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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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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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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The Remington

Moments ago, I began writing a new blog post describing a late night scene from around midnight last night—moon high and air still—when I wondered why I go outside so late so often? Many of my posts have started off with something along the lines of, “It was hovering around midnight when…”

I thought on it for a bit and I think I figured out why I find myself out in the pasture with the donkeys most nights when the only sounds are crickets and distant coyotes:

It seems to me that when I finally settle into that sweet spot in bed where the blanket is tucked up under my neck with just the right amount of tension and my right, lower leg and foot are sticking out of the covers at just the right angle…when the height of the pillow is neither too high nor too low…when the temperature in the house has finally settled at that perfect 72 degrees…that’s where my ole’ pal anxiety wakes up.

“Psssst. Hey. Hey you. Did you lock the doors?
…I don’t think you turned off the stove top…
…Is Little Foot breathing?
…I bet you forgot to turn off the hose that was refilling the donkey’s trough earlier and now your entire property is flooded…
…What did so-and-so mean in that cryptic text message earlier?”

…and so on.

Fight as I might, reassuring myself that yes, I did and checked and figured out (or let go of) all of those things, anxiety just won’t sleep unless I check again. Even my anxiety is anxious. As such, most nights I wander out into the pasture in my jammies and my boots to do one last check on the hoses, the chickens, and the donkeys. The donkeys have come to expect my late night visits—their eager ears perked at their gates when I inevitably show up with a flashlight.

So last night, I stood outside for sometime in the company of my sweet donkeys three as I stared up into a clear sky. It was a half moon and I studied her perfect halfness until she began to look like a cream colored button poking out of a black sky. The stars wandered in and out of focus about her and after I cleaned the smudges from my glasses with my shirt, I spotted a wandering satellite gliding across the sky.

After some time, I bid my donkeys sweet dreams and came back into the house, my anxiety mostly satisfied with my having triple-checked.

Wide awake at this point, I decided to tinker with my new, 80-year old Remington typewriter that was so graciously gifted to me by King Ranch on my birthday over the weekend. It is a beaut, this typewriter: bright red with yellow keys that have years and years of stories stuck beneath them.

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I unlocked its case, set it on the kitchen table, slid in a piece of paper and began to press down what my mind had not yet finished seeing from the outside. I click-clacked over the keys, careful to line up the margins with every line break and to try to spell every word correctly the first time and sometime later, my mind had fully transferred her thoughts onto paper.

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I studied my new poem for a proud moment before placing the cover back on the Remington and heading back to bed. Once resettled, (blanket tucked, leg out, pillow perfect) all I could imagine was the way the keys felt beneath my fingers. Click-clack, click-clack, sliiiiide. Click-clack, click-clack, sliiiiide. The keys are surprisingly heavy, giving my fingertips a challenge. I love that the Remington isn’t sensitive; I’ve got enough fragility elsewhere in my life. The Remington is strong and steady, demanding of my awareness. 

I slept so well last night. I slept heavily and deeply: my dreams wandering down rivers and through trees and I seem to remember a blue backpack and wings.

I won’t jinx it, but perhaps my anxiety who has anxiety has found a new manager named Remington.

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Lightning Shows

Last night leading up to midnight, I spent the better part of an hour out in the shed with the donkeys watching the sky. Our little area of Texas was having what I thought at the time was a heat lightning storm—something we cherish down here in the south. Lightning pulses behind heavy clouds in a humid sky, sometimes reaching out in bolts and grand, illuminating flashes during these storms. They only seem to happen when we’ve spent several days with high temperatures hovering around 100 degrees.

While I was out there, I got to wondering what causes heat lightning so when I came inside some time later, sweaty and draped in small spider webs I’d picked up on my walk back, I Googled heat lightning only to find out that heat lightning doesn’t exist. We’ve made up that phenomenon! That information can be found here: What is Heat Lightning?

I love the weather channel.

Even so, these lightning shows are stunning to behold. Their never ending flashes become meditative after a while, especially without the anticipation of thunder. I put these lightning events on the same level as a good fire whereby you can sit for hours staring into its ever changing light and there, no two people will regard them in the same way.

