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/

The Storm That Sprung Some Links

It’s been weeks since rain has swept through our humid pocket of East Texas, so when the sky gray-ed over and thunder began to rumble in the distance, I poured myself a glass of wine and stepped out onto the porch, eager for the clouds to open. Moments later, they did and it did not disappoint. There is a very distinct smell attached to the first rain in a heavily humid area where temperatures exceed 100 degrees most days—a boggy smell, like strong mulch mixed with overgrown grass. The communal sigh from every struggling plant smells almost reptilian—as if the ground and all of their limbs have turned to scales and the rain is here to soften what’s been bone-dry and hard for too long now.
I sip my wine slowly, it being something I’ve only recently been able to have again from all my illness-junk several months back (which I’m happy to report seems to continually improve with only minimal and so far short-lived regressions). It’s cool and crisp and a perfect pairing to the rain that’s falling in diagonal sheets now. Lightning strikes somewhere and I begin to count, “1…2…3…4…” and then the thunder rolls. That strike was close. I think 7 seconds from the lightning strike to thunder means that the strike was a mile away…at least that’s what King Ranch tells me.
The donkeys are in the barn, high and dry, and the dogs are hiding from the thunder in a closet inside the house. Oddly, the chickens are pacing and pecking back and forth in the rain refusing to go into the wide open door of their coop. Are they playing in the rain? Are they happy like the plants? Maybe. I like to think so. Admittedly, I’m not well versed in the behaviors of chickens.

The wind switches direction and for the first time since about March, there is a chill in the air: oh how glorious and most welcome you are, little hint of cool. It’s been a long and brutal summer and yet, here you are: a delightfully delicate autumnal preview.

Speaking of previews, in case you missed my announcement in my last blog, I have a children’s book coming out later this year: a book which is dedicated to our sweet and dearly departed boy, Tink. Earlier this year, Tink passed away due to complications with his special foot (which was an injury that occured because of profound neglect from his previous owner before PVDR rescued him) and so imagine my incredible excitement that he can live on in a beautifully illustrated story that’s both anti-bullying and donkey-informative (and proceeds will go to save donkeys just like him). I talk about this book in an episode of Donkey Rescue TV that aired a couple weeks ago here: “It Takes A Village”

I’m absolutely over the moon about this development and can’t wait to share Tink’s story with all of you.

The wind shifts directions again and the coolness disappears, leaving the sticky heat of summer that’s not ready to let go quite yet. I take another sip of my wine and lean into King Ranch who’s sat down next to me. Lightning strikes again and we both count, “1…2…” and then thunder barrels through. That one was close.

I’ve not much else to say for a blog today other than how grateful I am for the rain, to be able to slow down for an evening in late summer saturation, and for the many recent opportunities to share that donkey love and advocacy on a public platform.

A couple weeks ago, I brought little orphan Bodhi with me to a public library a few towns over to give a free presentation on donkey rescue and I’m happy to report that it was such a hit, that I’ve been invited to another public library to do the same! Not only did I get to talk about all things donkey rescue, but I got to prove, once again, how important public libraries are to our society.

I was also recently interviewed for a lovely podcast that belongs to a woman I met at last year’s SCBWI Conference in North Texas. We talked donkeys (of course), yoga, living with anxiety, and how important it is to slow down and be gentle. Krystal Proffitt, the host of this podcast, is such a light in this world. I’m grateful to have had the opportunity to chat with her! The full interview can be found here: The Rookie Life Podcast

Also, in an effort to make PVDR donkeys more easily identifiable in the growing threat of the global hide trade (which if you’re unfamiliar with this heinous practice, you can learn more about it here…although caution, there is graphic content with this subject…more info here), we’ve started freeze branding our donkeys. Once a donkey comes into the PVDR system, they are a PVDR donkey for life. If any donkey with our brand is seen in a kill pen or on an auction lot (which by the way, you should be steering clear of those horrible scam artists), please let PVDR know because they’ve most certainly been stolen. The video on what the freeze-brand process looks like can be found here: Freeze Branding

As a sign of solidarity with our donkeys, the senior staff (myself included) all got tattoos of the brand. Here’s me getting mine on my wrist:

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Finally, I had the pleasure of interviewing the BurroMan himself, Mark Meyers, on the Wild Burro Project which I encourage you to take a few moments to watch. This is a vastly complex issue here in the U.S. which is also often misunderstood. Learn more about it here:


Lightning strikes again. “1…2…3…4…5…6…7…8…” The storms seems to be moving away. King Ranch stands and extends his hand for mine. I smile, take hold of it, and together, we both take two steps towards the edge of the porch. The chilly, little raindrops hit our bare toes as I take in a long breath. These days pass by so quickly….soon summer will be in the past and that chill will be present every morning and as much as I can’t wait for the fall, I kind of don’t want this thunderstorm bouncing off my toes to end.

