The Cutest Grinch

It’s a typical mid-morning here at the ranch where I’m folding laundry back in the bedroom and King Ranch is fixing something (I’m not sure what) in Little Foot’s room. Outside, it’s unseasonably warm (thank you, Texas weather) and everything has a golden crispness to it beneath a cloudless sky. I have an audiobook playing through my phone, “First, We Make the Beast Beautiful” by Sarah Wilson. It’s an amazing listen and for anyone who lives with or struggles with anxiety, I highly recommend giving it a go. It’s a book that for me, is full of life-changers.

I’ve nearly reached the bottom of the laundry basket when from the living room, I hear a crash and the tinkling sound of delicate things bouncing across the tile floor. I drop the yoga pants from my hands and rush toward the noise. Both of our dogs are barking and running in nervous circles and from down the hall, King Ranch and Little Foot come running.

At a shaky, 45 degree angle, our Christmas tree is headed towards the open back door. Ornaments and needles are falling like raindrops and the light cord is about to pop from the wall outlet.

King Ranch lunges for the tree as I dash to wrap my arms around the culprit engaging in this Grinch-like thievery…Bodhi, our not-so-baby donkey. Somewhere beyond the barking dogs, I can hear Little Foot crying, “No! Not the tree! No!” and small, grunting curses from a struggling King Ranch. Bodhi whips his head back and forth with a branch clamped between his teeth, sending more ornaments and needles scattering across the floor when finally, he lets go.

I shuffle Bodhi outside as King Ranch props the tree back up vertically. “No. Bad donkey,” I say to Bodhi, pointing my index finger at his nose which has a few pine needles stuck to it. He looks at me with wide, playful eyes — I swear, he’s laughing. Ha. Now I am, too. I can’t be mad at this face. I wrap my arms around Bodhi’s neck and scratch the sides of his face. He leans his weight into me. Little stinker.

I’m sad to report that none of this was caught on video, the chaos having exploded too abruptly, but I do have video evidence of what it looks like to have a baby donkey know how to open your back door:

 

After re-adjusting the tree, picking up the ornaments, and reassuring Little Foot that Bodhi was just trying to share the tree and not steal it (we had to make a deal with him that we would put a tree in the barn next year so the donkeys could have one, too), our day resumed with its mundane tasks. I backed my book up to where I’d left off and, although covered in donkey hair and pine-needles, I picked up the yoga pants I’d dropped and resumed folding.



This happened a few weeks back and I’ve only just had the opportunity to write about it. Since then, I’ve been trying to list out my goals for this year and besides the usual trying to live healthier, watch our money, do good deeds daily, etc., I’ve landed on wanting the new year to be filled with a bit more sobering innocence. This is an already mean enough world with lots of dark and scary things…but sometimes, your baby donkey sneaks into your house and tries to steal your Christmas tree. And sometimes, days are just otherwise mundane.

One of the things Sarah Wilson talks about in her book I mentioned above are tasks that you do daily — making the bed every single morning, for example, or spending a little time every day while the coffee is brewing to meditate (the cool thing about meditating being that even if you’re bad at it, it still helps!) and how grounding those rituals become if you actually stick to them.

Most importantly, there is a lot of good happening everywhere all the time. There are sparks of light in the dark. There are people who hear you and see you and want to embrace you for your good and your bad because they see that at your core, you are a being worthy of love. There’s a lot of cute and a lot of innocent and I think those things are worth highlighting. It may not make the bad stuff go away, but like that old saying goes, “It’s better to light a single candle than curse the darkness.”

I think that’s what I’d like to do better this year: light more candles.

Happy New Year, y’all. Let’s take this a day at a time 🙂

NamasBRAY.

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P.S. I want to thank all of y’all who have shown so much support for my children’s book that came out nearly two months ago. I would love to hear your feedback / see photos of you, your kiddos, your critters enjoying the book. If you’d like to share, please send me an email at adonkumentary@gmail.com. And if you haven’t snagged your copy yet, there are still some available! Get yours here: Tink the Bravest Donkey

P.P.S. If you’re interested in getting a copy of the book I mention above, “First We Make the Beast Beautiful,” you can find it here. I promise, it doesn’t disappoint.

Gratitude. Hope. Happy New Year.

We end the last year with gratitude…
Gratitude for our time together,
For memories,
For support,
And for kindness.

We begin the New Year with restored hope…
Hope that kindness will continue to prevail,
That love will fill our hearts,
That our voices will be used for good,
And that together, we will make a difference for all creatures.