The best stories are told around fires. The best thoughts are conjured during lightning storms.

I thought about how, way back when I first moved here to the ranch and the months following, I was so lost. If you’ve only recently started following this here ranch life adventure, then you may not know that donkeys found me…not the other way around. King Ranch and I had bought a property and said property came with a donkey. I thought about how when we moved here, Little Foot was a mere 4 month old infant: tiny and fragile and I was a 4 month old mother with no idea what I was doing. We didn’t know a single person within 250 miles and even the nearest grocery store was a half-hour drive.

The lightning continually flashed across the sky, highlighting the shapes of the clouds and reflecting off the large eyes of my three donkeys who watched the sky with me intently. I thought about how many times I wanted to run away—back home to Houston where I knew people, where I had a support system. I missed my parents and my friends and my local watering holes. And although Houston is so congested and humid all the time, I missed her familiarity.

But Houston didn’t have my donkeys. I watched the way their ears shifted and twitched with little sounds that flicked about. I thought about how now, being two and a half years into this ranch life, Little Foot has had the opportunity to grow up with dirt under his fingernails and donkeys at his side. They’re very protective of him. I remember when Little Foot was just learning to walk, how Bunny and Tee would follow closely behind him, their noses right behind his little, wobbly back. Even now, when he’s out there with me running and jumping, they’re always by his side.

The lightning rolled on—a pulsing, electrical heartbeat stretching across the sky. I got the sense that the snaking and slithering bolts were beginning to reach down into my own chest, wrapping their light around and into the chambers of my beating and tender heart. It’s been over two years since we moved here and in many ways, I feel as lost as I did then—like I’m constantly searching for something but just can’t find it. I’ve described to King Ranch lately that it’s like I’m in a biplane circling the same, cloudy destination but can’t land because I can’t see it yet.

Bunny was leaning on me by this point and I suspect it’s because she felt my apprehension. She always does this: leans her weight into me when I’m thinking too hard. Maybe it’s her way of telling me to slow down which, I feel like a lot of people have been telling me to do recently. And I know I need to but I struggle because something….something….is tugging at my insides. I just don’t know what.

More clouds appeared and the bolts became harder and harder to see, only dull flashes pulsed in the distance and so I decided to abandon my post and go inside to research heat lightning. When I discovered that it’s a made up concept, I wondered to myself if that invisible landing spot which I’ve been circling is a figment of my imagination. Perhaps like the “heat lightning” being far-travelling lightning from a far away storm, my own apprehensions are far-travelling anxieties from a far away shift in my own recent past…residual stress from everything in my life changing in the past two and a half years.

Or maybe, indeed, change and shifts are somewhere on my own horizon. By now, I’ve learned that there’s a lot to be said for the feelings that poke and prod in your gut—that intuition is a real thing, if given a chance.

Either way, there is wisdom in the shifting skies. If it’s been a while, you should sit outside and look up for a while. It reminds you how vast the universe is and a reminder that the same vastness is inside you. Just as there are storms and heat and fierce winds and mysteries in the skies, so too are there in you. They’re worth beholding from time to time.

So are donkeys. They’re always worth beholding 🙂

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Springtime Shifts & Snips

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Gather it up and let it go.

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Follow the Cardinal

It’s colder than Narnia out there, y’all.

I’m looking out the back window at the small patches of snow hiding in the shadows of my backyard when down from the bony trees, a bright, red cardinal descends. He lands in the damp leaves and hops about, cocking his head side to side. He bounces with authority as if he knows precisely where he’s going on this cold day. I scramble to find my camera but manage only to snap a few, blurry photos of a red smudge. I wonder if he’s leading me to something like the robin leading Mary to her Secret Garden? I decide to bundle myself and go out to follow the bird.

