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 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, tickled by the fact that Mr. Secor and Ms. Peelle are married and how funny that they’re both woven into my trip so profoundly. I bet they’d get a kick out of that. Old Crow’s version of Bob Dylan’s “Visions of Johanna” begins to play and I turn it up as loud as my speakers will go. I sing 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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Tink the Bravest Donkey

It is with a heavy and broken heart to report that our dear, sweet boy, Tink, was laid to eternal rest over the weekend. We had a sudden complication with his special foot and after the emergency vet arrived and worked with us to do everything we could, we had to say goodbye. Our family is devastated by this sudden loss and I’m so sad to have to share this news. Many of you were such loving advocates and supporters of sweet Tink and for that, we are all so grateful. I’d written this poem some time last year for him and decided to share it with all of you today in memoriam. He lives on eternally in our hearts. Forever our boy, Tink. Forever our bravest boy.

Begin Again

Even among 1,000 other donkeys, you stood out:
Your coat, a shining, chocolate brown and
Your ears icinged with textured, creamy white.

You laid lazily in the sand, soft rolls of your
Skin rumpled up around your shoulders and chin
And there, against the piped fence, you were

Embodied peace.

Thin, white lines circled your miles-deep eyes
And I could swear that the sky looked a little
Different around you—tugged by gravity, perhaps.

An equine equivalent to a black hole on Earth,
Your presence pulled my gaze, attention,
And beating heart into the shifting spaces about you.

Much later on in the day, I passed your paddock again
But this time you stood with one, front hoof lifted
And to a feeder of hay, you limped.

“What happened to him?” I asked your temporary caretaker (an angel)
And she said that you, Tink, had been permanently injured and that,
Could you believe it, the injury was caused by human neglect.

They had rescued you.

Your front, left hoof had been removed and left behind
Was exposed tissue—pink, soft, and unprotected.
She said you still needed a home and that they

Were waiting for the perfect home to come around
And like a drop of water on a frying pan, I jumped and said
I’d take you. I didn’t even think, not even for a second.

I’d take you.

Weeks later, you arrived at my house—three hooves
And two boots and all the pulling
Presence you had back at the thousand-donkey ranch.

I don’t know if you remembered me that day,
But when you hopped off that trailer,
You brayed so loud that the birds flew.

I laughed and there were some tears I think
But I was so happy that my home was
Yours now, too.  My magic ranch with chickens

Who tell stories and gardens that reveal
Worlds beneath the dirt. My home was yours
Now too, with Bunny the donkey who thinks

She’s a human mom to me and to us all and
Tee the mini donkey who is content with good hay, good scratches
And good songs with acoustic guitars.

My home was yours now, too, with King Ranch
Who can fix anything that breaks (you, included!) and Little Foot
Who will follow you and learn from you and befriend you.

You were home and that night, when I brushed
Your chocolate, brown coat under the baffled
Stars with Bunny and Tee watching curiously,

This magic ranch felt even more like home
Because you’d finally arrived. You with your
Two, interchangeable boots, had finally arrived.

Not much time passed before you and Tee
Became inseparable—a double tail behind
Bunny who bossed you two around which

Is exactly how I assumed it would be. She’s
A mom at heart, even without her own, born children
And it’s her that’s kept all of us grounded all this time.

My home was yours now, too, with concrete
Blocks marking the graves of fallen birds and
Gates that squeal with time. Rose petals

Sprinkle the lawns all spring and summer long
And in the fall, they’re replaced with millions
Of pecans that crunch satisfyingly beneath your steps.

We’d been waiting for you, you know, which is
Why I think the world pulled me to you that day—
That day I saw you laying there without knowing

Who you were.

