lord Moshimer

By: Jon Katz
Lord Moshimer

Lord Moshimer

I called Paul "Lord Moshimer." He was a big man, in his former life he was a fire chief and First Responder, he knew how to rescue things, it was perhaps natural that he and Pamela found one another and devoted themselves to the rescue and nurture of horses.

When I first met Paul, I could hardly believe his presence and charisma. Some days he looked like Moses coming down from the mount, on others he reminded me of Lord Nelson standing on the deck of his flagship, sailing off to challenge the Spanish Armada.

He filled whatever space he was in, he embodied the idea of the larger than life human being with his large frame and white hair and beard. But he was a gentle giant, he loved to laugh at himself and remind others not to take things too seriously. One day, a passerby saw a horse at Blue-Star taking a nap and he pulled into the driveway and demanded to know if the horse was being abused, and what was being done about it.

Pamela tried to explain that the horse was sleeping, but the man become more belligerent and obnoxious. Suddenly, Paul was hovering by the car, fixing the man with his steely blue eyes and asking softly "is there a problem here?" No, said the man, no problem, and he left.

Paul was a peacemaker, not a fighter, but he stood for many good things and would not easily back down from them. I liked his red bi-focals, always hanging from his shirt. He had a great dubious look when he put them on and stared at somebody.I think Paul had a good sense of who he was and how he wanted to be seen. He told me once that me and some of his other friends were going to do great things together.

I believe that is true, and I love him for saying it.

Posted in General

The Awful Beauty Of Life: To Blue-Star

By: Jon Katz
The Awful Beauty Of Life

The Awful Beauty Of Life

There is nothing that focuses one on life more than death. Death is a universal experience we will all share and I get closer to it every day of my life. There is an awful beauty to life and death.

Today, we are making a trip I never wanted to make – to mourn Paul Moshimer with his wife and partner and his many friends – at Blue-Star Equiculture, a place that has become nearly as important to me as my own home. But there is this curious dichotomy. At the same time I am eager to go and share in the experience of marking the passage of a rare and wonderful human being, a pilgrim every day of his life.

Maria will stay behind at Blue-Star this weekend to help Pamela and to help care for the horses, I will come home this afternoon to care for the farm and the animals, to teach my class tomorrow at Hubbard Hall, and then I will return on Sunday. It is typical of Maria and her great heart that she wants so much to help. There will be a four-day mourning period for Paul in the Native-American tradition, a fire burning day and night.

I am very eager to see Pamela and hold her, this loss is hers. Maria is very close to Pamela, they are sisters in a way, she will be a comfort to her, as she is to everyone she encounters. I want to understand this loss, if I can.

As sorry as I am to go and mark Paul's death, I am anxious to see Pamela and touch my heart to hers and also touch and feel the brotherhood of Paul's very devoted friends. I need them today, as I imagine they may need me. I need to go.

I doubt I will ever have as many friends as Paul had, or experience such devotion and love. I have often said that the men I love were either tortured as children or humiliated as adults, and both experienced both, as I have, it was part of our bond, and his bond with other opened-up men. Paul was a philosopher-king in so many ways, he was eager every day of his life to talk about all of the things most men run from for dear life – love, death, hope, self-awareness.

Paul and I shared a belief in Gabriel Garcia Marquez's idea that we are not born once when our mothers give birth to us, life requires us to give rebirth to ourselves again and again. Paul and I shared the very powerful experience of rebirth and a passion for redemption. We never have stopped taking responsibility for our trials and mistakes, we were both committed to being better and to helping one another be better.

Last night, I read my poem Golden Fields at the Round House Cafe, it felt good, I lost it a bit, but was buoyed by the warmth and trust of the people there, many of them bright and talented high school students.

Paul believed in me, and that is the greatest gift one can have. He always made me feel good about myself. He read my writing every day and thought about it, shared it, talked about it, challenged it. He was an intuitive friend and fellow traveler, it was a part of him. He was so open to the spirits and ideas and values of other people, he was so baffled, as I am, by the epidemic hate and anger raging in the world sometimes. I am grateful to the New York Carriage  Horses for bringing Paul and Pamela and the horses deeper into my life and my life with Maria.

Pamela is a strong and powerful woman, I feel for her, I cannot pity her. She does not need that. She loves the big horses every moment of every day. She is passionate and suffused with faith and mystery and conviction, if there is any human being strong and deep enough to stand in the face of this awful storm, it is her. I hope I can be of help. So off to Blue-Star, another chapter in the crisis and mystery that is life.

Posted in General
28 May 2015

Joshua Rockwood: The Human Toll Of Animal Abuse. A Life On Hold.

