I got up early this morning. Maria was sleeping. Red was lying by the side of my bed, as he always does, even the super-charged Fate was curled up in the crook of Maria's knee, where she somehow manages to be every morning. I was the only one stirring. I picked up my cellphone, as so many people do, to check the weather and see if there is any important mail.
The first message was from my friend Joshua Rockwood, the young Glenville, N.Y., farmer whose life was upended earlier this year when a secret, anonymous informer from the Orwellian animal rights movement drove by his farm, called the police and plunged his life and farm into darkness. The police raided his farm, charged him with 13 counts of animal cruelty and seized three of his horses. It will cost Joshua many thousands of dollars in veterinary, boarding and administrative fees to get them back, whether he is found guilty or not.
And he is the one they wanted to put in jail.
Joshua's message said simply, "Good morning Jon, I wanted to wish you and Maria a Happy Thanksgiving. Thank you for all that you have done for us." It was a very Joshua-style message, simple and direct. No drama, no emotion, no excess words or thoughts, precise and to the point.
I wrote back to Joshua, but I don't show much emotion in my e-mails either. One day he may understand that he deserves the real thank you, not me. He has given me the gift of his friendship and trust, the opportunity to define who I am and who I am not, the chance to use my blog for good, not just for cute photographs of dogs and animals. And for the gift of using the powerful new technology of social media for good as well as harm. To help as well as tear down, to praise and support as well as criticize and judge. Helping others is the most selfing and satisfying gift, we always do it for ourselves.
Joshua Rockwood is no criminal, he is a good man caught in a hard time. A sane government in a rational world would have rushed to help him when his water tanks froze and not pillory and condemn him and threaten his life and family. His wife remains afraid to let her own children play in their own back yard because she fears the secret informers who are always coming by. She is afraid of their calling the police. She is afraid the police will come and take her children because they had played alone in the back yard. This is not the America I love.
Honest and law-abiding and hard working people are not supposed to live in fear.
To understand Joshua, you have to go to one of his endless and interminable court hearings and look at the faces of the hundreds of people who love and support him, and who understand what a travesty this assault on him is. You don't get support like that by being a cruel and uncaring human being.
I know Joshua well by now, I have met with him and talked with him and observed him many times. He is a person of great irony, he almost always has a knowing or bemused smile, even when he is not happy. He is a very controlled man, I have never heard him utter a word in anger or hatred, I sometimes wish he would scream a bit and stomp his foot in frustration over the awful injustice done to him in the name of protecting animals. But he won't. He has a strong heart, a clear sense of himself and a stubborn streak as wide as an ocean.
Joshua has had more than once chance to slide his way out of this ordeal, and if he were any kind of wrongdoer, he would have seized the chance. He hasn't, because he won't admit to doing something he didn't do. He won't do that to the next man, he says, that the informers spy on in the night. He wants to make it more difficult for them to do this to anyone else.
In a sense Joshua is a throwback, to the days of Thomas Paine or Daniel Webster, when standing on principle was practical and much admired. We live in a time of the easy way out, the practical solutions to moral problems. Justice in America is frightfully expensive to most people, few can afford it for long. Settle, he has been told, do whatever you can to end it, get on with your life. I've been tempted to say that to him myself. He keeps his own counsel, I don't ever tell him what to do.
Instead of inspiring us, our leaders teach us to fear and hate one another. I am grateful to Joshua for his courage and vision. I am grateful for the gift of standing by him.
When I think of Joshua, I can't help but think of the New York Carriage Drivers, fighting every day for their way of life, swimming in a sea of ignorance and hatred, and I think of Tawni Angel, who had her life's work – she gave pony rides to children in Santa Monica, Calif. – taken from her by people who called themselves animal rights activists and who lied again and again about her ponies and the way she cared for them. And I think of Pamela Rickenbach and Paul Moshimer from Blue Star Equiculture, I remember the cruel and relentless harassment they both experienced for loving working horses.
