Porch

One week ago, I sat on my porch and watched a diagonal thunderstorm. Branches and leaves flailed violently and I’m not sure the thunder ever stopped—instead it hummed low like an idling truck with shocks of explosions here and there. Its growl never stopped, though.

Out there on my porch, I stayed awake the entire night. I sat on the porch through the whole storm which stopped around 2:30 in the morning. I love a good storm, but I love night sounds even more. Night birds seem to have a more glottal call. Or is it sadder? Heavier? Their voices move like fog across the grass.

On that porch, I’d tossed several logs of wood into a rusty fire pit so the flames would keep me company. They were logs I’d chopped on my own from a tree that had fallen in my backyard during Tropical Storm Imelda. It took me months to finally do something with it. I knew before she fell that her foundation was shotty—that the right kind of angry wind would finally break her. I should have done something sooner, but I didn’t know what to do. Instead, and as I reluctantly anticipated, she finally fell. Of course then I really didn’t know what to do so after neglecting her for months, I finally decided to chop her up into as many pieces as I could. 

I watched those pieces burn. I watched them spark and smoke while they hissed and popped. If I’d have given them any, I could’ve told you every log’s name. I remember how it felt to axe each one. I remember which ones made me cry. I remember which ones made me feel strong. I remember with which one I finally got the hang of it. Now they simply burned.

Next to the porch with the fire and the logs, my little duck, Dorothy sat floofed atop her nest as her eggs hatched. Quite literally they hatched through the night—through the storm, the grumbling thunder, the night sounds and the wild, darting embers. Between the sounds, I’d hear small peeps from under her fluff. The next time, there’d be more.

I couldn’t leave her out there alone. I know that out in the world, ducks hatch alone, but I couldn’t not be there. Maybe it was me that needed her more than she needed me. I told my friends that I stayed out there to protect her from predators because there are many—and it’s true, that was the reason I went out there in the first place and dragged my rusty fire pit with me along with frumpy, splintery logs—to keep watch over her. But a week later as I think about that night, something tells me she would’ve been fine without me. Or not. I don’t know.

I stayed on the porch with my boots propped on the edge of the firepit until a dusty blue sunrise gathered behind the rain-battered trees. Dorothy was used to me being there by then and let her ducklings out despite my presence. Nine little lives emerged from beneath her and as a small group, they ventured about two feet into the yard to lay together in the wet grass. They nipped each other’s beaks, shook their heads, and stayed very close to their mom.

It was then I was able to see the shells from which the ducklings hatched. Carnage. Shells cracked, torn, layers dangling, juices stale. Those small, fuzzy, peeping creatures did that. I’ve found nests sadly ravaged by rats but I gotta say, they got nothing on the strength of these ducklings. Rats’ll crack an egg. A duckling will destroy it. A mess of brokenness two feet away from a brand new pile of eyes seeing the world for the first time. They were here because of their strength, will, and perseverance. They were here because they were loved.

—-

I’ve tried a dozen times at least in the past week to sit down and write this story—to find the words to share with y’all about the beauty, wonder, and frankly, weirdness of an all-nighter on the porch in the rain with my fire and my duck. But every time I’ve started to write something, the words escape me. Actually, it’s not that they escape, they’re just not there. One week ago, the world seemed like a different place. And in a lot of ways, it is, but in some ways, not at all.

I’m not sure I’ve said what I want to say. I’ve even debated posting it, wondering if it’s not the right time. I’ve decided to because even in all of this, there are small ducks. In all of this, under a little porch in the rain, there are small ducks. 

Life is so, so fragile. It is so fragile and it is always worth firghting for.

I love you.

In Orbit

It’s 3:30 in the afternoon on a clear, late-spring day in Texas which means that it’s painfully bright outside. That’s not to say I’m not grateful for the sunshine, but it’s times like this I wish I’d just go ahead and get myself some prescription sunglasses. In quarantine, I have yet to wear my contacts and I don’t intend to start unless I absolutely have to. The problem with having shaky hands is that even mundane tasks like putting in your contacts are often frustrating enough to set your mood up to be annoyed and grumpy for the rest of the day.

I’m outside tinkering in my garden which is already yielding the best tomato crop I’ve ever, ever had. From between the leaves that I’m pruning, I look over at my sweet donkeys three on the other side of the fence and let out a sigh of silly relief. They all three had their hooves done yesterday and I’m not sure why, but I absolutely obsess over the health of their hooves. (Not in a healthy, responsible pet-owner who should care about the health of all their animals kind of way…no…this is utter, panicky obsession). I worry every single time that my (amazing) farrier will see something terribly, terribly wrong with their hooves. I don’t know why. I actually lose sleep over this. It’s a worry I’ve latched onto which at this point in my life, I realize is 1) a part of the larger anxiety/OCD/panic disorder that I’ve been wired with since I was born and 2) always worsened when I’m going through something or distracting myself from dealing with something (consciously or subconsciously). But they’re all fine. They’re all just fine. Happy and healthy, from their ears to their hooves, and so for a while, I can let out that anxious breath I’ve been holding onto.

