27 March 2015

Learning To Love A Horse. Puppies, Toddies, Weddings, Music.

Learning To Love A Horse

Learning To Love A Horse

Some animals are ours, and some animals are not. Red is more my dog than Maria's, Frieda was really Maria's dog, not mine. Animals often make their own choices about who is their human. Maria is learning to love Chloe, I think, they are much alike in some ways, they are feisty, independent, and when they want attention, they let you know.

She has been visiting Chloe, learning how to brush and harness her, how to scrape her hooves and comb her. Ponies are headstrong, I gather and Maria says she sometimes has to push back, she has to be a leader. Chloe is definitely Maria's horse, not mine, this is not something that is ours, it is very much Maria's. I think that is a good thing. I have spent little time with Chloe, and I don't imagine that I will spend a lot of time taking care of her. I don't see  myself riding her.

Maria and I share many things, but we both recognize that we need our own things also. Our work is very separate, our workspaces are separate. I don't see much of Maria during the day, or when she is in one of her creative fits. When I am on a writing jag, I am holed up in my study, she rarely goes into my study, I almost never go into her studio. We are close, we live together in a small house. Independence is as important as closeness.

When she goes into her studio to work, i know she does  not need to be disturbed, she gives me the same respect when I go into my office. Tomorrow, I think we will visit Chloe, Maria is into it. My jog is to take some occasional photos, I am eager to get to know the pony, see where it goes. The puppy we are hoping for will also be Maria's, she will be her studio and walking dog. I am thinking of getting a house dog, a mutt, if I run across the right one. That would be our dog.

I love being around animals, I am not as universally loving as Maria. I love the dogs and the donkeys, Flo once in awhile. I do not love sheep and chickens especially. I like having Red, he is the right dog for me. So we will see where a pony takes us in our creative life and our life with animals.

And I am thinking a lot about my daughter Emma's wedding in April. I love Emma so much, I am excited for her. I'm not sure a parent ever sees their child fully in terms of being an adult, seeing Emma pop out into the world and open her eyes was a miracle I will never get over. Now she's a big shot magazine editor, wow.  I'm not sure what role I have to play in my only child's wedding, I guess to stand around and be happy. I'm looking for the right toast, I think I will get to do that.

She has put her life together in a beautiful and impressive way, I will cheer her onto the next thing and raise a glass to happiness and a meaningful life.

As for me, I am exhausted. I worked hard this week writing about the Joshua Rockwood story, went to Glenville twice and was up to my ears in transcripts and videos and blog posts. I am thrilled that he got the $50,000 he asked for, more will be coming. He will be able to defend himself and  hopefully get his animals back. My fantasy is that a judge will listen to the testimony, shake his head, ask what are we doing here wasting all this taxpayer money on a bunch of "Bullshit Misdemeanors", as Ken Norman called them?, and toss it out. I'm not sure the world is ever that neat, but one can hope.

We have nothing much planned for the weekend, our first at home in awhile (the book tour). Lots of sleep and lots of reading and lots of listening to all of the new music I bought and haven't yet really listened to. I also bought two Iphone games for the first time ever, I will see how that works out. Scott Carrino is sugaring again this weekend, I might get over there and drink some more hot toddies and get stewed again and shake up my blood sugar. Maybe a movie, maybe nothing. Maybe a lot of sleep and rest.

And see Chloe. I'll  have my camera on hand for that.

Posted in General

Red And Liam: Something New

In My Years

In My Years

I've been herding sheep with border collies for nearly 15 years now, I have a hard time remembering when I didn't have a border collie, my favorite breed of dog, a wonderful kind of dog. I got a border collie when I shouldn't have had one and knew little about them, I started working with dog trainers to figure them out. Now, working with sheep and a border collie is a natural enough thing to do, especially with a keen animal like Red.

I don't trial with him, it's not our thing. He is a farm dog, like my other border collies, and a valuable one. Still, in these years of working with border collies – Orson, Rose, Izzy and Red, I've never seen a relationship quite like the one Red and Liam  have. Orson couldn't herd sheep, Rose had no patience for challenge, she would have dragged Liam all around the pasture. Izzy was a sweet creature, he preferred people to sheep, hospice work was his thing.

