A Quick Bit About My Book (On Sale Now!)

My children’s book, Tink the Bravest Donkey, is on sale now here! 100% of the proceeds are going to the non-profit, Peaceful Valley Donkey Rescue, which were the folks responsible for bringing Tink into our lives in the first place.

 


May you always feel as brave as a donkey. NamasBRAY.

Giving Tuesday

Several years ago, when I inadvertently adopted a donkey named Bunny (and subsequently Tee, Tink, and Bodhi), I decided my voice would go to donkeys. They are the sweetest, smartest, kindest creatures around who have spent decades, nay, centuries being mocked, overworked, and vastly underappreciated. Now, they’re being slaughtered by the millions across the globe (4 million last year, alone) and still being found abandoned, neglected, abused, and just plain forgotten.

In addition to my writing & blogging, I work for the Peaceful Valley Donkey Rescue: those who were responsible for saving donkeys like Tink & Bodhi. Tink was saved from a terrible situation of severe neglect that almost killed him (and left him without a front, left hoof) and Bodhi was a newborn who was found abandoned by his mother in a windstorm, desperately trying to hold onto life. Both got a second chance because of Peaceful Valley.

We are a registered 501(c)(3) non-profit organization run entirely on private donations and so, if you’re someone who participates in #GivingTuesday or just have a couple extra dollars to spare, please consider helping us in our mission to save donkeys across the country. They need a voice, too.

https://donkeyrescue.org/

 

Dawn, My Dear

It’s early; the kind of early where the light is still too blue and too dull to form stripes on the walls of the bedroom in which I’m waking and instead just casts an eerie glow that only really exists for this moment of the day. I don’t have to see to know that outside, everything is covered in a film of delicate dew which reflects the sleepy, blue light in the curves of its drops. Dawn, my dear, on days like this, you are most welcome.

I sit up and swing my feet out from under the covers, the room a blurry blue. Where are my glasses? Beside the bed is hand-painted a foot stool that spent decades in the living room of our family’s house growing up. The chipped and worn text reads,

“Our home we’ll share
With friends we meet
So pull up a chair
And rest your feet.”

I smile. I haven’t seen this foot stool since I’d moved out of my parents house in college. That’s the funny thing about visiting your siblings: the small Easter eggs that you’ve divied up from your childhood to furnish and decorate your own places are always fun surprises to find.

I’m in Austin, TX visiting my younger brother who recently moved back down here and I’m so thrilled he’s within reasonable driving distance again. Him and his wife are still sleeping after a long and exciting night of incredible showmanship. The two of them are in a highly successful folk band called The Oh Hellos and I had the privilege of being able to watch them pour their hearts out onstage from the front row. What an incredible treat. I haven’t found the words yet to describe how proud I am of my brother. It’s profound.

Ah, my glasses. I’d left them perched atop my backpack that I’ve been travelling with for a few days. I’ve been on a little jaunt around north and central Texas where I’ve visited with like-minded donkey lovers who are also involved with the Peaceful Valley Donkey Rescue. It’s trips like this which reaffirm my theory that donkey people are the best people. The people who volunteer their time, properties, and hearts to PVDR donkeys are the people who also see the worlds swirling within donkey’s eyes. They sense the calm. They are humbled by the complexity. And I love every single one of them.

I stretch, reach for my glasses, and finally begin to see white stripes forming on the walls from the waking sun which peeks curiously through the blinds.

I catch a glimpse of myself in the mirror: red, puffy eyes. It’s unsurprising to me because I cried several times last night just in utter awe of my kid-brother’s raw talent and the (no exaggeration) 30,000 fans that piled in the field before him and his band. My sweet, empathetic, friend-of-all brother is a bona fide rock star and they just don’t teach you how to handle that kind of pride.

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My kid brother, Joey (center) and my cousin Clint (left) and me (right) before the concert last night.

 

Also yesterday, I was featured in the latest episode of Donkey Rescue TV where I got to sit down with PVDR’s Executive Director, Mark Meyers, to talk all about donkeys and how it takes all of us working together to make change for these amazing creatures. That’s enough to get my water works going but the kicker is this…

Y’all. I wrote a children’s book about our boy Tink called “Tink the Bravest Donkey” and it’s being published later this year. My children’s book is coming out. It’s happening. And better yet? Proceeds go to saving donkeys like Tink.