In a row along the table in my garden, I’ve lined up the tomatoes that were ready for picking and there are 29. 29! That’s in addition to the 17 three days ago. I’m so proud. I’m so incredibly proud of both the plants for just straight up kicking ass and also of myself for (literally) being able to reap the fruits of my labor. It is so, so satisfying. 

And geeze do I need something to feel good about right now. Don’t we all? 

Whoever you are reading this here blog, I know you’re going through some varying degree of discomfort, stress, fear, worry, grieving, frustrated, sick, recovering, or mourning that the rest of the world is experiencing in one way or another, so I don’t have much to add to that topic.

Instead, I’d like to add that we’re all spending a whole lot more time with ourselves than we’re probably used to and so space is becoming tight and certainly uncomfortable. And for many of us, that means having to use a kitchen knife to finally pry open a puffy scar on your arm that has a nasty infection brewing underneath it but haven’t dealt with because you know the second you pour antiseptic on it, it’s doing to hurt like the dickens. But now you’ve had a fever for six weeks, so time to bite the washcloth and dig in, I guess.

And as expected: it. effing. hurts.

But look, what matters is that you’re opening that shit up and giving it the air that it desperately needs. Will it heal all the way? Probably not, but maybe. Who knows? How long will it take? Don’t worry about that (ha, I get the irony of that last statement 😛 ). Just let the air in. Give it the right kind of medicine. Let it breathe. Contact a professional if it’s beyond control. And most importantly, know that you are brave for facing your pain no matter how bad it hurts. 

Also, let out long sighs every once in a while, even if it’s not necessarily attached to something you’re able to “let go” of. (I hate the term “just let it go” like, wowza, brilliant solution. I hadn’t thought of that, thank you! I’ll just unclench my fist, let it sail into the wind, and frolic through a fucking wheat field with perfect beach hair under a cute boho hat because I LET IT GO).

Let out an exhale because it feels good. It just feels good. If something attaches to it (like okay great, I know that at least TODAY my donkey’s hooves are fine but I know after the next time it rains and they’re walking around in mud I’ll inevitably panic), well then, great. Let that go with your breath. But do not hold that expectation of having to let things go and solve every problem over yourself. That is false-positivity and incredibly toxic, especially to the most vulnerable. 

Sigh.

As a weird (and sophomoric) side note, I’ve connected with most of you by way of social media and I should let y’all know that I have closed down my Facebook account—not just my Donkumentary page, but my personal one, too. I loathe Facebook. I get the importance of it for growing and sustaining businesses, but I was at the point of being downright mad every time I logged in and so, (as it goes) I put on my cute hat and frolicked through a field barefoot as I let Facebook go. (side note…do people not worry about ticks out there running around in fields?)

The closure of my Facebook page also comes at a time where I’m beginning to wonder if this here Donkumentary (in its current form) has run its course. If you’ve been with me from the beginning, you may recall that I started this 5 years ago when I moved away from my hometown for the first time as a way to keep in touch with my friends and family back home. Then I took up a fascination of and love for donkeys and had to tell the world about it. But there are a lot of wonderful and more consistent, dedicated, and expert resources out there and specifically, many good books and essays that talk about the wisdom of donkeys and how they’ve changed people’s lives and symbolize the misunderstood and stereotyped. So I don’t want to be redundant. My life is completely different than it was five years ago in both incredibly empowering but also very difficult ways and so I have to ask myself, “what do I need?”

I hang out on Instagram pretty regularly so if you’re on that platform and want to keep up, you can find me at the handle: adonkumentary. You can also message / email me. I love that kind of stuff. Digital pen-pals, as it is.

Perhaps this wonder is coming from this place of social distance and isolation (although I’ve never really been comfortably social) or perhaps it’s brewing because the entire, literal world is undergoing a massive black-hole of change and is pulling me and my small bliggity-blip-of-a-blog into its gravitational orbit. I don’t know. I still love donkeys. I still love telling stories. I still strive to break the stigma over mental health. I still want to sell my cute books to raise awareness about bullying and donkeys while supporting a really great cause. But. Change is a thing. So, who knows. I’ll take my time. My mom always warns me about being impulsive and even though I’m in my early 30s, she still calls me out on it. So mom, you can exhale 😉  

Sigh.

I’ll leave you with this: a song someone sent me just earlier today that I just think is great. ❤ 

 

 

Love you.
Jess

 

Grow. Grief.

