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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Farewells, Feelings, News Crews and Two Remaining Donkeys

It’s wild to me that it’s been two years since I published this post about two of my foster donkeys finding their forever home. I’m so happy to report that both Charlie & Ethel are doing wonderfully in their happily ever after (I’m still in contact with their owner). Love brings us together and donkeys are pure love. Thank you again to the Dallas Morning News for their story which did, indeed, reach many people. Keep spreading that donkey love, y’all. This world needs it. ❤

A Donkumentary

A tan, rattling horse trailer bumped down the road away from my house kicking gravel and dust as its rusty doors creaked and clanged in a travelling, metallic melody which is quite common in these rural areas. Inside those doors, which likely still dripped with the sweat from my hands, two sets of furry ears stood straight up and wobbled side to side: Ethel and Charlie (two more of my foster donkeys) were going home. They were going to their forever home.

The choppy waters of my insides were churning like a pot of stew—boiling bubbles popped and spat in a scene which was familiar—it having only been 10 days since Ali the donkey had been adopted by a couple from central Texas. The feeling was complex: it stretched as far as grief and heartache could before likely causing serious damage—like a stressed rubber band which, had I not let…

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The Storm That Sprung Some Links

It’s been weeks since rain has swept through our humid pocket of East Texas, so when the sky gray-ed over and thunder began to rumble in the distance, I poured myself a glass of wine and stepped out onto the porch, eager for the clouds to open. Moments later, they did and it did not disappoint. There is a very distinct smell attached to the first rain in a heavily humid area where temperatures exceed 100 degrees most days—a boggy smell, like strong mulch mixed with overgrown grass. The communal sigh from every struggling plant smells almost reptilian—as if the ground and all of their limbs have turned to scales and the rain is here to soften what’s been bone-dry and hard for too long now.
I sip my wine slowly, it being something I’ve only recently been able to have again from all my illness-junk several months back (which I’m happy to report seems to continually improve with only minimal and so far short-lived regressions). It’s cool and crisp and a perfect pairing to the rain that’s falling in diagonal sheets now. Lightning strikes somewhere and I begin to count, “1…2…3…4…” and then the thunder rolls. That strike was close. I think 7 seconds from the lightning strike to thunder means that the strike was a mile away…at least that’s what King Ranch tells me.
The donkeys are in the barn, high and dry, and the dogs are hiding from the thunder in a closet inside the house. Oddly, the chickens are pacing and pecking back and forth in the rain refusing to go into the wide open door of their coop. Are they playing in the rain? Are they happy like the plants? Maybe. I like to think so. Admittedly, I’m not well versed in the behaviors of chickens.

The wind switches direction and for the first time since about March, there is a chill in the air: oh how glorious and most welcome you are, little hint of cool. It’s been a long and brutal summer and yet, here you are: a delightfully delicate autumnal preview.

Speaking of previews, in case you missed my announcement in my last blog, I have a children’s book coming out later this year: a book which is dedicated to our sweet and dearly departed boy, Tink. Earlier this year, Tink passed away due to complications with his special foot (which was an injury that occured because of profound neglect from his previous owner before PVDR rescued him) and so imagine my incredible excitement that he can live on in a beautifully illustrated story that’s both anti-bullying and donkey-informative (and proceeds will go to save donkeys just like him). I talk about this book in an episode of Donkey Rescue TV that aired a couple weeks ago here: “It Takes A Village”

I’m absolutely over the moon about this development and can’t wait to share Tink’s story with all of you.

The wind shifts directions again and the coolness disappears, leaving the sticky heat of summer that’s not ready to let go quite yet. I take another sip of my wine and lean into King Ranch who’s sat down next to me. Lightning strikes again and we both count, “1…2…” and then thunder barrels through. That one was close.

I’ve not much else to say for a blog today other than how grateful I am for the rain, to be able to slow down for an evening in late summer saturation, and for the many recent opportunities to share that donkey love and advocacy on a public platform.

A couple weeks ago, I brought little orphan Bodhi with me to a public library a few towns over to give a free presentation on donkey rescue and I’m happy to report that it was such a hit, that I’ve been invited to another public library to do the same! Not only did I get to talk about all things donkey rescue, but I got to prove, once again, how important public libraries are to our society.

