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.

‘Twas a Night on the Ranch…

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 quite large.

There were six furry ears, so long and alert,
And three distinct tracks being left in the dirt.
More rapid than eagles, those donkeys did dash,
I shivered and shook, anticipating a crash.

“Now, Bunny! Now, Tee! Now, Tink with your boot!”
Yet still they all galloped, my shouts became moot.
To myself did they run, blowing air that was warm,
I found myself suddenly, in a braying donk swarm.

“What are you donks doing?” I asked with a sigh,
While they snorted and shuffled beneath a cloudy, black sky.
So back to the shelter, I led them and sang,
And smiled quite naturally with my silly-ass gang.

Just then, in a twinkling, from the corner of my eye,
I saw the clouds splitting up, revealing a glittering sky.
As I drew in my breath, and peered far overhead,
Two stars flew by fast, then away they fled.

I grinned and I think perhaps tears stung my eyes.
The clouds had just parted, showing magic in its skies.
I leaned on the wall of the shed with my friends
In awe because (weirdly) my spirit felt cleansed.

Those stars—how they twinkled! Their trails so merry!
How cool that stars fell right above this cold prairie!
Into the shed I walked, the donkeys on my tail,
I decided I’d sit in what was left of a bale.

Tee came in close then Bunny, then Tink.
With all these sweet donks, it was warmer than you think.
Beneath me the hay sank down with a squish.
“Holy crap,” I thought, “I forgot to make a wish!”

I pinched my eyes shut and I thought really hard,
What should I wish for out in this barnyard?
I thought and I thought when an idea I did clutch
A wish that I wished and wanted so much:

“Shooting stars, if you’re out there, please listen to me.
As I sit in this barn with my sweet donkeys, three.
This world needs more love and more peace and more joy,
More than any mass-produced, silly ole’ toy.

Please bestow upon us, vast oneness and love,
Little specs of healing light that can fall from above.
Please bring us together, from all distant lands
And like Whos in Whoville, we’ll sing and hold hands.”

I opened my eyes and the donks snuggled in.
For some time in the hay, I sat with a grin.
They must have known the stars would be shooting
Thus explained their loud braying and hooting.

I finally stood and headed back to the house,
My steps careful and quiet, like a little field mouse.
King Ranch was asleep, as was my Little Foot kid,
So after removing my gear, into my bed, I slid.

Outside it was quiet, the critters cozy and warm,
As I took several breaths to calm my mind from the swarm.
Still I thought of the stars; the brilliance of their sight,
May you all be at peace and feel loved on this night.

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Cold Coffee and Gray Skies: A Morning Meditation on Togetherness

I relaxed my back against the coolness of the wrought-iron chair in which I’d been sitting and leaning forward for the past half-hour while pulling my smudged glasses from my face. On the desk in front of me, I closed the large, three-ring binder that is packed full of printouts of guided meditations that I use in my yoga classes from time to time. I moved it to the floor and picked up my cup of coffee that no longer steamed.

The sun was only barely beginning to rise outside the small window to my left. It was a gray sunrise behind heavily hanging, weather-changing clouds that are bringing a cold-front our way. Bowie, our youngest rooster, crowed twice. I know his crow from the others—it’s softer and shorter. It’s not very confident compared to the others. I suppose he’s still trying to find his voice.

Also on my desk was our county’s newspaper that gets delivered to us weekly by mail, folded into quarters and the side that faced up had two advertisements on it. The first had a headline that read, “Choose to Change Lives” and the second, a headline that read, “Every Abused or Neglected Child Needs a Caring, Consistent Adult to Advocate for His or Her Well-Being.” I sipped my cool coffee.

The night before this, I’d gone out to remove our newest donkey, Tink’s, prosthetic boot and wrapped gauze. His wound is healing, but still needs time to air out at night when he’s less active. Oxygen, indeed, is the greatest healer. After I removed his boot and unwrapped the gauze, I sat down in the dirt next to him and rubbed his wounded leg. I pressed my thumbs firmly around his joints and ran my fingers up and down the muscles between them. When I do this, he softens his eyes and lowers his head: a signal to me that it feels pleasant. Oddly enough, that’s what my guided meditation was about this morning: equanimity between pleasantness, unpleasantness and neutrality. It spoke to the fact that we often cling to pleasantness, condemn unpleasantness, and space-out during neutrality and in that, we miss out. We let moments pass us by. We live based on experience and not based on the present.

Donkeys do this, too, I think. They can often seem to cling to experience to protect themselves.

The wind whipped around the sides of the shed last night as I sat, massaging TInk’s leg. I could see the black clouds unfolding and collapsing as my two remaining adoptable donkeys, Fireball and Fluff, cautiously wandered into the shed, their heads low. These two donkeys are very shy and although I have no concrete information, I get the sense there’s pain in their respective backgrounds. I continued to massage Tink’s swollen leg, humming my favorite James Taylor song (Close Your Eyes) when Fluff took two more steps closer to me. I continued to softly sing and he took one more step to where now, he could reach my face with his nose.