I’d love if you checked out this short episode for more information on all of that here: It Takes a Village 

I rub my red eyes and wipe away tears that decided to wait until now to escape. My brother will be up soon (I think) and we’ll go to breakfast where I can stare at him curiously across the table wondering how in the world such a sweet, little boy turned into such a handsome and successful man. We’ll say a sad goodbye and then I’ll then hop in the car bound for the open road home and think about Tink and how much I miss him, how much he meant to us, and how ecstatic I am that his memory gets to live on in the form of a children’s book about love for one another.

But for now, as I wait for my brother and his wife to wake up, I’ll sit in company of the white light that bouncing off of everything. This day is so excited to get started that she can hardly hold still. I feel the same way.

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A screenshot from the latest episode of DRTV where my upcoming children’s book is announced! Watch the whole episode here: http://www.donkeyrescue.tv

P.S. In case you missed the announcement on my Facebook page, one of my essays has been selected for publication with Texas’s Emerging Writers: An Anthology of Nonfiction and pre-order sales are available! You can grab your copy here: Pre-Sale!

The Midday Scorcher

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

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

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

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

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

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

I don’t mean to sound egotistical, but I’m comfortable enough with myself to love my own isms, especially the more I choose to learn about them and the more I’m starting to realize that if reincarnation is indeed a thing, I might’ve been a donkey in my past life. Same goes for donkeys—how many people jump to the conclusion that they’ve got pea-sized brains because some movie made an ass joke about them while trotting a big, statuesque and shiny hero-horse by?

It’s been a while since I’ve passed another vehicle and I start to wonder if my car broke down in the heat of this sun, what would I do? No cell service, no folks passing by, no donkeys to lean on. I suppose I’d find some shade and listen to this book some more until someone came along.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Seven New Donkeys Under A Star-Speckled Sky

From the floor in the cob webby, cadaverous corner of my closet, I retrieved my thickest jacket—a cream colored hoodie with peach and green zigzags stretched horizontally across it. I bought it for $1.50 at an estate sale a few towns over last year because having lived in Houston my entire life until our move to the ranch, thick jackets were none of my concern. It was a late November day that hovered in the low 70’s and was dipping down to the high 30’s by early nightfall. As I cranked up the heater inside my house, I realized that there was a good chance that my new shipment of adoptable donkeys that had only arrived yesterday may not realize that the shelter I have erected on my property was there for them to keep dry and warm. After checking the sleeves of my hoodie for spiders, I slipped it on along with my work boots and headed outside.

It was one of those nights where it was hard to believe that the air was chilly—the sky was a blanket of stars without a smudge of a cloud and as far as I could tell, there was no breeze. Maybe it’s because I’m from the south, but I just don’t expect still, clear nights to be so, damn cold…I expect wind and clouds to be involved at least a bit. 

I unlatched and unlocked the first gate that leads into the pasture and the metallic clang of the chain against the post sent seven sets of ears straight up into the sky. At the time, they were all in a circle around the large, approximately 500LB bail of hay I’d gotten for them and by the time I made it through the gate, two of those sets of ears were right next to me, nosing at my jeans and exhaling quickly.

One by one, they approached me except for Tink who stayed back at the hay…more on him later.

I clicked from the back of my teeth and said, “Come on, kiddos,” as I walked towards their shelter. To my surprise, they all followed, fighting to be the closest to my backside. I was surprised because until this point, all of these new adoptable donkeys had been pretty standoffish towards me which I understood. They’ve been through so much and now they’re at this place with this weird woman who talks to them in a high-pitched voice and even sings to them. (Yes, I sing to them…earlier, I tried to win over their affections with carrots and to the tune of ‘I’m a little tea pot’ I sang, ‘Here’s a little carrot just for you, Take it and you munch it and you crunch it through and through.’)

We made it to the shelter and they stood around me expectantly. I wondered then if I should have brought them a treat. Instead, I leaned on the back wall of the shelter and peered out at the clear sky. A plane passed by with red and blue blinking lights as snorts and exhales filled the shelter with warmth. I found that I was actually quite warm now, myself. Noses took turns pressing into my arms and furry ears took turns brushing my cheeks and chin.