I was also recently interviewed for a lovely podcast that belongs to a woman I met at last year’s SCBWI Conference in North Texas. We talked donkeys (of course), yoga, living with anxiety, and how important it is to slow down and be gentle. Krystal Proffitt, the host of this podcast, is such a light in this world. I’m grateful to have had the opportunity to chat with her! The full interview can be found here: The Rookie Life Podcast

Also, in an effort to make PVDR donkeys more easily identifiable in the growing threat of the global hide trade (which if you’re unfamiliar with this heinous practice, you can learn more about it here…although caution, there is graphic content with this subject…more info here), we’ve started freeze branding our donkeys. Once a donkey comes into the PVDR system, they are a PVDR donkey for life. If any donkey with our brand is seen in a kill pen or on an auction lot (which by the way, you should be steering clear of those horrible scam artists), please let PVDR know because they’ve most certainly been stolen. The video on what the freeze-brand process looks like can be found here: Freeze Branding

As a sign of solidarity with our donkeys, the senior staff (myself included) all got tattoos of the brand. Here’s me getting mine on my wrist:

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Finally, I had the pleasure of interviewing the BurroMan himself, Mark Meyers, on the Wild Burro Project which I encourage you to take a few moments to watch. This is a vastly complex issue here in the U.S. which is also often misunderstood. Learn more about it here:


Lightning strikes again. “1…2…3…4…5…6…7…8…” The storms seems to be moving away. King Ranch stands and extends his hand for mine. I smile, take hold of it, and together, we both take two steps towards the edge of the porch. The chilly, little raindrops hit our bare toes as I take in a long breath. These days pass by so quickly….soon summer will be in the past and that chill will be present every morning and as much as I can’t wait for the fall, I kind of don’t want this thunderstorm bouncing off my toes to end.

Dawn, My Dear

It’s early; the kind of early where the light is still too blue and too dull to form stripes on the walls of the bedroom in which I’m waking and instead just casts an eerie glow that only really exists for this moment of the day. I don’t have to see to know that outside, everything is covered in a film of delicate dew which reflects the sleepy, blue light in the curves of its drops. Dawn, my dear, on days like this, you are most welcome.

I sit up and swing my feet out from under the covers, the room a blurry blue. Where are my glasses? Beside the bed is hand-painted a foot stool that spent decades in the living room of our family’s house growing up. The chipped and worn text reads,

“Our home we’ll share
With friends we meet
So pull up a chair
And rest your feet.”

I smile. I haven’t seen this foot stool since I’d moved out of my parents house in college. That’s the funny thing about visiting your siblings: the small Easter eggs that you’ve divied up from your childhood to furnish and decorate your own places are always fun surprises to find.

I’m in Austin, TX visiting my younger brother who recently moved back down here and I’m so thrilled he’s within reasonable driving distance again. Him and his wife are still sleeping after a long and exciting night of incredible showmanship. The two of them are in a highly successful folk band called The Oh Hellos and I had the privilege of being able to watch them pour their hearts out onstage from the front row. What an incredible treat. I haven’t found the words yet to describe how proud I am of my brother. It’s profound.

Ah, my glasses. I’d left them perched atop my backpack that I’ve been travelling with for a few days. I’ve been on a little jaunt around north and central Texas where I’ve visited with like-minded donkey lovers who are also involved with the Peaceful Valley Donkey Rescue. It’s trips like this which reaffirm my theory that donkey people are the best people. The people who volunteer their time, properties, and hearts to PVDR donkeys are the people who also see the worlds swirling within donkey’s eyes. They sense the calm. They are humbled by the complexity. And I love every single one of them.

I stretch, reach for my glasses, and finally begin to see white stripes forming on the walls from the waking sun which peeks curiously through the blinds.

I catch a glimpse of myself in the mirror: red, puffy eyes. It’s unsurprising to me because I cried several times last night just in utter awe of my kid-brother’s raw talent and the (no exaggeration) 30,000 fans that piled in the field before him and his band. My sweet, empathetic, friend-of-all brother is a bona fide rock star and they just don’t teach you how to handle that kind of pride.

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My kid brother, Joey (center) and my cousin Clint (left) and me (right) before the concert last night.

