What He Means
I don't know Joshua Rockwood all that well, I've only met him a few times. I am not a reporter, bound by the one-side-and-the-other rules of snoozy journalism, I do not see the world as an eternal argument between narrow points of view. I believe in facts and I believe in truth, any good cause is served by both. I also believe in Joshua, everything he has ever told me, good or bad, has turned out to be true.
I ought to say that I like Joshua Rockwood. We click. He is honest, open, ambitious, idealistic. He has the demeanor of someone who is grounded and has nothing to hide. He is, I am sure, no saint. I am not one, I don't really know any, except maybe my Grandmother Minnie. You don't really need to be a saint to be a good person. Joshua was minding his own business this winter, trying to get his new buy-local CSA shares farm – West Wind Acres – off the ground and was off to a good start.
And the fact that he is not perfect – he admits to mistakes, inexperience, naivete, confusion – makes him all the more appealing, because we humans are not perfect, we don't lead perfect lives, neither can we guarantee that to any animal in the world. Joshua is very human, which is why so many people relate to his story. Whether you are in a farm or a horse carriage or a mansion, any life with animals is rough, difficult, unpredictable.
Mother Nature did not co-operate with Joshua's careful plans for his free range, pasture-fed farm. Every farmer will tell you they are all at her Mercy. She had some wicked plans for Joshua. Like every farmer in the Northeast, he was nearly overwhelmed by the frightening and relentless cold that descended in February.
The cold brought the snow and ice and the wolves down on him, humans have sharp teeth too.
His water systems froze, the secret informers hovered. There were reports that his dogs were not being treated well. The animal police arrived and they left three of his dogs, took one and seized three horses. The rest his history, a court case.
Joshua is now known all over the country, and in some parts of the world. Sometimes we are called to be symbols of things that are greater than ourselves. I think Joshua is somewhat bewildered by that, but that is what is happening to him, and he has not run away, he has embraced it. He has gone from being shocked and frightened and angry to being calm and positive and determined to find some good in it, some way to help find a better way to help animals and to help farmers than ruining them and hauling them off to jail.
There is a sense among people who love animals and live and work with them that the animal rights movement has gone too far, that it has triggered a wave of hysteria over animal abuse, more akin to a witch hunt or inquisition than a true and rational and civil dialogue about animal welfare.
People who live and work with animals, farmers, carriage ride operators, circuses, people with dogs and cats and pigs, poor people with animals they struggle to afford — many have the sense that things are getting out of hand, out of control, that there is no perspective, that people with no idea how animals live have seized control of their lives and future.
The people who claim to speak for animals are persecuting people with animals all over the country, sometimes for reason, often for none. They are arbitrarily defining the very meaning of abuse, expanding it beyond anything in human history. At times, this movement resembles a kind of rogue militia, operating outside of the law, beyond reason or negotiation, unregulated or monitored, increasingly drawing local police and local governments into a conflict they are unprepared for and know nothing about – the real lives of farmers and the real lives of animals.
Joshua Rockwood has decided to take a stand against this Orwellian movement, he is standing up for farmers, and people who wish to keep animals in their lives, and poor people who need help with their animals, and people who love working with animals, and earning their sustenance from them. He is standing up for people who love to entertain people, for their freedom to do their "stupid tricks." For the border collies herding sheep and the sled dogs pulling sleds, and for all those who make children's eyes go wide with wonder, and who make people laugh, something that is suddenly considered an abusive crime.
At Monday's court hearing, I noticed that Joshua and his lawyers huddled outside for awhile, then they all went into the judge's chambers and huddled some more, and then they came out and huddled some more. I covered a lot of trials when I was a reporter and what I think I saw was a deal offer. That had to be what they were talking about.
Joshua and I do not discuss the case, and I do not know what happened, but I can't think of any other reason for so much huddling.
I turned to Ken Norman, our farrier and friend and supporter of Joshua's, and I said, "I think they just turned down a deal." He nodded.
From what I know of Joshua, they will have to tie him to a wagon and drag him through the streets before he will plead guilty to something he did not do, before he will pay thousands of dollars in fees to people who do not deserve it to get his horses back, horses that two different vets who came before the raid said were healthy, horses that should never have been taken from him. It is not a crime to be caught unawares by a savage winter. They could have arrested any farmer for 1,000 miles.
Then, the trial resumed and Joshua's lawyer went toe-to-toe with the angry operator of the horse rescue farm that now has his horses and is asking for $7,600 for the first 30 days of their care. I don't know her. I covered a lot of trials and I've dealt with a lot of bullies, and I had this eerie and unsettling feeling that I was looking at one in the courtroom. She did not care to explain herself, she did not think it necessary, she bristled with righteous indignation, not a good thing for any witness to do.
I was, frankly, surprised. I know a lot of horse rescue people, and they tend to be the least arrogant and angry people I know. They love to speak of their work, and are happy to justify it and talk about how difficult it is, how pressed they are, how many animals are in desperate need of help. I've never known a single one who wasn't eager to talk about money, how much they spend, how much they need.
So that is where we are, a young man seeking to make a living off of the land, to give his animals free range and good food fighting for his life, but now making a bigger stand. Very few people do that. We live in a world of deals, there hardly are any more trials in our complex and expensive legal system.
I do not have any inside information, Joshua and I have a careful boundary between us, we do not talk about his trial. But I was a reporter for a good while, and I loved it, and the blood rises on a story like this. The judge looked agitated on Monday, there are many questions about the way in which Joshua's horses were seized and the admissibility of much of the evidence against him.
If I had to bet, I would wager that the case against Joshua is beginning to fall apart, unraveled by it's own irrationality, poor judgement and ignorance. I think it will collapse of it's own weight, but if it doesn't, I wouldn't be surprised if Joshua and his many determined supporters will continue to take it apart, piece by piece.
If they are, in fact, thinking of a deal now, their case must be mostly made of rice paper.
I don't care to romanticize Joshua, that would be a disservice to both of us, and to the just cause for which he stands. He doesn't need to be larger than life, life-sized is good enough.
For animal lovers, though, these are the times that try men's souls. Everywhere, from the New York Carriage Horses to homeless men living with their dogs, to pony ride operators in California, to the circus operators and elephants, to farmers and almost everyone with a working or domesticated animal.
It is easy – even wise – to shrink from the cause and history of animals, to take a deal and get on with life. But he who stands by the future of animals in our world deserves the thanks of every man and woman who loves them. It is a serious and awful business to think of a world without them, that is the reality we are approaching. The war against the animal people, against the farmers, is a new kind of tyranny, and tyranny, like hell, is not easily conquered.
Thomas Paine wrote that the harder the conflict, the more glorious the triumph. What we obtain too cheap, we esteem too lightly, it is dearness only that gives every thing its value. Jefferson wrote that freedom sometimes dies by a thousand cuts, and that is the story of people and animals in our time. Heaven knows how to put a proper price on our way of life, on what the animals mean to us and have done for us, on our freedom to live our own individual lives in peace and dignity.
It would be strange if so celestial a thing as freedom would not be valued and cherished. But this is why so many many people in so many places care so much about a 36-year-old food farmer and his three horses and dog and pigs and cows. They see themselves in him, they see their fate as tied to his.
So Joshua Rockwood is doing this for us, is standing in for us. He is not making any deals for his freedom or for ours. This does not make him a saint, but it does make me admire him and support him and wish him a glorious triumph.