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

Greetings all,

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

You can view the video here: CNN Hero Mark Meyers

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

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(photo by Mark Meyers)

 

Scatterbrained Showers

Finally, my favorite days. I’ve written about them before: the days where it’s warm in the sun and cool in the shade. On and off I take my flannel shirt as I move across the yard beneath spotted shadows of spring-heavy trees. The ground went from washed out to tangled jungle in a mere handful of days, so I’m tending to her with my myriad of second-hand tools that clink and clank with rusted age. Yard work is my favorite work, especially on temperately blissful days like this one. Like the eager plants around me, I could swear every cell in my body is reaching for the sun.

Bodhi and Tee are playing donkey games in the yard while Bunny stands at the fence  grooming the neighbor’s horse with her teeth. Around my legs, Ron Swanson the Rooster and Trixie the dog chase each other endlessly. This unlikely friendship is one that even the grumpiest of curmudgeons can’t help but smile about. I post about them often on my Instagram, if you’re a ‘grammer.



My last post was a dreary one in which I swore the storms were never going to end. It’s difficult to feel optimistic when the ground is continually washed away along with any real hope for stability and growth while the world around is a blur of colors that you can’t see through clearly even though you want to so badly. And indeed there is more rain in the forecast in the coming week.

But as I stand outside among my funny family of seemingly sunshine-drunk animals and leaves that are practically unfolding before my eyes, I’m reminded that all of this is just an infinite series of small moments. One after another they come, an endless film strip that moves so quickly sometimes, it’s hard to tell what you’re looking at until it’s passed—images already fading softly in your memory.

The sun has dropped behind the trees now with only small bits of light shining through the holes between the leaves as a chill crawls along my arms. I untie the flannel shirt from around my waist and head towards the barn where the donkeys bray because sunset means dinner time and they know I’ll be there with their hay. I always will. I suppose those routines are roots in their own way.

As light slips down the barn walls, I take pause with my donkeys, stretching the fleeting moment as long as I can because with them, I am present. I am here. I am rooted so firmly that no amount of scatterbrained showers can wash me away. Day after day, the donkeys remind me of this. They hold down my kite string when the wind turns wild.

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Like pulling eggs delicately from the chicken coop, I think the best we can do sometimes is pick up one moment at a time as they come, examine them, and tuck them carefully into our apron. Some of the eggs might be bad—it happens—but typically, as long as you’re handling them the right way, they’re going to be just fine.

Just a Little Minute

It’s an early, spring morning where dew is dripping down in little “pit-pats” from the brand new leaves sprouting in these heavy, East Texas woods. I’m in the barn placing hay in the hay feeders as Bunny and Bodhi push and shove each other to get the first bite…but where’s Tee? My third, littlest mini donkey is usually right in the middle of the scuffle for breakfast.

I step out of the stall to find him on the far end of the pen looking out into the pasture with his eyes and ears on high alert. Wiping the hay from my sleeves, I walk over to him and squat down. He doesn’t move his gaze.

“Whatcha lookin’ at, bud?” I say as if he’ll answer. I follow his line of vision, but see nothing out in the pasture. From inside the barn, I hear hay crunching and am surprised that Tee hasn’t gone in there yet. What does he see?

I scratch behind his ears asking him again, “What is it, bud?” and for a moment, he lowers his ears but then immediately, they shoot back up like he hears something. I stand and squint, but there ain’t nothing out there so far as I can tell. Unless there’s something in the woods beyond the field?

“Come on,” I say to Tee, motioning to the barn and taking a few steps back, “ let’s go eat bud.” I click the back of my tongue. He looks back at me, but won’t move.

Then I start to worry.

“Okay, bud,” I say and get behind him to shuffle him towards the barn, but he doesn’t want to move. “Let’s go eat. Eat? You wanna eat?” (the donkey’s know what the word “eat” means.)

Geeze almighty, is he sick? I take a look around. Having not yet mucked the stalls, I look to see if there are more or less droppings than usual. Nope, all looks normal. I place my ear against his belly listening for sounds. Yup, regular sounds.  I lift his lip to check his teeth and gums. They’re good. I even pick up his feet to see if they’re tender. They’re fine.

My heart is pounding now because it’s just not like him to not eat. He loves hay time. Of all my donkeys, Tee loves hay time the most!

He’s standing there now staring at me with wide eyes and pointed ears. “Come over here, bud,” I say, squatting down and opening my arms. He doesn’t move. He just watches. He must know I’m panicking. The only reason I can think he won’t eat is because he’s sick.

Oh no. Should I call the vet? I should call the vet. Right? This just isn’t like him and I swear, I see nothing out there. Even if there is something, nothing’s ever kept him from being my most eager donkey when it comes to hay time. I start to walk back into the barn where I left my cell phone on a shelf so I can call my vet when Tee snaps his gaze back out toward the field.

I pause and turn my gaze too and from behind a tree, a small rabbit darts through the grass and disappears into the woods.

