20 March 2015

Meeting Life Head On. Heading Out

Feet On The Ground

Feet On The Ground

I was on a website the other day, it was created to support the New York Carriage Horses. I love the passion and commitment there, but am sometimes taken aback by the rage. Some of the people there were upset with some of the words I use to describe that painful controversy. The conversation quickly grew angry and intense, I felt as if these good people have been fighting for so long that rage and frustration had permeated their souls, I felt as if I was traveling through a cloud of toxic air. Suddenly, we were no longer on the same side.

I had become an enemy of sorts. It happens, I do not make a good insider.

I felt badly, first because I had upset them, then because I saw how our modern world, so full of anger, rigidity and judgment, had worn them down, drained their spirits of softness or the ability to listen and compromise. There was no dialogue, just statement after statement, everyone tensing up. I told them I would prefer to leave the group rather than upset them, and that these days, no matter what one writes, somebody gets upset. That is the nature of our world. They did not care to hear it, I withdrew. I am careful about not spending much of my life in argument, especially in the world of social media. It is a one-way ticket to weariness and fury.

I am entitled to my words – they did not like some of them –  they are entitled to their anger. But it was a sad departure, still, it seemed a commentary on our polarized world. Even friends can't talk to other friends.

I thought of this today, I can't say I wasn't upset by it. A friend told me recently she thought that I loved to "stir the pot," this is something people tell me so often that I think it must be true. Yet from my perspective, it isn't really true. I believe the job of a writer is to make people feel things and think. I don't feel my job is to get people to agree with me, or even to like me. I get no pleasure of any kind in upsetting people.

I never set out to be controversial, to upset or provoke people, that is never in my mind, although I am well aware I do it from time to time. I am very happy taking photos of animals and flowers, writing my poems and distant observations, speaking out about the endangered future of animals in our world.

But how, I wonder, do you get people to think in our polarized world, where left talks to left and right talks to right, and even some of my fellow travelers in the carriage wars can't take yes for an answer? Sometimes you have to poke them in the ribs to get them to pay attention and actually think for themselves. I think sometimes the answer is to withdrawn into myself in a more spiritual way and simply take color photos of Red battling Liam, people never tire of it or get  upset.

And I love doing it, and there is the answer I think. Red and Liam meet life head on, they don't run from it, are not defeated or discouraged by it, they do not lick wounds or hold grudges. Each morning, they meet on the path and settle their differences, make their decisions. And then, the encounter forgotten, they move on with their lives. The confrontation does not make the world an awful place, or leave them discouraged or embittered. It is nothing personal, it is forgotten the moment it ends.

And then, the next morning, there they are again, ready to do it all over again. It will one day be resolved, or it will never be resolved. And that, I thought, is just the way I think, just the way I am. I seek the meet life head on, every single day, it very rarely goes entirely my way, I am very often at odds with much of the world around me.

This is why Red and I love one another so much, in this way we are alike. Every morning, we face the world and stand our ground. He wins much more than I do, but the true nature of the world does not make it an awful place, it is the heart and soul of life itself.

Saturday, off to Connecticut. 2 p.m. Saturday, the Russell Library in Middletown, 2 p.m. Sunday, the Cheshire Library in Cheshire, Connecticut (check first,  I believe that talk is full up). Back Monday, where Red and Liam will be facing life, and so will I.

Posted in General

Gofundme! Save West Wind Acres From An Orwellian Nightmare

Saving West Wind Acres

An Old Barn In Vermont

Joshua Rockwood owns a small family farm – West Wind Acres –  with his wife Stefanie and two sons,  in Glenville,  N.Y. He sells meat and other products and is well-liked and respected by his customers and other farmers. Some weeks ago, the heating pads in his water tanks failed in the bitter cold and the water froze. The town police and animal control officers, responding to an anonymous complaint,  raided his farm. Tonight, Joshua Rockwood is going to court.

He has been charged with 12 counts of animal neglect and abuse – some of the charges relating to the frozen water bowls and tanks – and his dogs and horses have been seized and taken away. Animal rights officials and local police accused him of keeping animals in an unheated barn and failing to provide proper shelter.

He is asking for help.

Pictures of his farm and his animals have been on television all over the country and in the newspapers – most repeated the unheated barn accusation – the TV reporters seemed especially outraged –  as proof that his animals were neglected and abused. Rockwood fears that his reputation has been shattered and will be nearly impossible to reclaim. Until March, he loved is life.  He is not certain his farm can survive.