It’s been since you arrived that King Ranch and I
Have finally started to make sense of this
Ranch life. This strange place that we moved to

Impulsively, unknowing of the stories waiting to be told.
We’ve cried and we’ve fought and we’ve lost
Sleep over our confusion here but more importantly,

We’ve now found hope. Hope that,
Even though there are people in this world who
Can so profoundly mistreat animals and stand to see their own faces

In a mirror, there’s hope. Even though there are wars
Shedding blood and life in distant lands, there is hope. There are those
Who say that the world will end within our children’s

Lifetime but nevertheless, there’s hope. There’s hope because
You’re alive. By all accounts, you shouldn’t be here
And anyone else would’ve put you down to

Put you out of your misery but guess what
I’ve found? You’re not miserable and in fact, you’re
The happiest, most energetic, most magical

Donkey that’s ever lived.

You defy odds. You defy stereotypes. You defy
All of nature simply by being who you are. You’ve
Brought people together who would’ve otherwise

Never met. You are the story that others need
To hear—the donkey with three hooves whose
Louder and more vibrant than all the other donkeys.

You’re the donkey who cannot be kept down. The donkey who
Manipulates the sky and the stars simply because
He is. The donkey who finally came home and with him,

Brought hope.

We don’t have all the answers and no surprise but,
We never will. We can’t change our pasts, nor
Should we worry about tomorrow. We breathe, moment

By precious moment and you, Tink, my three-hooved
Donkey…you remind us to do this. You remind us that we
Are not limited by our shortcomings but can rather be

Made stronger by them. That we should embrace
About ourselves all of ourselves regardless of the
Stigma or stereotype or strangeness—that simply

By being alive, we are strong.

Tink, my sweet, three-hooved donkey, you remind
Us all to be present—to leave our pasts and our futures
Exactly where they are and stretch out every

Interim second to its fullest size. To breathe in
The air of the now, and to bray and sing and shout
Because life’s just too short to disappear into darkness.

This world can be so unfair. People can be so cruel, so wicked,
So centered around their selfishness that they have no
Idea how their actions affect those around them.

They forget or perhaps they never realized that
All breath pulls from the same sky, pulls from the same trees
And there, we are one.

Inhale, exhale, peace, peace, peace.

But on we go, my dear Tink, on we go dancing and braying
And pouring our molten love and pillowy peace into everything
Around us because at the end of it all, it’s all we can do.

It’s all we should do—love one another, three hooves or four or none—
Love each other so deeply and breathe in the moments so deeply
And be so deeply grateful for life blooming wildly and free around us.

This is our beginning, my friends. This moment. This
Line in a poem, this is our beginning. Breathe in—feel that?
That’s a new beginning, too.

Exhale, begin again. Inhale, begin again. Sing, dance,
Weep, fly, bray, sleep, whatever—begin again.
Be like Tink, the bravest donkey, and breathe.

Inhale, exhale, peace, peace, peace.

Begin again.

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An End

The sun’s retreated beyond the piney treetops as I’m driving in my rickety-red truck due south. The heavy, low-hanging clouds are reflecting the sunset so brightly that the neon pinks and oranges seem unreal—a dramatic sky spray-painting. I’ve been on the road for over four hours hauling a trailer behind me which is carrying a riding mower and I have to say I’m proud of my old truck for making it this far with a heavy load in-tow. I never thought I’d be someone who was proud of a vehicle yet, here I am.

On the passenger seat next to me in a dog crate is my hen, Wednesday Addams, and her three, newly hatched chicks. Without a working sound system in my truck, I’ve spent the last several hours listening to the peeping and chattering of Wednesday’s new, little family. They’re not sure what to make of this trip and I suppose, neither am I. It’s all just happened so quickly.

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A little over two and a half years ago, my new, little family moved to a small town in north Texas where we met a donkey named Bunny. She was included in the purchase of our home and really, I think she’s why we ultimately decided to purchase that home. Within that little more than two and a half years, we’ve adopted two more donkeys, Tink and Tee, and fostered twenty three other donkeys until we placed them in forever, loving homes.

It’s been a little over two and a half years since we found that home and several hours ago, I left it for the last time.

In front of me, King Ranch is driving a large moving van and behind me, my dad is in his own pickup truck and together, we three drivers have caravanned across a chunk of Texas in an effort to start anew. King Ranch started a new job several hours away and so the rest of us—Little Foot, Tucker, Bunny, Tee, Tink, Wednesday, her three new chicks and myself—have all followed along.