Last week, I started re-reading The Secret Garden by Frances Hodgson Burnett for the first time since I was in middle school. I remember, as a pre-teen, enjoying the book, although my memory did not retain many of the small, magical details and the deeply, profound metaphors for the essence of life that this time around, are grabbing at my soul. Taking risks, for example…making somethings out of nothings…the recognition of the good in the world no matter what and so much more. Perhaps it’s because life has a different meaning as an adult then it did when I was in middle school, but this time ‘round, I simply cannot keep from crying as I read it. In a peculiar way, I almost feel as if I have more wonder and curiosity about the world now than I did when I was a young girl.

This is on the coattails of something that happened while I was in Houston visiting my family for the holidays that’s been causing an itch in my head like poison ivy on the brain and this happening, coincidentally enough, also involved middle-school me.

My father found an old box of family videos and managed to get his hands on a working VCR so that all of us (as a family who is rarely together these days) could watch a few of them. Of the overflowing box, we picked at random and after rewinding the tape, we found ourselves watching a video of my family at some park when I was around the age of 11 or 12. It was spring and the bluebonnets were blooming which, as is tradition in many Texas households, sent our family on a roadtrip to the Texas hill country to take pictures in the rolling, blue flowers.

I’d not seen this video since it was filmed and to see myself on the poorly tracked tape literally took my breath away. I was taken aback because as most girls/women living in the times we do now, I was so heavily critical of my looks and abilities (and if you’ve kept up with my blogs, you know that I deal with a good amount of residual confidence issues as an adult). To my now, grown eyes, I was astonished with what a pretty, pretty girl I was back then with my long, wavy brown hair and wide, blue eyes. My legs were longer than most middle-schoolers and I frolicked through the tall grass with much more grace than I ever remembered having. I actually remember being self-conscious with how clumsy I thought I was and how masculine I felt being so tall and strong and being a girl with only two brothers.

I watched myself on the screen, smiling my crooked smile and wearing clothes that fit me awkwardly (like every preteen does) and I choked back tears because I remembered being that girl and hating myself so much. I never fit in with anyone or anything and quickly gave up on trying. I built walls and hid behind them, refusing to believe that any part of me was any good or worth any self-respect. I retreated to living in my own mind where I could ponder on things and imagine what things must feel like out there. From the chair in my folks’ living room watching her there, I wanted to jump through the screen and hug her neck and tell her that she is so beautiful and that there’s a blossoming world around her that is far greater and more powerful than any insecurities—it’s a world for everyone.

Like Colin in The Secret Garden, I had no idea of my own strength and abilities for so long, only it was because of my own insecurities, not a staff of enablers. I sat in my mind, scared and lonely and bitter in so many ways, and although I didn’t have a Mary to find me weeping in my room, I did eventually make it outside to see what was growing. I finally went outside as an adult which is why I suppose I find myself searching for magic and meaning and little cracks in the surface so much these days.

I was glad to watch the videos but also so surprised at what I saw. I’m not even sure what I’m getting at by typing all of this out except to say that whether it be going outside the house or going outside our own minds, it’s limitless what you’ll find out there. The world is a beautiful place of wonder and growing and kisses from the sun and we should go out there every day so that we may live forever and ever. That young, frolicking girl in the grainy video at my folk’s house had no idea how beautiful she was and no idea that the world was reaching for her and yearning for her touch. At the same time, she didn’t realize how much she missed the warmth of the sun by living behind her own walls. Now that she’s been out there though, the opportunities are endless and the ground is aching to be tilled so that its flowers may bloom.

The cardinal bounces around several feet away from me before flapping away into the trees. Instead of a buried key, perhaps this is exactly what he wanted me to find—the realization that age has no impact on your ability to wonder. Time has no impact on how you can love yourself. Walls can be broken. And that no matter how cold or seemingly dead the world is, there is magic happening beneath the soil. Time and TLC will help it grow.

Afterall, if you look the right way, you can see that the whole world is a garden.
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When Trees Talk

The new year, whose force of reflection and goal-setting is so proverbial, has caught me in its clutches as I sit, staring out the large window in my living room with tears streaming down my face. A cold front is pushing through as I type this—it’s lashing through the trees and sending my windchimes into resounding choruses while gray-slated clouds race each other across the sky. I watch as the leaves on the magnolia trees flicker in the wind—they flip and flop so quickly from waxy side to dull side that they’re twinkling. The bare branches of the pecan trees wave back and forth like long, skeletal fingers trying to get my attention as I’m struggling to scramble up the sides of this muddy-mind pit in which I’ve fallen.