I turned my nose to his and he exhaled twice. So did I.

Behind him, Fireball stood timidly and with his eyes wide. Fluff took two more steps towards me, his neck and head above me now, and rested his chin on the top of my head. Under the pressure, I continued to hum.

Tink lowered his leg and leaned his weight into my side and I started to struggle beneath the weight of both Fluff and Tink but I didn’t want to move. I didn’t want them to snap back into experience. I wanted, so badly, for them to be in this moment with me experiencing trust.

Being at the bottom of a two-donkey pile, I hadn’t noticed that somewhere during this time, Fireball was no longer in my line of sight when suddenly, from behind me, I felt an exhale rush past my ear. I exhaled, too and he didn’t run away. Baby steps.

I placed my cool cup of coffee back down on the desk and looked at the headlines of our county newspaper again. I wondered what other people thought when they saw these headlines about changing lives and advocating for abused of neglected children. I wondered at all why someone would ever abuse or neglect a child. I began to feel very upset, thinking even of my own Little Foot and how I could never, ever imagine hurting him and as I did this, I pushed the newspaper away and looked back out the window.

But in that moment, I condemned and pushed away unpleasantness, just like the meditation said and I got to wondering, how different would our world be if instead of running away from the bad, we all worked together to “Choose to Change Lives”? To, instead of moving based on our experiences, moved in the present? Together?

I’ll admit, I don’t always trust or know what I believe. I simply think too much. But what I do know is that we all belong to one another—human and animal alike. It is our responsibility to care deeply for one another—to not push away the unpleasantness because we’re scared but to instead, pick each other up even when it hurts or the pressure is too high. It’s our responsibility to not turn a blind eye because we don’t like it or to space out because we don’t get it. We need each other. All of us.

All of this easier said than done, of course. But I think it’s worth trying…especially if it means that someone might feel safer or more loved.

The sun was up now, although the light trickling in was cool and gray. The few, remaining leaves in the trees twinkled in the wind and once more, Bowie crowed. I’d be heading out soon to re-wrap Tink’s little hoof and put his boot on and I’d probably brush him and the other two donkeys if they’d let me. I would go to the other paddock and spend time with Bunny and Tee who need to be reminded that I love them unconditionally, too. I’d come in after that and make breakfast for Little Foot and hold him in my lap while he drinks his milk. We’d probably read a book, too. I’d call King Ranch to tell him I love him and that I hope he has a good day at work and then I’d probably call my mom just to see how she’s doing.

We belong to each other. All of us, big and small, rich and poor, strong and weak. We can choose to change lives. We can advocate for one another. We should.

Fluff and fireball

Seven New Donkeys Under A Star-Speckled Sky

From the floor in the cob webby, cadaverous corner of my closet, I retrieved my thickest jacket—a cream colored hoodie with peach and green zigzags stretched horizontally across it. I bought it for $1.50 at an estate sale a few towns over last year because having lived in Houston my entire life until our move to the ranch, thick jackets were none of my concern. It was a late November day that hovered in the low 70’s and was dipping down to the high 30’s by early nightfall. As I cranked up the heater inside my house, I realized that there was a good chance that my new shipment of adoptable donkeys that had only arrived yesterday may not realize that the shelter I have erected on my property was there for them to keep dry and warm. After checking the sleeves of my hoodie for spiders, I slipped it on along with my work boots and headed outside.

It was one of those nights where it was hard to believe that the air was chilly—the sky was a blanket of stars without a smudge of a cloud and as far as I could tell, there was no breeze. Maybe it’s because I’m from the south, but I just don’t expect still, clear nights to be so, damn cold…I expect wind and clouds to be involved at least a bit. 

I unlatched and unlocked the first gate that leads into the pasture and the metallic clang of the chain against the post sent seven sets of ears straight up into the sky. At the time, they were all in a circle around the large, approximately 500LB bail of hay I’d gotten for them and by the time I made it through the gate, two of those sets of ears were right next to me, nosing at my jeans and exhaling quickly.

One by one, they approached me except for Tink who stayed back at the hay…more on him later.

I clicked from the back of my teeth and said, “Come on, kiddos,” as I walked towards their shelter. To my surprise, they all followed, fighting to be the closest to my backside. I was surprised because until this point, all of these new adoptable donkeys had been pretty standoffish towards me which I understood. They’ve been through so much and now they’re at this place with this weird woman who talks to them in a high-pitched voice and even sings to them. (Yes, I sing to them…earlier, I tried to win over their affections with carrots and to the tune of ‘I’m a little tea pot’ I sang, ‘Here’s a little carrot just for you, Take it and you munch it and you crunch it through and through.’)