The Midday Scorcher

I’m three hours into a drive out west and it’s hotter’n blue blazes out there. My dash board’s telling me it’s 116 degrees, but even with the a/c working as hard as it can, that temperature feels underestimated. Having lived in Texas my whole life, I’m supposed to be used to this, but hoo boy I tell ya, there’s no getting used to frying eggs in your driveway.

Still, I love this drive. This 6-hour jaunt out west to the land of 1,000 donkeys that I find excuses to make where I end up on two-lane highways surrounded by prickly pears and yucca plants is therapy. I have no cell service on much of this route and either spend it listening to a pre-downloaded audio book or all of my Old Crow Medicine Show albums. I am as good’a singer as Ketch Secor on these drives; it’s a shame no one else ever gets to witness it—seems to only happen when I’m alone. 😉

Speaking of Ketch Secor, the novel I’m coincidentally listening to on this trip is ‘The Midnight Cool’ written by his wife (at least that’s what the interwebs tells me; I habitually read about authors I enjoy) and amazing writer, Lydia Peelle. You’ll never guess it, but this book is chalk full of mules….and not just mules as outlying, empty creatures that serve as backdrop ornaments to set tone or mood, but as detailed, respected, and complex and I gotta tell you, it’s the first novel I’ve read (well, listened to) that does this. She talks about how the “…humble long ear has been the victim of much mudslinging” which, whether you’re talking about a mule or their father, the donkey, it’s true. I’m hanging on every word she’s written (and is being read to me wonderfully by Don Hagen) and it just gets me that much more giddy about arriving at my destination.

Y’all know by now that I work with the Peaceful Valley Donkey Rescue (it’s where I’m headed on this mirage-inducing drive) and as such, it’s become a red-hot goal of mine (and frankly, my highest honor) to spread the word about donkey welfare. They are victims of mudslinging like Ms. Peelle describes…they’re the butts of jokes, the forgotten warriors, the misunderstood creatures. But it’s true that anyone who takes the time to get to know them realizes that there are worlds within a donkey’s eyes. There is tenderness in their hearts. There is a gravity about them: an inescapable yet peaceful gravity.

My donkeys are what keep me grounded. No matter the day or time, if I need someone to lean on, they’re there. If I need someone to sit with for a while, they’re there. I never ask them to do this, they just do.

How much are we misunderstanding simply because we’re not taking the time? Not just donkeys or mules, but everyone? Over the years, I’ve learned from many people the assumptions they’ve made about me which have often been based on my behaviors as a person riddled with deeply-seeded anxiety (which I suppose is understandable, I can be difficult to be around sometimes…an ungentiled and untrusting donkey.) But at the core of myself, (like a donkey) I’m loyal too. I’ll sit with damn near anyone who just needs a shoulder for a while. I’m overly cautious (which is often seen as stubborn).

I don’t mean to sound egotistical, but I’m comfortable enough with myself to love my own isms, especially the more I choose to learn about them and the more I’m starting to realize that if reincarnation is indeed a thing, I might’ve been a donkey in my past life. Same goes for donkeys—how many people jump to the conclusion that they’ve got pea-sized brains because some movie made an ass joke about them while trotting a big, statuesque and shiny hero-horse by?
It’s been a while since I’ve passed another vehicle and I start to wonder if my car broke down in the heat of this sun, what would I do? No cell service, no folks passing by, no donkeys to lean on. I suppose I’d find some shade and listen to this book some more until someone came along.

On I drive, my heart happier and happier that I found this novel by chance. I’ve decided that if somehow, someway I ever get the chance to meet Lydia Peelle, I’d like to hug her neck and thank her for what she has to say about long-ears. She’s fighting the fight I’ve only barely begun: the uphill battle in convincing the world that donkeys (and their kin) are the best. Donkeys are what we should all be striving to be: kind, cautious, loyal, inquisitive, and strong even when it’s so hard sometimes.

To my left, two dust devils dance around one another in a vast acreage of red dirt and brush, their bases hopping around like they too feel the heat on the ground. It’s quite lovely what nature does when she thinks she’s not being watched. Deer delicately pick the flowers out of the prickly pears. Cows lay peacefully in the shade of any tree they can find, their sides and rumps touching I imagine, because they just want to be sure of each other. Vultures float in tornadoes around something dying or decaying, their bellies anxious for a meal.

Makes me wonder what we do most when we think we’re not being watched. In a lot of cases, I don’t think we’re much different from the dust devils, the deer, the cows, or the vultures. We’re all part of this bizarre life quilt sewn together by all of our strange and often misunderstood isms. It’s quite lovely.

