We end the last year with gratitude…
Gratitude for our time together,
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.
It’s dawn. Somewhere behind the trees, the sun is shifting, although the sky is still holding onto a few bright stars in her darkness not yet touched by the waking light. I’ve slipped my boots on over my flannel jammie pants and am pulling my hoodie over my head. It’s in the 30’s out there which, for us native Texans with thin blood, is brutal. The dogs scatter around my feet with their tails wagging and claws scratching the tile floor: they’re ready to run around in the cold and to chase squirrels or rabbits who often explore the yard in the wee hours.
I open the back door, the cold scratching my face, as the dogs sprint past me and out of sight. I cinch the hood around my face as I walk towards the barn, leaves crunching beneath my boots. The donkeys know I’m coming: Bunny begins to bray, followed by Tee, and finally the little honk of Bodhi brings up the rear of their morning chorus. I smile.
This is how I begin nearly every morning as the sun stretches her arms with me. I suspect we’re both routinely unsure of how the new today might go but by golly, we’re gonna do our best to shine and spread warmth anyway.
It’s been a while since I’ve posted a blog, although it’s not for lack of trying and certainly not for lack of what I believe to be valuable content. It’s as if things have been too busy and too fast to focus on any one thing. Life these days has felt like one of those old Magic Eye images that used to be in the newspapers: busy graphics that make no sense until you can relax your gaze enough to see a definable image appear. Between my cross-country travels to advocate for donkeys and surprising new successes with writing endeavors, little room has been left over for me to situate myself in front of my laptop with a glass of wine and a story to tell.
I slide open the barn door and three sets of ears are perked up high, no doubt, waiting for breakfast. “Oh it’s a good morning,” I say in my sing-song voice as I use a knife to cut the twine on a fresh bale of hay. “It’s a good, good morning for my good, good donkeys.” Three faces are hanging over the stall doors, noses flared, and eyes wide. It’s so warm in here. The truth is, I have lots of stories I want to tell. I want to tell y’all about going to Death Valley and meeting real life wild burros—burros that are descendants of those who built the American West. I want to tell y’all about how old life is out there in those mountains. I want to tell y’all about the Public Market in Seattle where I had, hands down, the best champagne I’ve ever had in my life with company that made me smile so hard my cheeks hurt. I want to tell y’all about the email I got from a publisher who wants to get my writing out there for more people to see and how my heart nearly exploded when I read it. I want to tell y’all that in just a couple weeks time, my very first book….my book…will be debuting and ever better, the proceeds from that book are going to save donkeys. I want to tell y’all about how it snowed the other day and about how I had to run out to my garden and harvest what I could before it froze too hard and laughed when the only thing that actually bloomed in the whole garden were three green beans. Three. Three beans. I want to tell y’all about the weekend with some old friends where we sat around my kitchen table for hours trying to play dominoes, but instead derailed over and over into talking about life and how much it means to all of us that our paths have crossed the way they have. I want to tell y’all that my friends said some things to me that resonated deep within my soul: they told me things about myself that I hadn’t realized and truth be told, I’m still trying to process it. I want to tell y’all all these things and more but I just can’t seem to relax my gaze enough to describe the image that I know is hiding somewhere in that Magic Eye: the form which must be the bigger meaning in all of this because in a weird way, it all feels connected.
I finish mucking the stalls and stand in the barn for a moment watching the donkeys eat their hay, their tails swishing from side to side. I’ll head in soon where the coffee will be finished brewing and Little Foot will likely be waking up. I’ll hold him and ask him about his dreams and twirl his curly hair between my fingers. I’ll watch the way he uses his hands when he talks and be so tickled that every day, his smile is looking more and more like my own: crooked, toothy, and a little too big for his face. After opening the gates for the donkeys so they can head out to pasture when they’re done with their hay, I hang the shovel, pull my hood back over my head, and walk back towards the house. I suppose that for now, it’s okay if I don’t see a single, pronounced figure in the Magic Eye illustration: maybe instead, right now it’s about appreciating all the little shapes, textures, colors, and patterns that seem to swirl around themselves, especially in the peripheral. That’s how you spot wild burros, after all: you don’t see them in your line of vision—you only notice them out of movement in the corners of your eyes. I learned that in Death Valley recently. Or maybe, this isn’t about a single, hidden image at all. Maybe instead, it’s about stepping back and watching the kaleidoscope turn with images that shift and spin and allowing yourself to be present for each of them so you don’t miss a thing.
