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5 July 2015

Simplicity. Taking On The Cluttered, Crowded, Fearful Life

Simplicity

Simplicity

"I do believe in simplicity. It is astonishing as well as sad, how many trivial affairs even the wisest thinks he must attend to in a day; how singular an affair he thinks he must omit. When the mathematician would solve a difficult problem, he first frees the equation of all incumbrances, and reduces it to its simplest terms. So simplify the problem of life, distinguish the necessary and the real. Probe the earth to see where your main roots run."
— Thoreau to H. G. O. Blake, 27 March 1848

I have no desire to live alone for a year or so on a pond and hunt squirrels and eat fish. I like living with a soul-mate and partner. I like loving her and being loved. Yet Henry David Thoreau has always been a powerful influence on me, he has always haunted me, challenged me to live a simpler life. Thomas Merton was a different kind of influence on me, he inspired me to leave behind my urban and suburban life and take a great leap of faith, to come to the country to live in nature and seek out a life that was contemplative and spiritual.

Armed with a carload of his books and journals, I came up to my cabin and spent a year mostly by myself, and I was forever changed. That was the first step on my hero journey, into light and darkness and confusion and glory.

I have been more successful following Merton's guide than Thoreau's sometimes. Spirituality is ephemeral, I think you never get there, the point is to stay on the path. My life is more spiritual. I meditate, live in nature, learn from the animals.  In our culture, and in our time, our lives are frantic and cluttered. Thoreau's message rings much more true today that it even did in his time, especially around Independence Day, where we sometimes are asked to think about where are country is headed.

We seem headed for stress, complexity and waste. It is no longer possible to even consider the simple life that Thoreau lived for a year and that he urged others to live. Could any of us live for a year without our Iphones?

Lenin said the point of a capitalist culture was to create a continuing supply of things we are told we must have and that we need, he estimated that we don't need 90 per cent of the things we think we need to buy, or that capitalism creatures to feed the corporate beast. Pope Francis had added a new sense of urgency about waste: "We know that it is impossible to sustain the current level of consumption in the more developed countries and the wealthiest parts of society, where the habit of waste and of throwing things away is reaching unprecedented levels. Already we have exceeded certain limits of exploiting the planet, without solving the problem of poverty."

Or the limits of simplicity and peace of mind. Heal our lives, says the Pope, heal our planet.

I have a lot of challenges to face still in my life, it's shadows of time shortening every day. I have to heal my financial struggles and wounds, I wish to live a simpler life. Simplicity, simplicity, simplicity, said Thoreau. What do we really need? And what is a simpler life anyway?

Is it a poorer life? A life without so many pills and prescriptions and tests? A life with fewer devices and less time spent on them? A life in nature? With more animals around, and fewer things?

I see my own life getting forever more complicated as well as wasteful. I am wired into a number of devices that help me share my creativity, do my work, and earn a living. I am bombarded with things I do not really need – special offerings, subscriptions, technological updates.

I went to the pet store last week to buy chew toys and bones for Fate, who is teething with border collie intensity. I found myself at the cashier with $67 worth of things for her to chew.

For most of my life, I would simply swiped the credit card, but I stopped and asked myself what I really needed to get for her, and I put $40 or so back. She is chewing happily. The move to simplicity is stirring. I saw three new books in the bookstore, and bought one of them. I buy clothes once a year, two pairs of jeans, five shirts,  two sets of suspenders. I am learning to manage the new world of technology and social media.  I never argue my writings online, I check my messages two or three times a day, not 20 or 30, I do not exchange personal messages with people I do not know, I do not seek or accept advice from strangers. I am cooking vegetables and healthy and simple things for me to eat, and in smaller portions, good for my body, good for my soul.

I am  increasingly fond of my Kindle, not only can I read it at night and in bed, but I can store my books there. Thoreau, says the New York Times, was the country's first "De-Clutterer," but I suspect de-cluttering, like rationality and concern for the poor and tolerance for other humans, is catching on.I like Thoreau's term better: simplify.  But it is hard in our kind of culture to simplify. Our world depends on greed, fear and need. Lenin was right, capitalism depends on manipulating people into buying things they don't need, corporations that don't squeeze every drop of blood from a stone are considered failures, their leaders and workers gutted.

We need this plan or that, expensive health care plans, soul-sucking jobs we hate in places we don't wish to live so we can get more insurance and put more money into our IRA's and live empty lives in the forgotten warehouses of the aged.

