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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Talk to Them

They say that talking to
Plants helps them grow,
That the exchange of
Voice (regardless of tone)
Encourages broader bloom.

I believe the same works
With each other: That
Brighter, bigger, more beautiful
Growth rides the waves
Of our thoughtful voices.

Talk to them. Talk to them all.
Build base for understanding:
For learning, for seeing, for hearing,
And for loving.

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We Were Friends When…

I am re-posting this today for my mom, the most wonderful woman in the world. Happy birthday, mom, I love you so much.

[side note, I recently round the Ziploc baggie in a closet in my new house. 20+ years and the game continues…]

That Ranch Life

There’s a photo on my parent’s refrigerator back home of my mom and me—it’s a selfie of the two of us way before selfies were a thing. My hair was bleach, bright blonde and we both wore a pair of dark brown, oversized sunglasses. We were on our way to Austin for a weekend away, just us. I think about this photo often—it was taken, gosh, 14 years ago? I think of it often because in that photo, my mom and I have the exact, same smile and behind our bug-eyed sunglasses, it’s difficult to even tell us apart (but for the hairstyle) and I love knowing that there is another person out there who’s just like me. Not only that, but that person who’s out there who’s just like me happens to be one of the most important people in the world.

I’m one of the lucky ones: a…

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Just Hello

I’m standing on the back patio, cool wind brushing over my skin. It’s rare to feel an April chill down here in Texas and yet, here I am wishing I’d worn a light jacket. Above me, a green basket hangs with bright, pink impatiens spilling over the edges of it; sprinkles of shedded pedals flickering from the ground beneath it, their delicate folds lifeless now but for the breeze that moves them like little marionettes.

There are no clouds in the sky that I can see, just a perfect, pastel, and unending blue—a blue that looks down with such intimidating purity. I feel tiny.

In front of me, our dog Tucker lies on his side with his eyes half open: he’s sunning himself on this cloudless day. I imagine that beneath his brown fur, his skin is tingling in the sunlight. His breath pulses in and out of his belly, his tongue out but not dripping when Bodhi, our newly adopted baby donkey who was orphaned by his mother, slowly approaches.

Bodhi noses my leg and I pat him on the head before he takes two steps to a sunbathing Tucker. Tucker retracts his tongue into his mouth and rolls back, leaning his weight into Bodhi’s tiny legs. Bodhi lowers his head to Tucker. They must be saying hello, but then there’s a pause. They pause in this greeting, each of them relaxing into one another—they seem to sigh in relief.

I’m overwhelmed by this. I’ve never witnessed a friendship evolve without me being a part of it. It occurs to me that we must rarely see the true intimacy of a friendship unless we are in the mix…and even then, inside of friendships, we often carry with it our expectations, our pasts, our neuroses, our weaknesses, our narcissisms and our insecurities which must put some kind of a filter on what we’re seeing and experiencing. That’s not to say our filters are a bad thing, but I suspect it must be pretty difficult to see friendships and relationships with absolutely no biases. Maybe so. I’m not sure.

I’ve just never been so up close to the birth of a friendship where I’m on the outside looking in. It’s…it’s…well it’s so darn sweet.

I’m rooting for the deepening of this bond between Tucker the terrier mix and Bodhi the orphaned donkey. I want to see what they’ll teach one another. I wonder how they’ll play? I wonder what language is transferring between the two of them as they rest together in the golden sun that sparkles in their relaxed and comforted brown eyes?

It is in our solitude that we invite and rest with those we most trust, although I suppose that means we can no longer call it solitude; togetherness…solitude in our togetherness. Yes. It’s there that I think I like to exist most.

King Ranch and I do this—spend time alone together. He is my best friend, the only person with whom I willingly and eagerly share my solitude. I don’t think I consider how lucky I am for this nearly enough.

Tucker licks Bodhi’s nose and now I can’t handle their sweetness. Their innocence. Their unbiased curiosity. Their pure intentions. Again, I feel tiny, but not in a bad way. I feel dwarfed in presence by their undivided awareness of one another. I may as well not be standing there at all and then it feels like maybe that’s how it’s supposed to be sometimes. Maybe it’s right to fade away and let others bloom in their own way. I’m glad I get to see its beginning.

I think I’ll call King Ranch just to say hello. I don’t really have much more to say than that. Just hello.