Usually rams or wethers would challenge a dog, but intermittenly. Liam challenges Red every single day, but  gently. He stands in front of Red, defies  him, tries to stare him down, then he usually backs up or backs off. But these two face off every single day, their days begin in that way. Red gets close, goes into his killer-crouch, and waits for Liam to buckle. It's the eye that gets Liam every time. Border collies control sheep with their eyes, and Red has a powerful look.

Liam seems to want to prevail, but melts under the stare every time. It's an automatic start to the day now, something we hardly notice. I wonder if it will go on forever. Liam is a good guy, a gentle and affectionate creature. He has never backed Red off, I doubt that he ever will.

Posted in General

$50,000: A Big Victory: For Animal Lovers, For Farmers, For The Rights Of Animals And People



Friday, around 3:30 p.m., a young farmer in Glenville, N.Y. named Joshua Rockwood wrote a new chapter in the debate over the future of animals in our world. In less than a week he shocked the animal world; he achieved his goal to raise $50,000 online for legal and bond fees to defend himself against charges that he failed to give his cows and pigs and dogs and horses adequate food, water and shelter on a bitter day in one of the coldest winters in American history.

Rockwood's lightning crowdsourcing campaign – it drew support from every part of the country – has enormous implications for the movement to keep animals in our world, from the New York Carriage horses to the circuses and for almost everyone who lives or works with an animal. It could be a wake-up call for  feckless politicians, and may set a new precedent for farmers. It could inspire them and others seeking to curb  the runaway and increasingly abusive tactics  of the movement that claims to represent the rights of animals.

Should government have this much power to invade and disrupt our lives and authorize surveillance of our homes and work and seize  property just because people have animals?

This victory could also offer a new path to raise funds for the growing number of legal conflicts over animals in every part of the country. Farmers and other people fighting for their way of life and animals are often at a disadvantage financially. Joshua Rockwood evened the odds considerably this week.

I am not a political person. But what happened to  Rockwood was, to me,  an  outrage. Social media has provided many frustrated people with a long-sought way to respond. Almost every farmer in the country has a similar tale to tell. Now, they may muster the strength and means to share their stories and help each other.

The tragedy of the modern animal rights movement – for animals and people both – is that it has pitted itself against the very people who live with and love animals –  farmers, the agricultural world,  animal lovers, carriage horse drivers, pony ride operators, researchers, people with working dogs, horses they ride, even the owners of circuses and farmers markets. Animals in need of protection have been left squarely in the middle of a deepening conflict between people who have pets and people who have animals, and the animals of the world  have not been made safer as a result of this  often cruel and disturbing conflict. Animals are disappearing at an unprecedented rate.

Animal rights and human rights go hand in hand, one cannot survive without the other.  Rockwood's victory is about making sure that people have rights as well as their animals. He cares for his animals, and he cares for people. He is immensely popular and respected.

No animal rights or welfare movement can possibly succeed in such an extreme and hostile a way as the animal rights movement has come to adopt. For farmers and animal lovers, social media has created a new paradigm, a new social awakening.  It has been clear for some time that we need a new movement to speak on behalf of the animal world, one that will fight to keep the carriage horses in New York,  not to take them away; a movement that will help farmers like Joshua Rockwood keep his farm, not force him out of it.

It is wrong and almost tragically short-sighted to criminalize the life of the farm.

It is, in fact,  time for a wiser and more mystical understanding of animals, and Joshua Rockwood may just have helped advance this idea, and he is not alone. So has the Blue-Star Equiculture farm in Palmer, Mass. There is a new movement  emerging to speak on behalf of animals and people,  to support both, it is very different.

Rockwood's arrest has enraged small family farmers and animal lovers all over the country. They have rallied around him in both emotional and material ways. The number of his supporters seems to grow by the minute.  Tuesday, nearly 300 farmers from as far away as Maine and Ohio and Vermont gathered at the Glenville Town Court to  stand silently with Rockwood and support him.

Joshua Rockwood is a 36-year-old CSA farmer who left his work in construction after changes in his nutrition may have saved him from a devastating illness.  He leased a 90-acre farm and resolved to sell  healthy food to people who bought shares in his new farm. A new and inexperienced farmer, Rockwood was not prepared for the brutal winter that descended on the Northeast. Neither was anyone else.

