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)

 

The Cutest Grinch

It’s a typical mid-morning here at the ranch where I’m folding laundry back in the bedroom and King Ranch is fixing something (I’m not sure what) in Little Foot’s room. Outside, it’s unseasonably warm (thank you, Texas weather) and everything has a golden crispness to it beneath a cloudless sky. I have an audiobook playing through my phone, “First, We Make the Beast Beautiful” by Sarah Wilson. It’s an amazing listen and for anyone who lives with or struggles with anxiety, I highly recommend giving it a go. It’s a book that for me, is full of life-changers.

I’ve nearly reached the bottom of the laundry basket when from the living room, I hear a crash and the tinkling sound of delicate things bouncing across the tile floor. I drop the yoga pants from my hands and rush toward the noise. Both of our dogs are barking and running in nervous circles and from down the hall, King Ranch and Little Foot come running.

At a shaky, 45 degree angle, our Christmas tree is headed towards the open back door. Ornaments and needles are falling like raindrops and the light cord is about to pop from the wall outlet.

King Ranch lunges for the tree as I dash to wrap my arms around the culprit engaging in this Grinch-like thievery…Bodhi, our not-so-baby donkey. Somewhere beyond the barking dogs, I can hear Little Foot crying, “No! Not the tree! No!” and small, grunting curses from a struggling King Ranch. Bodhi whips his head back and forth with a branch clamped between his teeth, sending more ornaments and needles scattering across the floor when finally, he lets go.

I shuffle Bodhi outside as King Ranch props the tree back up vertically. “No. Bad donkey,” I say to Bodhi, pointing my index finger at his nose which has a few pine needles stuck to it. He looks at me with wide, playful eyes — I swear, he’s laughing. Ha. Now I am, too. I can’t be mad at this face. I wrap my arms around Bodhi’s neck and scratch the sides of his face. He leans his weight into me. Little stinker.

I’m sad to report that none of this was caught on video, the chaos having exploded too abruptly, but I do have video evidence of what it looks like to have a baby donkey know how to open your back door:

 

After re-adjusting the tree, picking up the ornaments, and reassuring Little Foot that Bodhi was just trying to share the tree and not steal it (we had to make a deal with him that we would put a tree in the barn next year so the donkeys could have one, too), our day resumed with its mundane tasks. I backed my book up to where I’d left off and, although covered in donkey hair and pine-needles, I picked up the yoga pants I’d dropped and resumed folding.



This happened a few weeks back and I’ve only just had the opportunity to write about it. Since then, I’ve been trying to list out my goals for this year and besides the usual trying to live healthier, watch our money, do good deeds daily, etc., I’ve landed on wanting the new year to be filled with a bit more sobering innocence. This is an already mean enough world with lots of dark and scary things…but sometimes, your baby donkey sneaks into your house and tries to steal your Christmas tree. And sometimes, days are just otherwise mundane.

One of the things Sarah Wilson talks about in her book I mentioned above are tasks that you do daily — making the bed every single morning, for example, or spending a little time every day while the coffee is brewing to meditate (the cool thing about meditating being that even if you’re bad at it, it still helps!) and how grounding those rituals become if you actually stick to them.

Most importantly, there is a lot of good happening everywhere all the time. There are sparks of light in the dark. There are people who hear you and see you and want to embrace you for your good and your bad because they see that at your core, you are a being worthy of love. There’s a lot of cute and a lot of innocent and I think those things are worth highlighting. It may not make the bad stuff go away, but like that old saying goes, “It’s better to light a single candle than curse the darkness.”

I think that’s what I’d like to do better this year: light more candles.

Happy New Year, y’all. Let’s take this a day at a time 🙂

NamasBRAY.

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P.S. I want to thank all of y’all who have shown so much support for my children’s book that came out nearly two months ago. I would love to hear your feedback / see photos of you, your kiddos, your critters enjoying the book. If you’d like to share, please send me an email at adonkumentary@gmail.com. And if you haven’t snagged your copy yet, there are still some available! Get yours here: Tink the Bravest Donkey

P.P.S. If you’re interested in getting a copy of the book I mention above, “First We Make the Beast Beautiful,” you can find it here. I promise, it doesn’t disappoint.