Either way, I am unbelievably grateful for life’s recent chaos. I’m grateful to have so much going on that my story-telling is rambling and stammering a bit more than usual. I’m grateful for the doors that have opened, for the people and donkeys who have walked through them, and for the chance to connect. I hope that you, reader, are seeing your own stories unfold and are witnessing every color and shapeshift within them. And if you feel a little lost, maybe try and relax your gaze in an effort to see that hidden figure emerge…or step back and see all of it as one giant, wibbly, wobbly mess with indescribable intricacies. But whatever you do, don’t take your eyes off of it…whatever it is for you. You don’t want to miss it, trust me.
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.
It’s approaching dusk on a most perfectly, Texas spring evening—the kind of evening where in the setting sun, the warm, amber rays soak into your thirsty skin and in the shade, the same skin prickles for a jacket. New, bright green leaves flicker in the trees in a breeze without a direction. I’m sitting on the back patio watching King Ranch play a game of tag—or is it hide-and-seek? I can’t tell—with Little Foot. My curly-headed kid is giggling wildly and in circles around them, our dog Tucker jumps with his tongue dangling from his happy mouth. Behind them with curious eyes and ears, Bunny and Tee watch over the fence, their eyes following the circles in which my kid and his father and his dog dance.
Moments ago, I shuffled the little chicken family into their coop: Wednesday Addams, and her three not-so-little-babies, Harry, Ron, and Hermione, take turns drinking from their water bowl. I’ve discovered as they’ve aged that Harry is actually a female, but I think I’ll keep the name. Ron is most definitely a rooster and he’s just found his crow; the squeaking excitement of pubescent poultry learning the depths of his voice. It’s downright adorable.
With my right hand, I’m running my fingers through the cotton-candy fluff of the newest addition to our little farm family: Bodhi the orphaned donkey.
His head rests in my lap with his ears laid back as I draw circles with my fingers on his head which feels so small in my hand: a delicate ornament. Bodhi’s mom rejected him after birth and since finding him abandoned in a windstorm, my most favorite organization, Peaceful Valley Donkey Rescue, and the generous donors that make their mission possible, have cared for him ‘round the clock, ultimately saving his life.
Bodhi noses at my legs, his wide eyes looking straight at mine and I slide down to the ground to wrap my arms around him. He leans his weight into me and his smell is so familiar: the way Little Foot’s nursery used to smell when he still slept in a crib. The way crying onto your mom’s shoulder smells when you’re lost and out of options. The shifting under-current of needing to be held, to be loved, to feel safe, to feel like you’re enough. He smells cozy, like the throw blanket that’s laid over the back of your couch since you were a kid that’s wrapped itself about you, caught your tears, your dreams, your tired body. He smells like home: furry, curious, playful, wonderful home.
Tucker barks and it catches Bodhi’s attention. He snaps his head up, his small ears perked, and then he clumsily trots over to the game of tag or hide-and-seek. King Ranch kneels down with Little Foot to pet him. I’m suddenly overcome with…with…I’m not sure what it is, but my eyes are welling up and my heart is pounding. The innocence of these creatures huddled in an embrace in my backyard overwhelms me. I wonder how I’ve become so lucky to have love like this in my life: to have a family made up of the kindest, most loving beings, both two-legged and four. A family who I didn’t realize wasn’t complete until just now. A family who needs one another so badly, each of us having fallen into just the right role.
I miss Tink. I miss him like crazy. Y’all might remember that I was unsure if I’d continue this blog of stories once we moved and after the sudden and tragic loss of Tink, I thought for sure I’d pack up this here Donkumentary for good.