By: Jon Katz
A Life On Hold

A Life On Hold

Last week, Joshua Rockwood took his five-year-old son Hunter along when he went to pick up some geese someone had offered him for his farm. They pulled into a parking lot to go and buy something at a convenience store and Hunter noticed a car with blue lights on top. They were not flashing.  It was a volunteer fireman sitting inside of his car.

Hunter turned to his father, "Dad, they are cops," he said. "We have geese in the car! They will take our geese!" Joshua assured his son that no one would be taking their geese. The volunteer firemen saw that Hunter was upset. "I'm not a cop," he assured the boy, "and it's not against the law to have geese in your truck."

It was difficult for Joshua to see his son think of the police in that way. "He's five years old," he said, "It hurts to see him thinking that way." But there is no much in Joshua's life that is normal these days, his is a life on hold.

It is not a simple thing to be fighting for your life and family and work at the age of 34 when your only crime seems to be having a farm during an awful winter, and having some things to learn.


These are the long hard days for Joshua Rockwood and for his family. Next Tuesday, June 2, yet another hearing is scheduled on the accusations of animal cruelty and neglect that were filed against him in March. He is not sure how many counts he faces – somewhere between 12 and 17 – and he reluctantly admits that the process is taking a toll. He says it is difficult not to be able to go on with his life.

Joshua Rockwood lives in the new world of hysteria over animal cruelty,  where  secret informers with their own very new ideas about animal abuse have the power to turn  his life – and the life of many others – upside down, in a heartbeat,  and with a single, often anonymous,  phone call.

When he started his farm less than a year ago, Joshua Rockwood did not expect one of the coldest winters in history. Nor did he expect to facing 17 years in jail. He knows, he says, that he is not likely to be sent to jail on these charges – our farrier calls them "Bullshit Misdemeanors."

He thought if he was open and co-operative – he had nothing to hide, and hid nothing – the system would work for him. It did not.

He has not found it easy to ignore these very dark shadows hanging over his head, his family and his life. There is a very human side to being accused of awful crimes, when almost no one with any experience or  sense of responsibility believes he is guilty of anything, when even the threat of going to jail hangs heavy over the life of a young and very idealistic farmer who was excited about offering healthy food to local people.

He is a proud part of a new local/healthy food movement sparked by young people that is sweeping the country. Six years ago, Joshua was diagnosed with a serious heart disease, doctors wanted to put him on medication for the rest of his life, he chose to study nutrition and change his diet as well, and his illness receded.

As a result, he decided to produce healthy food and sell it  to people in his community. He was beginning to put it all together when the police and some animal rescue groups raided his home, took his horses and branded him an animal abuser.

He says it is hard for him to keep focus sometimes since the arrest, he was always up and out of bed by 4:30, sometimes he finds that he has trouble getting up that early now. Because of meetings and court appearances, Joshua had to miss several butchering appointments, he could not get his animals to slaughter, so he is behind his sales goals – and Joshua is very serious about goals, he has goals for every aspect of his farm. Then there is the ugly publicity surrounding his arrest, and the removal of three horses from his farm. When his mug shot was broadcast by local TV channels – he looked like a thug in the mug shot – he lost more than 10 per cent of his customers.

He is working hard to get them back, but it is hard to launch any sustained kind of marketing campaign when he faces so much distraction, so many meetings, decisions, concerns. Thursday, I spent the afternoon with Joshua at his farm once again, we walked all around his 90 acres, to the pigs, the cows, the hens, the sheep and goats, we climbed up hills, over fences, hiked around ponds,  through mud and much.

Joshua is a farm geek, he knows every inch of the farm, keeps a count of the animals in his head. He has elaborate systems in place for rotational grazing, he moves the animals every day or to keep the shrubs down and the grass growing. He even moves the chickens around so that will eat the fly larvae in the cowpies which gives them protein and keeps the fly population in check.

Joshua is a careful man, a soft-spoken and very open man. He does not ever admit to feeling anger and fear, yet I can see and hear traces of both in him at times, and how could he not  feel those things? Running a 90-acre farm with sheep, cattle, pigs, chickens, goats and working dogs takes an enormous amount of energy and drive and focus, and those are not easy things to feel and do when the state is seeking to put you on trial for things almost everyone – surely including me – believes he did not do. He fears being late for a feeding – the police might show up.

He is afraid to leave the farm unattended – secret informers might drive by often, he says, looking for a hole in a shelter, poor fencing, an animal wandering in the woods.  These are not paranoid ravings, he says, they have happened to him. He won't buy a new truck because he thinks it would be unfair to the many people who contributed to his legal defense fund. He is afraid of taking time off, what if he is raided again? Plus, he says, the government hopes to put him in jail.