We made it to the shelter and they stood around me expectantly. I wondered then if I should have brought them a treat. Instead, I leaned on the back wall of the shelter and peered out at the clear sky. A plane passed by with red and blue blinking lights as snorts and exhales filled the shelter with warmth. I found that I was actually quite warm now, myself. Noses took turns pressing into my arms and furry ears took turns brushing my cheeks and chin.

Donkeys in the dark are far more mysterious than they are in daylight. You can’t see where they’re looking or how tightly they’re holding the muscles around their eyes (which is a way I’ve learned to tell the mood of my own donkeys). Donkeys in the dark force a letting go of control and instead, you allow yourself to exist in the void of our connected consciousnesses. It’s trusting that they sense your intentions and learning to trust theirs, too.

I am no expert at donkey adoption. This is only my second batch of adoptable donkeys and I was just as nervous in receiving them this time as I was the last. I obsessively check the gates to ensure they’re latched and locked. Any bray that echoes during the day or night sends me out in the pasture to ensure all is okay. I’m overprotective and strict towards potential applicants who are interested in adopting because these donkeys have been through enough whether it be neglect, abuse, or even having been surrendered by someone they trusted. Change is a lot for an anxious mind and donkeys are quite anxious, naturally. Wherever they end up permanently needs to be a home of patience and of love and of borderline neurotic obsession because I guess I don’t think it’s all that strange to spend a good portion of the night outside with your new donkeys so that they know their shelter is safe and warm. It’s also not weird to sing to them—I’ve found they actually quite like it and they don’t care if you’re in tune or not.

I stayed in the shelter with them for some time watching the stars twinkle against a deeply bruised sky when finally, Tink joined us.

Tink will not be adopted out. Instead, I am adopting him. He is a mini donkey who was severely injured to the point where his front, left leg is no longer functioning. The left front hoof will never grow in properly and he wears a boot to protect the exposed leg. He is special needs and certainly will be extra work for me but I am so grateful to have him. He’s one of the most beautiful donkeys I’ve ever laid eyes on and never has a donkey (or anyone / anything other than my own kid) been so quick to lean his weight so trustingly into me.

Tink the mini donkey

I welcomed him into the shelter and knelt beside him, a hand on his back. I told him that I will take care of him—that I will do everything in my power to never let any harm come to him. I know he doesn’t understand my words, but I hope he feels my sincerity. Scratch that, I know he feels it. That’s what donkeys do. 

Bunny and Tee still aren’t sure of all of this, but like last time, they’ll adjust soon enough. Donkeys speak one language and that is love, no doubt. They sense it. They feel it. They validate its authenticity and will let you know if they sense bull shit. I often wish that us humans could be a little more like them.

After some time, I headed back to the house, exhaling fog. As I secured the last lock, Tink started to bray and boy does he have a loud bray. This made Bunny and then Tee and then all the rest of the donkeys from their shelter erupt into a crescendo of hee-haws beneath the clear, crisp sky. I smiled and walked inside.

Donkeys in the dark

 

 

 

A Whirlpool Around the Block: When Navigation Fails and Feelings Take the Wheel

This morning, I am writing because I’m looking for something.

Over and over within the past week, I’ve sat down in the squeaky, blue recliner in my living room, opened my laptop, and stared at a blank document on the computer screen. I would start to type and after a line or two, I’d hold down the backspace button until I returned to an empty page and lonely, blinking cursor. I’m searching for understanding….understanding in my own feelings and in the world around me because honestly, I’m just bloody confused.

It’s like the time I circled the same two blocks of downtown Houston 8,000 times looking for an unnamed, upstairs warehouse where I was having a photoshoot done by my dear friend, Jessica. I had secretly booked a boudoir session  with her where a team of experts would style my hair and professionally apply makeup and I couldn’t wait for the opportunity to get out of my comfort zone and explore the beauty and strength of my own femininity. Google maps barked at me through the speaker in my car telling me to turn right and your destination is on the left. I’d turn right and there was nothing to my left. I’d turn again and Google maps repeated that my destination was on the left.

I hadn’t the nerve to call my photographer because I knew that there were other ladies in there having similar photoshoots done and I didn’t want to disturb, be an inconvenience, or admit that I was just that bad at navigating. Houston, afterall, is my hometown and I felt silly for being so lost. I circled and circled and finally pulled off to the side of the road, retrieved my phone and drafted a text message to Jessica:

“I’m so sorry I can’t make it, something has come up. I hope we can reschedule.”

My thumb hovered over ‘send’ as tears of frustration started to flow down my cheeks which even further upset me because when I cry, I blotch and puff and snot all over. I was frustrated from the circling and the anticipation of being a big let down…to Jessica the photographer and to myself. I realized, in that moment of hesitation, that the guilt for backing out of the shoot last minute would be too much guilt for me to handle, so I deleted the text message and began to drive around again. After another several, loopy minutes, I finally found the small, wooden door tucked between two offices that would lead me upstairs to the warehouse and on to my photoshoot. Praise the almighty, I’d found it.

