27 August 2015

Late August. The First Leaf.

By: Jon Katz
Late August

Late August. The first lead, blown onto the back porch.

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Under The Apple Tree

By: Jon Katz
Under The Apple Tree

Under The Apple Tree

Donkeys are curious creatures, affectionate, independent, hardy and self-sufficient. They don't really shed their winter fur until August, and then in October, they start growing it back for winter. These days Lulu and Fanny look sleek and polished, they spend the hot part of the day either in the pole barn or under the apple tree in the pasture, munching on the ripening apples growing this year.

The farmers believe that if there are lots of apples on a tree, it means that it will be a harsh winter – the apples are for the hungry animals. Recent history has suggested otherwise, our McIntosh apples seem to grow out every other year, regardless of the weather. The donkeys love them, they hang out for hours, picking apples off of the low-handing trees, munching them off of the ground.

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26 August 2015

Open Up: The Song Of The Dahlia

By: Jon Katz
The Song Of The Dahlia

The Song Of The Dahlia

Dahlia's sing and dance, they have that joyous and beautiful tropical blood in them. They open up and open up, and when they have opened up for days and days, they open up some more. Talking about keeping the hinges oiled, this is a beautiful and subtle and sensuous flower. I am abashed to say I forgot that one of my best Christmas presents from Maria was some of these very beautiful Dahlia's now spring up in our Dahlia garden.

What a gift, especially in late summer. When most gardens begin to fade, the Dahlia's are just hitting their stride.

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Video, Text. Fate Alone. A Goodbye Of Sorts. Letting Go.

By: Jon Katz
Fate Alone

Fate Alone

I left Fate alone with the sheep again today, and I felt a pang or two, it took me a few minutes to realize that it recalled those moments as a father when I saw Emma drive off in a car for the first time by herself,  or go off on a date, or leave home for college.

I was surprised at how ambivalent I felt. It was a kind of letting go. Letting so, I have learned, is essential both to peace of mind and spirituality. People who learn how to let go are wise. People who can't are tethered, and they tether people and animals to them. I don't want that for my kids, or for my dogs. I intensely dislike the very popular story of the Rainbow Bridge, it is story of narcissism and selfishness. My dogs do not need to be bound to me for all eternity.

Fate is a young puppy, and we have have worked hard together working with sheep and training, and that is an intimate thing, really, I had the sense of a separation again today, of a kind passage, a goodbye. It had that bittersweet feeling of being both good and sad at the same time.

Fate needs to be alone with the sheep. Like most people, I talk too much in training, I don't give her enough time sometimes to think for herself, and border collies will do that given a chance, they evolve and learn and observe in surprising ways. Fate is a profoundly sweet and loving dog, she is also almost shockingly smart. One great thing about the breed is that when you screw up, you can usually correct it if you awaken.

They can change.

Like any nervous Dad, I watched  a bit nervously through the living room window to make sure she was all right. Maria thought it was too soon. Fate was very happy out there. She circled the sheep, followed them when they moved, as border collies will. She was appropriate, leaving them to graze. She approached them, and she is beginning to work with her eyes, meeting their gaze, even backing them down a bit. She is alert but not fearful.

I can trust her not to hurt them or run them around. She seems to really love just being with them. Good border collies are like that. At first, she kept looking for me, for Red. When she stops doing that, we'll be there.

When I called Fate in, she did not rush to me or want to leave, so I sent her back out again. Training a dog like Fate is an emotional thing, I realize, she is so keen, has so much instinct, is so joyful in her work. I have worked very hard with her, I'll show our work at the Bedlam Farm Open House in October on Columbus Day Weekend. I'm proud of us, I make a number of mistakes, like everyone does (TV trainers do not admit any) but spot them and learn from them and adapt.