"It's a frightening thing," he said, in a very rare comment on his life now. "You think that the police and other people can't just come crashing into your life, take your property, accuse you of all kinds of things when you are not guilty, and then your life is turned upside down and you are threatened with jail and this long and expensive process…" He paused for a minute, and said, "I guess I wonder if some day they can't just come and take my children away."

If Joshua feels any anger, he does not show it. Sometimes, there is a sadness in his eyes. I asked him yesterday what it was that he most wanted in the world, and he answered without thinking too long that it was this: he wanted to be able to never say no to his wife, to make sure she had everything she wanted or asked for.

He thinks that is no longer possible for him, all of his money goes to surviving.

There are many thousands of Joshua Rockwood's in America right now, swept up in the new and very Orwellian hysteria over the abuse of animals. Some seem guilty, many are found to not be guilty, but in the long and frightening time between their accusations and disgrace and the resolution of their cases, the human toll on them and their lives is often staggering – shame and humiliation, enormous legal fees, the loss of their animals or businesses or farms.

The movement to curb the abuse of animals is becoming justice-by-mob, ranks of untrained, non-elected or sworn officers, non-professional, anti-science ideologues passing judgement on farmers and people who live, work and love animals. This new animal militia is often tied to the police and the courts in an ill-defined and quasi-legal way. They have a new and unscientific notion of what animal abuse, neglect and cruelty is, and their ideas about animals and abuse differs radically from the traditional definitions of the law, from common sense, from the experience of people who know and work with animals.

According to the online dictionary Wickipedia, "Orwellian is an adjective describing the situation, idea or social condition that the author George Orwell wrote about as being destructive to the welfare of a free and open society, and to due process of law.

It describes a legal system controlled by propaganda, surveillance, secret informers, misinformation, denial of truth and the manipulation of facts, the past and the law. People who run afoul of this system are destroyed, they become "unpersons," someone whose past existence is expunged from the public record and memory.

The people who came to Joshua's farm and up-ended his life – unknown accusers and informers,  police officers, politicized veterinarians and animal welfare organizations – seem to have no real idea about what farms are like, or how farm animals live. Farm animals do not live in heated barns, their water sources often freeze when the temperature plunges well below zero, and farm shelters are much more adequate than the life in nature that so many people insist is the proper place for all animals to live.

Joshua is among the more fortunate, if you can call anyone in his position fortunate. Hundreds, if not thousands of farmers and animal lovers – sensing and seeing the injustice that hangs over this case like a dark cloud – have come to his aid, flocking the court hearings, contributing to his legal defense fund, offering his support and good wishes.

Joshua seems like a tough and resilient human being to me. But I can see the cost and potential harm, too. Joshua contains  his emotions, but he can't hide them. He hurts sometimes. I wonder if the people who do this to people have any idea how much suffering they cause? They seem not to care, the targets are so dehumanized they are rarely considered fit subjects for empathy or compassion.

Joshua is  young and idealistic, he loves farming and loves a life with animals, he is not an animal abuser, he is just a young man living with the very real possibility that his farm, his animals and his livelihood will be taken a way from him. He is worried about the toll on his wife and two children. He admits to losing energy and concentration, struggling to concentrate on his business, having the time to draw new customers to replace the ones he lost. Unfortunately, there are many people in our culture who believe what they see on television, another Orwellian trait is that the accused are presumed to be guilty, not innocent.

There is no justice for "unpersons." Just ask the New York Carriage Horse drivers, they have been living this Orwellian nightmare for years.

Joshua and I have an agreement that we will not discuss the details of his case. Sometimes, when I talk to Joshua, there is a sadness and weariness about him. Today, his mood had brightened a bit, it was a cool and beautiful Spring day, he seems to love  nothing more than dragging visitors around every inch of his farm, describing most of the hundreds of animal – who is pregnant, who is too fat, who is approachable, who is not, which fences go where, which grass is rich, which weed the cows love to eat.

He is nearly obsessed with animal nutrition – grass and feed, body weight, color and tone.  He has Italian Maremma animal guard dogs he moves from baby goats to sheep to meat hens each night to make sure they are safe. He wants his pork and beef and meat to be healthy and appreciated. He studies weight and talks in detail about  transportation costs, butchering appointments (they have to be made a year in advance), online marketing and storage. He has joined a business group to learn more about how real businesses operate. He is planning for next winter, if he gets that far.