This week has been a circle around the same two blocks dozens of times where I’ve been tempted to just give up.

Between finding a perfect forever home for Simon and Beans (my last two remaining foster donkeys for whom I was *this close* to deciding to adopt myself), the screaming and angry election cycle that has just taken place here in the US, my anxieties over what Little Foot’s future looks like in a divided and scary world, and the cosmic shifts that I suspect we’re all feeling caused by that big ole’ supermoon…I feel ready to send that cop-out text that I’m done. Peace. Too many questions. Too many feels. It’s too loud and too fast and I swear to God if Google maps doesn’t quit telling me that my destination is on the left when there is nothing FREAKING there I am going to lose my sh*t.

And that’s just my own mind’s labyrinth: my own mind with it’s own, unique experiences, ignorances, sensitivities and expectations. I can barely hear beyond my own echo chamber of self-perpetuated fears over feelings I don’t understand how to handle to even know how to begin to relate to anyone else. I default to “be kind and be gentle” but even there, I feel slightly off the mark…like I’m missing something. I feel like I’m across the street looking in the wrong place for that photoshoot that I’ve been so excited to do because I’d feel pretty and confident and have on really cool makeup and false eye lashes and I just don’t ever get the chance to do that. So I don’t want to miss my destination but I am so exhausted in this never-ending not-so-lazy river where Jesus did that guy floating in the tube in front of me just piss in the water? Is this what it’s come down to?

I miss Simon and Beans  so much but I’m so pleased with the home they’ve found. My goodness, I don’t know that I’ve ever met a couple who was so kind and emitted love so profoundly simply in their being. They felt oddly like family to me after only briefly meeting with them and is it weird that I miss them, too? What is that? I hardly know them and I want to have them over for drinks.

Maybe it’s because they’ve taken in two creatures that I care so deeply for and for whom I’m fiercely protective. My mom told me yesterday that in a strangely, mild way, she thinks that feeling is what it felt like to her when her children got married….that these babies that she loves more than words can say have now been entrusted to the emotional care of someone else. That’s difficult. Letting go (in any sense) is never easy, I suppose.

When I returned home from delivering Simon and Beans, my ranch seemed so quiet. Bunny and Tee were confused. The pasture was a space of ghostly memories resetting itself into a space of anticipation because in only two short weeks, we’re getting seven new adoptable donkeys. Seven more little souls that I will protect with all my being until I find someone trustworthy and filled with visible loving-kindness who can take those reigns like the couple who just took Simon and Beans. The circle of foster-life. 

I’m slightly envious of the donkeys complete naiveté to what’s happening in the world right now. Despite the tectonically quaking plates of opposing sides and anger in our country, donkeys still need snuggling and are eager to share their affections if you let them. They still need saving and greener pastures and I just want to shift all of my free-time focus on that. But at the same time, I want to understand how to sort through all of these feelings of my own so that I can even attempt to understand the feelings of others because there’s nothing worse than feeling alone and misunderstood. I can’t quite seem to find that wooden door and until I do, I think I’ll just be frustrated and on the edge of deciding to not care. But I know myself well enough to know that if I throw in the towel, the guilt will be too much to handle and indeed, I’ll hate myself for it.

So on I’ll circle. The things I do know are as follows:

Peace is created within.
Other people’s happiness is not my responsibility.
We are all one.
Kindness is way cooler than bullying.
It takes work to understand one another and I think that’s an enjoyable effort because we’re stronger when we’re together.

I’m going to continue circling this block until I find that warehouse…puffy, red eyes and all. In the meantime, here’s me kissing a little ass.

Mini donkey kiss

Sometimes it Rains. Sometimes Donkeys Roll in the Mud. And Sometimes, You Just Gotta Look Up.

Finally there’s a storm pushing through. The rain is falling in violent sheets as the trees flail chaotically in the directionless wind. A dark noon here at the ranch and I couldn’t be more grateful that the weather outside is finally matching the pandemonium that has been the last several weeks in my life. Sunshine has only more brightly exposed my recent, sour mood and made me a bit bitter.

Everything is okay, but for weeks, King Ranch and I have had one unexpected event occur after another, most of which have come with a very high price tag: scary medical procedures with burdensome bills, car troubles that they don’t make helpful DIY YouTube videos for, and travel for family events with unprecedented traffic jams and uncontrollable barfing out of the passenger side door, to name a few. Trickle in with that, the suffocating and raging behemoth that is the US 2016 election that is making everybody completely crazy and the lingering summertime heat and humidity that is bizarre even for native Texans and….well….it’s just been kind of crappy.

Behind the dancing trees, the midday sky is slate gray, swirling and seemingly uncertain about which direction the storm will travel next or how severe it may become. Still, the sky stands strong. The sky doesn’t need sunshine or rainbows to do its job or to feel validated or able. The sky’s the sky…rain, shine, tidalwave, whatever.