 

Also yesterday, I was featured in the latest episode of Donkey Rescue TV where I got to sit down with PVDR’s Executive Director, Mark Meyers, to talk all about donkeys and how it takes all of us working together to make change for these amazing creatures. That’s enough to get my water works going but the kicker is this…

Y’all. I wrote a children’s book about our boy Tink called “Tink the Bravest Donkey” and it’s being published later this year. My children’s book is coming out. It’s happening. And better yet? Proceeds go to saving donkeys like Tink.

I’d love if you checked out this short episode for more information on all of that here: It Takes a Village 

I rub my red eyes and wipe away tears that decided to wait until now to escape. My brother will be up soon (I think) and we’ll go to breakfast where I can stare at him curiously across the table wondering how in the world such a sweet, little boy turned into such a handsome and successful man. We’ll say a sad goodbye and then I’ll then hop in the car bound for the open road home and think about Tink and how much I miss him, how much he meant to us, and how ecstatic I am that his memory gets to live on in the form of a children’s book about love for one another.

But for now, as I wait for my brother and his wife to wake up, I’ll sit in company of the white light that bouncing off of everything. This day is so excited to get started that she can hardly hold still. I feel the same way.

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A screenshot from the latest episode of DRTV where my upcoming children’s book is announced! Watch the whole episode here: http://www.donkeyrescue.tv

P.S. In case you missed the announcement on my Facebook page, one of my essays has been selected for publication with Texas’s Emerging Writers: An Anthology of Nonfiction and pre-order sales are available! You can grab your copy here: Pre-Sale!

The Midday Scorcher

I’m three hours into a drive out west and it’s hotter’n blue blazes out there. My dash board’s telling me it’s 116 degrees, but even with the a/c working as hard as it can, that temperature feels underestimated. Having lived in Texas my whole life, I’m supposed to be used to this, but hoo boy I tell ya, there’s no getting used to frying eggs in your driveway.

Still, I love this drive. This 6-hour jaunt out west to the land of 1,000 donkeys that I find excuses to make where I end up on two-lane highways surrounded by prickly pears and yucca plants is therapy. I have no cell service on much of this route and either spend it listening to a pre-downloaded audio book or all of my Old Crow Medicine Show albums. I am as good’a singer as Ketch Secor on these drives; it’s a shame no one else ever gets to witness it—seems to only happen when I’m alone. 😉

Speaking of Ketch Secor, the novel I’m coincidentally listening to on this trip is ‘The Midnight Cool’ written by his wife (at least that’s what the interwebs tells me; I habitually read about authors I enjoy) and amazing writer, Lydia Peelle. You’ll never guess it, but this book is chalk full of mules….and not just mules as outlying, empty creatures that serve as backdrop ornaments to set tone or mood, but as detailed, respected, and complex and I gotta tell you, it’s the first novel I’ve read (well, listened to) that does this. She talks about how the “…humble long ear has been the victim of much mudslinging” which, whether you’re talking about a mule or their father, the donkey, it’s true. I’m hanging on every word she’s written (and is being read to me wonderfully by Don Hagen) and it just gets me that much more giddy about arriving at my destination.

Y’all know by now that I work with the Peaceful Valley Donkey Rescue (it’s where I’m headed on this mirage-inducing drive) and as such, it’s become a red-hot goal of mine (and frankly, my highest honor) to spread the word about donkey welfare. They are victims of mudslinging like Ms. Peelle describes…they’re the butts of jokes, the forgotten warriors, the misunderstood creatures. But it’s true that anyone who takes the time to get to know them realizes that there are worlds within a donkey’s eyes. There is tenderness in their hearts. There is a gravity about them: an inescapable yet peaceful gravity.

My donkeys are what keep me grounded. No matter the day or time, if I need someone to lean on, they’re there. If I need someone to sit with for a while, they’re there. I never ask them to do this, they just do.

How much are we misunderstanding simply because we’re not taking the time? Not just donkeys or mules, but everyone? Over the years, I’ve learned from many people the assumptions they’ve made about me which have often been based on my behaviors as a person riddled with deeply-seeded anxiety (which I suppose is understandable, I can be difficult to be around sometimes…an ungentiled and untrusting donkey.) But at the core of myself, (like a donkey) I’m loyal too. I’ll sit with damn near anyone who just needs a shoulder for a while. I’m overly cautious (which is often seen as stubborn).

