Party of Five

It’s a bright, brisk Sunday morning where the grass and leaves twinkle with a million drops of dew. I’m reclined on my couch with a cup of cool coffee grateful for the weather being such that I can open the windows and let the fresh country air move through my house. The donkeys are enjoying their breakfast and the birds peck and flutter around their feeder. I take the last sip of my coffee when from outside, I hear a crow. Of course, Ron Swanson the rooster crows all day every day, but this is a different crow. A raspier one. A softer one, like an old car’s coughing engine. It’s struggling. 

I dart over to the window and see Ron Swanson, ParmParm, and Gene along with the ducks, Pat and Dorothy, standing in their normal party of five stance. Ron crows, but it sounds like his usual crow. What did I hear a moment ago?

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I watch for a second longer and then shrug it off—maybe Ron had a bug stuck in his throat. As I turn to drop my mug into the kitchen sink, I hear that raspy crow again. I whip my head around and…huh? I take a few, slow steps towards the window and once more, the raspy crow. And it’s coming from ParmParm. ParmParm, the hen that when we got her, was sexed and confirmed female. 

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As I stand at the window dumbfounded, I begin to recall some odd behaviors from ParmParm within the last month or so. Besides the fact she’s grown substantially, she’s also become a little aggressive, especially towards Ron Swanson and Pat. And oddly enough, about a month ago, she molted (which as I understand it, hens are not supposed to molt until they’re over a year old) and her feathers have since been coming in ridgy and sharp—like rooster feathers. I should note that before this molting, she had typical soft, bland, rounded feathers and was the same size as Gene. Her comb and her waddle have transformed quite suddenly and I have found it all a bit interesting.

Plus, so far as I know, ParmParm has not laid any eggs. I have seen her fluff out and settle into a typical hen position in the nesting box within the coop many times—fluffing her feathers out like she’s laying—but I’ve never found any of her eggs. Gene, however, lays in the box right next to ParmParm’s go-to box and leaves an egg every day. It’s all quite peculiar.

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ParmParm crows again and appears to try and do a mating dance in front of Gene. But as quickly as she starts, she stops and chases a nearby fluttering bug. Ron Swanson crows loudly.

So of course, I quickly drop my mug in the sink and grab my laptop to do some research. I google, “can chickens become roosters?” and other similar questions and by golly, there’s quite a host of articles documenting this very phenomenon whereby hens can be genotypically female but become phenotypically male. Here are some references I found:

https://animals.howstuffworks.com/birds/what-cluck-case-gender-changing-hen.htm

http://www.scoopfromthecoop.com/tag/can-my-hen-become-a-rooster/

https://backyardpoultry.iamcountryside.com/feed-health/spontaneous-sex-reversal-is-that-my-hen-crowing/

It’s been a while now since I’ve heard ParmParm’s crow, so I look outside to see the party of five doing what they always do—migrating around the yard in a group, gobbling up and bickering over bugs. 

I decided to write about this for two reasons: 1) it’s incredibly interesting, something I’ve never heard of and wow, nature is amazing and 2) because I’d love some input from some chicken experts or avian vets out there. I’m considering taking ParmParm to the vet just to see if this is the case, but then I wonder, does it matter? She’s healthy and happy as it is. I guess I just worry that her and Ron Swanson might begin to butt heads and I don’t want injury if I can avoid it. I also don’t know for sure if this is what’s happening, but every behavior and physical change seems to check all the boxes. 

At the end of it all, whether this is what ParmParm is experiencing or not, there are surprises every single day. There’s so much that we don’t know, don’t understand, and don’t recognize and it’s a testament to how vast the world is around us. Something rare could be happening right in our own backyards and as Ferris Bueller once famously and accurately said, “Life moves pretty fast. If you don’t stop and look around once in a while, you could miss it.” 

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Silence

Two years have passed since I watched those furry moths flutter away. It’s only been a few times that silence has visited me since and absorbed my chatter and snowballs without need for justification or explanation. I’m anxious to have her over again. It’s been too long.

A Donkumentary

It’s not quite dawn and the only sound I hear is the low buzz of the running refrigerator from the kitchen. Peering out my front window which has two, furry moths on it side-by-side, I’m watching the blackness beyond my front porch, waiting for the spaces between the trees that I know are there to fade into orange as the sun comes up. Right now, it’s darkness. I remember a year and a half ago, I wrote a blog called “It’s Always Darkest Before Dawn,” and here I find myself again in the deepest part of the night and in the deepest part of my mind, waiting for the sky to fade into light.

One of the moths stuck to the window rotates and flutters its wings—a morning stretch, perhaps. In a few minutes, I’ll be hopping online to lead a guided meditation with a group of friends…

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Broken

This morning, I followed a hummingbird after she made a stop at the feeder hanging on my back patio. She flew around to the darker side of my house; the neglected side of my house shaded so heavily by overgrown trees that grass doesn’t grow. This is the side of my house with the grumbling a/c unit that needs to be fixed, where spider webs hang between every surface, and where leaves from last fall still lay in deep stacks in the mud. I wondered why the hummingbird chose to fly this way.