I am serious about simplfying my life. It is easier when you have done most of your big buying in life.  Older people tend to be forgotten in a corporate world, they don't have too many years of buying power left, it is the young who are brutally ensnared in debt, obligation, and fear about the future.  They have many years ahead of them where they are told they will need to buy things – houses, cars, computers, watches, plans and investments. Our lives get more complicated every single day and I am learning to say no more and more.  I want a simpler life, with fewer things to manage, fewer phone trees to call, fewer bills to manage, fewer passwords to try and store.

I was frightened when I lost all of my money a few years ago, it was swept away by the recession, my divorce and the end of publishing as I knew it. A friend  on Wall Street told me I was one of the lucky ones, I could live a simpler life, he said, I had nothing to lose. I was now in the driver's  seat. I don't know if he was right, but the idea stuck in my consciousness. I realized that Thoreau said the same thing many times.

Simplicity is good for the soul. Our culture is addicted to sometimes mindless connection, we are drowning in more information than we can handle, learning to make friends that we will never know or see, struggling to manage more devices than we can understand or figure out how to plug in,  angered by the endless for profit rain of violent and disturbing news and imagery. We are stressed and angry and frightened and overwhelmed, the very antithesis of Thoreau's idea.  Even the weather has become a source of alarm for the greed corporations who need us to be frightened so we will pay attention to them.

We need to think, but we have  no time and space to think, only to react to what other people are telling us to think. The New York Times called Thoreau a "domestic minimalist," but I think he was a psychic and a seer. He saw the trap succeeding generations were setting for themselves, he urged us not to fall into it. But we have. And so now, a great movement to simply our lives begin, fueled by our own wishes for meaning and peace, and a powerful new motive: the fate of the earth. The Pope is right, we have no right to use up the resources of the earth at the expense of the poor.

The challenge for me is to live more simply, and more authentically. To simplify the problem of life, distinguish the necessary and the real.  To acquire fewer things that need to be thrown away. This is seminal part of the hero journey, I will share the trip.

Posted in General
1 July 2015

Chewing On Red

Chewing On Red

Chewing On Red

Fate loves herding sheep and she loves going for walks and hanging out with Maria. But near the top of the list is chewing on Red. She chews on his ears, on his nose, on his neck, he is unfailingly gracious, accepting and tolerant of her. This photo was taken a few weeks ago, and Fate's teething is easing up a bit, but just a bit. She still loves chewing on Red, he still lets her do it (as long as he isn't eating, then there is a low growl that sends her skittering.)

Posted in General
28 June 2015

Honored Guest: Joshua Rockwood At The Bedlam Farm Open House

Joshua Rockwood

Joshua Rockwood

Every week, Joshua's lawyer reminds him that he could go to jail. I assume that anyone with a loving wife and two small children can imagine just how awful a cloud that is to live under. It is an awful thing for an animal lover to be secretly accused of animal cruelty and face a terrifying assault by the police and the machinery of government. It is even worse if you are clearly and provably innocent of the charges.

It is easy to read about people accused of awful things, it is sometimes very difficult to grasp what they really means, how awful it is, how long it can last, how destructive it can be to love and work.

I was very happy to see Joshua Rockwood arrive at the open house on Sunday, and to see that he came with his wife Stephanie and their two children. Everyone there knew Joshua,  came up to him, thanked him for his courage, asked if they could help, patted him on the back, cheered him on.

Joshua is  part of the local food movement, he raises cattle, pigs, chickens and sheep for food. His animals eat on pasture, he is open and authentic about his work. I am proud to call him a friend and stand with him, as so many others are. He is a sweet man, an honest man, a caring father and husband, and I have visited his farm several times  and walked every inch of it with him. His animals are healthy and content, well fed and attentively cared for. He has been cruelly abused by our system of justice.

Joshua is also shy, he is not easy in the awful spotlight that shines every day on him and his family. We had talked about him giving a talk at the farm, but he seemed to be  looking for some peace and enjoying his time with his family. We decided he should just hang around a bit and try and relax. As some of you know, Joshua is an idealistic  young farmer from Glenville, N.Y. In March, after one of the bitterest cold waves in American history, the police and humane society officers raided his 90 acre farm, seized three of his horses, and accused  him of between 13 and 17 counts of animal cruelty and neglect, including having an unheated barn, storing hay out of sight of the officers, and having frozen streams and water receptacles.