He was almost overwhelmed, as were so many older farmers.  His water tanks froze,  his streams iced over, and he struggled – successfully – to keep his animals alive and healthy. Despite the testimony of two veterinarians that his animals were well cared for, Rockwood was arrested, charged with 13 counts of animal abuse and neglect and his three horses and dog were seized and taken away.

At first, he despaired, he thought he would lose his farm and his dream. He faced many thousands of dollars in legal fees and even more in bond fees required to get his horses back from a rescue farm where they had been taken against his will. He decided to fight for his farm and his way of life. And for his horses.  Now, he will have the money to defend himself, and hopefully, get back the animals he loves.

Many of the thousands of farmers whose water systems froze this winter – mine did – and many horse and dog and other animal lovers recognized that the police could just as easily come for them one day. Notions of secret informers, of abuse and the appropriation of property have been arbitrarily expanded beyond any rationale or reason – or justice. This conflict has been heightened by the campaign to ban the New York Carriage Horses, who are also drawing enormous support from around the country, and have faced cruel and continuous harassment from people who call themselves animal rights activists in New York.

At stake is the very future of animals like horses and other domesticated animals – ponies, elephants – who face extinction of they lose their purpose and place among people. Rockwood's dilemma – and that of the carriage horses – is that the legal and political system has lost any understanding of the difference between animals and pets. The people who speak for animals seem to know nothing about them. In New York, they have also tried to demonize the work of animals.  They claim the carriage drivers are abusers as well, and the charges have been proven to be just as unfounded.

Rockwood is challenging the process that treated him in this way and has driven many farmers from their farms and frightened away and discouraged others. I think farmers are learning – they surely got a lesson this week –  what a powerful tool social media can be to address their fears and support one another. I believe they have found a way to make their voices heard. I used to joke that no farmer ever goes on Facebook. That is no longer true.

It is a sad thing thatt the rights of animals have in recent years been advanced over the rights of people.  We demand that animals be given perfect lives, even though that is beyond the reach of human beings. Animals are our partners, not our wards. One cannot have rights without the other, you cannot love animals and hate people.  Joshua Rockwood is standing in his truth.

The farmers who came to support Rockwood were soft-spoken, they stood silently in the courtroom and listened. Afterwards, they spoke, and their motto seemed to be, expressed again and again to Joshua and online and to me and others; stand strong, it could have been me.

In America, small farmers have long been embattled, I think  they will rejoice tonight. They say they want a revolution, it might well have begun in Glenville, N.Y.

To those many people reading this who rushed to support Joshua, I thank you, I know he is grateful as well.

Posted in General

Visit To West Wind Acres, Part One: Joshua Rockwood’s Big Secret

Seeing For Myself

Seeing For Myself

Here is the secret at the heart of Joshua Rockwood's increasingly infamous arrest for animal abuse.  It took perhaps three minutes to discover it.

One bitterly cold winter day – it reached temperatures of minus -27 degrees in parts of upstate New York that day – Joshua took his son to see his grandmother. He spends Wednesdays doing things with his two children. He may or may not have been late chopping a hole in his frozen stream for the cows to drink and replacing the frozen water bowls for the dogs.

When he returned, the police were waiting at his home. They wanted to go see his farm. One of the secret informers of the animal rights movement had reported him to the animal police. Wishing to be co-operative, and not for one second imagining himself as an abuser of animals, he said yes.

Had Joshua demanded that the police go and get a warrant, like lawyers tell people to do, he could easily have provided fresh water, as he had been doing all during that cold winter, and he would not be facing the destruction of his livelihood, reputation and farm. And I would not know him or be writing this. (You can follow his very transparent blog here.)

If he had replaced the water bowls earlier, as he normally did during that awful winter,  he wouldn't be spending his Spring in court and in meetings with lawyers. And his horses and dog would not have been stolen from him. The fact that all of his animals were healthy, and that two veterinarians certified they were healthy, did not matter at all. The water was frozen, so was any sense of justice or empathy or rationality in the justice system.

It is definitely worth mentioning that on February 27, the sewer pipes leading to the Glenville Municipal Center froze, and the toilets back up. There were no arrests.