Happy New Year. Thank you for an amazing 2018. I can’t wait to see what beauty lies ahead.

NamasBRAY. I love y’all. -Jess

A Quick Bit About My Book (On Sale Now!)

My children’s book, Tink the Bravest Donkey, is on sale now here! 100% of the proceeds are going to the non-profit, Peaceful Valley Donkey Rescue, which were the folks responsible for bringing Tink into our lives in the first place.

 


May you always feel as brave as a donkey. NamasBRAY.

Time for Silence

I realize I’ve fallen into this habit of beginning my blog posts by describing something that I’m up to when my thoughts begin to twirl and tumble around some thing that I’ve been worried about, obsessing over, or working hard to accomplish and I think it’s because I do my best kind of pondering when I’m busy with something. Moving meditation, perhaps. Or maybe it’s because I am able to occupy some of the busier parts of my brain with a task, thus allowing room for the deeper, more thoughtful areas of my mind to stretch their limbs a little.

But as you may have read in one of my recent posts, ‘Magic Eye,’ things have been moving pretty fast around here lately and I suspect that the entirety of my conscious mind (even those deeper and more contemplative areas) are in a constant state of “all hands on deck!” It’s times like these that I have historically neglected my blog and writing in general so that I can focus on giving my mind a rest, slowing down, and practice being in the present moment a bit more: a mental cocoon.

The holidays don’t help, either. It feels like a madhouse out there. Everyone seems stressed out, on edge, in each other’s face about something, and just plain rude. I get cut off on the freeway more this time of year than any other and have to deal with angry emails and messages with ALL CAPS because someone wants to be VERY CLEAR THAT I KNOW THEY’RE YELLING ABOUT SOMETHING!!!

*sigh*

Because of all this, I realize that I must make the time for my own silence. Whether that’s turning my computer off for a while, finding a new set of trails to explore, or simply leaving my phone inside while I go out and hang with my donkeys, I’ve got to press a pause button and go tend to my mushy mind. Really, we should all be making our self care and self love a priority. Your car stops running when you don’t fill it with gas, so what are we all doing running around on empty? Burning out and getting angry, that’s what.

Go tend to your sweet hearts, y’all. Reflect. Ponder. Be still. Know that your contentment and peace comes from within. It’s there. You just have to find it.

Before I go for a bit, I do want to share something really exciting with y’all. If you’ve been following my blog for a while, you may remember that I’ve been working on a children’s picture book that I wrote in memoriam of our dearly departed boy, Tink. (If you’re unfamiliar with Tink, you can read one of my previous posts about him here).

Well, I’m so very proud and excited to announce that my book, ‘Tink the Bravest Donkey,’ is finished, published, and now officially on sale! And best of all, 100% of the proceeds from this book are going directly to the non-profit responsible for saving Tink in the first place and bringing him into our life, Peaceful Valley Donkey Rescue. With these profits, they can save more donkeys in need, just like Tink.

This is something that is so near and dear to me which I’ve poured my heart into and admittedly, getting it out there has me incredibly anxious. The world can be kind of a scary and often mean place for people who put their hearts out on display, but I’m braving my way through it as best I can. Afterall, that’s what the protagonist of my book teaches us: that we can all be brave and maybe, just maybe, that’s how we connect more deeply with one another.

If you’d like a copy, you can get yours here: http://www.donkeyrescue.com/books.html

(There’s also a link to it in ‘Links to my Other Stuff’ in the menu at the top of the page.)

If I don’t connect with y’all beforehand, have a wonderful holiday season. Be sure to make time for yourself. Take care of each other’s hearts. Be kind. Find silence. Try not to allow the callousness of the world to make you cruel or afraid…instead, try and find that strength and love that sits deep within your soul and give it permission to emerge with all the beauty and glory that you could possibly imagine.

NamasBRAY. ❤

 

 

An End

#tbt to ‘An End’ which I posted one year ago today; it feels as if a lifetime has happened since that big shift. It also feels like the snap of my fingers. So strange.

I’m glad I decided to keep telling stories and even more grateful that y’all have continued to watch this here Donkumentary unfold with me. Admittedly, upon re-reading this post, I choked up at the picture and mention of my boy, Tink. I miss him so much.

Here’s to that big ole wheel forever turning in the sky and the infinite possibilities before us.

NamasBRAY ❤️

A Donkumentary

The sun’s retreated beyond the piney treetops as I’m driving in my rickety-red truck due south. The heavy, low-hanging clouds are reflecting the sunset so brightly that the neon pinks and oranges seem unreal—a dramatic sky spray-painting. I’ve been on the road for over four hours hauling a trailer behind me which is carrying a riding mower and I have to say I’m proud of my old truck for making it this far with a heavy load in-tow. I never thought I’d be someone who was proud of a vehicle yet, here I am.