But then the flowers began to stretch their petals, reaching up to the sun from their long sleep and as they awoke, Bodhi came home to us. He’s in my care now. My heart is throbbing in my chest as I watch the loves of my life huddle together in front of me—as I see that it’s not only me who fell in love with Bodhi the second I saw him, but my whole family.
It took several, difficult weeks for Little Foot to understand that Tink wasn’t coming back and if I’m being honest, it took me a while, too. It’s not easy explaining death to a three-year old. What King Ranch and I have landed on is explaining that sometimes people and animals go away to a place that we can’t see, but just because they’re gone, it doesn’t mean that we don’t love them or that we must forget them. Little Foot can understand this. He still calls Tink his friend…his friend that went away.
Bodhi doesn’t fill the hole in our hearts. Instead, he has brought with him a whole part of us that we didn’t know existed: a piece of us that we didn’t realize was unfilled until all the sudden there’s this flavor in our days that now we couldn’t imagine living without. Bodhi is like coming up for air after being underwater for too long. He is smelling the pouring rain after a long drought. He is every brand new, green leaf twinkling in the warm wind of spring.
Bodhi is the orphaned donkey whose life was saved because of people who loved him (some without even meeting him!) and wanted to see him have a chance at life. Caring for this little furry-headed ball of perfect innocence is exactly how we should all be treating each other: as if everyone’s life is dangling by a shoestring because it really is. If you lean in close enough, I think there’s something familiar about all of us. Bodhi has brought us hope because his very existence is a result of unconditional, human love. His clumsy trot is proof that we can work together. His soft head in my lap is gratitude for the opportunity to exist in a world together. Bodhi is a reminder that we can all do better. Bodhi is our future. Bodhi is love.
…love. That must have been what I was feeling as I sat on the back patio crying: love so pure and so unconditional and so grateful for everything that’s brought this baby into our lives. Love. I am so deeply in love.
For more information on PVDR and what they do to save so many donkeys like Tink and Bodhi, please visit their website at http://www.donkeyrescue.org.
It’s been just over a week since we said our last goodbye to our brave boy, Tink. We are all still reeling over the sudden loss of him and for days, I’ve been struggling to find some kind of peace between the choppy waves of mourning.
What is there is gratitude: gratitude for our time with him, for the opportunity to love him unconditionally. There is gratitude for the rescue that saved him in the first place and gave him a second shot at life: Peaceful Valley Donkey Rescue. Because of them, he got fruitful years of life he would have otherwise lost.
PVDR saves donkeys across the U.S. They work tirelessly and endlessly to improve the plight of the American donkey. If you know anything of the challenges donkeys face, you know that they are vast. They are often neglected, abused, abandoned and across the globe, millions of donkeys are farmed, stolen, and captured for their skins to produce ejiao.
If it is in your heart, I ask that you help support PVDR in their mission to save donkeys. Whether that’s donating a few extra dollars (they are a registered 501(c)(3) non-profit) or simply sharing their information, their cause, and spreading awareness to help save donkeys, then more sweet fur babies like Tink will have a shot at life.
Donkeys can’t stand up for themselves in an often cruel and heartless world, but we can can be their voice. We can be their warriors. We can fight for them.
And from the bottom of my broken heart, thank you all for your words, messages, calls, emails, shares, and loving support. It is so, very appreciated. Let’s keep working together to make this world a better place for everyone: two-legged or four or none. We’re all in it together.
The sun’s just come up on an already warm Monday morning, although it’s not been up long enough to burn the dew off of the un-mowed grass that’s slopping against my rubber boots. I’ve got the remainder of a roll of gauze in my hand, a disinfectant spray, and a small, black boot that was specially designed for Tink, my sweet mini donkey whose hoof (or rather, what remains of a hoof) is deformed due to profound mistreatment by his previous owner. Luckily, he was rescued by the organization in which I volunteer, Peaceful Valley Donkey Rescue, and in time, I became his over-the-moon adoptive mother.