There were some other issues, for sure, but this is the only one that is not what my farrier Ken Norman called a "Bullshit Misdemeanor." Joshua Rockwood's other big secret: his farm, is, well, a farm.

It is a typical mess in many ways, as real farms are. Rockwood's animals are fat, alert, healthy looking and active. There is no sign of abuse, starvation, or dehydration. One after another, every farmer I know has been telling me, messaging me, e-mailing me the same comment: it could have been me.  And judging from my e-mail, it  often is. A farmer up the road from me is afraid to let his cows out in the snow, somebody usually calls the police. Every farmer dreads his water freezing. Now, on top of figuring out how to get water to the animals, they are vulnerable to arrest and prosecution.

This winter, it could have been me, too, and almost every other real farmer in the world who is not rich or superhuman.  Water pipes burst and froze everywhere. The secret of this story is this: most Americans live on the coasts and they and their politicians have rarely, if ever, seen a farm. They only know as animals as pets.

They have lost any sense of perspective or reality about what a real farm is like, and can no longer understand the difference between a furbaby and a cow or pig. They have no remote understanding of what it means to have water systems freeze in unprecedented and record-breaking cold on a farm when enormous animals are often far away. Nor is there any coherent understanding of what "shelter" means, or what kinds of shelters animals need and want, or what kind of "feed" is necessary to keep them healthy.

The confrontation in Glenville may well turn out to be historic. The arrest of Joshua Rockwood has awakened the agricultural community,  aroused farmers and animal lovers all over the country. Like the struggle over the New York Carriage Horses, it has brought considerable attention to the disconnection between people and food, people and agriculture, people and animals, people and the environment.

It has highlighted again the great confusion about animal rights and animal welfare, and what appears to be the trampling of human rights in the name of loving animals.

What becomes clearer by the day is that people who speak for the rights of animals and the people charged with enforcing the new rights of animals know as little about them as they do about farmers. We are strangers to the very animals that sustain us, and to the people who have always fed us. And we appear to be gripped by a cultural civil war – a great misunderstanding – between people who have pets and people who raise animals. Small wonder the earth itself is bleeding.

Joshua Rockwood ought to be an inspiration and a role model for all of the younger people in the world who wish to create a better and healthier place, and for those of us who wish they would.  What, really, do we want our children to be doing, if not what he is doing? He does not belong in jail, he belongs on a farm with good fences and a frost-free water pump. And a society that helps people care for animals and not only prosecutes them.


It is always a good thing to see things for myself.  Nothing I had heard, read, or seen about this story seemed right to me. Wednesday, I went to Glenville, N.Y. to meet with Joshua Rockwood and see West Wind Acres. It is on the western edge of his town, a community split by farming and development. There is a big barn, and 90 acres of pasture and a sea of busy foraging pigs. On one side of the farm is a big hill, almost out of sight, where the cows live.

I reminded Joshua that I am not a farmer or reporter, but a writer with a farm, and a photographer who takes photos of farms.  I have lived on a farm for more than a decade, and love it, but I have always wanted to be a writer, and cannot imagine being a farmer.

Joshua said I was welcome to go anywhere, see anything, take photos of anything I wanted. We spent nearly four hours trekking around his leased 90 acre farm, walking through the pig pasture, through the barn, up to the cows on the hill, down the boundary road, past the streams and springs.

My community – near Cambridge, N.Y. – is a heavily agricultural community, I am friends with many farmers and have been taking and selling and showing pictures of them for years. My specialty is struggling dairy farms. I just wrote a play about dairy farmers that was debuted at the Hubbard Hall Arts Center in January, "The Last Day At Mapleview Farm."

I see a lot of farms as well as live on one, I have been to many of the farms in the area. I love to walk through big old barns and take photos of them.

When I first moved to upstate New York, my vision of farms was shaped by all of those Vermont calendars and paintings I had seen. Bright red barns, neat wooden fences, sparkling white farmhouses, shade trees and bushes. When I started taking photos of real farms in upstate New York, the reality of farming stunned me. Scraggly fences, rusting tractors, rusting silos, mud, ice, manure, collapsing barns, piles of junk, old hay, new hay, pipes and wires and gates, worn pasture, tubs filled with muddy water (dirt on the animals) rooms filled with bottles, tubes, tools.

