30 April 2015

Ariel’s Magical Midnight Ride

The Magical Midnight Ride

The Magical Midnight Ride

I had a dream last night about Ariel Fitzi's magical midnight horse carriage ride in Central Park several weeks ago. Ariel, a carriage horse driver, has devoted his entire life to horses, he believes they have powerful messages to bring to people, if people will listen. Ariel is a magician, a good and beloved man and a generous spirit. He took Maria and I on a carriage ride in the park to thank us for supporting the horses in their fight to remain in New York City.

Riding with Ariel, we both felt the magic, we feel it still. The horses talk to me almost every night, they have altered and enriched my life.

Posted in General

Nipped In The Butt. Red And Liam.

Nipped In The Butt

Nipped In The Butt

Liam made another charge at the donkey and their carrots this morning, Red was lying in wait. Liam got no carrots, but he did get nipped in the butt for his troubles and ran back to the feeder. Red is waiting for him in the mornings now, he lies low near the apple tree and pounces. Liam is determined, but I think he is not as smart as a border collie.

Posted in General

The Rockwood Files. To A Glorious Triumph

What He Means

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.


Posted in General

On Crystal Hill

On Crystal Hill

We went to crystal hill, a path in the deep woods where Maria finds beautiful rocks and crystals. When she is drawn to a spot, she kneels down, Red sits by her to keep her company and waits. Didn't find much yesterday, we will back. It's one of our favorite spots, I struggle to walk up the hill before my heart surgery, it is a snap now.

Posted in General

Preparing For Iowa, With Gratitude. Itinerary.

Preparing For Iowa

Preparing For Iowa

I accept the fact that publishing has changed. i understand that publishers are no longer expected to be loyal to writers for any other reason than the profits they bring. I accept that writers – especially mid-list writers – are expendable in the new corporate world of publishing, just as people are. We are no better than anyone else, the old notions of loyalty and security have been upended by great change. I understand that I am lucky, I know so many writers who have succumbed to the new notion that creativity ought to be free, like information.

And my heart aches for young writers, no longer given the support or time to establish themselves.

What I could not accept was the fact that because I had switched publishers, Random House, my publisher of nearly 30 years, did not speak to me again or budget one dollar towards any kind of book tour or publicity for my last book with them, "Saving Simon: How A Rescue Donkey Taught Me The Meaning Of Compassion." And how ironic, Simon was about to give me still more lessons about compassion and it's meaning in our world.

He died several months ago, and I loved that donkey, I am determined that his story not die without a proper send off.

I decided that I would not whine and grump about the new reality of publishing – I call it Extreme Acceptance, whining is as natural for writers as breathing  – I would create my own book tour for the first time in my writing career, pick my own venues, get myself there and back, work out the details with people on the other end.

Frankly, I thought it would be hopeless, who would want to hear from a writer whose own publisher wouldn't even talk to? I was also coming to accept that I was simply not that important as a writer any longer, if I ever was. That was the real problem. I just wasn't making enough money.

It was a hard and painful reality, but I believe in reality, not fantasy or nostalgia.

Still, I had never published a book with  so little thought or support from my publisher, one that had always treated me well and given me the great gift of working and living as a full-time author. I guess that publisher is gone,  now a giant Hydra, all of my editors are gone, pushed out or fled.I wouldn't know who to talk to any longer, even if they did talk to me.

So I put the word out on my blog that I wanted to have a book tour. And a lot of people responded. What surprised me is that this had turned out to be a wonderful book tour – all kinds of people responded to my home-grown campaign and invited me to bookstores and libraries all over the Northeast. There were great crowds everywhere, great conversations, many followers of my books and my blog. I guess I'm not quite done yet. I think often of John Updike's sadness when he went into bookstores and saw that most of his books were missing or in hidden corners.

I am no Updike, but I related to him when he said he had to come to terms with the fact that he was not as relevant as he once was.

Maria says I am ridiculous for declaring that my book writing is over. I accept that.

So Saturday, I begin the final leg of my own personal book tour. My new publisher, Simon & Schuster, loves book tours, and they don't seem to know that I am over. so this may be the only one I ever get to arrange.  How strange is life. I am heading for Iowa. A group of people there – event co-ordinators, librarians, bookstore owners, all pooled their resources and energy and arranged a whirlwind three-day tour there for "Saving Simon."

Maria is coming to help me out with the driving, we are racing around the state with a  chock full schedule. I am excited about going to Iowa and grateful to the Prairie Lights Book Store,  the Des Moines Pubilic Library, the Iowa City Public Library, the Wesley Acres Independent Living Community,  Next Place Books of Cedar Rapids and AViD presentations, all of whom made this possible.

Special thanks to Susan Skinner of Wesley Acres, it was her idea,  she made it happen. She is even getting us to Thai food in Iowa! There are a lot of parts to this book tour, and I appreciate the work that went into it.

I am surprised at the number of blog and book readers in Iowa who are contacting me and hoping to meet me.  Why am I always the last person to understand my own life?

My rough itinerary:

Saturday: Flying to Des Moines.

Sunday:  Speaking and signing books at the Wesley Acres, an independent living community, at 2 p.m.  3520 Grand Avenue, Izanna Room. The event is open to the public. Boswell the donkey will be nearby.

Monday.  Interviews in the morning. At 7 p.m., speaking in the Sheslow Auditorium on the Drake Campus, 2507 University Avenue, Des Moines.

Tuesday: Cedar Rapids, Iowa: Speaking at Next Page Books, 2 p.m., 1105 3rd Street, SE, Cedar Rapids.

At 7 p.m., Iowa City, in conjunction with the Prairie Lights Bookstore, speaking at the Iowa City Public Library, 123 S. Linn Street, Iowa City.

Wednesday: Coming home to Bedlam Farm.

I'm taking one device, my Iphone, and I am taking my camera. No computers, no blogging. I want to give the tour my full attention, they deserve nothing less for all their hard work on my behalf and Simon's. I want to see a bit of Iowa, a fascinating place for me.

I so appreciate this tour, it is a wonderful thing in it's own right, it has been a very affirming experience for me, another reason to never let anyone else define me, another reason to value connection, loyalty and independence in the Corporate Nation. I am glad I launched this book tour, it is already the best one I ever had. To Iowa.

Posted in General