I don’t mean to sound egotistical, but I’m comfortable enough with myself to love my own isms, especially the more I choose to learn about them and the more I’m starting to realize that if reincarnation is indeed a thing, I might’ve been a donkey in my past life. Same goes for donkeys—how many people jump to the conclusion that they’ve got pea-sized brains because some movie made an ass joke about them while trotting a big, statuesque and shiny hero-horse by?
It’s been a while since I’ve passed another vehicle and I start to wonder if my car broke down in the heat of this sun, what would I do? No cell service, no folks passing by, no donkeys to lean on. I suppose I’d find some shade and listen to this book some more until someone came along.

On I drive, my heart happier and happier that I found this novel by chance. I’ve decided that if somehow, someway I ever get the chance to meet Lydia Peelle, I’d like to hug her neck and thank her for what she has to say about long-ears. She’s fighting the fight I’ve only barely begun: the uphill battle in convincing the world that donkeys (and their kin) are the best. Donkeys are what we should all be striving to be: kind, cautious, loyal, inquisitive, and strong even when it’s so hard sometimes.

To my left, two dust devils dance around one another in a vast acreage of red dirt and brush, their bases hopping around like they too feel the heat on the ground. It’s quite lovely what nature does when she thinks she’s not being watched. Deer delicately pick the flowers out of the prickly pears. Cows lay peacefully in the shade of any tree they can find, their sides and rumps touching I imagine, because they just want to be sure of each other. Vultures float in tornadoes around something dying or decaying, their bellies anxious for a meal.

Makes me wonder what we do most when we think we’re not being watched. In a lot of cases, I don’t think we’re much different from the dust devils, the deer, the cows, or the vultures. We’re all part of this bizarre life quilt sewn together by all of our strange and often misunderstood isms. It’s quite lovely.

‘The Midnight Cool’ reaches the end of a chapter and so I switch my speakers over to Old Crow’s version of Bob Dylan’s “Visions of Johanna.” I turn it up as loud as my speakers will go singing along with every complex lyric, giddy and thrilled that in a few short hours, I’ll be at my home away from home—the land of 1,000 donkeys—the place where my fire for change is stoked like no other.

Here’s to donkeys. Here’s to those who fight for them. Here’s to those who hopefully come to know them. And here’s to each other:

“…Voices echo this is what salvation must be like after a while…”

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Humidity. Healing.

Few places hold a torch when it comes to humidity intensity in the East Texas piney woods, especially after four straight days of early-summer rainfall. Breathing outside during dawn or dusk is like inhaling warm, invisible snot that sticks in little teardrop beads to every single part of you. It’s oddly sentimental though; growing up in SE Texas, the humidity is like a tight hug from your grandmother who always smells like home cooked something: noodles and pork chops, rosemary bread, brown gravy. Humidity like this can be embracing and comforting—a reminder that at the end of a long, stressful day, she’s here for you whether you think you need her or not.

Under a darkening, blue sky with broad, brush-stroked pinks and purples, grandmother humidity wraps herself about me as I close the barn door and secure the latch. I faintly hear hay crunching from inside: donkey dinner time.

This is a chore I’ve had for years now (the shuffling of donkeys into their shelter and distribution of their hay) and for the first time, it’s completely worn me out. I stand in front of the barn and lean my weight into the door for a moment to catch my breath, the damp air lining my lungs like teflon. My vision blurs and my heart hops heavily as I close my eyes and wait for the feeling of lightheadedness to pass. I’ve been ill—at times severely—over the past two months. It occurs to me that I’ve never been the kind of ill that causes such a profound loss of strength: my muscles having diminished to soft, wobbly blobs on my bones. King Ranch was right, it was probably too soon for me to bring the donkeys in alone…but I missed that part of my evening routine and insisted I give it a try. I see him now standing in the window watching me from the house, his face a mix of concern and I told you so.

I think I’m beginning to heal, but healing is a tricky thing. It’s not like illness, injury, or brokenness must come to a clean stop before healing can begin; I think there’s a lot of overlap. There are gains and losses between brokenness and healing. They toggle around: a tug-of-war that pulls one way, then another. Back and forth and back and forth as each side loses and gains strength, they fight to win you over.