No real farmer ever buys anything new, or throws out anything at all. Most real farms look as if they had just been strafed by the Air Force.

Joshua has a real farm. Like most farmers, he does not have the money for the best fences, and he uses streams and running water for grazing animals like cows. There are very few feasible ways to get water lines a half-mile through the pastures and woods, especially on top of a hill. And if you have streams, you don't need to. Unless the streams freeze over, which moving water almost never does. Except when it is one of the coldest winter spells in the recorded history of weather. Then, you have to chop a hole in the ice, or let the animals eat snow for a few hours, even a day.

New York State law requires that animals get fresh water twice a day, it doesn't say when or how.

But the water was frozen when the police came.

Joshua, a 36-year-old former construction worker, was arrested and charged with 13 counts of animal neglect and abuse. He was cited for failure to provide adequate water, feed and shelter. Three of his horses were seized and brought to an animal rescue farm. One dog was taken also.  In addition to his legal fees, he will have to pay thousands of dollars to the rescue farm to get his horses back. The police said they might come back for his pigs, they have an open-ended warrant, they can return any time.

Although none of his animals were seriously ill or injured, prosecutors sought bail and considered him a flight risk. They were not deterred by the fact that he has two children, a wife and more than 100 animals on his farm. The bail request was denied, he was allowed to go home. At a preliminary hearing for Joshua held this week in Glenville Town Court, nearly 300 people, mostly farmers from the area and much of the Northeast, showed up to support him. In seven days, Joshua has raised more than $49,000 through a gofundme project for legal fees and bond money to pay for getting his horses back.

Joshua has appointed an independent administrator to make certain the money is disbursed properly and for the reasons he stated.

In a number of years of writing about farms and farmers, I have never seen farmers as disturbed and aroused as they are about Joshua's arrest and charges. I believe it is a significant turning point in the deepening and disturbing conflict between the animal rights movement and farmers and people who love and live with animals. At the heart of Joshua's legal issues is this question of frozen water. The charge of failing to provide water, which he obviously had done all winter, is curious. If he had not been providing water every day, the the animals would all be dead or dehydrated. Two veterinarians said they were not dehydrated or unhealthy. On a number of days this winter, the streams and water bowls on Joshua's farm froze in the bitter cold wave that hit the Northeast in February,  when temperatures were below zero for weeks.

In many parts of the Northeast, the frost line deepened to five feet, two or three feet lower than normal, bursting even municipal water delivery systems.

You will not find very few farmers with a different story than Joshua's. They had a hard time.

Frozen Stream

Frozen Stream

The photo above is the frozen stream that was one of the factors leading to Rockwood's arrest. Many farms use running streams as a water source for livestock, it is cheaper and handier than water lines and quite healthy for animals. Moving streams almost never freeze, especially those running down mountains and hills. When they do, animals like cows and horses use their hooves and paws to break holes in the ice, which doesn't have time to get thick. The farmer can do it too.

When the temperature drops well below zero, as it did in Grenville this winter, and stays there, even moving streams freeze and the ice gets thicker. Then, the farmer has to chop a hole in the ice, as farmers do and as Joshua Rockwood did. A water line would have frozen, and it was far too great a distance in install one. On the day he was arrested, this stream had iced over. On my farm, unheated water bowls froze in minutes.

One day, when he has his own farm,  Joshua may have a well dug, and he can move the cows to a lower pasture.

I wondered why no one offered to help.


Ken Norman has a farm in Vermont. He is a farrier and a long-time rescuer of abused horses, he sent Joshua this message. It was typical of the hundreds, if not thousands, of messages Rockwood has been receiving: "I support you ! This could be anyone of us.  I think and stated to Jon that they are " Bullshit Misdemeanors " I know many farmers who were pitted against Mother Nature and lost the fight keeping open fresh water to their stock! No farmer wants any of his animals to suffer any kind of harm , especially someone who is investing money into those animals to be good producing food animals.  That would be throwing money away.  I kept two water lines flowing from my barn to fields where several horses, ponies and donkeys lived out with run-in sheds. It was a crazy winter. Keep going strong!"

I came to West Wind Acres to see what the farm looked like, and to see his shelter, water system and to look at his animals.