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

Giving Tuesday

Several years ago, when I inadvertently adopted a donkey named Bunny (and subsequently Tee, Tink, and Bodhi), I decided my voice would go to donkeys. They are the sweetest, smartest, kindest creatures around who have spent decades, nay, centuries being mocked, overworked, and vastly underappreciated. Now, they’re being slaughtered by the millions across the globe (4 million last year, alone) and still being found abandoned, neglected, abused, and just plain forgotten.

In addition to my writing & blogging, I work for the Peaceful Valley Donkey Rescue: those who were responsible for saving donkeys like Tink & Bodhi. Tink was saved from a terrible situation of severe neglect that almost killed him (and left him without a front, left hoof) and Bodhi was a newborn who was found abandoned by his mother in a windstorm, desperately trying to hold onto life. Both got a second chance because of Peaceful Valley.

We are a registered 501(c)(3) non-profit organization run entirely on private donations and so, if you’re someone who participates in #GivingTuesday or just have a couple extra dollars to spare, please consider helping us in our mission to save donkeys across the country. They need a voice, too.

https://donkeyrescue.org/

 

Tiny Dots

It’s late. I’m not sure of the time, but it’s been night for a while—long enough for the dark to feel damp and for the scattered clouds to have a purple tint. In my jammies and boots without socks, I’m walking through the wet grass out to the barn where Bunny, Tee, and Baby Bodhi are likely resting.

With both hands, I slide open the barn door and flip the light switch just inside. Three sets of ears perk up high and like a burst of beautiful light, Bodhi leaps for me with his ears back and his tiny tail wagging. Bunny and Tee, from behind their stall door, begin to bray. Shaky, I kneel down and scratch Bodhi’s soft fur, his chin resting on my shoulder. He still smells like a baby.

It’s been three days since I’ve seen my sweet donkeys: I’ve relied on King Ranch and my parents to help care for them while I’ve been severely ill. In and out of the hospital and unsure of the time when I wake up from long rests, it’s been a blur of chills, lightheadedness, groggy sips of Gatorade, and much anxiety over what is happening in my tired body.

I stand, my head dizzy for a starry-eyed moment, before I open the stall door. Normally, Bunny and Tee race to reach me first (especially if it’s been some time since I’ve seen them) but tonight, they’re delicate in their approach. They know I’m unwell, I can see it in the wideness of their eyes and in the care of their steps. Bunny nips at my hair while Tee presses his head into my thigh. Bodhi stands against my other leg, his tail swishing from side to side.

In the dim barn surrounded by the quiet of night and warmth of my donkeys, I peer up at the light above which flickers with silhouettes of June bugs and moths. I draw in a deep breath, close my eyes, and surrender the walls I’ve taped up around my emotions to the midnight air. Tears begin to stream down my cheeks.

I don’t remember a time when I’ve been this sick, at least not as an adult. And to complicate things, my pre-existing heart condition is succumbing to the stress and making my movements and presence tedious and difficult.  The good news is, I’ve seen a host of doctors and have seemingly turned a corner to see a light at the end of this dark, dank, claustrophobia-inducing tunnel where I’ve left a scattered trail of my weight, strength, and optimism.

I’ve been unsure as to whether or not I wanted to write about this but the thing is, I write to figure out my feelings. I have to spell out thoughts to see them straight—to remove them from the neon nebulous of my anxious mind where I don’t have a single train of thought, but rather, a bustling train station buzzing with people yelling in languages that I can’t understand.

