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An End

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 and I suppose, neither am I. It’s all just happened so quickly.

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A little over two and a half years ago, my new, little family moved to a small town in north Texas where we met a donkey named Bunny. She was included in the purchase of our home and really, I think she’s why we ultimately decided to purchase that home. Within that little more than two and a half years, we’ve adopted two more donkeys, Tink and Tee, and fostered twenty three other donkeys until we placed them in forever, loving homes.

It’s been a little over two and a half years since we found that home and several hours ago, I left it for the last time.

In front of me, King Ranch is driving a large moving van and behind me, my dad is in his own pickup truck and together, we three drivers have caravanned across a chunk of Texas in an effort to start anew. King Ranch started a new job several hours away and so the rest of us—Little Foot, Tucker, Bunny, Tee, Tink, Wednesday, her three new chicks and myself—have all followed along.

The clouds have faded into purple and gray as evening swallows the sunset and I’m hoping my three donkeys are doing okay. I delivered them a few days ago to our new house where they have a cozy barn and just as much land as they need. It’s traumatizing for them, I imagine, being loaded into a noisy box, driven at 65 to 75MPH between other whooshing vehicles and strange smells, only to jump out of the box with shaky legs and probably sore hooves in a place they’ve never seen. But if there’s one thing I know about donkeys it’s that they’re resilient—and luckily, they’ve got each other. I can hardly wait to get to our new home to see them again.

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Wednesday Addams’s three babies have burrowed beneath her feathery belly in the now-darkness of our drive and the peeping has drifted into sleep. Her marble, black eyes are mostly shut and I realize that I don’t think I’ve ever actually watched a hen fall asleep. I wonder if they dream? It feels so silent now in the cab of this truck, the only noises left being the Rickety-red’s squeaky engine and passing cars.

I start to wonder if I’ll find a new place to teach yoga once we’ve settled in our new home. I haven’t led a yoga class in over a month being tied up in this move. I feel the tension climbing down my neck and behind my shoulder blades. Stress likes to sit back there, curled into a tight ball and it becomes more and more gravitational the longer I go without slowing down and stretching out properly. It begins to pull at the muscles along my spine and even down into my ham strings.

I think about the yoga class I led at my ranch several months ago—Yoga with the Donkeys is what I called it. I had so many friends attend that night and we raised several hundred dollars that went directly to saving donkeys. I wonder when I’ll see those friends again…north Texas will be a long way away. 

The moving van’s blinker begins to flash and as a caravan, we all change lanes in the blackness of this new night. We still have a ways to go.

An image of Little Foot’s bedroom (which I guess is now his old bedroom) appears in my mind. Hours ago, I stood in that doorway, nothing but indents in the carpet from the moved furniture and the dream-like memories left inside the room. I remember the first time I walked in there and saw him standing upright in his crib—he looked so big. He grinned with only a couple teeth, proud of his accomplishment. I don’t remember what I said to him, but he bounced up and down, giggling wildly. I remember once, when I’d come down the hallway, I heard him chattering in there and when I peeked in, I discovered that he was flipping through “Brown Bear, Brown Bear” and reciting every line as if he knew how to read it all by himself. I thought my heart might stop when I saw that. He emphasized the words just as I had when I’d read it to him. He loves his books. 

I blink my eyes a few times, the taillights of the moving van blurring through my tears and I glance at Wednesday whose eyes are still not fully shut. She must be exhausted. I am.

I wonder if the people who move into our old home will like the painting I’d left on the fence in the garden or if they’ll get rid of it. I always thought of my garden as my own, secret garden only instead of a robin, there were two cardinals.

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It’s all happened so fast—two and a half years have opened and shut so quickly and now, I’m driving away from what seems like a single, snapped Polaroid photo—the memories of it all stuck in that blurry, creaminess that appears before the picture fully develops. It’s done. Our time at the ranch where this whole Donkumentary began has come to an end, the shadow of the back cover of this large book closing all around me as I zoom down this dark, wooded highway.

I don’t yet know if there will be a sequel or a continuation of this here bloggery. This feels like a clean end and an opportunity to begin building new things upon a more solid foundation than when I began before. I also just don’t know what the days, weeks, or months ahead look like. I have no clue.