Later, I’ll need to brush caked-up mud from the donkey’s coats because that’s what they love most about storms: rolling in muddy puddles as soon as it’s passed. I’m especially looking forward to giving Simon and Beans (my last two remaining foster donkeys) a thorough brush (and taking the time to memorize the patterns of their coats and the depth of their eyes) because it would seem that they have finally found their forever home. Over the weekend, a couple from a town about 45 minutes away came to the ranch to meet Simon and Beans to see if they’d be a good fit for their family and from first encounter, it was clear that in fact, it would be a perfect match. The couple were tickled pink by the donkeys and both Simon and Beans were curious, affectionate, and eager to get close to them. Although there are details to finalize, it would seem I will be saying goodbye to those two very soon. It’ll be that bittersweet symphony whereby I’m thrilled to see them placed in a loving home, but will be heartbroken to say goodbye. 

Outside, the wind has slowed and the rain is falling straight down in large splats. Perhaps the storm will be ending soon. That stealthy, slate sky…from her, I should be taking some lessons in patience, presence and perseverance. Sometimes storms are precisely what we need to sprout more fully. And certainly, this storm will leave us all cleansed and ready for anew.

For now, I’ll go stick my basil plant and my newly sprouting pumpkin plant out in the yard to take advantage of this natural hydration. And maybe I’ll take a nap with the window cracked.

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The Land of 1,000 Donkeys: A Weekend at the Peaceful Valley Donkey Rescue Headquarters

I was in the second of two white vans that slowed to a gravel-crunching stop outside the visitor’s center at the Peaceful Valley Donkey Rescue’s headquarters in San Angelo, Texas. As the dust settled, I waited my turn to exit the van, crouched and clutching my satchel to my stomach. My heart pounded wildly in my chest as my boots hit the dry ground and the spicy scent of livestock surrounded me. Beneath the shining Texas sun beating down through a cloudless sky, I breathed in the dry, sandy air and followed the crowd away from the vans.

The group with whom I was travelling consisted of other managers and volunteers of Peaceful Valley’s satellite adoption centers around the country and members of the PVDR Board of Trustees. We had all come to San Angelo for the 2016 Peaceful Valley Donkey Rescue Symposium and for me, I was meeting absolutely everyone (but for the owner of the whole operation, Mark Meyers) for the very first time.

For the vast majority of us, this was our first visit to San Angelo’s headquarters and even if I hadn’t already discussed this with the others, I’d have guessed by the way they stood in awe like I did upon arrival. Literally, as far as one could see, were pens of hundreds of donkeys. From every direction, brays of varying pitches and depths echoed—the songs of the saved. After several minutes of dropped jaws and goofy grins, we (the crowd) shuffled into the visitors center to begin the business of the symposium. It would be a busy weekend with brainstorming, discussions, hands-on demonstrations, Q&As, labs and team-building all in an effort and in the spirit of bettering lives for donkeys.

If you’ve been following my blog at all, then you’re well aware that my heart beats for donkeys and that it’s because of donkeys that my life is far better than I could have imagined. They’ve grounded me in a unique way…unknowingly showing me that it’s okay to be an anxious and protective creature because for many, that’s what it means to self-preserve. They’ve taught me the importance of trust and how to be strong and that no matter what, you keep going.

As I sat in a fold-out chair in the back row watching Mark Meyers talk about the organization that him and his wife, Amy, built, I realized that I was among people that understood all of these things about donkeys—so much so that they work tirelessly and devote their lives to the welfare of these amazing and overwhelmingly forgotten creatures. I was surrounded by people that don’t have to ask the question, “why donkeys?” but instead ask, “why the hell NOT donkeys?” They are a species that are unmatched in intelligence, strength, complexity and grace and they need a voice, too.

That voice came together this weekend and I had the honor and privilege to be a part of it.

I travelled alone to this conference which was probably a good idea because by the time I made it back to my hotel room after our first day at the San Angelo ranch, I spent a good amount of time letting tears stream down my face as I tried to fall asleep. They were tears for the hundreds of faces I saw at the ranch that had been through so much: hooves that were grown out so far that the donkey would never comfortably walk again, blinded and injured donkeys, scared and formerly abused donkeys. But they were also tears of joy that at least now, those donkeys were safe. They were tears of appreciation for how much these people I’d met have given and will continue to give just so these donkeys have a chance. They were tears of gratitude for the good that still exists in the world and the pure bad-assery that I…nervous, awkward, what-the-heck-am-I-doing-with-my-life Jess…gets to be a part of it.

Besides the invaluable education I received through our hands on workshops, the friendships I made over drinks and good food, and the hundreds of donkeys that I got to put my hands on and look into the eyes of, I was also assured of something this weekend that I didn’t expect: that this…aiding in donkey rescue even the tiny bit that I can…is exactly what I’m supposed to be doing with my life. No doubt. I know this because as Mark Meyers spoke to all of us at the Board of Trustees meeting on Saturday night, he read from his gavel the quote, “Know who you serve.” For the first time in a long time, I’m certain of that. Stars aligning, blue moon gazing, ladybug landing certain.  