On the passenger seat next to me in a dog crate is my hen, Wednesday Addams, and her three, newly hatched chicks. Without a working sound system in my truck, I’ve spent the last several hours listening to the peeping and chattering of Wednesday’s new, little family. They’re not sure what to make of this trip…

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Giving Tuesday

Several years ago, when I inadvertently adopted a donkey named Bunny (and subsequently Tee, Tink, and Bodhi), I decided my voice would go to donkeys. They are the sweetest, smartest, kindest creatures around who have spent decades, nay, centuries being mocked, overworked, and vastly underappreciated. Now, they’re being slaughtered by the millions across the globe (4 million last year, alone) and still being found abandoned, neglected, abused, and just plain forgotten.

In addition to my writing & blogging, I work for the Peaceful Valley Donkey Rescue: those who were responsible for saving donkeys like Tink & Bodhi. Tink was saved from a terrible situation of severe neglect that almost killed him (and left him without a front, left hoof) and Bodhi was a newborn who was found abandoned by his mother in a windstorm, desperately trying to hold onto life. Both got a second chance because of Peaceful Valley.

We are a registered 501(c)(3) non-profit organization run entirely on private donations and so, if you’re someone who participates in #GivingTuesday or just have a couple extra dollars to spare, please consider helping us in our mission to save donkeys across the country. They need a voice, too.

https://donkeyrescue.org/

 

Magic Eye

It’s dawn. Somewhere behind the trees, the sun is shifting, although the sky is still holding onto a few bright stars in her darkness not yet touched by the waking light. I’ve slipped my boots on over my flannel jammie pants and am pulling my hoodie over my head. It’s in the 30’s out there which, for us native Texans with thin blood, is brutal. The dogs scatter around my feet with their tails wagging and claws scratching the tile floor: they’re ready to run around in the cold and to chase squirrels or rabbits who often explore the yard in the wee hours.  

I open the back door, the cold scratching my face, as the dogs sprint past me and out of sight. I cinch the hood around my face as I walk towards the barn, leaves crunching beneath my boots. The donkeys know I’m coming: Bunny begins to bray, followed by Tee, and finally the little honk of Bodhi brings up the rear of their morning chorus. I smile.

This is how I begin nearly every morning as the sun stretches her arms with me. I suspect we’re both routinely unsure of how the new today might go but by golly, we’re gonna do our best to shine and spread warmth anyway.

It’s been a while since I’ve posted a blog, although it’s not for lack of trying and certainly not for lack of what I believe to be valuable content. It’s as if things have been too busy and too fast to focus on any one thing. Life these days has felt like one of those old Magic Eye images that used to be in the newspapers: busy graphics that make no sense until you can relax your gaze enough to see a definable image appear. Between my cross-country travels to advocate for donkeys and surprising new successes with writing endeavors, little room has been left over for me to situate myself in front of my laptop with a glass of wine and a story to tell.

I slide open the barn door and three sets of ears are perked up high, no doubt, waiting for breakfast. “Oh it’s a good morning,” I say in my sing-song voice as I use a knife to cut the twine on a fresh bale of hay. “It’s a good, good morning for my good, good donkeys.” Three faces are hanging over the stall doors, noses flared, and eyes wide. It’s so warm in here.

The truth is, I have lots of stories I want to tell. I want to tell y’all about going to Death Valley and meeting real life wild burros—burros that are descendants of those who built the American West. I want to tell y’all about how old life is out there in those mountains. I want to tell y’all about the Public Market in Seattle where I had, hands down, the best champagne I’ve ever had in my life with company that made me smile so hard my cheeks hurt. I want to tell y’all about the email I got from a publisher who wants to get my writing out there for more people to see and how my heart nearly exploded when I read it. I want to tell y’all that in just a couple weeks time, my very first book….my book…will be debuting and ever better, the proceeds from that book are going to save donkeys. I want to tell y’all about how it snowed the other day and about how I had to run out to my garden and harvest what I could before it froze too hard and laughed when the only thing that actually bloomed in the whole garden were three green beans. Three. Three beans. I want to tell y’all about the weekend with some old friends where we sat around my kitchen table for hours trying to play dominoes, but instead derailed over and over into talking about life and how much it means to all of us that our paths have crossed the way they have. I want to tell y’all that my friends said some things to me that resonated deep within my soul: they told me things about myself that I hadn’t realized and truth be told, I’m still trying to process it.