It will be some time before I’ll have internet up and running at my new place, so I suppose I have some time to think on it. I’ll unpack. I’ll love on my family, two legged and four. I’ll secure fences and hang paintings and learn which light switches belong to which lights. I’ll discover the nearest pizza place and find out if we can keep rescuing donkeys. I’ll take a break from the news and from the interwebs and begin to build again.

Until then, thank you. Thank you for following my story. I’ve loved having you along the way. 

Much love and namasBRAY,
Jess

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‘Twas a Night on the Ranch…

Happy holiBRAYs, friends.

“…Please bestow upon us, vast oneness and love,
Little specs of healing light that can fall from above…”

Love,
Jess

That Ranch Life

Twas the week before Christmas, when all through the night,
Not a creature was stirring in the cold air’s bite.
The chickens were snug in their coop with care,
In floofy, puffed feathers blocking raw, winter air.

The donkeys were nestled all snug in their shed,
While layers of clouds stretched out above head.
And King Ranch with his scotch and I with my red,
Snuggled in for a night cap, then we’d be off to bed.

When out on the land, there arose such a clatter,
I nearly spilled my wine to see what was the matter.
On with my coat and my hat and my boots,
I flew like the wind, after the hollers and hoots.

The moon, a dull smudge behind shape-shifting clouds
Lacked lustre and brilliance behind low-hanging shrouds.
When, what to my tipsy, blurred eyes seemed to charge,
But two miniature donks, and a standard…

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Soon, Sun. Soon.

It’s all so fast today.
It’s all just so fast.
The days are more
like minutes, the Sun
Racing to set and

Leave long, cold
Darkness: bones in the
Cool, dark Earth.

It’s us left to protect
Her warmth. To
Store within ourselves
And let shine her
Healing light.

It’s us who must
Carry her torch in this
Long, deepening dark.

Keep them safe, her
Shards of sparking light.
She’ll come back for
Her shining, broken pieces
Soon. Soon.
So soon.

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Fly, Blackbird, Fly

It’s not quite dawn and I’ve just finished leading a guided meditation which I do with a group of friends three times a week before the sun comes up. It’s never anything fancy, just fifteen or so minutes that we spend together trying to slow down and relax, utilizing the interwebs to connect digitally to share this time.

After the meditation, I pour a cup of coffee and sit for a while. Most mornings like these, Little Foot is still asleep and the donkeys haven’t brayed yet to let me know they’re ready to be let out into the pasture. The sun’s not peeked through the trees and the stillness in my living room is profound. I’ve written before about sitting with silence during this time (that post here) so I won’t go into that again. I do feel that silence and me are becoming more and more acquainted, though. It’s a welcome friendship.

I decide to go outside early—before the glow of the sun bounces off the dew in the grass. It’s damp and cool out this morning and hanging from the awning over my back patio, a black spider is wrapping something tightly on an arm of her snowflake-shaped web.

I shut the door behind me, a sound the donkeys can hear and they must be surprised by my early movement because Bunny brays, then Tink, then Tee and finally, my last adoptable donkey available, The Professor: a pre-dawn chorus. In their shed, I kneel down next to Tink to wrap his hoof and secure his boot before taking time to greet each donkey. They’re even more peaceful in the mornings which for donkeys, is saying a lot.

I’ve not much to say this morning. Several times over the past couple of weeks, I’ve started and then deleted many blog post drafts, none of which have become anything I’ve felt was worth a post. That’s not to say that nothing interesting is happening, in fact a lot is going on…large, life-changing events are happening within our family and to our ranch but because I’m an anxious mind with a tendency to be superstitious about things, I’ve refrained from revealing these changes in an effort to not jinx it all. What I will say has happened is that I’ve allowed myself to become consumed by and buried beneath task after time sensitive task and it’s forced me into reclusive mode.

Breathing deeply helps. Pulling in a long breath, holding it for a few seconds, and then sighing it out helps. Not losing sight of self-worth and refraining from placing self-value in the hands of others helps, too.