I went to see Joshua and visit his farm, and I was saddened and surprised to discover the same thing I discovered when I first went to see the New York Carriage Horses.  Joshua had done nothing wrong, his animals were healthy and well cared for – two different vets had come to his farm and certified that. What happened to his farm in that brutish cold could have happened to any small farmer in America, and happened to many – including me.

But a secret informer, part of the new army of the righteous who call themselves supporters of animal rights, had reported him to the police. And without any warning or due process,  his life suddenly changed. He was fingerprinted and photographed, the prosecutors claimed that Joshua- a many with a 90 acre farm and two children – a flight risk. They wanted bail. His lawyer couldn't believe it.

The horse rescue farm where his horses were taken wants tens of thousands of dollars in order for them to be returned.

Joshua always says he is fine when asked, he does not ever whine or complain. But I do see the sadness in  his eyes, and the concern on the face of his mother and wife, and sometimes there is weariness and confusion. Nobody wants to live like this.  It is a hard time for him. He is open and authentic, from the first he concedes his inexperience and mistakes, none of them are criminal, none of them were cruel.

He is the latest victim of what has become an ugly and well-funded hysteria revolving around notions of animal and cruelty and abuse, increasingly familiar to farmers and other victims of this new social inquisition.

Instead of offering to help Joshua, or making a telephone call to talk to  him, the police and humane society officials chose to raid his farm, take his horses, humiliate him in public, damage his reputation and threaten his farm and his livelihood. He  faces months, if not years, of expensive legal fees and worry and uncertainty.

His lawyer reminds him every week that he could go to jail, he says it is his duty to remind  him. Joshua has refused any plea bargain, he says he will never admit to something he didn't do. Joshua is the victim of a great injustice, and I was very proud to help suppor support him. More than 300 people, many of them farmers and friends and neighbors, came to his first court hearings – they will go on for months – he raised more than $57,000 on gofundme. You can add to it here.

There is a lot at stake in Joshua Rockwood's case, issues of law, decency, community and humanity.

"Everything is related," wrote Pope Francis in his encyclical "Laudato Si." We human beings are united as brothers and sisters on a wonderful pilgrimage, he wro\ites,  woven together by the love God has for each of his creatures and which also unites us in fond affection with brother sun, sister moon, brother river and mother earth."

Joshua Rockwood is my  brother, and the brother of anyone who loves animals, supports healthy food grown on nearby farms, and takes great care of Mother Earth. Many people are united in fond affection for him, and for his cause. I was much honored to see him at Bedlam Farm. His court hearings resume in July at the Glenville, N.Y. Town Court.

The open house was a sweet and upbeat affair, it felt so good to be here. Joshua Rockwood reminds us that life goes on outside of our circles, and it is not always easy or sweet. I look forward to next year when he and his family can come and visit the next open house, a free and successful and vindicated man.

Posted in General
25 June 2015

Glory And Responsibility. Are We Really Prepared To Love The Animals?

Loving Animals

Loving Animals

"Because of us, thousands of species will no longer give glory to God by their very existence, nor convey their message to us. We have no such right, writes Pope Francis in his encyclical "Laudato Si," which I am reading, somewhat humbled and mesmerized.

Pope Francis is challenging us to truly think about animals, rather than pay lip service to loving them. He asks us to consider the way in which we love them and might work to preserve their very existence in our world, whether it be the border collies in my pasture, the carriage horses in New York, the elephants in the circus, the ponies giving rides to children in fairs and farmer's markets.

It is very common for people to say that they love all animals,  I could not  begin to count how many people say this, it is in the press kit of every celebrity who ever lived. I see people write this, post this on the social media pages every day. Animals have never been more loved, celebrated, emotionalized, even worshiped than they are  today.  It is heresy not to love them.

Yet animals have never been in greater peril than they are in our time. There is a great disconnection between what people say they feel about animals and what people do about animals.

The World Wildlife Fund estimates that one half of all the animal species on the earth have vanished in the past generation. Everywhere, animals are being taken from people, removed from our everyday lives, developed or hunted or poached or rescued out of existence.

I am wary of people who say they love animals, it challenges me to consider how I feel about animals and what I mean when I talk of animals and life. I want to be honest up front and say that I do not love all animals, I do not think it is even possible to love all animals, it is so broad and vague and disconnected a statement that it has no meaning or reality for me. I love my dogs, I have come to love my donkeys, I am learning to love our new pony.