I have a friend, a wonderfully talented novelist who bravely moved her life overseas and is one of the most inspiring people in my life. She writes her stories and essays in a way that transfers the reader to the front lines—to the smells and tastes of places they’ve never been—and the other night, she messaged me out of concern to check on my health. It’s been years since I’ve seen her in person, but across the world, her concern and love of my feelings made way for a platform to begin to explore my own understanding of the depth in which this aggressive illness has dug. In talking with her, my heart touched by her words (because she’s just the kind of person who can be so warm and empathetic, even oceans apart), I realized that in this illness, there have been moments where I have actually feared for my life…like really thought it might be over for me. I think this must have been the first time I truthfully and legitimately feared that my end might be near and although that moment is now in my distant and hopefully unreachable past, it’s left me in a strange, emotional place. I don’t mean to be dramatic, but the swift severity of my condition left little room to feel like I had much of a fight. 

(To be clear, I am fine. I am going to be fine. There were just a few days in there where I really thought I might not be fine and those ripples are still splashing around pretty hard.)

As I stand here in the barn, these three donkeys doing everything in their ability to comfort me, I am overcome with…I don’t know what it is. Gratitude for sure, but something else. Purpose? Raw presence? I’m not sure. That very real fear has done something to me and even though I know I’m out of the thick of the threat, there’s this pulsing light from beyond my field of vision that’s reminding me of the fragility of all of this. It’s a blocked off area  that stays just beyond my sight with giant, red, boldface letters that says “RESTRICTED” because only those who are emotionally equipped to handle the reality of how temporary life is can enter without crumbling. This very human condition: that we are all momentary. 

Little Foot climbed up into bed with me yesterday and rested his curly head on my chest.

“Mommy,” he said, “I hear your heart going ba-boom ba-boom ba-boom.”

I twirled his hair between two of my fingers and said, “I think my heart is happy you’re here.”

And it was. It is. Oh my it is, my heart flips in my chest at the sight and even thought of my sweet, little boy. He’s barely three years old and already he helps me feed the animals, collect eggs from the chickens, tells me stories that are made up in his imagination, and reminds me that you don’t have to be of a certain age to really know how to love.

Bunny lowers her head and rests it against my chest. I wonder if she can hear my struggling heart, too. I look down to see tiny, damp dots freckling the donkey’s faces—my tears having dripped from my chin onto them. I think they’ve moved closer to me, the weight of their bodies giving me strength to stand even though I’m so, so tired.

On the shelf beside us is Tink’s bright blue halter. He was wearing it the day he passed. Little Foot asked about Tink for the first time in a while the other day (before I fell ill) and I told him that Tink died. I used those words….he died.  “But where did he go?” Little Foot asked with a puzzled look. I told him that I wasn’t sure, but I believe that even when people or animals die, they’re still out there somewhere in some way. I told him that I think they must be out beyond the stars, so maybe you can look up at night and see if anything up there reminds you of him and if it does, then he’s definitely still alive in your thoughts. Among all those twinkling, tiny dots are so much more than meets the eye, so look as hard and as often as you can. This seemed to satisfy him. He also asked if the slug that he accidentally stepped on the other day is up there, too, because he was very sorry that he smushed it, he just didn’t see it before he stepped. I told him that I’m sure the slug is up there.

After a while, I shuffle the donkeys back into their stalls, laying a kiss upon each of their heads, and close the barn door. Purple clouds glide across the sky which is nearly singing like a full choir with twinkling stars. So many tiny dots. I breathe in deeply, their light filling the broken parts of me, before exhaling deep gratitude, relief, and hope with a long sigh.

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Springtime Shifts & Snips

It was a misty afternoon as I drove along obscure county roads through small-town Texas’s prairies and lakes region on a solo-trip to Peaceful Valley Donkey Rescue’s headquarters in San Angelo. My trip’s purpose was to volunteer and assist in what would be 150+ male donkeys being castrated. I’d be another set of hands to help in any way I could for the large team of vets and employees of the PVDR ranch.

I don’t get the opportunity to make road trips on my own very often and on the occasion that it happens, I remember how much I enjoy that solitary time. To boot, I love Texas in early spring when the leaves are a bright, playful green and infinite bluebonnets blanket the grassy slopes along every road. This lone trip came at a perfect time because much like this seasonal springtime shift, my life has gone through some blooming of its own and I’ve not had the time or space to really process it all.