As I walk back towards the house, the sky just starting to turn purple, a flock of blackbirds soars overhead, their broad wings gliding effortlessly and I realize my skin is prickling. I close my eyes and draw in a long breath, all the way into the bottom of my lungs. The air is a bright light, swirling down my spine and spreading like spilled ink through my body. I hold it in, the light glowing brighter and brighter, my body relaxing in its warmth. I hold that alabaster peace with all I’ve got and then finally, I exhale and open my eyes.

A single blackbird squabbles in the sky. She is struggling to catch up to the rest of the flock, wings flapping frantically and clumsily, and I’m suddenly overtaken by fear that something’s going to happen to that bird. Why is she struggling so badly? Is she hurt? Eyes wide, I watch the straggler disappear over the trees and suddenly I’m panicking. I search the sky for any other birds but there are none. My heart races and my to do list tumbles down, across the ground in my mind’s eye—a ten-mile long scroll. Everything that’s hanging in the balance falls and shatters and the weight of the world itself lays down across my chest. Fly, blackbird, fly. Come on.

The donkeys are standing next to me now, calm and quiet, and so I take another long, deep breath. I hold it in, trying to visualize the movement of light again but my mind is racing so quickly that I can’t see a thing, just a blur of worry. I sigh and breathe deeply again. No light. My heart’s racing and my breath is shallow. One more time, I breathe deeply, hold it in, and finally sigh it out, cold and dark.

I scan the sky once more, but the blackbirds are gone. I lean on Bunny—it’s like she knows when I’m having a panic attack and knows that by being there, it helps. It does.

I think we’ve all been that blackbird. We’ve all fallen behind, despite how hard we’ve worked. We’ve all been alone, watching the rest move along with ease. I want so badly for that blackbird to catch up to her friends, to the rest, so she doesn’t feel so alone but then I realize that maybe she’s making her own path. Maybe being separated from the rest, misunderstood and a bit clumsy, is just who she is right now. And that’s okay because at least on this morning, she’s still moving forward.

I hug my sweet donkey, her breath steady and mine now too, and with my gray pajama pants tucked into the tops of my work boots which I slipped on without socks, I walk back towards the house where I’ll sit on my couch with a second cup of coffee for just a bit longer, waiting for the sun to come up.

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Mini Donkey: Big Hero

I want to start this post by clarifying that contrary to popular belief, not all donkeys are natural guardians, especially mini donkeys like our little Tee. Please don’t assume donkeys will act as guardians—in fact they can be quite vulnerable to predators. Make sure that if you own donkeys that their fencing, paddocks, barns, and sheds are secure to keep them safe from threats.

That being said…

Earlier today, I was out fixing part of the fence in the pasture while my two year old son, Little Foot, sat next to me drawing shapes in the dirt with a stick. The town’s roaming flock of guinea hens were fluttering about on my property with four young guinea chicks in the center of the group. I was securing a new section of chicken-wire when suddenly the flock burst into a frantic squabble. I turned to find that a small (I’m assuming young) wild boar was charging the flock.

I should note that upon first glance, I thought that the boar was some kind of domestic pig. There’s a notorious woman in our town who breeds pigs and animal control has about had it with how often her young pigs get loose. But this was no domestic pig. This was a boar with a line of thick, black hair down its back and stripes along its sides. Boar’s noses are typically longer, too and this was quite a snout.

I stood from my project and the small boar caught sight of me. I paused and it paused and for a moment, we stared at each other. I gripped the wire cutters tightly in my hand and with the other hand, I slowly nudged my two year old son behind my legs.
The guineas retreated into the bushes, their chattering terrified, and the boar began running straight for Little Foot and me, snorting angrily. I turned to pick up my son, thinking I could try and outrun the boar and as I did, from the right like a bolt of lightning, Tee came flying through with his head down and ears back.

The boar squealed, changed course not fifteen feet from Little Foot and me, and ran away so fast he was nothing more than a black and brown blur. Tee followed directly behind him grunting and bucking his legs and running after that boar faster than I even thought possible. Dirt and sand flew up fiercely in their tracks.

Tee chased him all the way to a small opening in the fence far across our property which the boar struggled to squeeze through. It managed to escape as Tee stomped his hooves around and around.