‘The Midnight Cool’ reaches the end of a chapter and so I switch my speakers over to Old Crow’s version of Bob Dylan’s “Visions of Johanna.” I turn it up as loud as my speakers will go singing along with every complex lyric, giddy and thrilled that in a few short hours, I’ll be at my home away from home—the land of 1,000 donkeys—the place where my fire for change is stoked like no other.

Here’s to donkeys. Here’s to those who fight for them. Here’s to those who hopefully come to know them. And here’s to each other:

“…Voices echo this is what salvation must be like after a while…”

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Humidity. Healing.

Few places hold a torch when it comes to humidity intensity in the East Texas piney woods, especially after four straight days of early-summer rainfall. Breathing outside during dawn or dusk is like inhaling warm, invisible snot that sticks in little teardrop beads to every single part of you. It’s oddly sentimental though; growing up in SE Texas, the humidity is like a tight hug from your grandmother who always smells like home cooked something: noodles and pork chops, rosemary bread, brown gravy. Humidity like this can be embracing and comforting—a reminder that at the end of a long, stressful day, she’s here for you whether you think you need her or not.

Under a darkening, blue sky with broad, brush-stroked pinks and purples, grandmother humidity wraps herself about me as I close the barn door and secure the latch. I faintly hear hay crunching from inside: donkey dinner time.

This is a chore I’ve had for years now (the shuffling of donkeys into their shelter and distribution of their hay) and for the first time, it’s completely worn me out. I stand in front of the barn and lean my weight into the door for a moment to catch my breath, the damp air lining my lungs like teflon. My vision blurs and my heart hops heavily as I close my eyes and wait for the feeling of lightheadedness to pass. I’ve been ill—at times severely—over the past two months. It occurs to me that I’ve never been the kind of ill that causes such a profound loss of strength: my muscles having diminished to soft, wobbly blobs on my bones. King Ranch was right, it was probably too soon for me to bring the donkeys in alone…but I missed that part of my evening routine and insisted I give it a try. I see him now standing in the window watching me from the house, his face a mix of concern and I told you so.

I think I’m beginning to heal, but healing is a tricky thing. It’s not like illness, injury, or brokenness must come to a clean stop before healing can begin; I think there’s a lot of overlap. There are gains and losses between brokenness and healing. They toggle around: a tug-of-war that pulls one way, then another. Back and forth and back and forth as each side loses and gains strength, they fight to win you over.

Healing is a funny thing: her ability to be happening and not happening at the same time. Healing can be busy at work even when we don’t think she’s there but I also think we can control parts of our healing, too. Healing is like breathing: when you’re not thinking about it, healing involuntarily happens on her own but simultaneously, when you’re aware of it, you can either help healing or hinder her. You can decide to block healing by not letting go or being too afraid to look forward.

Of course, some things never fully heal and that’s not necessarily a bad thing.

Healing, as I’m imagining her as this personified ghost in our beings, is smart. I like that healing allows for some scars to stick around to remind you of the past…like if you were bullied in school, I think she leaves those memories there so that you can remember to be kind to others—that what we say and do to each other really does matter and it really sucks when you’re treated badly. She leaves scars over our hearts so we can remember how brave we once were and when life buries us with piles of uncontrollable circumstance, we can look down at the discolored scar and remember our bravery….our strength.

My vision finally clears itself of yellowish stars and through the heavy dampness, I begin what seems like a very long walk back to the house. Cicadas call from the treetops—their buzzing and clicking chorus an audible illustration of what the inside of my head and chest feels like. Everything is just so unfocused and fuzzy.

But a few days ago, I couldn’t make this walk on my own and yet, here I am. The bandages stuck to me itch in the humidity and I’m anxious to remove them soon to see what’s left in their place…but I still have some time before I can do that. Right now, I’ll take the itching, the pain, the frightening vulnerability and fear of infection all as parts of healing doing her job. It’s because of her that I got the donkeys in tonight and could run my fingers through their shedding fur. But now she’s telling me to go lay down. The beads of humidity roll down my arms and it almost feels as if grandmother humidity is pushing me back towards the house: all these forces telling me to take it easy.

We should listen to them: listen to what our bodies are trying to tell us. Intuition is a powerful thing.

I hear ya humidity. I hear ya, healing. I’ll go lay down now and try again tomorrow.

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Wander

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

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

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

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

No matter how small

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

We wander—we all wander.

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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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About a Baby

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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

 

Rest

You’re tough, my girl,
I’ve seen your fight—
Fire deep in your gut,
Dormant and dark until
SNAP!

Your fury bursts in
Colorful flames, a terrifying
Murder of crows searing high
Into the gray and scattering
Clouds.

But when your strength
Seems lost, my dear, when
The void is all you feel,
Rest your sweet head on
Me,

And I’ll fight until your
Embers catch and crackle
Again and anew. Rest now,
Friend, in your darkness,
Rest.

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