It’s dark out which by no means means it is late. No. We have entered that time of year where the sun falls at 4:30PM forcing the chickens, ducks, donkeys, dogs, and heck even myself into an earlier, Pavlovian need to eat and bunk down for the night hours before they (we) otherwise should. I’m standing at the back window watching the patches of ground visible from the light by the lamp next to me. Leaves swirl and snap in all directions as the chimes outside my backdoor clash and clang. My phone griped earlier as a “wind advisory” alert was issued for my area and boy, they weren’t kidding. I could swear my house (though short and stout) is swaying.

Although I can’t see it, I’m looking in the direction of my garden. The weather forecast suddenly showed yesterday that tomorrow night, this swampy little corner of the world would welcome (well, maybe not welcome, but we’re polite in Texas so I’ll say it) the first hard freeze of the year. When I say hard, I mean low 20’s. To give you perspective, I wear a jacket below 75 degrees always. Low 20s is otherworldly. That kind of cold just isn’t in my blood. Give me heat, give me humidity, give me air like a warm washcloth. Like a fancy fungus, I thrive there. Maybe this means I’m cold blooded—I do sometimes think after I’ve eaten too much that I could stand to lay on a flat rock beneath a strong heat lamp like a pet lizard. Come to think of it, I’d do well under a heat lamp most of the time. My office. My kitchen. My bed…there’s an idea.

My garden also does well in this marshy place. It’s happy here. Hot sun, wet ground, pollinating bugs-a-plenty. But for the squirrels, this is optimum garden housing. Though I’ve pretty much always struggled with growing a cooperative garden (be it the soil, my technique, a one-off drought, or my inability to give it the attention it deserves), I have done really well with this one. I’ve become utterly obsessed with it. I spritz it. I fertilize it. I prune it. I talk to it. And for the first time in years (the last time being at my funny farm in north Texas with buck wild cucumber, onion, and pepper success), I’ve grown plants and achieved a small harvest. I enjoyed a bowl of my very own, homegrown edamame the other night. I’ve got a pile of green beans sitting in my refrigerator that I plan on frying in a couple days. And I had a dozen or so perky, little tomatoes that were a mere two or so weeks from reaching ripeness and I was really hoping I could slice them up and dash them with salt and pepper. 

Alas, tomorrow night, the hard freeze. Hours of it. Low 20s. That’s a death sentence for my last remaining growth out there…my sweet, sunny, perfect little tomato plants.

Sure, I’ll cover them with a warm blanket and hope that somehow, someway, they survive, although I’m not optimistic (in fairness, I am by nature not an optimistic person…so even if the conditions were even slightly different, I doubt I’d be at all sunshine and rainbows about it—further proof that maybe I am in fact, cold-blooded.) I’ve also decided that I will pluck some of the larger tomatoes from their stems, place them in a sunny window and hope they continue to ripen. 

Another gust of wind whips the window and I sigh. What will I do now when I become over stimulated or feel myself tumbling to a panic attack? For months, it’s been the ritual of escaping to my garden which has helped pull me down into quietude. My own, secret garden. Only I have known what lies within its boundaries and there, I have found peace. My fortress of solitude. 

Of course I have my donkeys and the barn and a place with them to rest, relax, remember who I am, and find grounding. I always do. I talk often about how those three, little peanuts are my tethers and that’s not changed. But there’s been a uniqueness to this place I’ve grown—this place that without my constant tinkering and attentiveness may have otherwise not succeeded and tomorrow, I must say goodbye. 

I feel streams of tears begin to roll down my cheeks and I have to laugh a bit. I don’t think I’ve ever shed a tear over plants. What’s wrong with me? But then the seal breaks and suddenly, I’m in a full on, blotchy, snotty cry. I don’t want to say goodbye. I don’t want to see it die. I want her to continue to grow and glow and reach for the sky. 

She’s worked and tried so hard. She’s overcome so much. She’s created incredible things and tomorrow, it ends.

I wipe my face and wonder if I ought to make some tea and turn on a dumb TV show to distract myself from this confusing and odd moment, but I stop myself and hold my place at the window, staring into the barely illuminated darkness where leaves are flitting chaotically. This means something. This means something because I don’t think I cry for no reason. I don’t think I spend my time doing things that don’t matter. So what does it mean?

I wonder if my compost will freeze? I do love composting and the whole idea of it: the death and rot and breaking down of once living things that over time, transform into unmatched nutrition for future growth. What a circle of life there. 

Maybe that’s what this whole garden thing is—a breakdown of something in order to make room for something new. A closing door. An end but also not really. My hope is that the soil will be healthier when I start a new garden in the spring. Maybe it’ll have held onto some of its nutrients that I fed it and maybe after a till and a fold in of compost, it’ll be ripe and ready to begin again.