The drive was a strange one—the mist making it too wet to not run the windshield wipers but not wet enough to keep them on their lowest setting, so I had to be diligent about manually clicking them every minute or so. I also wasn’t entirely sure what to expect from my time at PVDR seeing as I’d never witnessed one donkey castration, let alone over 150. From what I knew going into it, the procedure can be pretty gruesome to the weak-stomached and although I consider my gut to be pretty strong, I was still finding it difficult to imagine what I was driving into. But I wanted, so badly, to help. I’m not really sure why…I just really, really wanted to be there.

I drove on along a route that Google Maps decided was best and really, it picked well. The roads climbed and tumbled over rolling hills and through patches of low-hanging trees and wildflower clusters. The roads rose and fell with such rhythm that soon, it felt like the Earth itself was breathing and I simply slipped along the ebb and flow of its beautiful breath. I found myself mimicking her breathing—inhaling as the car climbed up and exhaling as we slithered down.

I breathed in my recent doubts—doubts like, was it really the right decision to take leave from the studio where I’ve been regularly teaching yoga for nearly two years? Only two days before this trip, I’d held my final, regularly scheduled yoga class in an effort to have more time at home with my family, my donkeys, and my ranch. But that decision was no easy one to make—I loved that space where I could lead yoga classes. It was friendly and fun and oddly enough, a place where people didn’t feel the need to compete with one another. I liked that. Competition makes me uncomfortable. Maybe that’s why I was a really crappy softball player once upon a time.

I breathed in doubts about myself—the cassettes on repeat in my mind that question if the things I do are the right ones. If I’m a good enough mother. A good enough partner. A good enough guardian for donkeys. The insecurities I have over not making much money and being so anxious about absolutely everything all the time. I breathed it in and in and in and with every downhill exhale, I imagined those doubts fluttering away like a frightened murder of crows. Gather it up and let it go. Up and down, gather and let go.

I arrived at my destination around dinner time and was welcomed with warm hospitality by two of the PVDR ranch residents who put me up for the night. It felt like home, sleeping where the donkeys bray, and the next morning, we woke before sunrise and got to work.

There was hardly a moment to be lost in my head that day and perhaps that’s why I enjoy manual labor so much. If monkey mind has a task, then it doesn’t have time to waste on bottomless pits of “what ifs.” It makes hard work an escape for me. I love it. Every minute of it…sweat and blood, included. Hard work is therapy.

After while, as the castrations were beginning, I found myself in the line where I assisted in haltering and identifying the jacks who were in the queue for vaccines, sedation, and castration. I’ve not had much experience with wild donkeys who’ve not been handled much by humans (or handled in negative ways) and it was a little bit intimidating and a lot bit eye-opening. I’m so used to my sweet Bunny and Tee and Tink who lean their weight and their trust into me that I forget how much work and effort goes into these donkeys to help them feel safe.

So many of the PVDR donkeys have come from a neglected, abusive, and abandoned backgrounds and to come out on the other side hungry for human interaction is a real testament to the effort that PVDR folks put into these donkeys. It’s humbling. And it’s a ray of freaking sunshine in an often selfish and apathetic world. I wished I could’ve stayed to help with castration day two, but life was still happening at home and I didn’t want to miss any more of it. Plus I really wanted to spend time with my donkeys and the 5 left in my care that were available for adoption. I wanted to pet their noses and show them that they were loved especially after seeing where a lot of their journeys may have started—wild and scared and having no reason to trust humans.

Perhaps it was the seemingly 35 gallons of sweat I lost along that line of dozens of donkeys and perhaps it was the snipping away of bit after bit after bit, but as I drove home late that night, beneath the star-studded sky, my spirit felt cleansed or….castrated, if you will. It takes escapes like this, sometimes, to get out of the woods of your mind—to retreat from your comfort zone and spend some time with people who’ve dedicated their lives to making the world a better place. “What ifs” struggle to exist in places demanding of your strength and my, how I need my “what ifs” to be put out of their misery sometimes.