I want to tell y’all all these things and more but I just can’t seem to relax my gaze enough to describe the image that I know is hiding somewhere in that Magic Eye: the form which must be the bigger meaning in all of this because in a weird way, it all feels connected.

I finish mucking the stalls and stand in the barn for a moment watching the donkeys eat their hay, their tails swishing from side to side. I’ll head in soon where the coffee will be finished brewing and Little Foot will likely be waking up. I’ll hold him and ask him about his dreams and twirl his curly hair between my fingers.  I’ll watch the way he uses his hands when he talks and be so tickled that every day, his smile is looking more and more like my own: crooked, toothy, and a little too big for his face.

After opening the gates for the donkeys so they can head out to pasture when they’re done with their hay, I hang the shovel, pull my hood back over my head, and walk back towards the house.

I suppose that for now, it’s okay if I don’t see a single, pronounced figure in the Magic Eye illustration: maybe instead, right now it’s about appreciating all the little shapes, textures, colors, and patterns that seem to swirl around themselves, especially in the peripheral. That’s how you spot wild burros, after all: you don’t see them in your line of vision—you only notice them out of movement in the corners of your eyes. I learned that in Death Valley recently.

Or maybe, this isn’t about a single, hidden image at all. Maybe instead, it’s about stepping back and watching the kaleidoscope turn with images that shift and spin and allowing yourself to be present for each of them so you don’t miss a thing.

Either way, I am unbelievably grateful for life’s recent chaos. I’m grateful to have so much going on that my story-telling is rambling and stammering a bit more than usual. I’m grateful for the doors that have opened, for the people and donkeys who have walked through them, and for the chance to connect. I hope that you, reader, are seeing your own stories unfold and are witnessing every color and shapeshift within them.

And if you feel a little lost, maybe try and relax your gaze in an effort to see that hidden figure emerge…or step back and see all of it as one giant, wibbly, wobbly mess with indescribable intricacies. But whatever you do, don’t take your eyes off of it…whatever it is for you. You don’t want to miss it, trust me.

Much love and NamasBRAY.

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Here’s to Donkeys

Autumn has finally made her first wave through Texas, leaving a low-humid, amber tinted landscape that is down right addicting. Everyone everywhere is outside with their tractors, mowers, wagons, and smiles. It’ll warm up here in a day or two, but then autumn will wave through again and again until the leaves turn brown and fall into winter. This is a season of much needed relief in Texas: a long, stale exhale after months of brutal, wet heat.

I sit down in the truck at the end of the drive outside my house, my hands shaking with excitement. It’s here. Like autumn, it’s finally arrived: my special copy of Horsemanship Magazine all the way from the UK. I tear at the package, the amber light bouncing off the glossy cover page while one of my legs hangs outside of the truck’s door. I scan the table of contents and there it is: ‘The Midday Scorcher’ by me on page 38. I thumb through the pages, the smell of fresh paper crisp in the truck, and there, on page 38, is my spread.

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My eyes well up with tears as I begin to re-read the story I wrote months ago when summer was at her strongest; when none of us stood a chance to her temporary rule, so we’d succumbed to scrambling around in the shadows like timid mice until she passed. The words on the page blur as tears now drip off my chin and so I close the magazine, pull my leg into the truck, and drive on towards my house.

The editor of Horsemanship Magazine reached out to me sometime ago, her being an equine (and especially mule) advocate and the thrill of receiving a message from her saying she’d enjoyed my blog post, “The Midday Scorcher,” is all rushing back with a fury now as the October/November 2018 edition of her magazine sits in my lap with my story printed inside of it. She told me she’d wanted to include more content about mules and donkeys in her magazine and would I mind if she ran my story? Of course I didn’t mind, in fact I was (and am) honored to be included!

I’m on the cusp of hyperventilating as I shift the truck into park and clutch the magazine to my chest. This just all means so much to me, although I can’t find the right words to attach to the moment.

This comes on the heels of my return back home from a long road trip up to Virginia where I was able to attend and participate in the PVDR East Donkey Symposium and 2018 Donktoberfest at Bold Rock Cidery. I’ve still not caught up on sleep from that whirlwind of a trip, nor have I had the opportunity to wrap my head around how many folks with whom we got to share that good ole’ donkey gospel.