Another gust of wind whips and although it’s barely past 5:00, I decide I might change into comfier clothes, take my contacts out, and stare at something for a while—the ceiling, outside, or maybe some random show that just makes some noise to fill space so that the only room that’s left is the consideration of my own rotting, breaking down, shifting, dying, grieving, and regrowing with something (hopefully) fuller, brighter, and more fruitful on the other side. I think we must all experience this cycle whether we realize it or not. I suppose the important thing is that we’re minding it. We’re giving it time. We’re trying and we’re taking care. Most of all, I think it’s important to admit that we, like the seasons and the things that thrive within them, change too. We till. We nurture. We grow. We die. We breakdown. We grieve. We start building again. 

Yup, I’ll make some tea. And there’s always Fraiser on Netflix, although that show is not dumb or random. Not even a little. It’ll forever and always be one of my favorite. That sounds good right now.

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Broken

This morning, I followed a hummingbird after she made a stop at the feeder hanging on my back patio. She flew around to the darker side of my house; the neglected side of my house shaded so heavily by overgrown trees that grass doesn’t grow. This is the side of my house with the grumbling a/c unit that needs to be fixed, where spider webs hang between every surface, and where leaves from last fall still lay in deep stacks in the mud. I wondered why the hummingbird chose to fly this way.

I turned the corner to the dark side of my house just in time to see the bird buzzing away into the mess of trees. I rarely visit this place and it’s been a while since my last time. It’s a sloped surface protruding with large tree roots and scattered, rotting leaves. Cloudy, white webs speckle the wall and tree trunks and there’s a damp coolness to this space which is exaggerated in the already hot morning. 

Down from the trees, the hummingbird zipped once more to the far side of the a/c unit. Quietly, I stepped around to see her hovering in front of a small, bright green plant right next to the wall. She stuck her long, stick-beak into a tiny, yellow flower, body frozen (but for her wings). She switched flowers just as a stick snapped beneath my boot and—poof! She disappeared into the trees.

The small plant was no more than a foot and a half tall with delicate, glossy green leaves. Near the end of every thin branch was a shy, pale yellow flower, each one with five petals. The plant practically glowed in this otherwise shadowy, wet place. What was it doing here? 

I took a few steps closer and crouched down in front of the juxtaposed plant. Its leaves were jagged along the edges which seemed to contradict the sweet softness of its flowers—like small kittens in razor wire. I didn’t dare touch the plant, scared that I might get poked or worse, that I might smush or harm one of its pale, yellow whispers. It’s strong, I thought to myself as I stood. To survive on this side of the house—to even have the will to grow—must take courage and will power. Still, it puzzled me how the plant came to grow in this spot all alone. 

Suddenly, a drop of water plopped onto one of the leaves from high above so I looked up only to see a hole in the rain gutter which lines the roof of my house. The hole was about the size of a quarter and rusted around its uneven edges. Moments later, another drop dripped down. 

I was unsure how the hole would’ve gotten there, but also realized that if not for that rusted hole, this small, strange plant may have never grown. Not only did water drip from it, but I imagine at high noon, light shined directly down onto the plant. 

Crouching back down, I sang a little tune, having heard somewhere that talking and singing to plants helps them grow. I don’t know if this is true, but it couldn’t hurt. Plus, this small, circumstantial growth must be quite lonely in the darkness of this forgotten place. A strange and beautiful plant, born from brokenness, here only because something else over which it had no control, failed. A smile in the shadows, a source of food, and a pop of pale yellow in a dark and otherwise dreary place. She stands her own with jagged armor and with perfect, petite poise. 

As I stood and walked away, I heard the buzz of the returning hummingbird but continued on without turning, leaving the plant to provide on her own. She has what she needs, there on the far side of the house. A happy happenstance. A light in a dark place. A product of brokenness. 

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Sunflower’s Story

There once was a patch of sunflowers (10 stems, to be exact) who divvied themselves upon either side of the walkway through a garden. Some said they were oddly placed, but the sun shined strongest right there along that path and as we all know, sunflowers not only need, but love the sunlight.

For weeks, the stems grew and grew and finally, one early summer afternoon, the first flower bloomed.

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Her petals stretched wide as her face turned toward the sun and soon after that, other flowers upon other stems began unfolding too. Each flower was beautiful and strong, always turned towards the light which fed them–a stunning, vivid patch along that little garden path.

But as the weeks went by, one stem (the one on the far end of the patch) still had no flower—no face to turn towards the beaming sun. The stem just kept growing taller and taller, spitting out giant and heavy leaves in every direction.

By mid-summer, the other flowers began to droop (their time having passed) and still, the tall stem remained flowerless.

