In my freshly shined boots and my one pair of jeans without any holes, I’m standing at the edge of the gravel road out in front of the ranch. The sun has only barely peeked over the treetops; it’s morning rays filtering everything in a lively, lemony hue. Little Foot is securely fastened in a toddler hiking pack that’s strapped around my back and he’s saying “ball” over and over again. I’ve unlocked, unlatched and opened one of the larger side gates of our property and am holding the rusting chain that was looped around it in my left hand—it’s ends clanging softly together.
Although it’s still quite early, the humidity of Texas summer engulfs us in it’s warm-washcloth embrace. My hair has already begun to stick to my forehead which frustrates me because I spent time straightening it before I came outside about 30 minutes ago. I also spent several minutes debating which shirt would be most appropriate to wear on the morning that I would be meeting our first five foster donkeys.
Ever since last summer, after King Ranch and I adopted Tyrion the mini donkey from the Humane Society, I’ve had it in my mind that I would like to volunteer to help in donkey adoptions, too. More than that, I felt like I needed to volunteer. I don’t know why. It’s been a growing and driving idea in my mind and so, after months of research, planning and lots of discussion, King Ranch and I have found ourselves here: opening our property to these five, soon-to-arrive foster donkeys.
Any minute now, the owner of the organization in which we are fostering the donkeys from will be pulling up with a trailer attached to his truck—five donkeys for whom I have yet to even see a picture will be in tow.
Moving the chain between my fingers one link at a time, I’m running through my mental checklist again:
-Troughs cleaned and filled: check.
-Hay distributed: check.
-Bunny and Tee secured into a separate paddock with plenty of hay and water: check.
-Fences sturdy and locks functioning properly: check.
-Coffee and cold water ready in case the man showing up wants any: check.
I reach the end of the chain and start to move it through my fingers in the other direction. With my other hand, I tug at the bottom of the plain, gray t-shirt that I settled on when deciding what to wear. I thought plain, gray was calming and not the least bit intimidating for donkeys coming to a place they’ve never been. This must be terrifying for them.
From down the road, I hear the slow, heavy crunching of gravel. Although I can’t see beyond the tree line what or who has turned onto our road, I get the strange feeling that it’s got to be them: the five.
I gather the chain up in my hand and place it on the ground in front of the open gate before adjusting Little Foot’s pack on my back with a bounce which makes him giggle. The gravel crunching is getting closer as I run my fingers through my hair in an attempt to make it presentable.
I’m suddenly very nervous. Are we doing the right thing? Can we really take care of five more donkeys?
I shake my head and pull in a long inhale. In the bottom of my belly, I hold my breath and close my eyes. I imagine the day we adopted Tyrion and how touched I was at the grace in which that organization handled all these animals in search of a forever home. I remember how Jo, the woman who led us around, knew every single donkey, horse and mule and all about their stories. I remember how she’d taken the time to know them and how she was probably sizing us up—wondering if we’d be fit owners for Tee. I remember wanting to do what she did: help save donkeys. And I wanted to do it just like her—thoroughly and with my entire heart. By the time donkeys need fostering, they’ve already been through so much. I wanted to be a peaceful and loving transition for them.
Through a small opening in my mouth, I let out my exhale and open my eyes. From around the tree line, a large, white truck approaches with a low, rumbling diesel engine—a faded green trailer rattling along behind it. It’s them.
As the truck halts in front of the ranch, I jog around the side of the trailer—Little Foot bouncing and giggling in his pack. A tall man with a long, white goatee exits the truck and from behind his sunglasses, he says, “Jess?”
I reply, “Yes,” and smile.
He extends his leathery hand and I extend mine—realizing then that my hand is shaking. When it meets his, I notice too how clammy my hand is in his dry and strong one.
“Pleasure to meet you,” he says, removing his sunglasses. He’s got an old-school, southern drawl that drips slowly out of his mouth like honey which oddly feels like home. Guess it’s the native Texan in me. Whatever it is, his presence emits peace and this is calming for me.
I say, “Likewise,” and relax my shoulders.
He leads me to the trailer and says, “This is them.” I stand on my tip toes and peek in—five sets of furry ears is about all I can see. He continues, “You got a good group here.”
We’re both quiet for a moment. In the distance, cicadas call from the trees and flicking grass bugs hop and buzz on the sides of the gravel road.
I clear my throat and say to him, “Thank you so much for this.”
He smiles and says, “Lead the way,” and climbs back into his truck.
I direct him onto the property as he maneuvers his truck and the large trailer of donkeys flawlessly around behind me. As we reach the paddock in which the five will be staying, I open the gate and motion for him to stop. He steps out of his truck, unlatches the trailer and there they are. The five.
Five donkeys—all smaller than Bunny but bigger than Tee—are staring at me. Their eyes are wide with curiosity and the ears shift around quickly. My heart is pounding so heavily that I barely hear the sound of their hooves against the metal as one-by-one, they gallop out of the trailer and onto our property. We’re both smiling as we watch them gallop away.
After the owner and I talk for a long while about the logistics of fostering, he shakes my hand and leaves me to it.
I’m now standing in the middle of the property. The sun is higher now and pure, white heat. Little Foot is still strapped in his pack on my back only now, he’s not saying anything. Bunny and Tee are quiet and curious in the paddock to my left and the five fosters are curious and exploring in the paddock to my right.
So many long ears. So many flicking tails. So many snorts and exhales and big, searching eyes.
Once more, I pull in a long inhale and hold it. With my eyes closed, I think of Jo back at the humane society. She had a day one, also, right? When I release my breath and open my eyes, every single donkey on my property is looking at me with their ears straight up.
I peek over my shoulder at Little Foot who grins when he sees my eyes and say, “Alright bud. Let’s do this.”