The clouds have faded into purple and gray as evening swallows the sunset and I’m hoping my three donkeys are doing okay. I delivered them a few days ago to our new house where they have a cozy barn and just as much land as they need. It’s traumatizing for them, I imagine, being loaded into a noisy box, driven at 65 to 75MPH between other whooshing vehicles and strange smells, only to jump out of the box with shaky legs and probably sore hooves in a place they’ve never seen. But if there’s one thing I know about donkeys it’s that they’re resilient—and luckily, they’ve got each other. I can hardly wait to get to our new home to see them again.

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Wednesday Addams’s three babies have burrowed beneath her feathery belly in the now-darkness of our drive and the peeping has drifted into sleep. Her marble, black eyes are mostly shut and I realize that I don’t think I’ve ever actually watched a hen fall asleep. I wonder if they dream? It feels so silent now in the cab of this truck, the only noises left being the Rickety-red’s squeaky engine and passing cars.

I start to wonder if I’ll find a new place to teach yoga once we’ve settled in our new home. I haven’t led a yoga class in over a month being tied up in this move. I feel the tension climbing down my neck and behind my shoulder blades. Stress likes to sit back there, curled into a tight ball and it becomes more and more gravitational the longer I go without slowing down and stretching out properly. It begins to pull at the muscles along my spine and even down into my ham strings.

I think about the yoga class I led at my ranch several months ago—Yoga with the Donkeys is what I called it. I had so many friends attend that night and we raised several hundred dollars that went directly to saving donkeys. I wonder when I’ll see those friends again…north Texas will be a long way away. 

The moving van’s blinker begins to flash and as a caravan, we all change lanes in the blackness of this new night. We still have a ways to go.

An image of Little Foot’s bedroom (which I guess is now his old bedroom) appears in my mind. Hours ago, I stood in that doorway, nothing but indents in the carpet from the moved furniture and the dream-like memories left inside the room. I remember the first time I walked in there and saw him standing upright in his crib—he looked so big. He grinned with only a couple teeth, proud of his accomplishment. I don’t remember what I said to him, but he bounced up and down, giggling wildly. I remember once, when I’d come down the hallway, I heard him chattering in there and when I peeked in, I discovered that he was flipping through “Brown Bear, Brown Bear” and reciting every line as if he knew how to read it all by himself. I thought my heart might stop when I saw that. He emphasized the words just as I had when I’d read it to him. He loves his books. 

I blink my eyes a few times, the taillights of the moving van blurring through my tears and I glance at Wednesday whose eyes are still not fully shut. She must be exhausted. I am.

I wonder if the people who move into our old home will like the painting I’d left on the fence in the garden or if they’ll get rid of it. I always thought of my garden as my own, secret garden only instead of a robin, there were two cardinals.

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It’s all happened so fast—two and a half years have opened and shut so quickly and now, I’m driving away from what seems like a single, snapped Polaroid photo—the memories of it all stuck in that blurry, creaminess that appears before the picture fully develops. It’s done. Our time at the ranch where this whole Donkumentary began has come to an end, the shadow of the back cover of this large book closing all around me as I zoom down this dark, wooded highway.

I don’t yet know if there will be a sequel or a continuation of this here bloggery. This feels like a clean end and an opportunity to begin building new things upon a more solid foundation than when I began before. I also just don’t know what the days, weeks, or months ahead look like. I have no clue.

It will be some time before I’ll have internet up and running at my new place, so I suppose I have some time to think on it. I’ll unpack. I’ll love on my family, two legged and four. I’ll secure fences and hang paintings and learn which light switches belong to which lights. I’ll discover the nearest pizza place and find out if we can keep rescuing donkeys. I’ll take a break from the news and from the interwebs and begin to build again.

Until then, thank you. Thank you for following my story. I’ve loved having you along the way. 

Much love and namasBRAY,
Jess

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Fly, Blackbird, Fly

It’s not quite dawn and I’ve just finished leading a guided meditation which I do with a group of friends three times a week before the sun comes up. It’s never anything fancy, just fifteen or so minutes that we spend together trying to slow down and relax, utilizing the interwebs to connect digitally to share this time.