I clutched Little Foot tightly in my arms, my heart pounding so heavily I could hardly hear a thing. Bunny and Tink appeared behind us, eyes wide and ears up when Little Foot said, “Mommy, Tee chase that pig so fast!” All I could do was nod. We all watched Tee who paced back and forth across that small opening, his ears perked and chest puffed.

I’m in absolute awe of our mini donkey right now. I’ve known that Tee is fiercely protective of Little Foot for a while now, but I didn’t know he had this in him. I’m flabbergasted and grateful and dumbfounded. I don’t know what that small boar would’ve done had it reached us. I don’t want to know. I also, apparently, have another part of the fence to secure.

I would assume that mama boar must not be too far off which has me nervous. I’ve heard about wild boars being a thing out here but…Hoo boy. As they say, sh*t just got real.

Tee was our hero today. I….I just kind of can’t even right now.

I think I’ll make him a carrot cake.

Silence

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 which I do three times a week. I find meditations to read aloud or I write them myself sometimes. There’s accountability in having a group—all of us just people wanting to slow down from time to time, but always finding excuses not to. Today, we’ll be doing a meditation that focuses specifically on healing. I sip my coffee.

There are many things on my mind right now (as is the case with everyone I know) and lots that I feel I want to say…but on this deep, dark morning, the quiet is comforting. It is still utter blackness outside and I want it to stay that way for a little while longer. Maybe just today, the sun can wait a few more minutes before silhouetting the trees in her warm, orange glow.

Moments like these, I feel like silence becomes more than just a lack of sound. Right now, it feels like silence is sitting next to me on the couch, watching me reach the bottom of my coffee cup. Silence is like a stranger without a voice that perhaps makes us uncomfortable because she never responds when we ask her questions or throw ideas her way—but as I’m sitting here with her, I actually think that’s her beauty. Shadowy silence is fine to just sit there and keep me company. She’s there to surround me and always eager to blanket the busyness of my mind when my thoughts start swirling too quickly; I just have to give her permission. She never judges, she never expects…she just is. 

Beyond the trees, I can see the faintest shift in the darkness. A graying is opening up behind the trees and soon, I’ll see the shapes of the leaves. That’s what new sunrises always deliver: shifts, changes and opportunities to see a little more clearly. I take the final, cool sip of coffee sitting at the bottom of my cup and then place the mug on the table—a loud knock in this gravitational silence. She accentuates everything.

Deep breath in. Hold it. Sigh it out.  

Deep breath in. Hold it. Sigh it out.

Both moths quickly flutter away now, leaving an oddly clean and bare window, and a truck drives down the gravelly road outside—its tire-crunching and engine rumble flooding in the fading darkness. Silence no longer sits curiously on the couch. She, along with the night, fluttered away on the backs of those two, furry moths.

I take another deep breath and ready my notes for today’s meditation. The gray will soon be blue and it will be a new day. Whoever you are reading this, I hope that this day brings you some peace even in the chaoses that life can carry. If you get the chance, invite silence to join you for a little while. There’s profoundness in company with whom you can just sit, not saying a thing. 

NamasBRAY.

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Meet the Horizon

It’s just after 7AM and I’m driving due east into a pink sunrise. On the passenger seat next to me is a black and red briefcase which I had to dust off last night having not used it since my corporate days. Within my briefcase are two notepads, three pens, freshly printed business cards, my laptop and a granola bar.

I love that briefcase. My grandfather gave it to me as a graduation gift when I earned my degree in English from the University of Houston years ago and just remembering him and how much he believed in me briefly calms my firing-wire nerves this morning. I’m headed towards the waking sun that will lead me to a small town north of Dallas to attend my first ever Society for Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators (SCBWI) conference.

It’s a long, sprawling drive across north Texas and I’m having twelve conversations in my head about how nervous I am to be attending a conference with professionals in the industry all on my own. I’ve not met one person who is attending this conference and as one of my favorite bands, Mandolin Orange, plays through the stereo of my car, I can’t help but feel like that lonesome whistle calling from down the railroad tracks. [that track here. I can listen to this song forty times in a row.]