I guess the point of all of this is that we could all stand to snip away our unnecessary bits sometimes—especially if all they’re doing is causing us and those around us, trouble. Find some alone time. Scare the crows away. Admire the stars and most important, breathe as deeply and with as much purpose as you can. Use that deep breath to create space for peace within you—to make way for the blooming wildflowers of your soul.

Gather it up and let it go.

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The Value of Donkey and Self

I should start with an apology to my readers for having neglected to keep you all abreast of what’s been happening at our little donkey ranch lately. There are times in life that I swear the gods must be pressing fast-forward on their giant remote in the sky because it seems like only yesterday that I was basking in the afterglow of our successful “Yoga for Donkeys” fundraiser (that story here).

Since then, we’ve acquired a new shipment of adoptable donkeys—10, to be exact—so last week, our total donkey count for the ranch jumped from 3 to 13. Here are some photos of our new arrivals:

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Within this shipment is the largest donkey I’ve so far fostered (Gus) as well as the smallest (Spartan) and between those two are vibrant and far-ranging personalities—from mischievous to debonair to spunky and inquisitive. This Motley Crew of snorting snouts and twitching tails leaves no room for dull moments. Then again, life rarely leaves room for dull moments. As my role in donkey rescue chugs along, so does my ever-evolving role as a mother, partner, yoga-instructor, gardener, daughter and oh yeah…self.

The self.

The self is and should be on your schedule for regular maintenance just like oil-changes and air-filter replacement. The self needs love and attention and like your teeth, needs regular polishing.

I struggle with this. I struggle with taking two steps back and turning my sights inward to ask, “Hey, you doing alright in there?” I do this so infrequently that when I do muster up the strength to take a look inside my heart and mind, my gaze acts more like a needle penetrating the outside of an about-to-burst water balloon, causing violent gushes of pent up emotion to pour out of me and down the streets, white-capping and destroying property.

The self needs itself. The self needs to know it’s loved unconditionally and the self needs to know that it is valuable beyond measure. The self does not increase in value because it makes more money or looks a certain way. The self does not increase in value when it has popularity or followers. The self needs the self to recognize its shared value simply by having been born into this world.

I realized this from spending time with my donkeys—this new crew specifically. Gus, my larger-than life donkey, carries no more value than Spanky, my orphaned ball of fluff who keeps rubbing his face on posts creating a perma-scab likely, because he’s anxious. Tink has no less value than any other donkey just because he has to wear a boot. They are valued simply because they are who they are.

With us (humans) it becomes so convoluted because of things like religion and politics and classism and so on but what I wish we could all do is to just stop and look inside for a moment and ask, “How you doing in there? Like really, how are things?” I get the sense a lot of us would be surprised at what we saw. If we could understand that we all carry worlds within ourselves (and those worlds are, I believe, infinitely valuable and immeasurably capable of love), then concepts like dehumanizing groups of people simply because they’re different wouldn’t exist like they do so frequently throughout our history as a species. How lucky we all could be if we’d stop, polish our insides, and then use our newly-filled cup to serve those who could use a hand.

I hope that you can appreciate how complex you really are—how there’s no way that one word or one concept could ever define you. How you were a child once who dreamed of going on magical quests and that if you think about it, life really is exactly that—a fantastic adventure. Be the hero—the one who saves the day with empathy and love, not with violence and hatred. Who fights for what’s right. Who falls and has two choices: to give up or to muster up the strength that you’ve always had to keep going. Be Gus, the gentle giant. Be Spanky, the fighter who was not expected to survive but now thrives. Be Tink, who wears his boot proudly. Be Bunny, the one who would do anything to ensure that you felt loved.

Be you. Complex, weird, creative, and sensitive you. And when you feel the emptiness begin to creep in, step back. Recharge. Love on yourself. You’ll be back up in no time.

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