Healing is a funny thing: her ability to be happening and not happening at the same time. Healing can be busy at work even when we don’t think she’s there but I also think we can control parts of our healing, too. Healing is like breathing: when you’re not thinking about it, healing involuntarily happens on her own but simultaneously, when you’re aware of it, you can either help healing or hinder her. You can decide to block healing by not letting go or being too afraid to look forward.

Of course, some things never fully heal and that’s not necessarily a bad thing.

Healing, as I’m imagining her as this personified ghost in our beings, is smart. I like that healing allows for some scars to stick around to remind you of the past…like if you were bullied in school, I think she leaves those memories there so that you can remember to be kind to others—that what we say and do to each other really does matter and it really sucks when you’re treated badly. She leaves scars over our hearts so we can remember how brave we once were and when life buries us with piles of uncontrollable circumstance, we can look down at the discolored scar and remember our bravery….our strength.

My vision finally clears itself of yellowish stars and through the heavy dampness, I begin what seems like a very long walk back to the house. Cicadas call from the treetops—their buzzing and clicking chorus an audible illustration of what the inside of my head and chest feels like. Everything is just so unfocused and fuzzy.

But a few days ago, I couldn’t make this walk on my own and yet, here I am. The bandages stuck to me itch in the humidity and I’m anxious to remove them soon to see what’s left in their place…but I still have some time before I can do that. Right now, I’ll take the itching, the pain, the frightening vulnerability and fear of infection all as parts of healing doing her job. It’s because of her that I got the donkeys in tonight and could run my fingers through their shedding fur. But now she’s telling me to go lay down. The beads of humidity roll down my arms and it almost feels as if grandmother humidity is pushing me back towards the house: all these forces telling me to take it easy.

We should listen to them: listen to what our bodies are trying to tell us. Intuition is a powerful thing.

I hear ya humidity. I hear ya, healing. I’ll go lay down now and try again tomorrow.

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Wander

Twisted, tangled trails
With sprawling vines and
Dangling branches like
Curious fingertips flickering
In the shifting winds

We wander—we all wander.
One step atop another,
Our foot, paw, claw, and
Hoof prints melded along
Muddled puddled paths

We wander—we all wander.
Purple weeds and fungus
Steps swirling tree trunks
That tower indimidatingly
And must sway sometimes, too

We wander—we all wander.
This road carved by
All of us, forked and branched
By our steps, the blooming
World thriving because
Every single sprout matters

No matter how small

We wander—we all wander.
It begins and it ends the
Same, each road an exciting
Tale of strength, bravery,
Missteps and triumphs. Legend
Left in tracks where we met
To be found by a new traveler

We wander—we all wander.

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Tiny Dots

It’s late. I’m not sure of the time, but it’s been night for a while—long enough for the dark to feel damp and for the scattered clouds to have a purple tint. In my jammies and boots without socks, I’m walking through the wet grass out to the barn where Bunny, Tee, and Baby Bodhi are likely resting.

With both hands, I slide open the barn door and flip the light switch just inside. Three sets of ears perk up high and like a burst of beautiful light, Bodhi leaps for me with his ears back and his tiny tail wagging. Bunny and Tee, from behind their stall door, begin to bray. Shaky, I kneel down and scratch Bodhi’s soft fur, his chin resting on my shoulder. He still smells like a baby.

It’s been three days since I’ve seen my sweet donkeys: I’ve relied on King Ranch and my parents to help care for them while I’ve been severely ill. In and out of the hospital and unsure of the time when I wake up from long rests, it’s been a blur of chills, lightheadedness, groggy sips of Gatorade, and much anxiety over what is happening in my tired body.

I stand, my head dizzy for a starry-eyed moment, before I open the stall door. Normally, Bunny and Tee race to reach me first (especially if it’s been some time since I’ve seen them) but tonight, they’re delicate in their approach. They know I’m unwell, I can see it in the wideness of their eyes and in the care of their steps. Bunny nips at my hair while Tee presses his head into my thigh. Bodhi stands against my other leg, his tail swishing from side to side.

In the dim barn surrounded by the quiet of night and warmth of my donkeys, I peer up at the light above which flickers with silhouettes of June bugs and moths. I draw in a deep breath, close my eyes, and surrender the walls I’ve taped up around my emotions to the midnight air. Tears begin to stream down my cheeks.