On Sunday, after picking at donkey’s hooves, trying my hand at clicker training, learning about wound care, sliding my hands into a donkeys mouth who was having dental work done, and picking up some great tools for transporting donkeys, I said my goodbyes and headed home. I imagined my own donkeys and wondered what kinds of memories stirred behind their deep, brown eyes. I wondered if when I got home, they’d smell the other donkeys on me in the same way dogs do. I wondered if they’d missed me as much as I missed them. I couldn’t wait to get there to find out.

Below are two slideshows of various photos from the weekend. For more information on how you can help, please visit www.donkeyrescue.org.

And to all the staff, volunteers, and supporters of PVDR—I freakin’ love all of you. Like, a lot.

Rolling Rocks and Hungry Donkeys: A Morning Ritual

“Today is your day! Your mountain is waiting, so get on your way!” – Dr. Seuss

It was a golden morning—the kind where the sun sparkles in a million, broken pieces off the dew droplets covering absolutely everything. The cool air moved although it was hard to tell which direction and on the back of our property, the neighborhood roaming pack of guinea hens chattered in what sounded like a symphony of tiny kazoos. I held a mug of slightly steaming coffee in both hands, feeling its warmth against my palms and breathing in its fresh, donut shop smell.

In the pasture, the donkeys stepped slowly across the grass, grazing on the wet blades and softly flicking their tails when Bunny noticed me and raised her head. With her ears standing straight, she began to breathe heavily, widening her nostrils, which brought the attention of my presence to the other three donkeys, Tyrion, Simon and Beans. Starting with Bunny, they all began to bray as four sets of slightly damp hooves trotted my way.

Soon, I’d be replenishing the hay to their feeders and taking some time to pet and inspect each of them. I have this unrelenting fear that during the night, somehow, one of the donkeys will hurt themselves, so I ensure every morning that my fear is only that: a fear.  It’s a fear among many other unlikely fears such as the fear of my house burning down from my having left the stove top on, King Ranch being abducted by disgruntled workers who send a ransom note written with newspaper cutouts demanding $500,000,000 for his return OR ELSE, and Little Foot running away when he’s a teenager to join some international gang of assassins where of course he’ll change his whole identity and I’ll never see him again except for in my dreams.  I worry about diphtheria, brown recluses, real life witches that blend in with society, ghosts and spirits of the disturbed and angry kind and worlds of tiny people that might actually be living in the grass that I violently destroy with the mower. I just do.

Before going into the pasture, I used the back of my left hand to dust away dirt, chicken feathers, and leaves from the back patio table and then placed my coffee in the clearing as I sat down in a damp patio chair. I’d realized recently that not only was I an anxious person, but that I was anxious about the fact that I was anxious and I spend a lot of time worrying about how much I worried about things. Since realizing this, I’ve dedicated my early mornings to depriving the beast of food…or in other words, depriving my worry of more worry.

My deprivation tool is this:

My mind is a mountain full of rocks. When I have a thought, a boulder pops out of the top of the mountain and begins to roll down the very well-defined groove that almost every single boulder in my life has rolled down—what I refer to as the “Trench of Terror” (my anxiety). It’s slick, lined with skeletal remains, giant spiders, fire, and slimy, green ghouls and no one has yet to discover where it ends. Nothing has ever come back from the foggy mist in which the trench disappears although sometimes, there are faint cries and moans signaling that death isn’t at the bottom of it—just horror. Never ending, perpetual horror.

Now, however, in my attempted deprivation of enabling this behaviour, my consciousness (who oddly enough, I imagine as a small stick figure without a face and with small circles for hands and feet) stands just outside the thought hole and when a boulder of thought pops out, my stick figure consciousness pushes it the other direction….away from the dark and howling Trench of Terror and down the very unstable yet growing groove that I call “Reasonable River.” It’s bright on that side of the mountain with trees, birds, chalkboards with equations, and shelves of how-to books. Reasonable River is still a rocky route, but I can see the bottom of it: a blue lagoon with actual mermaids who take care of the smaller sea creatures and sing celtic folk music. There’s always a rainbow and the sun over there has a sweet, smiling face. I think there’s wine down there too but not so much that one would black-out. Just enough to take the edge off.

So…a thought pops up and heads towards Trench of Terror at an alarming speed. The green ghouls begin to laugh in anticipation and the fires rage but then consciousness catches it, pushes it back up the mountain and over to Reasonable River where it rolls down in a sensical and thoughtful way. Reason guides it all the way down into the warm waters of the lagoon where it stays happy and healthy and dealt with.

