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.

Gratitude. Hope. Happy New Year.

We end the last year with gratitude…
Gratitude for our time together,
For memories,
For support,
And for kindness.

We begin the New Year with restored hope…
Hope that kindness will continue to prevail,
That love will fill our hearts,
That our voices will be used for good,
And that together, we will make a difference for all creatures.

Happy New Year. Thank you for an amazing 2018. I can’t wait to see what beauty lies ahead.

NamasBRAY. I love y’all. -Jess

Wander

Twisted, tangled trails
With sprawling vines and
Dangling branches like
Curious fingertips flickering
In the shifting winds

We wander—we all wander.
One step atop another,
Our foot, paw, claw, and
Hoof prints melded along
Muddled puddled paths

We wander—we all wander.
Purple weeds and fungus
Steps swirling tree trunks
That tower indimidatingly
And must sway sometimes, too

We wander—we all wander.
This road carved by
All of us, forked and branched
By our steps, the blooming
World thriving because
Every single sprout matters

No matter how small

We wander—we all wander.
It begins and it ends the
Same, each road an exciting
Tale of strength, bravery,
Missteps and triumphs. Legend
Left in tracks where we met
To be found by a new traveler

We wander—we all wander.

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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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Yoga for Donkeys

Last week, I hosted an event to raise money for the charity in which I volunteer to help save donkeys. I considered the potential to serve a greater good by combining two of my very favorite things: yoga and donkey rescue. The result was an overwhelming success where not only was money raised to help save donkeys, but so was awareness of the issues facing donkeys and why it’s important that we give them a voice. I led a short and somewhat unconventional yoga class beneath a clear sky as the stars and my donkeys watched curiously.

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{Here, I’m saying, “look at the stars!!”}

Of course, the donkeys didn’t stay idle for very long before deciding to join the yoga class.

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Yoga and Donkeys: It was a marriage of two worlds I’d not previously imagined but somehow, it all came together—and I guess I shouldn’t be surprised. After all, one of the common themes in this entire blog that’s been going on for nearly two years is how much the relationship I’ve built with my donkeys has helped me manage my anxiety. Yoga is also an essential tool in my anxiety management box and so I suppose the connection was merely a matter of time.

That’s not to say I haven’t done a bit of my own yoga practice from time to time out in the pasture with my donkeys around, but I guess I was particularly touched with just how many people were eager to participate in the event. Most of the participants had never spent any time with donkeys but suffice to say that everyone left that night with a little hoof-print on their heart.

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It was a strange yet magical night—increasingly chilly as the night aged, but as we mingled with each other and with the donkeys, self-perpetuated warmth grew just as quickly. It was a gathering of huge hearts that thudded within the chests of admirable and generous folks and I’ve spent the days following this event baffled over how I managed to become so lucky in life that I was given the opportunity to do something like this: teach yoga to save donkeys all in the company of the very best people. I well up just typing that.

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I realized that night that I never tire of talking donkeys. I could go on for an eternity looking for the words that would chart the depth of their existence but honestly it goes so deep I reckon I’ll never see the bottom. Even better was that the people who spent that evening with me under the stars wanted to know everything about donkeys and wanted to touch them and look into their eyes the same way I do—the same way I wish we all could because your life is never really the same after you’ve seen the soul of a donkey. And if you’re not sure what I’m talking about, then go look again—their worlds are infinite and peek out in little sparks around their eyes when you look just right.

Thank you so much, from the bottom of my bleeding heart, to all of you who have donated your time and your money to help save donkeys. They are beings worth fighting for because the obstacles they face are dire. Donkeys are being slaughtered by the millions across the globe for their hides (you can read more about that issue here: Under the Skin – Donkeys at Risk) and before it’s too late, we must speak out.

If you’d like to donate to the cause, please feel free to visit this page for more information.

And finally, special shoutout to Lambert Photography for snapping pics in such a unique environment 🙂

The light in me honors and loves the light in all of you—that same light that we all share that peers down from the sky at night, that winks from the eyes of animals, that seeps from your skin and tingles when it feels seen. It’s the light that’s fueled by adventure and risk-taking but also shines just as brightly when there are no words but simply still contemplation of the stars above. That light in me salutes that light in you. NamasBRAY.

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‘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.

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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