But he can't plan too much or too far or too long, his future is uncertain, his time and money limited,  legal fees are eating up his savings, and his life revolves around court appearances and legal conferences whose schedules are not in his hands. "I want to get my life back," he says. His life is on  hold, and may be for months. Because his water systems froze in -27 degrees, his barns and shelters – very typical of animal shelters on farms – did not please the police officers or humane society, a horse rescue farm recommended seizing his horses, his hay was in storage away from his animals, and two pigs had gray matter on their ears.

It is troubling for me to think about about his children and how this will affect them, it is painful to think about how it might affect him. What kind of people, I keep wondering, do this sort of thing to other people with such relish and thoughtlessness and cruelty? And then claim to be protecting animals from abuse?

It is an awful thing, as many people can testify, when someone spies on your life and informs on you secretly, when someone takes your animals and demands many thousands of dollars in order to get them back, when you are dragged into a nightmarish system that can invade your life on the reports of anonymous passersby and informers, take your animals and property, arrest and jail and fingerprint you and ruin your life. A system that claims to be equal for all, but which costs tens of thousands of dollars in order for people  to navigate and defend themselves, while people far snipe away at the accused on their blogs and Facebook pages, leak ugly stories to reporters and hint at past evils and transgressions.

This is the hard time for Joshua, the crowds are gone, the media has moved on, it is just grinding and testing and difficult. It is so easy to accuse people of awful things in our world, it is as easy as typing a few words on Facebook or driving by someone's farm or backyard or making a phone call to the police.

In our world, there are legions of people eager to pass judgment, criticize and judge, this is becoming a permanent part of the national psyche and culture, it has created a shadow legal and police system without accountability or restraint when it comes to animals. It is difficult to consider the meaning of compassion and empathy and to try and gauge the human toll of injustice and cruelty. That, it seems to me, is the real abuse.

Joshua is entitled to get his life back and  his farm back. He is the victim of a true injustice, as are many others in the animal world. You can help him in several ways. You can contribute to his legal defense fund (I am encouraging him to buy a truck if he needs one, and take a vacation if he so chooses). If you live near him, you can buy CSA shares in his farm, his customers were very happy and very loyal. You can read about his ideas on feeding and healthy, locally-produced food on his blog.

You can e-mail him in support at [email protected]  If you are one of the many people traveling to the court to support Joshua (caution: this hearing may be about legal procedure, not the criminal charges) , his next hearing is scheduled for June 2, the time has not yet been announced by the court, it will be announced on town website.

Posted in General

To Golden Fields, Paul Moshimer

By: Jon Katz
Good Journey Paul Moshimer

Good Journey Paul Moshimer

Paul Moshimer, the co-director of Blue-Star Equiculture, the husband of Pamela Rickenbach, a special human being, supporter of animals and working horses, and one of the three members of the Fabulous Old Men's Club died this morning in Palmer, Mass. In the past year, Paul became one of the closest friends I have ever had.

Paul sent me all kinds of writings. Yesterday he sent me a video of the  Bob Marley song "Get Up, Stand Up." He told me it made him think of me, I was not sure what he meant. It is stunning to me that I will not get to ask him.

Paul and Pamela got married recently in New York City, they took one of Ariel Fitzi's magical midnight carriage rides. Ariel was one of Paul's closest friends, along with the poet Doug Anderson. I am thinking of them today. Paul was always thinking about what it meant to be a man, and we talked often about what it means to be a real man. To us, it mean being supportive, loving, gentle and peaceful.

Paul was disappointed that he could not always live up to that idea in his life, but he found his spiritual home at Blue-Star, he devoted himself to the lives of the working horses there, and to the idea that horses and people belong together and that the horses must never be taken away from people. He loved Pamela dearly and struggled to deal with the anger and rage directed at Blue-Star by people who call themselves supporters of animal rights.

He told me Blue-Star saved his life and gave it purpose and meaning. He fought for the horses every day.

He was a seeker, a thinker, questioner. When I started the Fabulous Old Men's Club, I thought of Paul right away. Scott Carrino was the other, but we only had one meeting, in Scott's sugar house a month or so ago.

We will have a special meeting in Paul's honor I hope. Tonight, I plan to go to open mic night at the Round House and read a poem I wrote last night. I will read it in his memory. Strangely enough, it was titled "Towards The Golden Fields."Maria and I plan to go to Blue-Star this weekend to hold Paul in the light and hold Pamela in our arms. I am so sad to hear of Paul's death, he was such a good and honest man, such a seeker and thinker, so humble and open.