Joshua has a CSA – Community Supported Agriculture – farm. This is the growing choice of a new generation of young farmers who are creating a new economic model for farming, one in which the local community shares in the profit and produce and risks of the farm.

CSA members or subscribers pay the farmer at the beginning of the growing season for a share of the anticipated harvest. When the harvesting begins, customers receive shares of the produce – in Joshua's case, pasture fed pork, beef, and chicken. CSA services vary from farm to farm, some offer honey, eggs,  and dairy products in lieu of or along with meat. The CSA model offers young and new farmers a way to enter the market and connect their food and meat to the community, something many farmers have long struggled to do in the era of corporate farming and the supermarket industry's control of regulation and distribution.

CSA farmers also tend to be environmentally-conscious, joining the movement to support local businesses that consider the environment in their work. Like Joshua, they  feed their animals on grass-fed pasture, not on processed or chemically altered foods. You can see his food program here. I asked Joshua what his ambition was as a farmer. He said it was to sell healthy food to people.

I saw what I needed to see at West Wind Acres. I was glad I went. Understanding a story like this is just like peeling an onion, you keep going until you get to the heart of it. West Wind Acres  is more or less what every farm I have ever seen or photographed or visited looks like, it is not a pretty or neat place. It does not look like a Vermont farm. There is snow, mud, plans, ice, manure, bare ground everywhere, makeshift shelters, cheap fences. It is not a grim farm, it is not a farm in crisis. It is a farm. The farmers are correct when they say it could have been anyone of them.

Farming is an essential business, but it is not a pretty or simple business. If Joshua's business takes off, he can do what young farmers end up doing, he can fix the farm up bit by bit, or go buy his own farm and build the infra-structure any farmer wants but few can readily afford. That is the reality of it. Maybe our society will awaken one day to the idea that we can help people like Joshua do this, that is, if he has any of his left-over gofundme money from legal fees and buying back his own animals at a cost of many thousands of dollars.

Joshua's farm does not, as he readily admits, have a strong infra-structure – tall fences, modern and frost-free water systems, storage space for hay, modern, custom-built shelters. That is not a crime. Arrests like this seek to criminalize the real lives of real farmers. Joshua  does not yet have a lot of experience putting a farm together. He has earned a lot of respect, admiration and affection from people in his community, and from his customers. Like many farms, and especially  many new farms, he has a hodge-podge system of huts, lean-tos and trailers.

I have never seen a working farm that was not also a junkyard.

It works, there is nothing particularly unusual or alarming or dangerous about it. Every animal I saw (there was a sick cow being treated) looked fat and happy. Two of the pigs had gray spots on their ears, sometimes a sign of frostbite (this is one of the charges against him), which can occur anywhere on a farm in sub-zero weather. Animals go outside to eat, drink and eliminate, they can also get frostbitten ears sleeping in a barn if it's cold enough.

Ken Norman, who knows much about farms, is correct when he says no farmer wants to see his animals suffer, especially one whose livelihood depends on their being healthy and well cared for. The world seems inverted to me when concern for animals leads to the loss of basic human rights for farmers and for many animal lovers.

Farmers are poor lobbyists and advocates for themselves. They spend little time on Facebook, do not have the publicists,  marketers, volunteers and fund-raisers of the animal rights movement. But social media seems to have finally given them a way to communicate with one another and to help other farmers. I believe that will change the dynamic of the Rockwood case, as it is changing the narrative in the New York Carriage Horse controversy.

As I watched hundreds of farmers pile into the Glenville Town Court on behalf of Joshua Rockwood, I thought this is an amazing thing to see. They have had enough.

Tomorrow, Part Two: The shelters  on West Wind Acres. You can support Joshua Rockwood's gofundme project here. He is only $700 away from his goal.

Posted in General

Keeping Manure Mountain

Keeping Manure Mountain

Keeping Manure Mountain

We pile the manure from the winter into a pile, and in the Spring local farmers come to take it and spread it over their gardens and some crops. It's good stuff. We are still giving some of the manure away, but have decided this Spring to flatten the top of the manure mountain, put some grass seed on it and keep it for the sheep to climb up on, they seem to love it. The chickens like it too, and it gives he farm a certain aesthetic that is, well, maybe unique. Maria is thinking of planting some pumpkin Ivy there.

Posted in General