The Big Lie still works, just ask Joshua or the carriage drivers. Tawni is struggling to keep her ponies healthy and safe without the work they had for so long.
And as always, the animals will pay for our ignorance and self-righteousness.
There are so many more victims than that, but we can only think of one at a time. I don't get sad or depressed about Joshua, he lifts me up. I feel good every time I speak with him.
He will do well, the other side of Hell, they say, is Heaven. Brighter days ahead he will get through this. It may be that we have to offer a hand to him again, before this is done, that will be another gift to me, and to the many other people who are building new kinds of community in the face of rage and cruelty.
He helps me understand what it means to be a human being.
Most of you can already sense that Joshua is not an abuser of animals. I would not be supporting him if I had the slightest doubt about it. I trust him completely. He is not a cruel man in any way. He is an honest and idealistic young farmer struggling to raise healthy meat and sell it to local people. And he is a full-bore mushy animal lover, it is impossible to fake that. Joshua is honest about his life, and he is environmentally punctilious. In a sense, he is our future.
This is how he describes his farm on his very honest and transparent blog:
"West Wind Acres raises chickens, sheep, goats, pigs and beef on pasture using management intensive rotational grazing (we move them to fresh pastures often and plan ahead for the year). We strive to keep our animals in clean, fresh paddocks with lush plants to forage on, and raise them as if they were free. Our sheep and cattle are raised on 100% grass (hay stored grass in the late winter). Chickens and pigs are free to roam and eat all the natural food they can find we supplemented their diet with non-gmo grains.
West Wind Acres creates meat that are superior, through fresh clean pastures, rotational grazing, non-gmo grains (for pigs and chickens), a low stress life, and responsible husbandry. Our tasty means are nutritionally dense, lean, and have high percentage of protein."
I have seen the work and thought and care that Joshua puts into West Wind Acres farm. This is not a person who is cruel to animals. And it is not in his interest or belief system to raise animals that are poorly fed or unhealthy or live a life of stress.
Joshua is no saint and would be abashed to hear himself described in that way. He is a young and sometimes impetuous man, but I think he is the man Pope Francis is thinking about when he calls upon us to be ecological and mindful citizens of our sister, Mother Earth. "Love, overflowing with small gestures of mutual care, is also civic and political, and it makes itself felt in every action that seeks to build a better world."
Joshua started West Wind Acres to help build a better world, he thinks day and night about the eco-life of his farm, the well-being of his animals. He is young and experienced, and like every new farmer, is he not always prepared for the unexpected, and he never expected to be struggling with temperatures that plunged to – 27 degrees last February and March. It caught many farmers by surprise, it took the lives of many animals. Joshua did not lose one of his animals to the awful winter, every single one came through, and in good health. One or two of his hundred pigs may or not have gotten frostbite on one of their ears. My sheep have gotten frost-bitten ears while sleeping in a barn.
For all of his good intentions, Joshua has spent a year in the legal tarpit, his mug shot splattered all over the Internet, paying for a good lawyer, preparing for hearing after hearing, wondering how he can ever afford to get back the horses that were, in a very surreal way, stolen from him. They used to hang horse thieves, a neighbor told him, not give them thousands of dollars.
I thought this morning that all of us can give ourselves a Thanksgiving gift, and contribute to the new social awakening in the animal world that practices affection, not hatred, and support rather than persecution for the citizens of the animal universe. You can write Joshua at [email protected], and let him know he is not alone, you can visit his blog and if you are local, buy his popular meats.
As another winter approaches, even this long and hard ordeal must come to a head. I believe Joshua will prevail. Right is on his side, and he is strong and smart. The case against him is ludicrous, our farrier Ken Norman, aptly describe it as a string of "bullshit misdemeanors." The best description yet.
I think the time will soon came when we can further help Joshua survive this endless and wrenching ordeal, return to his passion in life, full-time farming, raising his two sons, and perhaps even get his horses back. I know many of you will be there once more, as you have been all year.
Today, Joshua, the thanks go to you. I am happy to be your friend. Thanks for all you have done for me.