The gardener, curious about this large, barren stem, removed the old lifeless flowers from their shorter, less leafy stems. She wondered if this towering stalk would ever bloom? She pruned the other flowers, readying them for a new season. Day after day, the gardener checked on the growing stem at the edge of the harvested patch. The plant grew so tall that she could no longer reach or even see the top of it.

Finally, one humid morning where the heat laid in wet fog along the surface of everything, the gardener awoke to a beaming yellow crown, high above the otherwise empty patch. She ran outside to greet the soaring sunflower which was bigger and more beautiful than any flower she’d ever seen.

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For days the glorious flower radiated her beauty—her face so large that she didn’t need to turn towards the sun for the sun reached her from every direction.

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People came from far and wide to admire her. No one could believe that a sunflower could climb that high. She had been worth waiting for.

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As the summer blazed on, so too did the wheel of time, and so the day came that this mountainous flower—the largest and most beautiful that had ever been—started to slump. Her time had come.

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The sunflower’s strong stem began to buckle under her wilting weight, and so the gardener, with her best pair of shears, was forced to clip the crown from the queen of the patch.

The path through the garden was empty again, the only remaining growth being skeletal stems of their former, shining glory. Seemingly the end of an era.

But the gardener knows that this is no end. This is in fact the beginning! Because from the heart of every one of those sunflowers are the seeds of tomorrow.

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What started from a single seed is now dozens! Dozens that will line the little garden path. Dozens that will ship through the post to friends and family who have bees and butterflies anxiously waiting for a patch of their own. And from there, an infinite number of sunflower seeds…seeds from flowers that remind us that we all move in our own time. We grow in our own ways. We find strength in our roots and inspiration in the light that feeds us.

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…seeds from dried out and drooping death. Life goes on, our legacies and time taken to do what was right for us is built into these vulnerable, harvested seeds so that they may grow in awe inspiring ways.

…seeds which carry with them the pride and stamina and determination of those that came before them. Bury deep, your roots. Reach high, your ambitions. Be proud, your growth, even if it takes more time than the others.

Shine on, sweet sunflowers, shine on.

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Scatterbrained Showers

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

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



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

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

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

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

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

Waiting out the Storm

It’s an East Texas downpour out there—the kind where I know that somewhere beyond the endless sheets of rain is a brown barn that inside, must be awfully loud beneath a tin roof, although I can’t see more than a blur of gray and swaying, green smudges that are the swelling leaves of new, spring life. I keep wanting to clean up and till the garden to start anew, but every time I find a few free moments to get out there and tend to her, storms move through with a fury, washing out the loose soil and feeding the rampant weeds that I can’t seem to get out in front of, no matter how I try.

Through a foggy window, I watch the rain switch directions over and over again as lightning flashes every few seconds and drum rolls of thunder barrel by almost without break. The forecast shows we have several more days of this and I keep thinking of the garden flooding, washing away any bit of useful dirt and leaving behind hard-packed, red clay that’s been beaten down into a calloused and impenetrable space.

I think of the donkeys in the loud barn, imagining their eyes staring out into the blurry forest that surrounds our house. With ears as sensitive as theirs, storms like this must be painful. Both of my dogs are hidden in a closet right now, terrified of the thunder that crashes through, full-bellied and heavy, every few seconds. It’s the kind of thunder you feel in your chest—ribs rattling with the rolls—a direct hit to the heart every time.

I worry I’ve missed my window to plant a garden that might have a growing-chance because after this stormy season comes that notorious, inescapable, Texas summer. Watching this storm, however, I suppose that even if I’d gotten those tiny, eager seedlings into the ground and meticulously arranged the mulch, cages, and cork-labels around them, they’d have rotted in the rain water by now or been washed away before establishing any real roots. How can roots reach out when every time those tiny arms try to grab at the spaces outside of themselves, their entire world floods and deforms, leaving nothing solid to latch onto or dig deeper into?

Still, here in early spring, bright, green life is blooming rapidly in all directions up in the treetops. Heavy with leaves, their branches droop down and cast dark and cool shadows across the yard. Along the edges of things, sunflower sprouts and sweet grass reach high towards the sun when she’s out and radiating while aggressive, spiky weeds slither and slap across the ground like an octopus out of water.

But it’s the little seeds in their tiny pods with thread-like roots: cantaloupe and cucumbers, tomatoes and hot peppers, sweet peas and turnips, that I want to gently transfer outside and tend to daily so I can watch them reach, swirl, and grow and witness the fruit they could bear. It’s just for now, they don’t seem like they’ll have a fighting chance as the rain falls harder and faster creating muddy pools that’ll take days to recede. I lose hope that my tiny, delicate seedlings will sprout and find their real roots in the ground outside: little seeds that started out so hopeful in little baggies, labeled proudly and waiting to learn what it feels like to reach into the warm, open air. I’ve read so many books and blogs that have told me when it’s the perfect time to plant around here, but I just can’t seem to land on that perfect time and as I watch the blurs of grays and greens whip and lash around outside, I doubt I’ll find that perfect time.