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“They’re like big dogs!” everyone says with smiles and beaming hearts when they’re around donkeys for the first time. Person after person came by our booth to talk donkeys, to learn about the challenges they face, to say they had no idea and how can they help? Events like these are recruitment: recruitment for donkey advocates. Not everyone can adopt or volunteer, but everyone can share information. “I had no idea” they say with a gasp when we talk about the 4,000,000 donkeys slaughtered last year alone for their hides. It’s a global problem that’s growing like an aggressive cancer. “But aren’t they stubborn? And mean?” they ask, influenced by the media’s long lived portrayal of the jackass: the butt of every joke, simple minded, derpy, and worthless. Little they must realize, donkeys are what built the American West.

Right now, several folks from the PVDR Team are out in Death Valley saving wild burros that are under the threat of destruction as part of the new Wild Burro Project. This is a project that is not only historic in nature, but is a show of gratitude for the donkeys that were brought there centuries ago and then abandoned. They deserve our respect and our protection.

But see, this is my job. My job is to show the world that donkeys matter. This became my job the moment I moved onto that small ranchette in nowhere, Texas where a donkey named Bunny was left behind by the property’s previous owner. I laid my eyes and my hands on her and was sucked into her inescapable gravity. “How come more folks weren’t talking about donkeys?” I’d wondered as I stood next to the most amazing animal I’d ever met out in the pasture. Then I started reading about it and well, I made it my job. I just had to.

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We’re a small but growing army, those of us who get the big deal around donkeys, and it’s up to us to eternally stoke that flame so that we stop finding neglected, abused, and abandoned donkeys on the brink of starvation with curled up and rotted hooves. It’s up to us to stoke that flame until donkeys are no longer stolen from folks or farmed for their skins in the global hide trade crisis. It’s up to us to protect donkeys that are under the threat of destruction and educate the public on how to properly care for them. It’s up to us because they don’t have a voice and they’re certainly not going to run away from harm. You know why people call donkeys stubborn? Because they don’t have that flight reflex and they’re smart. They stand their ground. They self-preserve and who can blame them?

I open the truck door, the magazine still clutched to my chest, and head inside. At the kitchen table, I open back up to page 38 where I finish re-reading my story. As I read, I let the tears stream down my cheeks. I’m so grateful and so proud to see my words and pictures in a magazine which is managed and edited by a like-minded, equine advocate. This is how we save donkeys: by writing stories about them and then sharing those stories to shine light on the issues that otherwise hide in the shadows.

I stare at the beautiful spread on page 38 and 39 in Horsemanship Magazine for a long time with what I’m sure is a giant, goofy grin before I go back to the beginning to read the rest of the October/November issue. My heart pounds as I imagine all the people I spoke to in Virginia and all the eyes that might be scanning my story in this magazine. I hope so much that it makes a difference. 

As I’ve said before and I’ll say again: Here’s to donkeys. Here’s to those for fight for them. Here’s to those who hopefully come to know them. And here’s to each other.

Here’s a short, little video from Donktoberfest. Thank you again to Bold Rock Cidery for hosting us and to PVDR East Manager, Kimberly Clark, for organizing the whole thing!

 

For more information on how you can help save donkeys or spread that donkey love, please visit PVDR’s website here: https://donkeyrescue.org/

Falling Dominoes

A couple weeks ago, I did a brave thing and, on my own, decided last minute to drive across the American South to go see my favorite band play a show in Atlanta. Although it was a very quick trip (having set out at 3:30AM on Saturday morning and arriving back home at 6:00PM the next day…that whole story here), the dominoes from that small yet grand adventure are still falling down, piece by piece.

I found that this thing happens when you’re in the car by yourself for nearly 13 hours one way: you’re forced to just be with yourself. With your eyes on the road, your hands on the wheel, and your mobile service unavailable because you’re travelling through vast acreages of fields that aren’t reached by cell towers, you’re left with just your own mind for company. In a time of limitless distractions at our fingertips, having the opportunity to be undistracted and present is both thrilling and terrifying.

I was somewhere in Louisiana under a cloudy sunrise, waist deep in questioning and beginning to hyperventilate over all my life’s decisions, identities, successes, failures, isms, and neuroticisms when I suddenly remembered that days before, my younger brother, Joey, had sent me a preview of his brand new album that is set to drop in October. Oh, sweet distraction, there you were. With a sigh of relief, I pressed play on track 1 of Pelican Jones’s debut album, ‘Coal, Sea, and Fire.’