Like all great dogs, Fate is a handful, and she has challenged me to be patient and clear and positive. I think I have risen to that. I am getting back into videos a bit. I'll try and get them up on Facebook, I'm having trouble uploading them onto the blog. I don't want to get too deeply into videos, I already have a big camera and love photography, I don't want to be hauling all kinds of gadgets around while we work, I need to concentrate. I don't even have to think about the camera.

So a new chapter for me, for Fate. Some independence. When people asked me what it was like being a parent, I said I felt my job was to make sure my daughter could live independently and happily without me. That was the work, to not be necessary, not to be necessary.

In Ireland, the dogs take the sheep out to graze, and hang out with them all day. That doesn't happen here, where there is a lot of land. But there is no reason Fate shouldn't be able to hand out with the sheep for hours if she wishes. I  just have to let go.

I hope my daughter feels free to live her life without being enmeshed with me or worrying much about me. Fate is not a child, and herders and dogs are very necessary and important to one another – sheepherding is not something done entirely alone.

But still, there is a kind of moving on quality about Fate Alone, it brings back some memories, it evokes satisfaction and yes, some melancholy. I like melancholy sometimes, it is sweet and cleansing like a soft shower on a hot day. It reminds me that letting go, like change, is a part of the human experience, it calls for awakening and acceptance.

I'm getting back into videos again, I don't want to be too encumbered by equipment every time I go outside, I have a big camera and I love photography. But I took a short video and put it up on youtube so you can come along. We'll see how it goes.

The truly great dog loves it's independence, as well as it's humans. The truly evolved human knows how and when to let go.


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Triumph: Joshua Rockwood’s Victory For Truth, Justice And Community

By: Jon Katz


Joshua Rockwood has triumphed, a great victory.

In just a few days, he has raised the $16,000 he needs to prepare and improve his farm for the winter. I imagine he will end up with more than that, Joshua is important to me and to many other people. He is a humble and brave man, he has won a great victory for truth, justice and community. Champagne tonight on this farm.

This is the second true victory for the rights of animals and people in just a short time. Last week, the unthinkable happened in New York City, the mayor dropped his ludicrous effort to ban the New York Carriage Horses. Joshua's ultimate victory might be unthinkable to some people as well. I believe it will happen.

Just after noon, the fund passed $16,000, his goal, and I am proud to celebrate. This is the sixth day of the funding project, I suspect will continue to rise, 371 people have contributed so far from all over the country.

"Joshua, I am a vegetarian and have been for 41 of my 58 years," wrote Leslie Exeter, who donated $40 this morning. "However, my respect and regard for animals transcends that personal choice. People like you – who raise, care for, and house animals humanely and appropriately, in as healthy and natural an environment as possible and with the utmost regard for their well-being, even if for the meat they ultimately provide – deserve my respect and support as well. Good luck to you and to your family."

Aleen Thomas donated $25 and wrote: "Could have been me – horses lived out 24/7. They stayed healthy until late 20s-early 30s and I stayed healthier tending to them and breaking ice/hauling water in the winter . . . thoughts are with you. Keep looking forward."

Joshua did not win a victory for the "left" or the "right" in his successful and ongoing gofundme project. He won a victory for the idea of treating people and animals with respect and dignity. And for the beleaguered farmers of America. forgotten and abused.

Nearly 400 people from all over the country and from every part of the political spectrum donated small amounts of money to help him buy the tire tanks of water and eco-friendly Greenhouse Shelters he needs for the winter and has painstakingly researched and chosen for his farm, West Wind Acres.

Conservatives and  liberals alike – farmers, housewives, ordinary people, farriers and truckers,  horse and dog animal lovers – bristled at the heavy-handed overreach of the police and local government in their disruption of his life and livelihood, and at the Orwellian contempt for human rights shown by the people who claim to support the rights of animals, but do not. It is not progressive to take away the freedom and property of innocent people in the name of loving animals.

When I step back and think about Joshua Rockwood and his story – hard to to do because I cannot claim to be completely objective about it any longer – I think it is really a story about how Americans no longer really know one another, and the institutions who govern and police our lives do not know us.