I’ve read about above ground gardening, seen pictures and how-tos, and have even been encouraged by some to take that route. Maybe I will. Maybe I have to. I guess that’s the problem with laying all your hopes down in the space you cleared up near your house where the sun would be perfect and the drainage seemed ideal because of the slant. You root for that space that you spent time clearing and turning with your hands, shovel, and tiller and fenced in to keep the rabbits out. You liked the idea of digging down a little deeper, where it’s cool and dark and full of strange bugs that tie themselves in knots when the sun touches them. The idea that the root’s paths were essentially endless without a bottom created hope for their strength and growth to be infinite. I’ve always thought that the deeper we dig, the taller we must grow.

But then these days, it feels like it’s all about building up. Building up, filling in, creating drainage systems, and using that cold, hard clay as a foundation….a base…a starting point that if you’re building up and up, doesn’t really matter if it’s too hard to breakthrough. You use the callouses as starting points from which to move forward, not to dig beneath in hopes they’ll ever soften enough to allow for real, fruitful growth.

The storm has subsided a bit now into a steady, straight-down rain that you can actually see through. There are some large branches scattered around the yard: branches without new, green leaves that the trees must’ve been ready to shed to make way for anew. Branches that had must have been overrun with bugs or rot or had simply just died off because their part was finished. The trees must feel lighter now—relieved, even—having rid themselves of their heavy, dead branches.

I don’t think I’m ready to give up on the idea of digging down into that now hard and calloused space I’ve created. It doesn’t feel dead to me yet and abandoning it, I suspect, would bring me no relief. It just needs more time. It needs more tilling. It needs to be fed and touched and rid of the sneaky weeds that grow faster than the fruit I intend to grow.

So I suppose I’ll keep waiting. Waiting. Waiting for the storm to pass and the for the sun to dry the puddles so I can get back to turning and digging and loosening the ground enough for roots to travel freely and growth to reach up full and tall.

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Roots

It’s a chilly afternoon and I’ve finally decided to clear the weeds and old roots from the garden in order to prepare for a new, spring crop. My fall garden was a bust: I didn’t do enough research on planting in sticky, gumbo soil and we had a bizarre, hard freeze in mid-November which killed off everything weeks before I was planning to harvest. My fall garden yielded three green beans. Three.

I suppose it’s fine—I was travelling a lot last fall, so my chances of upkeeping a garden with the love and respect it deserved and needed were probably low. Plus, I haven’t built up a proper compost heap this time around. The odds have been against it and for more than two months now, I’ve let weeds and grass overtake my sad, little garden.

I pick a corner and kneel down to begin pulling up weeds. Dampness from the soil soaks into the knees of my jeans, but I don’t mind. I start by raking the stringier weeds with my fingers which are tangled loosely across the top of the bushier and more deeply-rooted growth below. Rake, rake rake. Dirt gathers beneath my fingernails and what was a chilly afternoon has become quite warm with my repetitive movements.

The repetitious motions of backyard gardening is therapeutic. Row by row, whether planting or clearing, there’s a natural rhythm that guides the process regardless of your being a seasoned gardener or not. Rake the loose weeds. Dig around the stubborn ones. Pull the deep roots. Brush away the leftover. Rake rake, dig dig, pull pull, brush, brush. Rake rake, dig, dig, pull, pull, brush, brush. One, two, three, four. One, two, three, four. 

Bit by bit and breath by breath, I travel through my garden removing that which is alive with rapidly reproducing weeds and dead from poor management and unfortunate circumstance.

It’s a bit grim: the idea that death must occur and be grieved in order to make way for new life. I’ve been thinking a lot lately about what it means to move on from things of the past and how to start the healing (replanting) process. Like all people, I’ve had my share of heartache, hurt, missteps, and much like my garden, have fallen victim to poor management and unfortunate circumstance. Neglect. Distraction. Habitually pushing care to the back-burner. All that.

So here, squatting down in the mud and the weeds that are here because of my neglect, I imagine that the soil is life-giving light and the weeds are darkness, swiftly crawling across and covering the richness and space from which life, love, and nourishment sprouts. Rake, rake, dig, dig, pull, pull, brush, brush.

Gosh, there are weeds everywhere. It’d be easier to just let the whole thing go, I doubt I’ll have time for a garden this spring, anyway. My hands are beginning to hurt and the dampness from the ground has spread past my knees and down my shins. For the first time, I notice my fingertips covered in tiny, red cuts from small spikes in the seemingly infinite growth and holy moly they sting. Why didn’t I wear gloves? It’s so hot out here.