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It didn’t take long for me to realize that this wasn’t the escapist distraction I was, in my habitual avoidance of facing my own demons, hoping for. Instead, Joey’s songs, one by one, seemed to throw doors open in dark rooms, allowing light to pour into places that had been locked up for some time. Dust floated around in the white light and roaches scattered under the wooden floor boards and there, as I started seeing signs for Mississippi, I discovered that I was even deeper in self-discovery than when I started the album. So much for a distraction.

Joey has this strange and unique talent where every single instrument he’s picked up since he was a kid, he’s managed to not only learn how to play it, but also master it. I’ve heard him play the guitar, trombone, banjo, accordion, every single percussion instrument, and I wouldn’t be surprised if in his repertoire was a set of bagpipes. He’s just that kind of person. Track after track played, each with a unique personality, each with a story, and each with satisfying chord progressions that, even without lyrics, tugged at that ole limbic system that shoots chills down your neck. Indeed he can play every instrument: instruments of the musical kind but also of the emotional connectedness kind.

I’ve talked a lot in my blog about how my donkeys are what help keep me present and so totally in each moment when I’m around them. I’ve talked about how reading Neil Gaiman books helps me escape from my own anxieties by dropping me into magical stories in far away places. I’ve talked about how listening to Old Crow Medicine Show helps me feel accepted and seen because in the world they create, there are no strangers regardless of where you’re from. I’ve talked about how cheap, red wine takes the pointed edges off things when they get too sharp and when I’m leading yoga classes, I feel grounded.

As I crossed the Mississippi river, the sun finally breaking through the clouds and sparkling off the water’s wake, I realized that my brother’s album was providing a safe space for my own deeply seeded feelings about things—a space which can be really difficult to find. To me, ‘Coal, Sea, and Fire’ is an album about exploring and examining the less travelled paths of our pasts . It’s about throwing raw feelings onto the cutting board like an uncooked slab of roast not with the intention of throwing around blame or to self loathe, but to start digging into it with a knife to cut out that fat so that when it’s done cooking, it’s the best tasting version of itself.

Whether we’re willing to admit it or not, we all come from complex pasts, exist in complex minds, and have complex futures ahead of us because to be human is to be complex. Anyone who says they have it all figured out has simply stopped digging. I believe we could dig into our own psychies for eternity and never reach the bottom of ourselves which seems terrifying at first, but also incredibly exciting. How wonderful that we never have to stop learning and growing. The deeper the roots grow down, the higher the plant grows up…and that’s what this album felt like to me: an encouragement to dig and dig in an effort to grow and grow.

After the album ended, I tried to call Joey to tell him how impressed I was with his musical abilities (I didn’t know he could sing like that!) but alas, I still had no cell service. As I started making my way through Mississippi, alone again with my thoughts and feelings, I found that I didn’t panic in them like I had been before. Instead, I just started picking at them—pulling up layers upon layers without feeling the need to do anything but simply observe. No criticisms, no indulgences….just the recognition that, like every other human on this planet, I am complex, from a complex past, with an inevitable complex future and that is so worth exploring. Afterall, it is in the exploration of ourselves that we find understanding that allows us to connect that much more with others and isn’t that what life is all about in the end? Our ability to connect with and uplift one another? I like to think so.

Coal: our solidness. Sea: our fluidity. Fire: our passion…

…and all the ups and downs that go with each of those.

I think that this newly found confidence in observing my feelings without distraction and fear made way for what was probably a much more fruitful experience of the Old Crow show than I would’ve otherwise had having spent all of that time alone, sleep deprived, and deep in the belly of my mind’s beast. Instead, I was able to so totally let go, be present, let the music and the scene move through me, and as I arrived home the next day, I swear I felt like I was able to be closer to my donkeys, too.

Side note: I played “Where Did All The People Go” for my donkeys when I got home and unsurprisingly, they seemed to enjoy it. They like banjos. They have good taste.

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Two weeks removed from my solo road trip and indeed, the dominoes are still falling—the undoing of life-long habits and such. I’ll be heading out on another grand adventure soon, this time the travel will be centered around donkeys and donkey rescue, so stay tuned for updates on that!

Until then, I’m reminding myself to not be afraid of or flustered by digging a little deeper. The deeper we go, the taller we grow. (Also, falling dominoes can be very satisfying to watch, even if you weren’t ready to knock them all over.)

To keep up with my brother and his new band, Pelican Jones, you can follow him on Instagram @pelicanjonesband or visit his website here: https://pelicanjones.bandcamp.com/

“A Place For Us All Here”

They ain’t lying when they say it’s always darkest before dawn because it’s about a quarter of 6AM and the surrounding darkness is almost suffocating. I’m on a winding, two-lane highway which slowly and repetitively climbs up then dips down between heavy pines with dangling, skeletal fingers. Signs tell me that I’m fixing to cross over the Sabine River into Louisiana.