“Be brave,” I tell myself over and over again. “Be brave. Don’t ramble nervously like you always do. Don’t drink too much coffee. Check your teeth after you eat lunch. But just be brave. Be brave.”

“…I should’ve gotten a haircut.”

“…Why did I decide to wear purple and black. I look like a bruise.”

Sweaty palms, racing heart.

I’ve attended many conferences in my life but never a writer’s conference. I’ve attended oil and gas conferences, yoga conferences, international trade conferences, small business conferences and, wow, just thinking about how many others, I’m losing track. Never, ever have I attended a writer’s conference and I’m terrified. I am not a writer by profession, I am a writer by hobby. I love to write. It’s one of my favorite things up there with donkeys and yoga and King Ranch and Little Foot. It’s so important to me and when time goes by that I can’t or don’t write, I end up like an A/C filter that’s not been changed for too long: mucky, dusty, annoying, and useless.

Several times on this drive, I think about turning around. Maybe I’ll try again next year. I’ll say I got sick or something.

But on I drive, on towards the rising sun because I think I’m finally ready to try and do something more with my writing than leaving my stories closed up in dark folders. I just have no idea what “do something” looks like and maybe I can start to gain a semblance of an understanding by connecting with and learning from others who do and who have “done something” successfully. And I’m nervous about it—the idea of putting my writing out there terrifies me. It feels like carving out a chunk of my heart and putting it out on display to be examined, critiqued, poked and prodded.

It’s now three days later and I’m still digesting the events and feeling the warm, buzzing effects of the NTX SCBWI conference. I’ve pulled out stories that have been sitting in the dark for ages, blown the dust off the top of them, and am actually seeing them as new, tiny works of art. I want to edit absolutely everything I’ve ever written—give each story a good bath and haircut and maybe manicure while I’m at it. I want to do these things because as nervous as I was going into the conference last Saturday, I left feeling freaking pumped.

I’ll not go into detail of what I learned or who I met that day. Instead, I’ll say how grateful I am for the opportunity to have met so many eager, kind, and talented people. I’m grateful for the admins, faculty, and volunteers that made the conference possible and brought us all together—for getting me out of my own head and allowing me to realize that in my nerves, my passion, my fears and my curiosity, I’m not alone. I’m grateful for the inspiration I drove away with that day that’s still burning like red-hot embers in the belly of a fire pit. Turns out that when you’re surrounded by others whose craft means just as much to them as yours means to you, there’s no brutal carving of heart pieces…instead, there’s gentle and kind examination and encouragement to be better.

I’m excited for what’s to come. Indeed, there is change rising on the horizon like that neon-glowing sun that guided me on Saturday morning. There are always surprises and treasures waiting to be discovered beyond our comfort zones. There is strength in community and much to gain by being kind, open, and a little bit brave. And no one cares if you needed a haircut—in fact, you might just bond with someone over big hair…I did.

For more information on SCBWI, check them out here: https://www.scbwi.org/

In many ways, I still feel like that lonesome whistle and I suspect I always will. But I’m travelling. I’m trying. I’m calling.

“So hear that lonesome whistle blowing, hear that engine call from line.
See those black sails meet horizon, that old black bird knows its time.”

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An Exhale

It’s just after lunch and I’ve turned my rickety-red pickup truck into my small town of Nowhere, Texas. The days have begun where in the sun, the Texas heat continues to beat down in her typical fashion—the kind of beaming that makes you feel like you’re a lizard under a heat-lamp trying to digest after a long meal. But as the sun lingers on with her usual strength, there are now moments of hope hiding in the shade—tiny hints of fall air are beginning to collect in the shadows, even at a high-noon sun. I love this time of year: warm in the light, cool in the dark.

Little Foot is singing the ABCs from his car seat for the five-thousandth time and I’m still not tired of hearing his little voice articulate the letters. In the slow drawl of his “I”s and “y”s, I can hear that he’s adopting a bit of my southern twang. I drive on, the creaking of ole’ rickety-red increasing as the roads become gravel.