My heart rate has risen significantly and I can no longer find my breath. I try counting, but can’t hold my attention span to the count of four anymore. I pull my phone out of my back pocket and find the app which is connected to the USB-sized monitor implanted in my chest, right above my heart. It’s recording all the time, but I’m supposed to report when I can feel abnormal things occuring, which is often and especially when I do things like squat down for too long. I sit back, butt in the mud, and lean against the small, picket fence as the app begins to record my heart’s rhythm which is heavy and fluttering. The space around me vignettes itself and my fingers and toes begin to go numb. 

I close my eyes feeling the wet ground absorb into my jeans and try again to find my breath. Rake, rake, dig, dig, pull, pull, brush, brush. One, two, three…One, two…One, two, three.

It’s like I can’t get the breath all the way to the bottom of my lungs: it stops halfway. I make a concerted effort to relax my gut, pelvis, chest, and eyes, and try to imagine sinking a little farther down into the wet ground. Instead of counting, I picture a jellyfish gently and repetitively pulsing through the water. My friend and teacher, Stacey Ramsower, shared this image with me recently and it’s since resonated quite vividly. I picture my diaphragm and pelvic floor moving in tandem in the same way a jellyfish propels itself through the deep: smoothly, rhythmically, and beautifully. Something about the image seems more accessible than the count right now. Blub, blub, blub she goes…soft, smooth, and infinite. 

Blub, blub, blub, through the blue.
Blub, blub, blub, held by water.

After a while and once the flapping wings of my butterfly heart calm down, I open my eyes and lean forward, placing my forearms on my knees. My fingers and toes prickle as blood begins to pour back into them and the world around is light once more. I submit the recording to my doctor and slide my phone back in my pocket. I figure I ought to be heading in to get some water and rest, but then something catches my eye. What is that?

I scramble to my hands and knees and crawl to a tall, bright green growth reaching from the weeds. I trace my fingers down the delicate stems and carefully pull up. Oh my goodness. I start to laugh.

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I stand, holding the small carrot ball and look around. This bird’s eye view has allowed me to discover that several other plants have inched above the weeds reaching for sunlight, so one by one, I trace their stems and pull their roots gently from the ground.

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Brave, little root veggies. My goodness, I had no idea anything could’ve survived multiple hard freezes and certainly not beneath the heavy darkness that’s blanketed their space for so long. They may be small and oddly shaped, but boy they are phenomenal (and cute!) I suppose small specs of light can indeed penetrate darkness. Maybe it just requires a shift in perspective.


I spent much of the rest of this day reclined on the couch with a big glass of water while imagining whole blooms of jellyfish pulsing together through the deep. How strange it must be to pulse endlessly through the darkness…strange but oddly encouraging. Blub, blub, pulse, pulse, on and on they go. Infinite, rhythmic movement.

I imagined the proverbial weeds that often stretch themselves across me and how somehow, someway, light manages to get through. Sure, sometimes, that light goes undiscovered for a while, but it’s there. It is. And certainly it’s worth the blood, sweat, and pain to pull back the darkness and make way for more light. Just start in a corner and see what happens. Darkness breeds in neglect. I’d say, get in and get your hands dirty.

Even if you don’t find anything the first few times you start raking, digging, pulling, and brushing, the process is still wonderfully meditative—the re-examination of a familiar space that’s gone untouched for a while is so helpful for growth. Afterall, you can’t start a new garden without first tearing up and dealing with the old, deceased one. In that death and chaos lies life waiting to bloom and be discovered. 

Magic Eye

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.

Much love and NamasBRAY.

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Falling Dominoes

A couple weeks ago, I did a brave thing and, on my own, decided last minute to drive across the American South to go see my favorite band play a show in Atlanta. Although it was a very quick trip (having set out at 3:30AM on Saturday morning and arriving back home at 6:00PM the next day…that whole story here), the dominoes from that small yet grand adventure are still falling down, piece by piece.

I found that this thing happens when you’re in the car by yourself for nearly 13 hours one way: you’re forced to just be with yourself. With your eyes on the road, your hands on the wheel, and your mobile service unavailable because you’re travelling through vast acreages of fields that aren’t reached by cell towers, you’re left with just your own mind for company. In a time of limitless distractions at our fingertips, having the opportunity to be undistracted and present is both thrilling and terrifying.

I was somewhere in Louisiana under a cloudy sunrise, waist deep in questioning and beginning to hyperventilate over all my life’s decisions, identities, successes, failures, isms, and neuroticisms when I suddenly remembered that days before, my younger brother, Joey, had sent me a preview of his brand new album that is set to drop in October. Oh, sweet distraction, there you were. With a sigh of relief, I pressed play on track 1 of Pelican Jones’s debut album, ‘Coal, Sea, and Fire.’