I don’t remember a time when I’ve been this sick, at least not as an adult. And to complicate things, my pre-existing heart condition is succumbing to the stress and making my movements and presence tedious and difficult.  The good news is, I’ve seen a host of doctors and have seemingly turned a corner to see a light at the end of this dark, dank, claustrophobia-inducing tunnel where I’ve left a scattered trail of my weight, strength, and optimism.

I’ve been unsure as to whether or not I wanted to write about this but the thing is, I write to figure out my feelings. I have to spell out thoughts to see them straight—to remove them from the neon nebulous of my anxious mind where I don’t have a single train of thought, but rather, a bustling train station buzzing with people yelling in languages that I can’t understand.

I have a friend, a wonderfully talented novelist who bravely moved her life overseas and is one of the most inspiring people in my life. She writes her stories and essays in a way that transfers the reader to the front lines—to the smells and tastes of places they’ve never been—and the other night, she messaged me out of concern to check on my health. It’s been years since I’ve seen her in person, but across the world, her concern and love of my feelings made way for a platform to begin to explore my own understanding of the depth in which this aggressive illness has dug. In talking with her, my heart touched by her words (because she’s just the kind of person who can be so warm and empathetic, even oceans apart), I realized that in this illness, there have been moments where I have actually feared for my life…like really thought it might be over for me. I think this must have been the first time I truthfully and legitimately feared that my end might be near and although that moment is now in my distant and hopefully unreachable past, it’s left me in a strange, emotional place. I don’t mean to be dramatic, but the swift severity of my condition left little room to feel like I had much of a fight. 

(To be clear, I am fine. I am going to be fine. There were just a few days in there where I really thought I might not be fine and those ripples are still splashing around pretty hard.)

As I stand here in the barn, these three donkeys doing everything in their ability to comfort me, I am overcome with…I don’t know what it is. Gratitude for sure, but something else. Purpose? Raw presence? I’m not sure. That very real fear has done something to me and even though I know I’m out of the thick of the threat, there’s this pulsing light from beyond my field of vision that’s reminding me of the fragility of all of this. It’s a blocked off area  that stays just beyond my sight with giant, red, boldface letters that says “RESTRICTED” because only those who are emotionally equipped to handle the reality of how temporary life is can enter without crumbling. This very human condition: that we are all momentary. 

Little Foot climbed up into bed with me yesterday and rested his curly head on my chest.

“Mommy,” he said, “I hear your heart going ba-boom ba-boom ba-boom.”

I twirled his hair between two of my fingers and said, “I think my heart is happy you’re here.”

And it was. It is. Oh my it is, my heart flips in my chest at the sight and even thought of my sweet, little boy. He’s barely three years old and already he helps me feed the animals, collect eggs from the chickens, tells me stories that are made up in his imagination, and reminds me that you don’t have to be of a certain age to really know how to love.

Bunny lowers her head and rests it against my chest. I wonder if she can hear my struggling heart, too. I look down to see tiny, damp dots freckling the donkey’s faces—my tears having dripped from my chin onto them. I think they’ve moved closer to me, the weight of their bodies giving me strength to stand even though I’m so, so tired.

On the shelf beside us is Tink’s bright blue halter. He was wearing it the day he passed. Little Foot asked about Tink for the first time in a while the other day (before I fell ill) and I told him that Tink died. I used those words….he died.  “But where did he go?” Little Foot asked with a puzzled look. I told him that I wasn’t sure, but I believe that even when people or animals die, they’re still out there somewhere in some way. I told him that I think they must be out beyond the stars, so maybe you can look up at night and see if anything up there reminds you of him and if it does, then he’s definitely still alive in your thoughts. Among all those twinkling, tiny dots are so much more than meets the eye, so look as hard and as often as you can. This seemed to satisfy him. He also asked if the slug that he accidentally stepped on the other day is up there, too, because he was very sorry that he smushed it, he just didn’t see it before he stepped. I told him that I’m sure the slug is up there.

After a while, I shuffle the donkeys back into their stalls, laying a kiss upon each of their heads, and close the barn door. Purple clouds glide across the sky which is nearly singing like a full choir with twinkling stars. So many tiny dots. I breathe in deeply, their light filling the broken parts of me, before exhaling deep gratitude, relief, and hope with a long sigh.

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