As I walk across the backyard towards the gate that leads into the donkey’s pasture, I hear several long exhales that I know to belong to Bunny, my standard-sized donkey, who’s revving up for a bray because it’s been three days since I’ve seen her.
Late last night, I arrived back home from an exhilarating couple of days in Houston. Y’all know by now that Houston is my hometown—my folks still live there as do many of my dearest friends—and so really, any visit there is a treat…but this one was especially exciting. More on that later.
I open the gate and Bunny is running across the pasture in a full-on bray now—her nostrils are flared and ears are laying back and so as quickly as I can, I set the boot, the spray, and the gauze on the ground just in time to open my arms and catch her before she tackles me to the ground. She hits me hard, her large neck against my chest and her snout over my shoulder. Her tail is wagging furiously and as I wrap my arms behind her large head, she starts nipping at my hair.
I scratch her ears and run my hands down all her legs to check for ticks or mites as Tee and Tink make their way towards us. They may not greet me with the enthusiasm that Bunny does, but their wide eyes and wagging tails are more than enough to pull at my bleeding-heart’s strings.
As I’m dressing Tink’s hoof, my three remaining adoptable donkeys wander up to the fence, their ears perked up in curiosity, and I remember just then that in only a few days, I’ll be saying goodbye to two of them, Maybell and Sue (a mother/daughter pair whose new family will be picking them up later this week.) Oof. Being swept up in the excitement of the weekend, I’d briefly forgotten that I’m within days of saying good bye, and so after I finish up with Tink, I go to them.
I’ve had Maybell and Sue since mid-March which has been just enough time to really grow attached to them. I rub their faces and let them lean on me and it’s then that I realize I’m grappling (and even struggling) with the concept of impermanence. It’s a growing weight that I try to mentally avoid but, hoo boy, here it comes.
In just a few, short days, I’ll say goodbye to Maybell and Sue and in all likelihood, will never see them again. These two who I’ve cared for so deeply—I’ve cleaned their hooves and brushed their hair and fed them and given them medicine when they’ve needed it. Now that will be someone else’s job. As one who fosters rescue donkeys, this is part of it and I know that. It’s not easy, though. Never is.
It’s daunting, isn’t it? When you really stop to think about how temporary everything—all of this—really is? How quickly winter turns to spring, turns to summer, and your infant son is somehow already two years old and speaking in sentences and you’ve found a lone-wolf, gray hair right, smack-dab in the middle of your hairline. Your spring garden has burnt to a crisp under the Texas sun and geeze-louise, my dumb birthday’s looking right at me again with mocking eyes. Weren’t you just here?
I give Maybell and Sue each a pat on the nose before heading back towards the house. Little Foot will still be asleep in his toddler bed, likely above the covers and holding onto his orange, stuffed lion and also in the house (and as a cherry on top to my most excellent weekend in Houston), I brought back up north with me to visit for a few days, The Unicorn. Remember her? If not, here’s her story. She’ll still be sleeping too, I imagine. We had a late night last night and I want to have coffee made before she wakes.
On our drive yesterday, The Unicorn and I were reveling in the years that have passed since we met which lucky for us, we know the exact date: January 5, 2010. I kid you not, we shook hands for the first time that day and static-shocked each other and since, we’ve been the closest of friends. Seven years, in fact. In a lifetime, that probably isn’t much, but I can remember that day we met like it was just moments ago. And it’s been a fruitful seven years.
It’s so fast. It’s all just so fast.
The coffee’s brewing now in the kitchen, trickling and beginning to smell wonderful and outside the front window, our rooster, Bowie, is crowing. I’ve decided it’s a myth that roosters crow only in the morning—Bowie crows all day every day. Tucker, our dog, has curled up at my feet and I’m picking away at the red nail polish that’s chipping from the ends of my fingernails. I rarely paint my nails but I decided to while in Houston this weekend because, well, it was one of the coolest weekends imaginable.