I suspect I’m here because I don’t do well in the hype around new years: all of its pressure to start again and set goals and review where you’ve been and where you’re going. Not to mention that I loathe fireworks and much like my donkeys, feel like I spend several days after 12:00AM, January 1st trying to recover from the stress of the “celebratory” explosions. Why do we blow things up to welcome a new year, anyway?

I do advocate learning from the past and responsibly preparing for the future, but as a person living with anxiety, it’s easy for me to get lost in the mistakes of the past and in the uncertainties of the future to the point where I lose sight of what’s unfolding in front of me right now: what’s occurring in my present moment. I worry endlessly about all those things that I cannot, despite my efforts, control.

An anxious mind struggles to slow down: it’s not defaulted to normal speed. An anxious mind, as Doctor Who said once about the essence of time, is “…more like a big ball of wibbly wobbly… time-y wimey… stuff…” only, instead of “time-y wimey,” it’s “what-iffy, but why-oh-why-ey” stuff. Further, the constant feed of resolutions and deals and changes everywhere buries the anxious mind in layers upon layers of memos in which I know I’ll never, EVER have a chance to respond.

My anxious mind can’t see which way is up or down right now so I’m staring and crying and now typing in hopes that I’ll land on some sort of an answer or epiphany as to how the heck one can calm down while they’re this deep in the ground as the mud is sliding down with more and more and more horsepower (or, more accurately, donkey power.)

The trees are still waving their bony branches. I’m watching intently and thinking of waving back when I realize that there’s something profound here. I’m remembering reading once from a Zen story, something about someone pointing at the moon and you looking at where they’re pointing is not actually the moon or the moon’s location, but it’s just you gazing past their finger to see the moon. So no matter how accurately someone else points at the moon, you’ll only ever see their finger hovering over it (or something like that). The point being that it is the practice and the patience of your own journey that will land you on the moon one day, and maybe that’s what my pecan trees are doing right now. They’re waving at me, encouraging me to slow the eff down and look at them. Right now, they’re dancing. By God, they’re dancing! Look at them go!

Before it gets too chilly out there, I’ll need to go out and visit with the donkeys. I’ll shuffle them into their shelters with fresh hay and water and give them each some snuggles. I do hope that all of you have a wonderful new year, but more importantly, I hope you’re all having a wonderful right now. At the end of it all, life is made of right now’s and so new year or not, you always have the opportunity to begin again. Every breath and every moment is new and not every breath or every moment needs fireworks to be meaningful.

…and if it were my world, fireworks would be left to the professionals always…not in neighborhoods to terrorize poor animals who don’t understand that the wild explosions aren’t the world ending around them. I really do hate fireworks.

When Trees Talk

Cold Coffee and Gray Skies: A Morning Meditation on Togetherness

I relaxed my back against the coolness of the wrought-iron chair in which I’d been sitting and leaning forward for the past half-hour while pulling my smudged glasses from my face. On the desk in front of me, I closed the large, three-ring binder that is packed full of printouts of guided meditations that I use in my yoga classes from time to time. I moved it to the floor and picked up my cup of coffee that no longer steamed.

The sun was only barely beginning to rise outside the small window to my left. It was a gray sunrise behind heavily hanging, weather-changing clouds that are bringing a cold-front our way. Bowie, our youngest rooster, crowed twice. I know his crow from the others—it’s softer and shorter. It’s not very confident compared to the others. I suppose he’s still trying to find his voice.

Also on my desk was our county’s newspaper that gets delivered to us weekly by mail, folded into quarters and the side that faced up had two advertisements on it. The first had a headline that read, “Choose to Change Lives” and the second, a headline that read, “Every Abused or Neglected Child Needs a Caring, Consistent Adult to Advocate for His or Her Well-Being.” I sipped my cool coffee.