I turned the corner to the dark side of my house just in time to see the bird buzzing away into the mess of trees. I rarely visit this place and it’s been a while since my last time. It’s a sloped surface protruding with large tree roots and scattered, rotting leaves. Cloudy, white webs speckle the wall and tree trunks and there’s a damp coolness to this space which is exaggerated in the already hot morning. 

Down from the trees, the hummingbird zipped once more to the far side of the a/c unit. Quietly, I stepped around to see her hovering in front of a small, bright green plant right next to the wall. She stuck her long, stick-beak into a tiny, yellow flower, body frozen (but for her wings). She switched flowers just as a stick snapped beneath my boot and—poof! She disappeared into the trees.

The small plant was no more than a foot and a half tall with delicate, glossy green leaves. Near the end of every thin branch was a shy, pale yellow flower, each one with five petals. The plant practically glowed in this otherwise shadowy, wet place. What was it doing here? 

I took a few steps closer and crouched down in front of the juxtaposed plant. Its leaves were jagged along the edges which seemed to contradict the sweet softness of its flowers—like small kittens in razor wire. I didn’t dare touch the plant, scared that I might get poked or worse, that I might smush or harm one of its pale, yellow whispers. It’s strong, I thought to myself as I stood. To survive on this side of the house—to even have the will to grow—must take courage and will power. Still, it puzzled me how the plant came to grow in this spot all alone. 

Suddenly, a drop of water plopped onto one of the leaves from high above so I looked up only to see a hole in the rain gutter which lines the roof of my house. The hole was about the size of a quarter and rusted around its uneven edges. Moments later, another drop dripped down. 

I was unsure how the hole would’ve gotten there, but also realized that if not for that rusted hole, this small, strange plant may have never grown. Not only did water drip from it, but I imagine at high noon, light shined directly down onto the plant. 

Crouching back down, I sang a little tune, having heard somewhere that talking and singing to plants helps them grow. I don’t know if this is true, but it couldn’t hurt. Plus, this small, circumstantial growth must be quite lonely in the darkness of this forgotten place. A strange and beautiful plant, born from brokenness, here only because something else over which it had no control, failed. A smile in the shadows, a source of food, and a pop of pale yellow in a dark and otherwise dreary place. She stands her own with jagged armor and with perfect, petite poise. 

As I stood and walked away, I heard the buzz of the returning hummingbird but continued on without turning, leaving the plant to provide on her own. She has what she needs, there on the far side of the house. A happy happenstance. A light in a dark place. A product of brokenness. 

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Donkeys Deserve Recognition (and so do Those who work Tirelessly to Save and Care for Them)

Greetings all,

It’s been a busy, busy season full of donkeys, chickens, ducks, dogs, travel, and stifling heat. There are so many stories I want to share that I’ve been trying to make sense of so that they’re not just clouds of dust flying behind runaway trains….but for now, I must take pause to proudly and humbly report that the founder and Executive Director of the organization I work for, Peaceful Valley Donkey Rescue, Mr. Mark Meyers, has been nominated for a CNN Heroes Award for his decades long endeavor to improve the plight of the American Donkey. I am just over the moon that he would be considered especially because donkeys (and mules) are so overwhelmingly forgotten and misunderstood. If you believe in the cause, in the future and well being of these most amazing creatures, please take a moment to watch & share the following video to try and open the world’s eyes to finally see how amazing donkeys are and how the over 13,000 donkeys that PVDR has rescued found better lives because of the BurroMan himself, Mark Meyers.

You can view the video here: CNN Hero Mark Meyers

“Either all doneys matter or none of them do.” – Mark Meyers

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(photo by Mark Meyers)

 

“A Place For Us All Here”

In celebration of taking another cross-country trip to see my most favorite band, Old Crow Medicine Show, I’m reposting this blog which contains all the same feelings this time around as last ❤️ This time I trekked up north to Detroit, Michigan and left feeling revived, refreshed, and in eager anticipation of the next time I get to see these boys. If only we could all share our world in the friendly, neighborly way as is the space their shows provide. More love. More oneness. More lettin loose, y’all.

A Donkumentary

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…

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Afternoon Pause

It’s a typical late-Texas summer on an early, weekday afternoon where leaves hang completely still from the treetops. The chickens have dug small holes outside of their coop in which to rest (the dirt beneath the surface being much cooler than anywhere else they may find) while the ducks drift gently in their pond with their heads tucked into their feathers. Little naps. Flapping bugs hop through the grass—pops of glittery movement in an otherwise motionless yard.

I’ve been sitting on the floor for some time gazing aimlessly out the window with gratitude for a working a/c in my house. I keep wondering if the ducks will wake or if the chickens will grab a skipping bug as it passes. I wonder if the donkeys will emerge from the barn but even they’ve foregone grazing under this afternoon sun and opted, instead, for the shade and coolness of their stalls. I suppose even I’ve been frozen for a while—perhaps time on this afternoon has simply paused.