About that: I had a VIP ticket to An Evening with Neil Gaiman that would be performed at the Brown Theater and with said ticket, I’d get a chance to meet Neil himself. And I did. So I’d painted my nails.
That was some major temporariness…my VIP ticket-holding status…though I liked that I held something that considered me a “Very Important Person.” I don’t think I’ve ever been a VIP to anything before. Perhaps my wedding, once upon a time. The bride, I suppose, is one of the wedding’s VIPs.
Thrilling and unbelievably meaningful as it was to me to get to meet one of my very favorite authors, it was over before I realized what sort of anxious nonsense was pouring out of my mouth like a busted dam in a hurricane during my brief opportunity to speak with him. *Facepalm.* I was just as wide-eyed and waggy-tailed as my donkeys that night. Although, even in normal conversation with people for whom I’m very close, I tend to babble and tangent off to strange places, usually about how much I love donkeys and yoga and pizza and bluegrass bands, so at least it was genuine.
Whether or not I made as ass out of myself (hey, in my world, y’all know being an ass is a compliment *badum tiss*) is not what I’m concerned with…it’s how quickly that one, extremely gravitational moment that I know I’ll remember for the rest of my life was over like that. Neil Gaiman is one of the people who has shaped who I am and really, still striving to become, and I had the pleasure of being able to meet him and try in my most awkward way possible to tell him that. Then like the bubbles that Little Foot and I play with in the yard, it popped and that moment was gone and now I’m chipping the paint from my nails. That’s really, really difficult for me swallow.
But isn’t all of it hard to swallow? The fleetingness of everything? Of growing up and saying goodbye and being able to spend what seem like finger-snaps of time with people who mean the world to you? The seasons and storms and sunrises and every little moment where your heart beats so heavily that you can’t really hear anything else? It’s so difficult for me to comprehend the vacuum that’s left once it’s ended.
I guess that’s a place we can all connect, though. There’s that silver lining. It doesn’t matter who you are or where you’ve come from, you’ve had to say goodbye to someone. You’ve had to grow up (in one way or another). You’ve hurt and you’ve thrived and you’ve tripped and you’ve soared. You’ve been scared and been brave and when you come to, you only see it in your rearview bouncing around with all the other colors and shapes of your past.
I think the coffee is finished brewing and just now, Little Foot has started to chat in his room, probably with the same stuffed lion that he usually holds onto at night, and so in a moment, I’ll go retrieve him and his curly, little head. He’ll soon not talk to his stuffed animals, so I don’t want to interrupt.
In the meantime, I guess all of this to say that intimidating and downright terrifying as temporariness can be, it can also be very sweet and heart-tugging to recall events in our memories. Like, when I look at photos of Little Foot as an infant, I choke up and remember how the top of his head smelled like toast for the longest time. When I go into my saved voicemails and replay the birthday message my late grandfather left me five years ago, I can see his aging yet perfect smile in my mind’s eye. I remember mine and the Unicorn’s spark when we shook hands. I remember King Ranch’s brown eyes flooding over in tears when I told him I was pregnant. I’ll never forget how trusting Maybell and Sue have become of me and every time Bunny nearly tackles me with excitement, my heart grows a bit. I’ll never forget having the privilege of meeting Neil Gaiman and even though I didn’t remotely articulate my gratitude to him, I hope that he got the sense that he means a whole lot to me.
The Unicorn and I are planning to take Little Foot to the library today. We’ll nuzzle into the same corner that Little Foot and I do every week with a stack of books only this time, I’ll get to watch my friend read him a story. I’ll get to hold onto that image for a very long time and I’m sure that it’ll be just as sweet every time I recall it.
Temporariness isn’t that bad when you think about it like that, I suppose…when you think about it as the decorations in your memory. The art hanging on your mind’s walls. It means you’ve got room to fill your present with just about anything you want and you know you can look back and see how the rest of it has brought you to where you are now. And right now, I’m gonna get some coffee, go peek at my chatting kid, and try to memorize the sound of his little, perfect voice. That would be a painting I’d hang right in the middle of it all.
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.