As is often the case, he was portrayed in the media as an abusive monster, his side of the story was neither sought much or told much. Joshua Rockwood is a former construction worker, he dreamed about a different life, he wanted to grow healthier food for himself and his family, according to one friend, and he was determined to create a sustainable farm and way of life. All of his animals are fed on pasture and the manure is converted to fertile soil. He raises chickens, sheep, pigs and cows and all of them are bred to thrive on grass and to endure harsh winters.

His dream may have been taken from him a few weeks ago, and in the most frightening and invasive of ways. This is a movement that has no qualms about destroying ways of life, one after another. Rather than protect the freedom and property of people like Joshua, government seems to have join in the movement to take both away.

In this curious world, there are never two sides to an animal abuse story, only one. There are no grays, only black and white, no middle ground, only a very modern and American kind of Inquisition or Witch Trial. That seems to be the process model for the modern-day animal rights movement. If you are accused, you are guilty.

The charge that his animals were abused because they were in an unheated barn is simply astounding. It tells us again that the people who purport to speak for animals and the people who report on them know nothing about them. My barn would be impossible to heat, even if I wanted to,  and not healthy for the sheep and donkeys if it were. I know of no real farmer who heats his barns or who believes that would be appropriate for animals like cows, donkeys and sheep – they can live in the wild, need fresh and unfiltered air, and always prefer to be outdoors unless it is icing or raining in an extreme way.

Authorities also alleged that some of Rockwood's pigs had frostbitten ears and that the hooves on his horses were overdue for trimming. There was no evidence of any kind suggesting that his animals were legally abused – that is, neglected to the point of grievous injury or death. They were all vet-certified as being healthy, and twice. That should have been the end of the story.

It was not, it was the beginning of a horrific ordeal for this small family farmer and his wife and children. For one of the very few times in my life, I wonder what country I am living in, and am so sorry to see some of our most cherished values and protections tossed aside in the name of loving animals.

Rockwood has launched at $50,000 gofundme campaign to raise money to post bond for his horses – he very much wants them back – and to pay for the disrupted legal fees and lost business he has incurred and will incur due to the publicity and effort involved in defending himself. He means to go to court to try to fight the charges and to win back his reputation, his rescue dog and his horses.

Rockwood has posted copies of all twelve charges against him – there may be more Friday night – on his blog.  He certainly does not act like someone who is ashamed of anything or has anything to hide. You can see the charges here, they range from having frozen drinking water, to a lack of available feed, to a lack of adequate shelter. I should add that a number of cities and towns around Glenville were without fresh water for days, so many pipes underground had frozen or burst.

I have not been to Rockwood's farm and have not seen his animals. I have seen the reports of two different veterinarians who examined the animals shortly before they were seized and who found them to be healthy, well-fed and hydrated, and well cared for. The story is sickeningly familiar to me and to so many other people who live with animals who have watched in growing horror as the idea of animal rights has evolved into an Orwellian distortion of the lives and needs of animals, a wanton and extra-legal expansion of the idea of abuse, and the trampling of individual human rights in the name of protecting animals.

I am seeing and hearing and reading too many stories like this, they seem to mount every day.

Animal rights organizations have spent tens of millions of dollars lobbying local and state politicians to expand the very idea of abuse and leave countless animal lovers, farmers and poor and elderly people vulnerable to the charge that they have mistreated the animals they live with and love, or are not fit to own them.

It's an awful thing to be accused of animal abuse when you love animals. There are certainly people who abuse animals, and plenty of laws available to punish and prosecute them. To me, government and the police have no business destroying Joshua Rockwood's life and livelihood, or to take his animals from him. He is an animal lover, the very kind of person animals need in order to survive.

I will  contribute to his fund, I would urge you to make up your own mind and follow his story in his own words. Another account of someone who knows him here. A local newspaper account here. Rockwood has opened up his farm to anyone who wishes to come and see it, he believes in transparency and allowed police to inspect his home and farm without a warrant.

My heating elements have frozen several times in recent years, we have often had to haul water out or chop the ice. You can only do that once or twice a day, especially when the temperature is -22.  Sometimes the animals have to wait a few hours.  This winter was brutal, I know of many farmers whose animals – and many farmers themselves – have experienced some frostbite in their ears or other extremities, it was one of the coldest winters on record. Out West, thousands of cattle froze to death due to savage cold and storms. Everywhere, barns collapsed, water lines and pipes (including mine) burst and froze. Rockwood got his animals through it.