I follow the long, curved road that cuts through town under heavily blooming pecan trees when suddenly, I slam on the brake and pop the truck’s shifter into neutral. Gravel crunches beneath us and dust quickly rises like a gray blanket in front of me. As it settles, I see a woman about twenty feet or so in front of me kneeling in the gravel, her hands reaching behind her head like she’s pulling her own hair and she’s sobbing. Beneath her is a golden-brown dog laying on its side, a small pool of blood drying in the dirt and rocks around its belly.

A man comes running out after her and he kneels next to the woman who turns and buries herself in his chest. Even with my windows rolled up, the A/C running, and at least twenty feet of road between us, I can hear the woman wailing in heartache. The man holds her and I see him lift a hand up to swipe a tear from his own eye, too.

“What happened?” Little Foot asks with a small voice from the back seat, his ABCs having stopped.

“I don’t know, bud,” I say, fully knowing what’s happened.

He’s quiet and so am I. The man turns to see my truck sitting there and I see his immediate inclination to get this scene out of our way. I don’t want him to feel rushed, so I back up and pull the truck to the side of the road. Do I say something?

“What you doing, mommy?” Little Foot says as I swerve the truck in reverse and into the grass.

“I’m backing up the truck, bud,” I say.

The man is saying something to the woman now and she nods, slowly stands up, and walks back toward a house to the right. Her arms are wrapped around herself and she’s still crying. The man adjusts himself over the dog that looks to be some kind of golden labrador. I decide then to open my truck door and step out.

From now twenty-five feet or so away, I call to the man, “Do you need help?”

He turns his wrinkled face to me and says, “Oh…no thank you ma’am. I’ve got it.” He smiles a sad smile and then looks back down at the dog. From the right, the woman is standing on the covered porch of a small, brown house. She’s got her hands balled up in front of lips like she’s saying a prayer.

The man slips his hands beneath the dog’s neck and behind his back legs. I hear the woman whimper from her porch as the man stands, the dog limp in his arms. A small tinkle of a collar clangs as he turns and walks toward the house.

I climb back into rickety-red and Little Foot says, “Hi mommy!”

I say, “Hi honey.”

I press the clutch, shift the truck and drive forward, swerving around the small, dark spot of bloodied rocks, and then onward toward my house.

In the driveway outside of my house, I pull Little Foot from his car seat and grab the stack of five new library books we’ve just checked out from the library in the next town over. As I shut the truck’s door, Bunny begins to bray from the pasture, then Tink, then Tee.

Inside, Little Foot takes two of his new books into his bedroom and begins to sing his ABCs again. I stand at the back window where I can see that Bunny, Tee, and Tink are all up wandering around and I’m so relieved because last week, I thought we were going to lose Bunny.

The day after I came back up north from Houston where I was helping my folks out in the wake of Hurricane Harvey, I noticed Bunny acting strangely—not eating, laying down a lot, walking very slowly when she was up—and I know enough about donkeys to know that if they’re acting like anything is wrong, there’s likely something very wrong. They’re quite stoic and show pain only when it’s gotten really bad.

I’d called the emergency vet and they arrived, examined her, and determined she was likely experiencing colic which can be deadly in equines. They had to pump her stomach right then and there and then we had to keep her off of food for a while. It took her several days to recover and for those several days which are crucial after a stomach pump, I thought my sweet donkey was going to die.

I stand at the window now, watching her nip at the other donkeys, graze, and walk without issue and I’m so grateful for her health that it hurts. From this distance, I can see the little swirl of fur that’s between her eyes—the spot that I’ll rest my head on when she’s got her nose in my chest and I realize how much Bunny and my other donkeys mean to me. Thoughts begin to poke in my mind…the “what if she’d died? What if she colicks again? What if…” and I stop, and I breathe.

And then Houston appears in my mind. The flooded streets of my childhood rushing like rivers as babies cry on small boats that have pulled them from their homes. Blank faces of residents who can’t comprehend what’s happening to them. Military trucks in my town transporting families with wide eyes and wet hair. Scared and shaking dogs, cold hands, brows beaded with sweat and rain.

I stop, I exhale heavily and suddenly, I’m bawling.