For the first time in probably thirty minutes, another vehicle appears around the corner in front of me and I quickly turn off my car’s brights. They do the same and I have to say how much I love the respect we strangers show each other during overnight driving. Rarely in my dark drives have I ever experienced the motorist who fails to turn off their brights and I think that says a lot about how polite people are just by nature. I’d wave, but they won’t see me—I imagine they think about waving, too. As soon as they pass, I click my brights back on. Long, curvy lines of yellow reflectors. Piney fingers. Slithering fog in ditches.

I’m ashamed to admit it being a native Texan and all, but I’ve never been to Louisiana. My friends give me a hard time for this. “What? You’ve never been to Louisiana? New Orleans? But you’re so close!” I know, I know, I’ve no excuse. But then here, around this corner, I come upon a break in the trees and the highway turns into a bridge and halfway over the bridge, my only travel companion, Google Maps, interrupts my audio book and says, “Welcome to Louisiana.” I smile.

The bridge ends and here I am: Louisiana. Maybe it’s the profound darkness, the solitude, or the fact that the fog sure seems to be collecting more and more of itself, but Louisiana feels different. Not even a mile past the Sabine and it feels like I’ve entered into a distant and strange land. As they say, Google Maps, we’re not in Texas anymore. I have about ten hours left to go on my planned drive to Atlanta, Georgia. I should get there by 5PM their time which will be just in time to head on over to The Tabernacle to see my most favorite band of all time, Old Crow Medicine Show.

My decision to make this trip is barely a day old: completely impulsive and last minute and the thrill attached to that kind of pseudo-recklessness is the real caffeine I need right now, just before dawn. This is exhilarating to me and also a bit chilling because coincidentally, as I’m making my debut travel through Louisiana, my audiobook moves to the next story: ‘Bitter Grounds’ by Neil Gaiman. For y’all who are unfamiliar with this story, (and if you are unfamiliar, I would recommend picking up his book of short stories, ‘Fragile Things,’ because they’re the kind that stick with you) it’s about a man who has decided to start driving without a particular destination and, on his own, ends up in New Orleans where…well…I won’t give spoilers. I begin to imagine that I am like that man, just driving and driving. This is not the first road trip where Neil Gaiman has kept me company. I hope he knows I’m grateful for this.

“Why are you driving to Georgia?” my mom asked me when she called yesterday and I told her of my newly hatched plan. I couldn’t really give her an answer. I didn’t know why I suddenly had this red-hot urge to just go somewhere and I suppose I still don’t really know. She wasn’t a fan of this plan, her being a perpetual worrier like me. I assured her I’d be fine and also, I had a knife in the center console which I know how to wield, so…all good. I could feel her eyes roll through the phone.

On I drive through an eventual pink sunrise, a small rain storm, sheep-clouds, no clouds, acres upon acres of cotton fields, and then fields of…what is that, soybean? I’m not sure. Corn, cotton, and wheat are the only crops I think I can pick out when they’re in fields.

Mississippi,

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Alabama,

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and then finally, Georgia.

I get to the venue early. I want to be in the front row because last time I saw Old Crow, I’d ended up in seats that didn’t give me any room to dance until I hurt which is, as far as I’m concerned, the proper way to behave at one of their shows: reckless, wild, and completely unhinged from everything. When they’re on stage, nothing else in the entire world matters. They are such, sweet freedom. (And darn cute, too.)

So I dance. I dance and I sing and I clap until my hands begin to bruise and sweat is winding down my spine and there, in the glow of the shifting lights and rhythm pulsing through the room, I am free…

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…free…

“Free from what?” I wonder as I bounce and sing and slide my gaze over all the elated faces around me while completely alone in an unknown place. Then I realize it: I’m free from my worries. Oh my dang worries, my parasitic worries. They stand no chance here.

I’m not shy about the fact that I struggle with anxiety. Part of my dealing with it is constantly trying to break the stigma around mental health issues. I have anxiety? You have anxiety? Or something else? Not a big deal. Let’s love each other a little more for it so that we can create platforms to deal with our emotions in healthy and supportive ways. Our brains and hearts are so utterly complex and can feel so deeply that it’s not surprising that they can get a little out of hand from time to time. It’s up to us to not judge ourselves, but to instead be grateful for our layers and learn to explore and manage them effectively. As Mechanical Morty says, “Your feelings are not only forgivable, they are the very meaning of life that only pre-silicon, carbon-based entities can ever grasp.”