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About a Baby

It’s approaching dusk on a most perfectly, Texas spring evening—the kind of evening where in the setting sun, the warm, amber rays soak into your thirsty skin and in the shade, the same skin prickles for a jacket. New, bright green leaves flicker in the trees in a breeze without a direction. I’m sitting on the back patio watching King Ranch play a game of tag—or is it hide-and-seek? I can’t tell—with Little Foot. My curly-headed kid is giggling wildly and in circles around them, our dog Tucker jumps with his tongue dangling from his happy mouth. Behind them with curious eyes and ears, Bunny and Tee watch over the fence, their eyes following the circles in which my kid and his father and his dog dance.

Moments ago, I shuffled the little chicken family into their coop: Wednesday Addams, and her three not-so-little-babies, Harry, Ron, and Hermione, take turns drinking from their water bowl. I’ve discovered as they’ve aged that Harry is actually a female, but I think I’ll keep the name. Ron is most definitely a rooster and he’s just found his crow; the squeaking excitement of pubescent poultry learning the depths of his voice. It’s downright adorable.

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With my right hand, I’m running my fingers through the cotton-candy fluff of the newest addition to our little farm family: Bodhi the orphaned donkey.

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His head rests in my lap with his ears laid back as I draw circles with my fingers on his head which feels so small in my hand: a delicate ornament. Bodhi’s mom rejected him after birth and since finding him abandoned in a windstorm, my most favorite organization, Peaceful Valley Donkey Rescue, and the generous donors that make their mission possible, have cared for him ‘round the clock, ultimately saving his life.

Bodhi noses at my legs, his wide eyes looking straight at mine and I slide down to the ground to wrap my arms around him. He leans his weight into me and his smell is so familiar: the way Little Foot’s nursery used to smell when he still slept in a crib. The way crying onto your mom’s shoulder smells when you’re lost and out of options. The shifting under-current of needing to be held, to be loved, to feel safe, to feel like you’re enough. He smells cozy, like the throw blanket that’s laid over the back of your couch since you were a kid that’s wrapped itself about you, caught your tears, your dreams, your tired body. He smells like home: furry, curious, playful, wonderful home.

Tucker barks and it catches Bodhi’s attention. He snaps his head up, his small ears perked, and then he clumsily trots over to the game of tag or hide-and-seek. King Ranch kneels down with Little Foot to pet him. I’m suddenly overcome with…with…I’m not sure what it is, but my eyes are welling up and my heart is pounding. The innocence of these creatures huddled in an embrace in my backyard overwhelms me. I wonder how I’ve become so lucky to have love like this in my life: to have a family made up of the kindest, most loving beings, both two-legged and four. A family who I didn’t realize wasn’t complete until just now. A family who needs one another so badly, each of us having fallen into just the right role. 

I miss Tink. I miss him like crazy. Y’all might remember that I was unsure if I’d continue this blog of stories once we moved and after the sudden and tragic loss of Tink, I thought for sure I’d pack up this here Donkumentary for good.

But then the flowers began to stretch their petals, reaching up to the sun from their long sleep and as they awoke, Bodhi came home to us. He’s in my care now. My heart is throbbing in my chest as I watch the loves of my life huddle together in front of me—as I see that it’s not only me who fell in love with Bodhi the second I saw him, but my whole family.

It took several, difficult weeks for Little Foot to understand that Tink wasn’t coming back and if I’m being honest, it took me a while, too. It’s not easy explaining death to a three-year old. What King Ranch and I have landed on is explaining that sometimes people and animals go away to a place that we can’t see, but just because they’re gone, it doesn’t mean that we don’t love them or that we must forget them. Little Foot can understand this. He still calls Tink his friend…his friend that went away.

Bodhi doesn’t fill the hole in our hearts. Instead, he has brought with him a whole part of us that we didn’t know existed: a piece of us that we didn’t realize was unfilled until all the sudden there’s this flavor in our days that now we couldn’t imagine living without. Bodhi is like coming up for air after being underwater for too long. He is smelling the pouring rain after a long drought. He is every brand new, green leaf twinkling in the warm wind of spring.

Bodhi is the orphaned donkey whose life was saved because of people who loved him (some without even meeting him!) and wanted to see him have a chance at life. Caring for this little furry-headed ball of perfect innocence is exactly how we should all be treating each other: as if everyone’s life is dangling by a shoestring because it really is. If you lean in close enough, I think there’s something familiar about all of us. Bodhi has brought us hope because his very existence is a result of unconditional, human love. His clumsy trot is proof that we can work together. His soft head in my lap is gratitude for the opportunity to exist in a world together. Bodhi is a reminder that we can all do better. Bodhi is our future. Bodhi is love.