I sit down on the ground and I cry. I cry into my hands, tears and snot pooling in my palms. I cry for my hometown, for the people who are still struggling. I cry for the people pushing air mattresses carrying children and pets down river-roads while the rain continues to pour. For the people who are still in shelters unsure of what comes next—the people who can’t answer their children when they ask, “what’s happening?” I cry for the fat tube that was run up Bunny’s nose to pump her stomach and for the way Tee and Tink stared at her through the fence, breathing heavily and terrified.  I cry for the woman who couldn’t find her husband and for the man that I saw coming off of a military truck only two days after I ran into him at the creek not yet swelled taking pictures with his cell phone just like me. He lost everything. I didn’t. I cry for the realization that Bunny will die one day. So will Tee and Tink. I cry for the dog in the road and how much its owners must ache right now—seeing the insides of their companion on the road because someone wasn’t driving cautiously enough or at least wasn’t kind of enough to stick around. I can hear the woman’s heartbroken cries and can see the hurt on the man’s face. 

I cry and I cry and I cry until nothing but heaving remains and when I lower my hands, my own dog, Tucker, is sitting in front of me with his ears laying back. His brown eyes look right into mine and he lowers his head. I pull Tucker into my lap and stroke his back over and over again.

A minute or two later, Little Foot comes running in and says, “Mommy, let’s sing ABCs.”

I wipe my face as Tucker steps out of my lap and as I stand, turning to my curly haired boy, I say, “Okay, bud.”

He grabs my hand and leads me toward his room and as we walk, Tucker following behind us, we sing the ABCs together. I squeeze his soft, little hand in mine.  

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Bunny: my donkey, my friend.

Houston, My Heart

I’ve just opened up my laptop for the first time in a week. I click on the open document I left unfinished from last Thursday: a drafted blog post telling a story about how I’d managed to lose a chunk of my left pinky finger while attempting to fix the mower on the same day that a thunderstorm pushed through that knocked a tree into a fence by the donkey’s shelter, forcing me to scramble in the rain to get them herded to safety. I was describing how some weeks are just “off” and how it’s important not to lose our cool even when we lose parts of our fingers, but I never finished that post because Thursday evening is when the forecasters were beginning to realize the potential damage that would be coming to my hometown in the wake of Hurricane Harvey.

My parents and much of my extended family live in Houston as do many of my dearest friends and the majority of my heart, and so as we woke up Friday morning to a much more certain fate, I decided to pack some of my tools (tree trimmer, buckets, rubber boots etc) and drive down in my rickety red pickup truck to Houston to be with my parents in the event damage would occur at their home.

There weren’t many people going southbound on Friday afternoon—even the road signs were advising drivers to avoid the area—so the drive back home to Houston was an eerie one. I shared the road with fleets of tree trimmers and 18-wheelers and when I finally made it to my parent’s house, we all embraced knowing that we were in for something big.

I was raised in the gulf coast region. We know hurricanes. We know what it means to hunker down and how to respect the tropics because they certainly demand it, so as Harvey pushed ashore Friday night, we stayed up watching the live radar and sending our love to Port Lavaca, Corpus Christi, Rockport, and so many of the coastal towns that were hit with the hurricane’s most intense force. As Friday night turned Saturday, we in northwest Houston only saw rain and an increasing number of tornado warnings, so we spent our time trimming branches and moving/tying down outside objects that could fly in tornadic winds. We kept the best contact we could with our friends and family all over the gulf coast area and as Saturday turned to Sunday, we started to see Harvey’s rainfall effects pretty dramatically in our area.

The water from the nearby creek began to rush and swell out over its banks, threatening the neighborhood where my parents live and by Sunday evening, the roads were impassable, even by trucks. We moved the valuables from the first floor of my parent’s house to the second floor as we saw the water rise up over the curb and into the yard. As the evening turned to night, we just watched and waited.

To our surprise and gratitude, my parent’s house managed to stay dry on the inside that night and so as the sun came up on a rainy Monday, my dad and I took our respective pickup trucks out into the neighborhood to see if there was anything we could do to help those whose homes were now and quickly becoming underwater. I’ll not go into too much detail, but I ended up spending Monday and Tuesday out, mostly at and around the nearby volunteer fire department, doing anything and everything I could to lend a hand along side dozens of others to an area becoming increasingly more inundated with rising water.