I take a long, slow breath and as I exhale, I lay back and place my hands over my heart. I stare at the ceiling fan above and try to focus on one blade and follow it around and around, but I keep losing track. I can feel the beat of my heart in my hands. It’s wonky. It’s always wonky in heat like this. So I breathe deeper and more slowly, hoping that will calm her down. Ba dum, ba dum, baaaa dum dum. Ba dum, ba dum, baaa dum di dum dum. 

I‘ve learned to take advantage of quiet, still moments like these in an effort to find the same kind of calmness within my brain and being by trying to visualize various things depending on what I need or what’s going on. I’ve described some of these images before—things like purposefully pushing boulders down mountains in an effort to establish new grooves in the thought process. Streams of light that swirl into my body as I inhale and carry out the dark as I exhale. Muscles relaxing and releasing over the bones that support them, even the tiny ones around my eyes and ears. Lately I’ve been walking down a long hallway, slamming doors of busy thoughts as I pass while focusing on the dark end which I can’t quite make out yet. 

But anxiety is several doors pouring open at once, their insides tumbling and scattering all over the floor. Before you can even think about receiving the satisfaction of slamming the door shut, you must shuffle all the pieces back into their places, careful that you’re picking up the right stuff and not accidentally mixing up this door’s thoughts with the contents from the door across the hall that just spilled open, too. And when you’ve finally, meticulously stacked all the screaming thoughts back into their boxes and arranged them just so, two more doors with even louder and more fragile thoughts burst open. 

It’s then that I lay down in the growing pile of crashing thoughts and chatter and close my eyes into an even smaller, darker hallway with smaller, more finicky doors—a sort of inception of my own coping mechanisms. 

Over and over I do this until the darkness swallows me.

Dizzy, I open my eyes quickly. The room is bright with afternoon sun. The ceiling fan spins around and around and again, I try and find one blade, but can’t. I take in a deep breath and stand as I exhale. The ducks are splashing in the pond. The chickens are pecking through the grass. The donkeys are out in the pasture, heads down and tails flicking. 

As I wander back to my office, I wonder how many versions of me might still be laying in piles of thoughts with their eyes closed? I wonder if there even exists a hallway that can be silenced? Or maybe that’s not the point? 

Thoughts for the next pause, I suppose. For now, the afternoon is alive once more and so too is my need to return to it, spilled contents and all.

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Sunflower’s Story

There once was a patch of sunflowers (10 stems, to be exact) who divvied themselves upon either side of the walkway through a garden. Some said they were oddly placed, but the sun shined strongest right there along that path and as we all know, sunflowers not only need, but love the sunlight.

For weeks, the stems grew and grew and finally, one early summer afternoon, the first flower bloomed.

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Her petals stretched wide as her face turned toward the sun and soon after that, other flowers upon other stems began unfolding too. Each flower was beautiful and strong, always turned towards the light which fed them–a stunning, vivid patch along that little garden path.

But as the weeks went by, one stem (the one on the far end of the patch) still had no flower—no face to turn towards the beaming sun. The stem just kept growing taller and taller, spitting out giant and heavy leaves in every direction.

By mid-summer, the other flowers began to droop (their time having passed) and still, the tall stem remained flowerless.

The gardener, curious about this large, barren stem, removed the old lifeless flowers from their shorter, less leafy stems. She wondered if this towering stalk would ever bloom? She pruned the other flowers, readying them for a new season. Day after day, the gardener checked on the growing stem at the edge of the harvested patch. The plant grew so tall that she could no longer reach or even see the top of it.

Finally, one humid morning where the heat laid in wet fog along the surface of everything, the gardener awoke to a beaming yellow crown, high above the otherwise empty patch. She ran outside to greet the soaring sunflower which was bigger and more beautiful than any flower she’d ever seen.

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For days the glorious flower radiated her beauty—her face so large that she didn’t need to turn towards the sun for the sun reached her from every direction.

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People came from far and wide to admire her. No one could believe that a sunflower could climb that high. She had been worth waiting for.

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As the summer blazed on, so too did the wheel of time, and so the day came that this mountainous flower—the largest and most beautiful that had ever been—started to slump. Her time had come.

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The sunflower’s strong stem began to buckle under her wilting weight, and so the gardener, with her best pair of shears, was forced to clip the crown from the queen of the patch.

The path through the garden was empty again, the only remaining growth being skeletal stems of their former, shining glory. Seemingly the end of an era.

But the gardener knows that this is no end. This is in fact the beginning! Because from the heart of every one of those sunflowers are the seeds of tomorrow.

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What started from a single seed is now dozens! Dozens that will line the little garden path. Dozens that will ship through the post to friends and family who have bees and butterflies anxiously waiting for a patch of their own. And from there, an infinite number of sunflower seeds…seeds from flowers that remind us that we all move in our own time. We grow in our own ways. We find strength in our roots and inspiration in the light that feeds us.

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…seeds from dried out and drooping death. Life goes on, our legacies and time taken to do what was right for us is built into these vulnerable, harvested seeds so that they may grow in awe inspiring ways.

…seeds which carry with them the pride and stamina and determination of those that came before them. Bury deep, your roots. Reach high, your ambitions. Be proud, your growth, even if it takes more time than the others.

Shine on, sweet sunflowers, shine on.

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