Tee holds his gaze for only a moment longer and then lowering his ears, quickly trots past me and into the barn. He nudges Bodhi to the side to share from his feeder and then just like every morning, there are three, little crunching donkeys standing in a row.

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I let out a long exhale and shake my head. Lord. A dadgum rabbit. I grab my shovel to start mucking, the dew pitter-patting all around as the sun continues to rise on this early, spring morning.

I suppose sometimes it’s all about taking just a few, quiet minutes to be still and let that thing which alerts and worries us to feel safe enough to come out of hiding only to find out that maybe it wasn’t that scary in the first place. Maybe just because we don’t see it right away, doesn’t mean we should jump to the worst, possible scenario. It’s probably just a dang, ole rabbit hiding the grass who’s far more scared of you than you are of it.

Also, I need to get out there and mow…spring has sprung, indeed.

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Mini Tee & Me

 

A Big Thing: Read Across America Day

As a writer and an anxious person, I spend a lot of time dissecting small stuff. I live for small stuff. Tiny moments. Little pieces of much bigger things. I want to see and understand every single brick because otherwise, the house won’t make sense to me. This can be annoying to others because I’ll get hung up on facial expressions or word choices, refusing to skim over the details when trying to get to the bigger picture. It’s why I obsess over things and find myself in the wee hours of the morning, staring out into the darkness with snippets from my past playing on repeat in my mind which have been mulled over to the point of non-recognition.

Because of my obsession with the small, when big things happen, I’m often rendered speechless until the bottom feeders of my anxious mind have had a chance to devour the meat off the bones of the big thing, ultimately breaking it down into something small enough to wrap my head around. It’s why I wait so long to publish posts on my blog after big things have happened. So many of my posts have said things like “I’ve been trying to write for days about [insert event here] but just haven’t been able to find the words” or other, similar statements.

For days now, I’ve been like a snake with the shape of an egg in my throat: full, unable to speak, and so unbelievably happy because last week, a really big thing happened. It’ll likely be months before I unpack all the perfect, little details of that day, but I can’t wait that long to share and to thank the people responsible for making it happen.

Last week, I was invited to read my recently released children’s book to the students of McDougle Elementary School for “Read Across America Day” and I’m not exaggerating when I say it was one of the best days of my life.

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This was the first opportunity I’ve had to read my story to anyone other than my own kid and the few people who helped me out during the editing process and so of course, I was nervous. I wondered if the children would receive it. Would it be meaningful to them? Would they get the message? Would they even care enough about donkeys to pay attention?

Yes. Yes to all of it.

I’ve since been told that many McDougle students went back to their classrooms and drew pictures of donkeys. I’m told several students have said they want to rescue donkeys when they grow up. I’m told that students have come back to check out books about donkeys in the school’s library.

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I was able to do three performances for children ages 6 – 10. Before reading the story, I’d prepared a short slideshow with cute pictures and videos of donkeys and the real Tink. I wanted to share some of the really cool things about donkeys that most people don’t know before diving into the story. They loved it. After each performance, McDougle’s amazing librarian, Ms. Julie Zachary, came up to ask the students what they thought the message of “Tink the Bravest Donkey” was. They’ve been talking a lot as a school lately about themes in books and it never failed that when she asked the question, a student would raise their hand and say the book was “about being nice to others.” That it was about how “we shouldn’t bully others because they’re different.” Another said it was about “being brave” and another, that it was “about donkeys.”

Yes. Yes. YES. YES!!!

Y’all. I mean. Golly. Where are the words? I don’t have the words. It’s just too big right now.

Thank you so much to McDougle Elementary School for having me out to read to your amazing students. What wonderful kiddos. They were so engaged, so sweet, and so thoughtful. Special thank you to Ms. Julie Zachary, the school librarian, for putting together the whole thing and to Catherine Chance for making the connection.

I’m sure I’ll come back to this once I’ve had the chance to digest it a bit more. There will, no doubt, be many mornings of sipping coffee at dawn while pulling apart the fabric of every detail of this most amazing day and in those fibers will be small, magical discoveries. But for now, I am just so thankful. I am so excited. I am so touched. And I am so happy.

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I really hope to have the opportunity to share my story and the love of donkeys with other schools because empathy for animals and others begins with our children! If you or someone you know would be interested in having me come read at your school, please feel free to send me an email at adonkumentary@gmail.com

Interested in purchasing a copy of “Tink the Bravest Donkey” in which 100% of the proceeds are going to save more donkeys like Tink? Get your copy here!: http://www.donkeyrescue.com/books.html

Grateful to Guest Blog!

I want to extend a very special thank you to our friends at Donkey Time for allowing me to write a guest blog on their beautiful site! Since my children’s book, “Tink the Bravest Donkey,” went on sale, I’ve been asked how this story came to be. Check out the backstory on my book and learn all about how indeed, the real-life Tink was and will always be the bravest donkey.

That story here: Tink: the little donkey who dared to be different

And if like me, you’re an advocate of donkeys, give Donkey Time a follow! Their site is packed full of donkey resources and stories from around the globe!

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Forever our boy, Tink.

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/

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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