Free. Hoo boy. Sublime.

Sadly, the show ends and as the overhead lights turn on, I wander towards the exit, my body buzzing with fatigue, excitement, and something else I can’t quite put my finger on. People are everywhere, chatting and laughing with one another. They’re holding hands and kissing and finishing drinks out of plastic cups. They’re laughing and singing lyrics to songs they’ve just heard and when I make it back outside to the fresh air, I realize how badly my face aches from smiling for so long. Everyone is smiling…everyone…big, toothy smiles; and we’re all smiling at each other. A tall man with an impressive beard gives me a high five for no reason. A woman with a long, purple skirt and braided pigtails tells me she loves my boots. We’re this migrating flock of dazed yet connected people wandering in all directions, drunk off our asses from the consumption of Old Crow’s heavily intoxicating energy. It’s glorious.

I want to stick around to see if somehow, someway, I can meet the band so I can tell them just how much they mean to me (because they really, really do) and also by this point in the night, I’m craving human connection. For a few minutes I linger, but in the nearly midnight air, the hours of my travel and sleeplessness begins to descend heavily upon me. Also, I’ll have to walk to the nearest hotel alone and while there’s still a crowd, I figure I ought to be on my way. Just before I wander off for rest, one of the band members, (who’s a hell of a whistler, come to find out) Mr. Cory Younts, appears from between some buses and I want to thank him for handing me a guitar pick which I’m rotating between my fingers in my pocket to ensure I don’t lose it. As I stumble to find some coherent words to say (of which I don’t really find any), he agrees to take a picture with me. I wish I could thank him again for that.

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In my hotel room, I lay and stare at the ceiling still rotating the pick around and around between my fingers. It’s one of those ceilings that looks like an aerial view of intricate mountain ranges. At some point, I drift to sleep because I dream of being at the show, only this time I had a faceless dancing partner, but then suddenly, I’m wide awake and it’s only 2:00AM.

After another hour of trying to fall asleep without success, I decide to just leave and head home. I’d be able to take my time this way. I could stop in Mobile or maybe even New Orleans since I’ve never been.

So I do. By 4:00AM, I’m driving southwest through Georgia towards Alabama. The roads are empty on this early, Sunday morning but for the occasional driver. We turn off our brights and turn them back on as we pass. A silent wave. Polite by nature. I love it.
As the sun rises in my rearview window, I’m back to wondering why I decided to make this trip. The handful of people I met before and during the show who learned that I’d driven all the way out here alone from Texas were surprised that I’d do such a thing. I guess I’m a little surprised, too, but I like the idea of putting on a brave face and doing something a little crazy. I like the idea of being brave (and I sure as hell like the idea of seeing Old Crow).

On stage last night, Mr. Ketch Secor asked the crowd to turn to the people around them and tell them “you matter.” I did. And I was told, too. In addition to just loving the living daylights out of their music, I love this about Old Crow: their humanism. The lyrics of their songs touch the rawest parts of us: our vulnerabilities, our weaknesses, our excitements, our ability to connect but to also let go. I love life in Old Crow songs.

Indeed, no one should feel a world away, even when you’re quite literally, 850 some odd miles away from anything familiar. I didn’t, despite my solitude departure. I didn’t because in Old Crow world, there is no stranger. There is no worry. There is freedom to live and to love and just be without anxieties and judgements. They create this space just by being them. In Old Crow’s world without any kind of goggles, there’s just humanity: beautiful, complex, deep, cosmic, and smiling oneness. There’s a place for us all here.

I realize now as I head home that I needed that place. It’s been a heckuva summer with lot of challenges, changes, and uncertainties about what the future holds and I think I’ve allowed myself to get swept up and a little lost in it all. But last night, free as a mocking bird and alone but not lonely, I realized that whatever is on yonder past that curious and uncertain horizon is just that: yonder. I’ll get there.

The rest of the drive home is mostly uneventful. I do stop and see a few things but by the time the afternoon rolls around, I start itching to get back to check on my sweet donkeys. Upon arriving home, dazed and light-headed, a chorus of brays erupts from the pasture. Before even going inside my house, I leave my duffle bag on the hood of my tired car and head straight for the barn where a few sets of long ears are waiting for me. They nip my arms and swish their tails and I’m quite positive that if I had a tail, I’d be wagging it, too without one little worry in the whole, wide world.

“There’s a place for us all here and ain’t it enough?” – From OCMS Song ‘Ain’t It Enough?’

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