I watch the donkeys as I push myself through this exercise for two reasons: 1) watching donkeys grazing is peaceful and 2) I personally believe that most donkeys struggle with anxiety and I hope that in some universal, cosmic way, if I visualize vividly enough (my stick figure consciousnesses fighting with my thought rocks), that the donkeys may actually catch some of that scene in their satellites and feel just a little more at peace within their own minds. I have always had this feeling that animals communicate in mental wavelengths—like watching TV and the more real the thoughts are to us, the clearer the image they receive. Maybe? I don’t know. But I like to think that’s how it is. I make eye contact with every animal I can and I imagine beautiful things like embraces and laughs and sprinkled cake hoping that somehow, they’ll see those images, too.

Of course, I think being on an actual mountain pushing actual boulders around would be the far easier exercise because the number of flying boulders on that slippery mountain surface are a lot for that little stick person to handle. Rolling rocks still tumble down the Trench of Terror, but stick person does a good job of catching some of them and sending them the other way towards reason. Over time, Reasonable River will be defined too and perhaps it won’t be such a challenge.

I reached the bottom of my coffee mug which signals the end of my exercise. The dew had begun to evaporate making the yard far, less sparkly and far more humid. Over the fence, all four donkeys watched me expectantly, so with my rubber boots on, I walked towards the shed that holds their hay. Once more, the donkeys brayed although they were brays of excitement. Breakfast time.

I supposed I was hungry, too.

Morning ritual

Donkey Mind

In the lush shade of one of the pecan trees out in the pasture, I ran a circular brush along Bunny’s spine and down her sides as she blinked heavily—her long lashes moving in slow motion over her glossy and flickering brown eyes. Sprinkles of shedding, gray hair tumbled around in the almost non-existent breeze before either disappearing into the brightness of the day or landing on my boots and jeans. Donkey dust.

On this morning, Autumn teased us with tiny hints of itself in the breeze—it carried a ripeness in the wind that smelled like someone had just sliced a ripe, honey crisp apple and the trees were mostly still except when the leaves took turns twinkling as that fresh-apple air tickled them. Everything was in full, green bloom and seemingly asking for a trim and a change from that first bitter cold that’s hopefully not too far away.

With my hand on her back, I circled behind Bunny to continue brushing her other side. I read somewhere long ago (when I first took up an interest in donkeys) that brushing donkeys is a way to bond with them and I agree with that theory. The donkeys love when I’ve got the brush and sometimes, like this moment, they seem to fall into a trance with their ears lowered and eyes drifting. It’s therapeutic for me, too: line after line of combing and watching the stray hairs fall. I wondered what Bunny thought about as I brushed her. Not just about what she thought about the brushing, but what kinds of things regularly go through her mind? When she spaces out, I wonder what she imagines? What is created in a donkey mind?

I tucked the brush into the back pocket of my blue jeans as I knelt down in front of Bunny’s face. Her eyes widened, meeting mine and in them, I could see the silhouette of me and my cowboy hat and the brightness of all the blue and clouds behind me. She lowered her large head and rested her snout in my lap as I scratched the insides of her ears.

With my forehead against hers and now my own eyes closed, I focused on the way the air touched my skin. It was a perfect temperature—not cold or hot but Goldilocks perfection—and in that absolute comfort, my skin prickled. Goosebumps covered my entire body and I began to feel like I must have been glowing a bright, honey gold.

It radiated—that place where my skin met the most perfect air and it started to shine so brightly that it could no longer be contained in my own skin and in seconds, it’s warmth exploded outward like the birth of a brand new universe. Elements of all kinds scattered and shimmered and suddenly, the whole world was a radiating, healing gold.

The light touched my family and my friends and it healed them of all their pain—physical or otherwise. It touched those people who have helped and assisted me. It touched those people who really, I don’t have much of an opinion of at all and it even touched the difficult and hurtful ones, too, stripping them of hate and hopelessness. It touched all animals and all plants and all the rocks on the beach and in the center of it all was Bunny and me. My best friend. The creature responsible for such a big chunk of joy in my world.

The light circled Bunny and seeped into her heart and her mind and with it, an assurance that she would never, ever be abandoned again. I poured all my alabaster gratitude into her through my hands and imagined wrapping my arms around her entire being which is far larger than the donkey shell in which it’s contained.

I am so grateful for my friendship with Bunny the donkey. Her and I share a world beyond words; beyond human expression. My dear Bunny, where would I be without you?

The pulsing, warm gold covered absolutely everything—the whole world and all of it’s contents floated above the ground. Waterfalls ran up cliffs. Flowers bloomed at lightning speed. Wolves howled and the sky began to sing in an angelic chorus that vibrated the entire history of mankind.

I opened my eyes and leaned back as she lifted her head and snorted. The air around us was still and silent but for that flickering, fall breeze that drifted by. I made eye contact with her once more—my silhouette and a bright, golden sky peering back at me.

I stood up, knees popping, pulling the brush from my back pocket and adjusting my hat. From behind me, Tyrion nudged my legs and so I placed a hand on his back and started to run the brush along his sides. I wondered what he must imagine when he’s spacing out, too? Who could ever really know?