…love. That must have been what I was feeling as I sat on the back patio crying: love so pure and so unconditional and so grateful for everything that’s brought this baby into our lives. Love. I am so deeply in love.

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For more information on PVDR and what they do to save so many donkeys like Tink and Bodhi, please visit their website at http://www.donkeyrescue.org.

 

Rest

You’re tough, my girl,
I’ve seen your fight—
Fire deep in your gut,
Dormant and dark until
SNAP!

Your fury bursts in
Colorful flames, a terrifying
Murder of crows searing high
Into the gray and scattering
Clouds.

But when your strength
Seems lost, my dear, when
The void is all you feel,
Rest your sweet head on
Me,

And I’ll fight until your
Embers catch and crackle
Again and anew. Rest now,
Friend, in your darkness,
Rest.

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Gratitude

It’s been just over a week since we said our last goodbye to our brave boy, Tink. We are all still reeling over the sudden loss of him and for days, I’ve been struggling to find some kind of peace between the choppy waves of mourning.

What is there is gratitude: gratitude for our time with him, for the opportunity to love him unconditionally. There is gratitude for the rescue that saved him in the first place and gave him a second shot at life: Peaceful Valley Donkey Rescue. Because of them, he got fruitful years of life he would have otherwise lost.

PVDR saves donkeys across the U.S. They work tirelessly and endlessly to improve the plight of the American donkey. If you know anything of the challenges donkeys face, you know that they are vast. They are often neglected, abused, abandoned and across the globe, millions of donkeys are farmed, stolen, and captured for their skins to produce ejiao.

If it is in your heart, I ask that you help support PVDR in their mission to save donkeys. Whether that’s donating a few extra dollars (they are a registered 501(c)(3) non-profit) or simply sharing their information, their cause, and spreading awareness to help save donkeys, then more sweet fur babies like Tink will have a shot at life.

Donkeys can’t stand up for themselves in an often cruel and heartless world, but we can can be their voice. We can be their warriors. We can fight for them.

PVDR’s website can be found here: http://donkeyrescue.org

And from the bottom of my broken heart, thank you all for your words, messages, calls, emails, shares, and loving support. It is so, very appreciated. Let’s keep working together to make this world a better place for everyone: two-legged or four or none. We’re all in it together.

Much love,
Jess

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Tink the Bravest Donkey

It is with a heavy and broken heart to report that our dear, sweet boy, Tink, was laid to eternal rest over the weekend. We had a sudden complication with his special foot and after the emergency vet arrived and worked with us to do everything we could, we had to say goodbye. Our family is devastated by this sudden loss and I’m so sad to have to share this news. Many of you were such loving advocates and supporters of sweet Tink and for that, we are all so grateful. I’d written this poem some time last year for him and decided to share it with all of you today in memoriam. He lives on eternally in our hearts. Forever our boy, Tink. Forever our bravest boy.

Begin Again

Even among 1,000 other donkeys, you stood out:
Your coat, a shining, chocolate brown and
Your ears icinged with textured, creamy white.

You laid lazily in the sand, soft rolls of your
Skin rumpled up around your shoulders and chin
And there, against the piped fence, you were

Embodied peace.

Thin, white lines circled your miles-deep eyes
And I could swear that the sky looked a little
Different around you—tugged by gravity, perhaps.

An equine equivalent to a black hole on Earth,
Your presence pulled my gaze, attention,
And beating heart into the shifting spaces about you.

Much later on in the day, I passed your paddock again
But this time you stood with one, front hoof lifted
And to a feeder of hay, you limped.

“What happened to him?” I asked your temporary caretaker (an angel)
And she said that you, Tink, had been permanently injured and that,
Could you believe it, the injury was caused by human neglect.

They had rescued you.

Your front, left hoof had been removed and left behind
Was exposed tissue—pink, soft, and unprotected.
She said you still needed a home and that they

Were waiting for the perfect home to come around
And like a drop of water on a frying pan, I jumped and said
I’d take you. I didn’t even think, not even for a second.

I’d take you.

Weeks later, you arrived at my house—three hooves
And two boots and all the pulling
Presence you had back at the thousand-donkey ranch.