After the meditation, I pour a cup of coffee and sit for a while. Most mornings like these, Little Foot is still asleep and the donkeys haven’t brayed yet to let me know they’re ready to be let out into the pasture. The sun’s not peeked through the trees and the stillness in my living room is profound. I’ve written before about sitting with silence during this time (that post here) so I won’t go into that again. I do feel that silence and me are becoming more and more acquainted, though. It’s a welcome friendship.

I decide to go outside early—before the glow of the sun bounces off the dew in the grass. It’s damp and cool out this morning and hanging from the awning over my back patio, a black spider is wrapping something tightly on an arm of her snowflake-shaped web.

I shut the door behind me, a sound the donkeys can hear and they must be surprised by my early movement because Bunny brays, then Tink, then Tee and finally, my last adoptable donkey available, The Professor: a pre-dawn chorus. In their shed, I kneel down next to Tink to wrap his hoof and secure his boot before taking time to greet each donkey. They’re even more peaceful in the mornings which for donkeys, is saying a lot.

I’ve not much to say this morning. Several times over the past couple of weeks, I’ve started and then deleted many blog post drafts, none of which have become anything I’ve felt was worth a post. That’s not to say that nothing interesting is happening, in fact a lot is going on…large, life-changing events are happening within our family and to our ranch but because I’m an anxious mind with a tendency to be superstitious about things, I’ve refrained from revealing these changes in an effort to not jinx it all. What I will say has happened is that I’ve allowed myself to become consumed by and buried beneath task after time sensitive task and it’s forced me into reclusive mode.

Breathing deeply helps. Pulling in a long breath, holding it for a few seconds, and then sighing it out helps. Not losing sight of self-worth and refraining from placing self-value in the hands of others helps, too.

As I walk back towards the house, the sky just starting to turn purple, a flock of blackbirds soars overhead, their broad wings gliding effortlessly and I realize my skin is prickling. I close my eyes and draw in a long breath, all the way into the bottom of my lungs. The air is a bright light, swirling down my spine and spreading like spilled ink through my body. I hold it in, the light glowing brighter and brighter, my body relaxing in its warmth. I hold that alabaster peace with all I’ve got and then finally, I exhale and open my eyes.

A single blackbird squabbles in the sky. She is struggling to catch up to the rest of the flock, wings flapping frantically and clumsily, and I’m suddenly overtaken by fear that something’s going to happen to that bird. Why is she struggling so badly? Is she hurt? Eyes wide, I watch the straggler disappear over the trees and suddenly I’m panicking. I search the sky for any other birds but there are none. My heart races and my to do list tumbles down, across the ground in my mind’s eye—a ten-mile long scroll. Everything that’s hanging in the balance falls and shatters and the weight of the world itself lays down across my chest. Fly, blackbird, fly. Come on.

The donkeys are standing next to me now, calm and quiet, and so I take another long, deep breath. I hold it in, trying to visualize the movement of light again but my mind is racing so quickly that I can’t see a thing, just a blur of worry. I sigh and breathe deeply again. No light. My heart’s racing and my breath is shallow. One more time, I breathe deeply, hold it in, and finally sigh it out, cold and dark.

I scan the sky once more, but the blackbirds are gone. I lean on Bunny—it’s like she knows when I’m having a panic attack and knows that by being there, it helps. It does.

I think we’ve all been that blackbird. We’ve all fallen behind, despite how hard we’ve worked. We’ve all been alone, watching the rest move along with ease. I want so badly for that blackbird to catch up to her friends, to the rest, so she doesn’t feel so alone but then I realize that maybe she’s making her own path. Maybe being separated from the rest, misunderstood and a bit clumsy, is just who she is right now. And that’s okay because at least on this morning, she’s still moving forward.

I hug my sweet donkey, her breath steady and mine now too, and with my gray pajama pants tucked into the tops of my work boots which I slipped on without socks, I walk back towards the house where I’ll sit on my couch with a second cup of coffee for just a bit longer, waiting for the sun to come up.

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