There are many animals I do not love. I do not love chickens or sheep. I love our barn cats sometimes. I do not love raccoons or fishers or red squirrels or deer or geese. I love the idea of elephants, but I don't really know any elephants well enough to love them. I can't help but wonder why, if so many people love all animals so much, are the carriage horses in peril, why no one is seeking to find work the elephants who will soon be cut loose from their long-time work in the circuses so they can die but be saved from doing those stupid pet tricks, why no one cares that the ponies being driven from the kid's rides are being sent to slaughter?

Why, if we love them so much, are the animals disappearing so quickly, are their habitats being invaded and destroyed, have we abandoned our responsibility to find work and meaning and a place in our every day lives, in the country, in the suburbs, in the city? Why are animals who are safe and well cared for – the carriage horses? – the object of so much controversy, are threatened with banishment and extinction at the hands of the people who profess to love animals the most?

I'm not used to quoting Popes, but this one speaks to my heart and soul, he is channeling the true  Christ, as I think popes are supposed to do. When I think of loving animals, I do not just think of rescuing them, or seeing them only through the prism of abuse and rescue, or of seeing how cute they and their babies can be. I think of the glorious partnership between animals and human beings that has characterized and supported and defined the story of people on the earth. I think of what it really means to love them, and it humbles me.

I think of animals as the ambassadors and spirits of Mother Earth. I cannot love animals if I do not know them, live with them, take responsibility for their care and their well being, know their real lives and real needs. Fate is a cute puppy, but that is not enough. I am responsibie for knowing and understanding her and giving her the opportunity to be safe and valued in the world, and to exist here with us. When Karen Thompson gave me Red, I was charged with the sacred responsibility of finding a place for his kindness and affection, of  helping him live the life he was meant to live.

That, I think, is the easy part. Truly loving animals is something much more difficult. Loving animals, to me, means taking responsibility for the harm we have done to them, as Francis suggests that we do, not just rescuing them so that we can feel better about ourselves. We have nearly destroyed their world, and are watching as the survivors are being relentlessly taken from us. To see what it means to love an animal, go see the work the people do at Blue Star Equiculture in Massachusetts, they have heard the call of the Pope long  before he wrote his encyclical, they are the model and the guide for us.

They believe in bringing back the human connection to animals, restoring the glorious bond that has been forgotten in our rush to money and mindless growth, our obsession with security in a world devoid of spirituality and hope.

I fear sometimes that the people who say they love all animals see all animals  as adorable and needy creatures sent by the angels to love us. Not so fast for me. Loving animals means sacrifice. It means giving up big cars and new condos and office towers. It means less waste and simpler lives, fewer gadgets and new homes, fewer devices and processed foods. It means giving up devouring the world and making no room for them. It means keeping horses in parks, not more cars. It means creating habitats, not destroying them. It means being truly responsible, not sending off checks to strangers with agendas.

Reading Pope Francis' stunning encyclical – it is 192 pages long – I wondered if I really know what it means to love animals, rather than mouthing the words. I wonder if I am prepared to sacrifice and re-imagine my life so that I can truly save theirs, rather than only put up cute photographs of them and tell heart-warming stories about them.

I am a believer in symbols. Herding sheep with dogs is a powerful symbol to me of the human-animal bond, it has been such an integral part of human life. So have the working horses. Do we love them enough to keep them in the world, and alter and reconsider our own world so that they might live and continue?

I don't have the answer for that, truthfully. That is being honest, too.  I am heading towards my seventh decade, and I doubt if I will live long enough to know the answer to that question for me. I don't intend to hide from, I am a writer and photographer with a big and wonderful blog, I will share my progress. Animals give Glory to God by their very existence, and glory to Mother Earth. What a gift to be able to honor that challenge in the time that remains to me. When that day comes, I can truly say I love the animals.

Posted in General
19 June 2015

Where’s Red?

Where's Red?

Where's Red?

Border collies are not supposed to take their eyes off of the sheep, and Fate rarely does but when she rounded up all the sheep this morning and backed them up against the fence, she wasn't sure what she was supposed to do  next, so she turned around and looked for Red. He sat watching her, so she turned back and gave the sheep the eye. Eventually, they backed up.

Posted in General