The night before this, I’d gone out to remove our newest donkey, Tink’s, prosthetic boot and wrapped gauze. His wound is healing, but still needs time to air out at night when he’s less active. Oxygen, indeed, is the greatest healer. After I removed his boot and unwrapped the gauze, I sat down in the dirt next to him and rubbed his wounded leg. I pressed my thumbs firmly around his joints and ran my fingers up and down the muscles between them. When I do this, he softens his eyes and lowers his head: a signal to me that it feels pleasant. Oddly enough, that’s what my guided meditation was about this morning: equanimity between pleasantness, unpleasantness and neutrality. It spoke to the fact that we often cling to pleasantness, condemn unpleasantness, and space-out during neutrality and in that, we miss out. We let moments pass us by. We live based on experience and not based on the present.

Donkeys do this, too, I think. They can often seem to cling to experience to protect themselves.

The wind whipped around the sides of the shed last night as I sat, massaging TInk’s leg. I could see the black clouds unfolding and collapsing as my two remaining adoptable donkeys, Fireball and Fluff, cautiously wandered into the shed, their heads low. These two donkeys are very shy and although I have no concrete information, I get the sense there’s pain in their respective backgrounds. I continued to massage Tink’s swollen leg, humming my favorite James Taylor song (Close Your Eyes) when Fluff took two more steps closer to me. I continued to softly sing and he took one more step to where now, he could reach my face with his nose.

I turned my nose to his and he exhaled twice. So did I.

Behind him, Fireball stood timidly and with his eyes wide. Fluff took two more steps towards me, his neck and head above me now, and rested his chin on the top of my head. Under the pressure, I continued to hum.

Tink lowered his leg and leaned his weight into my side and I started to struggle beneath the weight of both Fluff and Tink but I didn’t want to move. I didn’t want them to snap back into experience. I wanted, so badly, for them to be in this moment with me experiencing trust.

Being at the bottom of a two-donkey pile, I hadn’t noticed that somewhere during this time, Fireball was no longer in my line of sight when suddenly, from behind me, I felt an exhale rush past my ear. I exhaled, too and he didn’t run away. Baby steps.

I placed my cool cup of coffee back down on the desk and looked at the headlines of our county newspaper again. I wondered what other people thought when they saw these headlines about changing lives and advocating for abused of neglected children. I wondered at all why someone would ever abuse or neglect a child. I began to feel very upset, thinking even of my own Little Foot and how I could never, ever imagine hurting him and as I did this, I pushed the newspaper away and looked back out the window.

But in that moment, I condemned and pushed away unpleasantness, just like the meditation said and I got to wondering, how different would our world be if instead of running away from the bad, we all worked together to “Choose to Change Lives”? To, instead of moving based on our experiences, moved in the present? Together?

I’ll admit, I don’t always trust or know what I believe. I simply think too much. But what I do know is that we all belong to one another—human and animal alike. It is our responsibility to care deeply for one another—to not push away the unpleasantness because we’re scared but to instead, pick each other up even when it hurts or the pressure is too high. It’s our responsibility to not turn a blind eye because we don’t like it or to space out because we don’t get it. We need each other. All of us.

All of this easier said than done, of course. But I think it’s worth trying…especially if it means that someone might feel safer or more loved.

The sun was up now, although the light trickling in was cool and gray. The few, remaining leaves in the trees twinkled in the wind and once more, Bowie crowed. I’d be heading out soon to re-wrap Tink’s little hoof and put his boot on and I’d probably brush him and the other two donkeys if they’d let me. I would go to the other paddock and spend time with Bunny and Tee who need to be reminded that I love them unconditionally, too. I’d come in after that and make breakfast for Little Foot and hold him in my lap while he drinks his milk. We’d probably read a book, too. I’d call King Ranch to tell him I love him and that I hope he has a good day at work and then I’d probably call my mom just to see how she’s doing.

We belong to each other. All of us, big and small, rich and poor, strong and weak. We can choose to change lives. We can advocate for one another. We should.

Fluff and fireball