Animal rights activists have sharply criticized me for not respecting the decisions of law enforcement and animal rights police in this case, but the real difference between them and me is that I know Joshua Rockwood. So do the hundreds of people who have come to his hearings and supported him. They are correct when they say it could have been us, and it will be us if this witchhunt and hysteria over so-called animal abuse is not stopped.

I hope the people who persecuted Joshua in such a cruel and unthinking way never know the awful experience of having one's home and farm invaded by the police and various strangers who claim to love animals but seem to know nothing about them.

His work on his farm, his life and family, his peace of mind have all suffered or been shattered by this unwarranted ordeal. Three of his horses were seized – in my mind, stolen would be a more accurate term – and are now being held ransom for tens of thousands of dollars. I don't know if they will ever get back to him.

The American experiment – our Revolution – was, in so many ways, an experiment in community. Our legislators were us, we lived side by side with the farmers who fed us, we lived with the animals who worked with us, our police and prosecutors knew us, what we were like. Our laws were passed by neighbors and fellow citizens, they reflected our needs and concerns.  That isn o longer true. The secret informers who nearly ruined Joshua's life did not know him or meet him or have the courage to look him in the eye, the police were strangers, the animal rights activists who supported his arrest did not know him or his animals, had no idea what he was like.

One of the most interesting realities about this case is that no one who does know Joshua believes he  mistreated or neglected his animals. No real farmer in the world would have arrested him for having an unheated barn and frozen water in temperatures that fell to – 27 degrees. Hundreds of farmers have sent him money and driven long distances to attend his hearings. Neighbors, friends and customers have rallied to his cause – the most important testimony there could be.

His arrest and persecution is a profound failure of the justice system and local government.

Joshua's community – Glenville, N.Y. – is a prototype of the new American community in so many ways. A fast-growing mix of new housing, surrounded farms and endless malls have created an ugly and prosperous mix, people do not care for farms. The animals sometimes gets loose, they smell the manure spread on the fields,  real estate developers drool over the land for new housing developments.

Joshua's arrest was more like an invasion from an alien world than it was a justifiable exercise to protect animals from cruelty and abuse.

The real community emerged after his arrest to support him, raise $48,000 for legal fees and now, another $16,000 or more to help prepare his farm for the winter, and from the secret informers who seem to now be an integral part of our criminal justice system. If someone accuses you of murder, you will have the right to confront him or her in court. If someone accuses you of not having running water for your animals for a few hours in a brutal winter, you will not.

Joshua was arrested even though two separate veterinarians came to the farm to inspect his animals just before the police raids, both found them to be healthy, hydrated and well cared for. Every one of his hundreds of pigs, cattle, sheep and chickens got through the winter, not a single one died or was malnourished or seriously injured.

Joshua stands accused of 13 counts of animal cruelty, after six months of anxiety and legal proceedings, of interruptions of his farm business and staggering legal fees, there is still no trial date even scheduled. He is determined to stand and fight against this wrong, me and many others are just as determined to stand and fight with him, however long it takes.

It is good and useful to know that social media can be used for good as well as bad, to support people as well as attack them.

Joshua is a good man, a loving father and husband, a conscientious and serious-minded farmer concerned about healthy food and Mother Earth. He does not deserve to be persecuted, or driven off of his farm by secret informers, animal extremists, and ignorant and self-interested ideologues. He is not alone, there are many victims of this new Inquisition.

It is a gift to be able to support him. He can thank you himself for your help, I wish to say that you all have lifted the spirits of many in the world and given hope to many people.

In the age of the billionaire SuperPacs, individuals matter. Community matters. Truth and justice matter.

You have all helped score a victory for all of those things. Thanks and admiration to you. A great and important victory.

Joshua can use every penny he receives.  You can continue to contribute to his fund here.

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