In a rational world, farmers like Joshua Rockwood would receive the aid and support of government in a winter like this, his animals were all active when the police arrived, and according to two veterinarians, hydrated and healthy. I imagine there are things at West Wind Acres that could have been done differently or improved upon, but all farms are a struggle, very few real farmers have much money. We are setting such unrealistic and myopic standards for animals  (I know of no homes raided by police because the people inside are cold and struggling)  that soon enough, nobody but giant corporations will be able to keep and afford animals at all.

Perhaps that is the idea.

The cows who spent their lives on concrete floors of corporate farming barns will never risk getting frostbite, they will never again see grass or the sun or fresh air either.  Chickens spend their lives in tiny pens on corporate farms, barely able to move. The Glenville animal control officer wants to take Rockwood's pigs away because they do not have adequate shelter. On corporate farms, female pigs never leave their narrow pen, they are fed and bred where they lie and spend their lives in that condition, unable to turn around, giving birth over and over again, slaughtered when they can no longer be bred. That is not illegal, corporate farms do not live in fear of having their pigs seized and taken to rescue farms, they are not invaded by animal police and taken away,  it does not happen.

Any of these pigs would live happily on Joshua Rockwood's farm.

Small family farms, struggle to survive and compete, make much easier targets for the people who say they speak for the rights of animals. I have seen many of these farms first-hand, they do not always have the resources to provide all of the things they might wish for their animals, but they generally are animal lovers and care for them as best they can. If two veterinarians found Rockwood's animals healthy, what business is it of the local police?

Joshua Rockwood is an especially poor choice for the people who claim to speak for animals to single out. He is a  well-known animal lover, his food products are considered of high quality, animals are a central part of his life and farm, and of his family. He was given no chance to explain the circumstances to the police, or to correct any of the mechanical issues the extreme cold caused him.

Barns for livestock are never heated, it is not healthy for grazing animals and they don't need it, and there is far too much danger of fire – barns are full of hay, dust and other flammables.

Animal control officers ought to know that. So should people who claim to be journalists.

This is true: if they can do it to the carriage horses, they can do it to Rockwood, if they can do it to him, they can do it to you. They are getting closer all the time.  Somebody driving by your house or farm in their car can decide they don't like the way you are treating your animals, or the way they look,  and you may  find the police at your door taking your animals away, invading the sacred space that once existed between you and them. And no one will listen to you, or to reason. You will need many thousands of dollars to get them back, if they are not euthanized first or given away.

Orwellian is an adjective that describes a social condition that the author George Orwell identified as being destructive to the welfare of a free and open society. It denotes, according to Wickipedia, an attitude and a brutal policy of draconian control by propaganda, surveillance, misinformation, denial of truth and manipulation of the past, including secret informers and the branding of the "unperson," a human being who existence is expunged from the public record, memory and good standing by a repressive government or social movement.

It fits. Rockwood is rejecting his casting as an "unperson" unworthy of the moral community, just as the New York Carriage Horses have rejected that labeling. He is fighting to remain a person in  his community, in his world. To live his good and hard life.

The police could have come and asked him about his tough winter, they could even have offered to help him. They could have asked him to show proof that he would fix his water tank – there is absolutely no evidence that he had plans to starve or dehydrate the animals he depends on for his livelihood or his pets that he loves.  There is something frightening about a government that is so manipulable and unknowing that it would invade the most private life of a hard-working farmer and take his animals away from him, then force him to raise many thousands of dollars to post bonds and defend himself from charges that seem absurd at worst, distorted at best.

This is a situation many Americans all over the country now find themselves in – carriage horse drivers, the operators of pony rides, farmers (my neighbor has been reported to the police a dozen times because his cows sit out in the snow), circus operators, poor people with dogs, cats, horses and cows, researchers, agricultural students, sled dog operators and many more. If you cannot give an animal a perfect and fantasized life, better than yours or the vast majority of human beings, then you are guilty of abuse in the new and twisted morality of the animal world.

Rockwood is fighting back and for all of our sakes – anyone reading this who lives with an animal – or loves one, he needs to win. I'm donating to his fund, each of you reading this will and should, of course, make up your own mind.