Donkey dust

Farewells, Feelings, News Crews and Two Remaining Donkeys

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

The choppy waters of my insides were churning like a pot of stew—boiling bubbles popped and spat in a scene which was familiar—it having only been 10 days since Ali the donkey had been adopted by a couple from central Texas. The feeling was complex: it stretched as far as grief and heartache could before likely causing serious damage—like a stressed rubber band which, had I not let go into gratitude, would have snapped and slapped my innards which were already raw from having said goodbye once and now two and three times.

After the trailer attached to the truck turned off of our road and its rustic, tambourine encore faded away, I tipped up my hat and ran my forearm across the lines of sweat collecting in my brows. Grief was swelling in my throat: that tingly feeling that warms the insides of your cheeks (like the moment before you bite into something that you know will be sour) was causing me to salivate. Perhaps that’s where tears actually start…in the throat.

I gulped it all down: that damp, pin-prick feeling that had started to fizz into the backs of my eyes because I could not yet touch the grief. Not yet. Behind me, leaning on the open gate, was a journalist and photographer from the local news who had come to my house on that same morning to do a story on our donkey adoption facility and we had an interview to finish.

With the exception of many job interviews and once by a woman who runs a podcast which features motivational folks, I’ve not been interviewed and certainly not by any news crews. In hindsight, I honestly cannot tell you if I did well or not but I get the feeling I was difficult to follow in my answers. I stumbled and stuttered nervously because the news is exposure and exposure is the most crippling of conditions for those who have struggled helplessly  throughout their whole lives with anxiety. I almost declined the opportunity because the violent whirlpool of ‘what-ifs’ from the initial media query that popped into my inbox weeks ago was enough to suffocate me.

But then I thought of the donkeys. They could use the publicity. They could use a special interest story because if even one person who reads this soon-to-run story takes up an interest in the well-being of donkeys, then it would be a success.

Donkeys have an odd mixture of a reputation: stubborn, stupid, worthless, to start. It’s why they’re left behind and discarded at an alarming and heartbreaking rate. It’s why they’re roped for sport and tied to trees and whipped and overworked. People don’t take the time to understand the force to be reckoned with that is the donkey: a highly intelligent, loyal, deeply emotional and complex creature that is unmatched anywhere else in the animal kingdom…at least to me. When cared for, they’re affectionate and protective and loving almost to a fault.

So I agreed to do the story…heels in the sand and all, I agreed.

The journalist and the photographer assigned to this story handled the whole experience with the most tender of care and for that, I hope they know how grateful I am. They were kind and patient and truly interested in the welfare of donkeys. I suspect my donkeys felt that, too, as they put on a beautiful show of their own: braying and nudging and even trying to play. They will make for a great story, no doubt.

Once everyone left my house and the dust settled from the last leaving car, I grabbed a beer from the fridge and pulled a lawn chair into the pasture where my two remaining fosters paced curiously. They were clearly confused and concerned with heavy exhales and fast steps so as I sipped, I started to hum a nameless tune and after some time, both donkeys eventually positioned themselves in front of me. I scratched their noses, continued to hum and finally allowed the huge, webby, conglomerate of emotions that had been tumbling inside me like a heavy load of clothes in the dryer to pierce the surface of my control…and I cried. I hummed and I cried and hummed and cried in what felt like bursting levies until there was nothing left but a wobbly tone vibrating under my tongue.

It occurs to me now that this donkey fostering and adoption process is a metaphor for life: that we’re blessed with different opportunities every day and it’s up to us to seize them whether they’re temporary or not. It’s up to us to do good things and difficult things and to love so hard if it means making this world for someone…even a donkey…a better place. And then one day, this whole life will be over. Everything is temporary…so alarmingly temporary. But temporary doesn’t mean ‘not worth it.’ No, quite the opposite. Temporary means a more compact and intense time to pour your whole self into something good.

I don’t know for how much longer I’ll have these two remaining foster donkeys and as I sat there in that lawn chair, I studied their eyes knowing that one day, probably soon, I’ll be saying goodbye to them, too. Before going in, I replenished their hay and gave them each one more pat on the rump. They ignored the hay and followed me to the gate and watched me walk inside…ears on high alert.

Ethel and Charlie have gone to the best home with one of the loveliest women I’ve ever had the pleasure of meeting. I know that for them, good things are finally ahead and for my remaining two, I hope to say the same one day.

And when this news story runs in a few weeks, I hope that others will begin to see donkeys in a better way. Maybe more people will pause and reflect on how they’ve treated animals they’ve encountered. Maybe those which would normally ignore the problem or even contribute to it will stop and realize that really, they want to help. I do believe that most people really do just want this world to be a better place and donkeys have made my life better. So. Who knows.

I don’t know, but I’m hopeful.

Peace, Love and Donkeys