I don’t know if you remembered me that day,
But when you hopped off that trailer,
You brayed so loud that the birds flew.

I laughed and there were some tears I think
But I was so happy that my home was
Yours now, too.  My magic ranch with chickens

Who tell stories and gardens that reveal
Worlds beneath the dirt. My home was yours
Now too, with Bunny the donkey who thinks

She’s a human mom to me and to us all and
Tee the mini donkey who is content with good hay, good scratches
And good songs with acoustic guitars.

My home was yours now, too, with King Ranch
Who can fix anything that breaks (you, included!) and Little Foot
Who will follow you and learn from you and befriend you.

You were home and that night, when I brushed
Your chocolate, brown coat under the baffled
Stars with Bunny and Tee watching curiously,

This magic ranch felt even more like home
Because you’d finally arrived. You with your
Two, interchangeable boots, had finally arrived.

Not much time passed before you and Tee
Became inseparable—a double tail behind
Bunny who bossed you two around which

Is exactly how I assumed it would be. She’s
A mom at heart, even without her own, born children
And it’s her that’s kept all of us grounded all this time.

My home was yours now, too, with concrete
Blocks marking the graves of fallen birds and
Gates that squeal with time. Rose petals

Sprinkle the lawns all spring and summer long
And in the fall, they’re replaced with millions
Of pecans that crunch satisfyingly beneath your steps.

We’d been waiting for you, you know, which is
Why I think the world pulled me to you that day—
That day I saw you laying there without knowing

Who you were.

It’s been since you arrived that King Ranch and I
Have finally started to make sense of this
Ranch life. This strange place that we moved to

Impulsively, unknowing of the stories waiting to be told.
We’ve cried and we’ve fought and we’ve lost
Sleep over our confusion here but more importantly,

We’ve now found hope. Hope that,
Even though there are people in this world who
Can so profoundly mistreat animals and stand to see their own faces

In a mirror, there’s hope. Even though there are wars
Shedding blood and life in distant lands, there is hope. There are those
Who say that the world will end within our children’s

Lifetime but nevertheless, there’s hope. There’s hope because
You’re alive. By all accounts, you shouldn’t be here
And anyone else would’ve put you down to

Put you out of your misery but guess what
I’ve found? You’re not miserable and in fact, you’re
The happiest, most energetic, most magical

Donkey that’s ever lived.

You defy odds. You defy stereotypes. You defy
All of nature simply by being who you are. You’ve
Brought people together who would’ve otherwise

Never met. You are the story that others need
To hear—the donkey with three hooves whose
Louder and more vibrant than all the other donkeys.

You’re the donkey who cannot be kept down. The donkey who
Manipulates the sky and the stars simply because
He is. The donkey who finally came home and with him,

Brought hope.

We don’t have all the answers and no surprise but,
We never will. We can’t change our pasts, nor
Should we worry about tomorrow. We breathe, moment

By precious moment and you, Tink, my three-hooved
Donkey…you remind us to do this. You remind us that we
Are not limited by our shortcomings but can rather be

Made stronger by them. That we should embrace
About ourselves all of ourselves regardless of the
Stigma or stereotype or strangeness—that simply

By being alive, we are strong.

Tink, my sweet, three-hooved donkey, you remind
Us all to be present—to leave our pasts and our futures
Exactly where they are and stretch out every

Interim second to its fullest size. To breathe in
The air of the now, and to bray and sing and shout
Because life’s just too short to disappear into darkness.

This world can be so unfair. People can be so cruel, so wicked,
So centered around their selfishness that they have no
Idea how their actions affect those around them.

They forget or perhaps they never realized that
All breath pulls from the same sky, pulls from the same trees
And there, we are one.

Inhale, exhale, peace, peace, peace.

But on we go, my dear Tink, on we go dancing and braying
And pouring our molten love and pillowy peace into everything
Around us because at the end of it all, it’s all we can do.

It’s all we should do—love one another, three hooves or four or none—
Love each other so deeply and breathe in the moments so deeply
And be so deeply grateful for life blooming wildly and free around us.

This is our beginning, my friends. This moment. This
Line in a poem, this is our beginning. Breathe in—feel that?
That’s a new beginning, too.

Exhale, begin again. Inhale, begin again. Sing, dance,
Weep, fly, bray, sleep, whatever—begin again.
Be like Tink, the bravest donkey, and breathe.

Inhale, exhale, peace, peace, peace.

Begin again.

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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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