It’s Thursday now and I’ve come back to north Texas…to King Ranch, Little Foot, and my donkeys, and I just keep staring out the front window at the grass that needs to be cut by the mower that’s still broken. My thoughts are swirly and blurry and so sad for my hometown where I grew up and became an adult; where I graduated from college (go coogs!), had relationships, adventures, late nights, long walks, and even longer talks. I think about the freeways where I’d drive too fast to work downtown or to memorial park for a jog on the trails, or to the yoga studio where I taught my very first yoga class and how I now know what all of that looks like under water.

And it’s still unfolding down there, y’all. There are areas where the water is still rising. I just…I just can’t wrap my head around the past week and my family and me didn’t even have it bad like so many thousands of people.

Here’s what I’m desperately trying to hold onto and what I hope emerges from all of this: we are one. The two days that I spent out giving a hand, I encountered hundreds—literally hundreds—of people who left the safety of their own homes to come out in the pouring rain and uncertain circumstances to help…to do anything they could for complete strangers. People came out with hot food, supplies, tools, energy, high water vehicles, boats, canoes, kayaks, air mattresses and anything they could because that’s just who Houston is: a city of givers. I got to meet some of the Cajun Navy and I’ll tell you that none of them were afraid to risk it all to save someone in need.

By the time we were wrapping things up on Tuesday, shelters were turning away volunteers and donations because within only a couple of days there was that much of an outpouring of love for our community.

As person after person climbed down or was lifted down from those military trucks in the cold rain flying in sideways, there were no politics. There was no religion. There was no division. There wasn’t anyone trying to have the most intellectual comment or most profound opinion or any sort of snobbery. There were only hands that held each other tightly, infants passed delicately and met with dry blankets to be wrapped in, kisses on cheeks and wet pets on leashes eager to be held and told it was going to be okay. There were people searching for their loved ones and even more people trying to help them reunite. There were children, wide-eyed and brave: one child, I remember, with her pet hedgehog quivering in a plastic pitcher who still took the time to say “thank you” when someone offered her family a ride. There was no room anything but preserving life. There was safety and love and support and a coming together that proves that as humans, we are one: we are made of love.

We were all human out there and we all…I mean we ALL…had each other.

I can’t imagine what so many families have in their future as a result of this storm but I am so hopeful that this strength in community continues as strongly as it did this week—that people will continue to volunteer their time and effort and resources to help those in need because the need is enormous. I hope, so badly, that we continue to come together to lift each other up in this. To embrace each other, to clothe and feed one another, to not pass judgement and to be kind simply because we’re all human experiencing something that I’m not sure we’re equipped to truly understand and in that, at least we know we’re not alone.

If you have been turned away from a shelter in the last couple of days because they’re at capacity with volunteers and/or supplies, please go back next week and then the next because for so many, this is long term. This won’t be yesterday’s news for thousands of people for a very long time and they need all the help they can get.

Texas, and more specifically Houston, I love you. You’ll always be my home. I love the people that are still living in you—the people who are working around the clock to make you better. I love that you’ve brought out the best in people in the worst of times. I love your diversity, your creativity, your art, your music, your complexity and your heart.

If you have the means to do so, please consider donating to help rebuild our gulf coast—there are many ways to do so. Here’s a place to start: Here’s How You Can Help People Affected By Harvey – via NPR.

And on a personal note, I want to thank the Cypress Creek Volunteer Fire Department for everything that they did for northwest Houston. I got to see first hand how hard and diligently they worked to save over 2,000 people from rising waters and I am in awe of every one of them. And to the team that I had the honor of working with: Andy, Michael, Reed, Michelle, Debbie, Erica, Ken, Robin, Otto, Tim, Jaime, Dean, Jack, Bree, Bill, Kristen, Ryan and gosh, if I forgot anyone, please know I remember your faces and your vehicles and I’m so grateful for all of you. 

There’s nowhere else out in the world like Houston. We are Houston Strong.

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