I loved Paul, how could you not? When men find friends like this, it is a miracle. I am so lucky to have known him, so grateful to have spent a  night with him when he came up to pick up Sarge, the blind horse he drove down to Blue-Star and has been caring for so devotedly. And so grateful to have spent such sweet time with him at Blue-Star. He leaves a hole in many hearts, I will not forget him. This photo album was one the last things he wrote, it was about Sarge. He asked me to give him writing lessons this fall, I was excited about it. He was a better writer than he knew.

Paul was a better man than he knew. To golden fields, Paul, with the soft wind at your back.

Should anyone wish to honor such a good and valued person, there is a simple way.  You can contribute to Blue-Star, support it's wonderful work or become a member of the herd.

Posted in General

Fate’s Journal: The Joy Of Training

By: Jon Katz
Fate's Journal

Fate's Journal

For me, the joy and accomplishment of training dogs does not come from expensive books and videos or gurus on television, it is both internal and spiritual, it comes from within, it requires love, patience, confidence and faith. It means giving dogs a chance to fail and to succeed. It depends on who they are, who we are, where we live, what we want. No two dogs are alike, no two people are alike, training is as individualistic as fingerprints, and understanding that is the key to having the dog I want and need.

Fate has been with us for a week-and-a-half, and she is only 11 weeks old, she is not yet ready for too many high expectations. Yet she has surpassed all of our expectations, and our training ideas and practices are beginning to bear fruit,  beyond what we thought possible at this point. This means that she came to us as a remarkable dog, healthy, spirited, intelligent, the product of good and thoughtful breeding. Karen Thompson often says it is 50 breeding, 50 per cent people. She did her part, we are doing ours.

We are doing well with Fate. We are thinking about training, adjusting it, doing it together and doing it very well. Fate has an almost 100 per cent recall now, she comes when called, sits when asked (mostly) and is learning how to stay.  She has not damaged or destroyed anything that is not hers, she adores Red and learns from him. She is way too  young to look for perfection, she is a puppy still, and needs to be understood in that way. But she is quite bright and eager to learn, border collies are like that.

This morning, a joyous experience, and training is joyous, for the people and the dog when it works and is done out of thoughtfulness, patience and individual experience. I saw that when we took Fate out for a mile-long walk on a road near us, we took her off the leash. She walked alongside Maria much of the way. Two or three times, she veered off to smell or eat some revolting thing. We kept  walking, permitted her to look up startled, and rush to join us, when she was rewarded with love, hugs, excitement and a treat or two.

Most of the time, she walked by Maria's knee, just where she should be and Maria praised her accordingly, and with good timing. It is easy to confuse dogs when you praise them for something too early or too late.

It is hard for Maria to walk away from Fate and trust her to come along. Will she run off? Encounter an animal? Fall into a hole? Get tangled up in barbed wire? Get spooked by something unexpected? But it's important. Fortunately, we live in a place where people can walk their dogs off leash, on trails and in the woods. It is a wonderful experience.

Letting her explore and fall behind – when the circumstances are  safe – is giving her a chance to fail – the distances are small, and I know this dog well by now, she will not run off. It also gives her a chance to succeed. You will not, of course, find this in any dog training book. They are as phobic and risk averse as our anxious world. After a minute or so, Fate looks up and gets nervous – border collies are always herding in one way or another – she comes running, is rewarded and reinforced. We have been working on this in bits all week, starting small, expanding the distances.

Beef jerky bits are the trainer's friend. Training must be fun, for the dog, for the human. It must be clear. After a few minutes, Fate loses focus, we stop training. In those few minutes, she is learning to calm down, come when called, sit when asked, stay when required. These are the basic tools – along with "lie down" – for obedience and calming. Fate is a wonderful dog, she is also a handful, she can be a monster (and is escorted to her crate right away when she is.

She is never alone or  unsupervised in the house, so there are no surprises, no bad habits developing.

She needs for us to show her how to be in our world, in this world. She will not be a herding dog, but she is loving her life. Hanging out with Red, running back and forth along the fence, chasing balls and frisbees, sitting with Maria all day as she works in her studio, walking in the woods, chewing her wide range of chew-things in the house at night. She is fitting into our lives, her existence of full of love and activity, this is what border collies need and love. She loves looking at the sheep as well, but has shown no great need to go out and be with them. She seems to see this is Red's thing, she has her own things.

Maria loves her, she loves Maria back. And how could any animal not love Maria? Training is fraught for Maria sometimes, she is afraid of messing up her Fate, but that has not happened, and will not happened. Fate is great dog. Training her well is a responsibility, a joy and a sacred obligation. It was a wonderful walk.

Posted in General