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It didn’t take long for me to realize that this wasn’t the escapist distraction I was, in my habitual avoidance of facing my own demons, hoping for. Instead, Joey’s songs, one by one, seemed to throw doors open in dark rooms, allowing light to pour into places that had been locked up for some time. Dust floated around in the white light and roaches scattered under the wooden floor boards and there, as I started seeing signs for Mississippi, I discovered that I was even deeper in self-discovery than when I started the album. So much for a distraction.

Joey has this strange and unique talent where every single instrument he’s picked up since he was a kid, he’s managed to not only learn how to play it, but also master it. I’ve heard him play the guitar, trombone, banjo, accordion, every single percussion instrument, and I wouldn’t be surprised if in his repertoire was a set of bagpipes. He’s just that kind of person. Track after track played, each with a unique personality, each with a story, and each with satisfying chord progressions that, even without lyrics, tugged at that ole limbic system that shoots chills down your neck. Indeed he can play every instrument: instruments of the musical kind but also of the emotional connectedness kind.

I’ve talked a lot in my blog about how my donkeys are what help keep me present and so totally in each moment when I’m around them. I’ve talked about how reading Neil Gaiman books helps me escape from my own anxieties by dropping me into magical stories in far away places. I’ve talked about how listening to Old Crow Medicine Show helps me feel accepted and seen because in the world they create, there are no strangers regardless of where you’re from. I’ve talked about how cheap, red wine takes the pointed edges off things when they get too sharp and when I’m leading yoga classes, I feel grounded.

As I crossed the Mississippi river, the sun finally breaking through the clouds and sparkling off the water’s wake, I realized that my brother’s album was providing a safe space for my own deeply seeded feelings about things—a space which can be really difficult to find. To me, ‘Coal, Sea, and Fire’ is an album about exploring and examining the less travelled paths of our pasts . It’s about throwing raw feelings onto the cutting board like an uncooked slab of roast not with the intention of throwing around blame or to self loathe, but to start digging into it with a knife to cut out that fat so that when it’s done cooking, it’s the best tasting version of itself.

Whether we’re willing to admit it or not, we all come from complex pasts, exist in complex minds, and have complex futures ahead of us because to be human is to be complex. Anyone who says they have it all figured out has simply stopped digging. I believe we could dig into our own psychies for eternity and never reach the bottom of ourselves which seems terrifying at first, but also incredibly exciting. How wonderful that we never have to stop learning and growing. The deeper the roots grow down, the higher the plant grows up…and that’s what this album felt like to me: an encouragement to dig and dig in an effort to grow and grow.

After the album ended, I tried to call Joey to tell him how impressed I was with his musical abilities (I didn’t know he could sing like that!) but alas, I still had no cell service. As I started making my way through Mississippi, alone again with my thoughts and feelings, I found that I didn’t panic in them like I had been before. Instead, I just started picking at them—pulling up layers upon layers without feeling the need to do anything but simply observe. No criticisms, no indulgences….just the recognition that, like every other human on this planet, I am complex, from a complex past, with an inevitable complex future and that is so worth exploring. Afterall, it is in the exploration of ourselves that we find understanding that allows us to connect that much more with others and isn’t that what life is all about in the end? Our ability to connect with and uplift one another? I like to think so.

Coal: our solidness. Sea: our fluidity. Fire: our passion…

…and all the ups and downs that go with each of those.

I think that this newly found confidence in observing my feelings without distraction and fear made way for what was probably a much more fruitful experience of the Old Crow show than I would’ve otherwise had having spent all of that time alone, sleep deprived, and deep in the belly of my mind’s beast. Instead, I was able to so totally let go, be present, let the music and the scene move through me, and as I arrived home the next day, I swear I felt like I was able to be closer to my donkeys, too.

Side note: I played “Where Did All The People Go” for my donkeys when I got home and unsurprisingly, they seemed to enjoy it. They like banjos. They have good taste.

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Two weeks removed from my solo road trip and indeed, the dominoes are still falling—the undoing of life-long habits and such. I’ll be heading out on another grand adventure soon, this time the travel will be centered around donkeys and donkey rescue, so stay tuned for updates on that!

Until then, I’m reminding myself to not be afraid of or flustered by digging a little deeper. The deeper we go, the taller we grow. (Also, falling dominoes can be very satisfying to watch, even if you weren’t ready to knock them all over.)

To keep up with my brother and his new band, Pelican Jones, you can follow him on Instagram @pelicanjonesband or visit his website here: https://pelicanjones.bandcamp.com/