I wish to do everything I possibly can to help Rockwood keep his farm and get  his animals back. This does not advance the rights of animals, it makes a mockery of the rights of people. it is the opposite of humane and just.  Rockwood is us, and he is fighting for us, as well as his own freedom and life. gofundme.


Posted in General

Poem: I Love What Surrounds Me

What Surrounds Me

What Surrounds Me

Whatever it is I am writing, or saying, or thinking,

I need to love whatever is around me,

a flower, a beam of light, a dog, a donkey,

most of all, a human heart who makes me

feel good to be alive,

not bad,

who makes me feel worthwhile,

not worthless,

who supports what I need to do,

not what they need me to do.

I need to hear a donkey bray,

I need to see a sheep grazing

in the field, a dog sniffing the ground,

soaking up the stories of the world,

I need to hear a hen clucking in the roost,

I need

a skyful of clouds,

the light of the sun,

the sound of a stream,

mist on a hill,

a photograph to take,

a friend to trust,

a meal to cook,

a book to read,

a poem to write.

They must be there.

For my heart to beat.

For me to write.

For ideas to flow,

I love what surrounds me.

Posted in General

Spring! Warmth And Joy And Hope To You. We Made It!

Joy And Hope To You

Joy And Hope To You

Welcome to Spring. I wish you warmth, joy and hope. I confess there were times I wondered if winter would ever be over, and it hasn't quite loosened it's grip yet. Lots of snow south of us and cold and windy weather here. Still, it is not – 22 outside and the sun is strong and some buds are appearing on the bushes. The snow mounds are now slightly shorter than me.  It is coming, the worst of this relentless winter is over and we made it. Our frost-free is still frozen, we have a bit of frozen pipe damage to clean up, some tiles have come off the slate roof from the sliding snow.

And the farm is a bog, mud and water everywhere. But we have just enough firewood to get us through another month and enough hay to wait for the grass. Life is good. Spring is good for writers and photographers and artists. Lots of light, soft but strong sun, inspiring walks in the woods, the sense of life emerging in all of it's varied glory. We expect to have a new dog soon, we are talking about getting a riding pony, even a baby goat (I hope we talk ourselves out of that.)

I welcome you to Spring, I see my life as an eternal Spring, a continuous awakening, a never-ending rebirth. Spring has meaning for me, and I wish you all that you want your life to be in these days of renewal.

Posted in General

Hot News From Bedlam: Bitch In Heat, Book Tour Heats Up

Big News

Big News

Exciting news on several fronts at Bedlam Farm. Our breeder Linda Reece reports that Polly, her English Retriever, is in heat and will be bred in the next couple of weeks. We are very interested in getting one of Linda's dogs, it is a great line. Things are moving forward, if all goes well, we might have a puppy in the summer. Lots of things have to happen first, but we were happy to hear the news. I had a dream last nigh that there was also a small rescue dog living on the farm, I'm not sure what that was about. It looked like a Boston Terrier.

On the book front, my book about Simon, "Saving Simon: How A Rescue Donkey Taught Me The Meaning Of Compassion," is heating up. The book, left for dead by my publisher after I switched to another house last year, wants to live. It is in it's third printing, and my home-grown book tour is resuming. Last week, 150 people came to seem me in Bucks County, Pa.

This week, Maria, Red and I heading to Connecticut – Middletown and Cheshire – to talk about the book and also about the future of animals in our world. I'll be at the Russell Library in Middletown at 2 p.m. Saturday, and at the Cheshire Library in Cheshire at 2 p.m. Sunday. I am told the Cheshire event is full – 95 spots reserved already, there is still room at the Russell Library in Middletown, reservations are not required there. We'll leave Saturday and return Monday morning.

I have to say, I am loving this book tour. The crowds have been large, attentive, the conversations have been wonderful. So have the reviews.  It is almost always good to take responsibility for oneself, I think because I am closer to the book than my publisher, and to Simon, the tour has special meaning. We talk about lots of things, donkeys are just one thing.

A reminder that if anyone wishes to purchase a copy of the book and get it signed and personalized by me, you can do this through  Battenkill Books, my local bookstore, and a great independent bookstore.You can call the store at 518 677-2515 or buy the book online. They take Paypal and ship anywhere in the world. By shopping at Battenkill, you will support my work and Simon's story and also help a wonderful independent bookstore.

Tomorrow, Connecticut, then Westhampton, Mass. at the end of the month, and then on to Iowa in May.

Posted in General