Donkeys in the dark are far more mysterious than they are in daylight. You can’t see where they’re looking or how tightly they’re holding the muscles around their eyes (which is a way I’ve learned to tell the mood of my own donkeys). Donkeys in the dark force a letting go of control and instead, you allow yourself to exist in the void of our connected consciousnesses. It’s trusting that they sense your intentions and learning to trust theirs, too.

I am no expert at donkey adoption. This is only my second batch of adoptable donkeys and I was just as nervous in receiving them this time as I was the last. I obsessively check the gates to ensure they’re latched and locked. Any bray that echoes during the day or night sends me out in the pasture to ensure all is okay. I’m overprotective and strict towards potential applicants who are interested in adopting because these donkeys have been through enough whether it be neglect, abuse, or even having been surrendered by someone they trusted. Change is a lot for an anxious mind and donkeys are quite anxious, naturally. Wherever they end up permanently needs to be a home of patience and of love and of borderline neurotic obsession because I guess I don’t think it’s all that strange to spend a good portion of the night outside with your new donkeys so that they know their shelter is safe and warm. It’s also not weird to sing to them—I’ve found they actually quite like it and they don’t care if you’re in tune or not.

I stayed in the shelter with them for some time watching the stars twinkle against a deeply bruised sky when finally, Tink joined us.

Tink will not be adopted out. Instead, I am adopting him. He is a mini donkey who was severely injured to the point where his front, left leg is no longer functioning. The left front hoof will never grow in properly and he wears a boot to protect the exposed leg. He is special needs and certainly will be extra work for me but I am so grateful to have him. He’s one of the most beautiful donkeys I’ve ever laid eyes on and never has a donkey (or anyone / anything other than my own kid) been so quick to lean his weight so trustingly into me.

Tink the mini donkey

I welcomed him into the shelter and knelt beside him, a hand on his back. I told him that I will take care of him—that I will do everything in my power to never let any harm come to him. I know he doesn’t understand my words, but I hope he feels my sincerity. Scratch that, I know he feels it. That’s what donkeys do. 

Bunny and Tee still aren’t sure of all of this, but like last time, they’ll adjust soon enough. Donkeys speak one language and that is love, no doubt. They sense it. They feel it. They validate its authenticity and will let you know if they sense bull shit. I often wish that us humans could be a little more like them.

After some time, I headed back to the house, exhaling fog. As I secured the last lock, Tink started to bray and boy does he have a loud bray. This made Bunny and then Tee and then all the rest of the donkeys from their shelter erupt into a crescendo of hee-haws beneath the clear, crisp sky. I smiled and walked inside.

Donkeys in the dark

 

 

 

The Land of 1,000 Donkeys: A Weekend at the Peaceful Valley Donkey Rescue Headquarters

I was in the second of two white vans that slowed to a gravel-crunching stop outside the visitor’s center at the Peaceful Valley Donkey Rescue’s headquarters in San Angelo, Texas. As the dust settled, I waited my turn to exit the van, crouched and clutching my satchel to my stomach. My heart pounded wildly in my chest as my boots hit the dry ground and the spicy scent of livestock surrounded me. Beneath the shining Texas sun beating down through a cloudless sky, I breathed in the dry, sandy air and followed the crowd away from the vans.

The group with whom I was travelling consisted of other managers and volunteers of Peaceful Valley’s satellite adoption centers around the country and members of the PVDR Board of Trustees. We had all come to San Angelo for the 2016 Peaceful Valley Donkey Rescue Symposium and for me, I was meeting absolutely everyone (but for the owner of the whole operation, Mark Meyers) for the very first time.

For the vast majority of us, this was our first visit to San Angelo’s headquarters and even if I hadn’t already discussed this with the others, I’d have guessed by the way they stood in awe like I did upon arrival. Literally, as far as one could see, were pens of hundreds of donkeys. From every direction, brays of varying pitches and depths echoed—the songs of the saved. After several minutes of dropped jaws and goofy grins, we (the crowd) shuffled into the visitors center to begin the business of the symposium. It would be a busy weekend with brainstorming, discussions, hands-on demonstrations, Q&As, labs and team-building all in an effort and in the spirit of bettering lives for donkeys.

If you’ve been following my blog at all, then you’re well aware that my heart beats for donkeys and that it’s because of donkeys that my life is far better than I could have imagined. They’ve grounded me in a unique way…unknowingly showing me that it’s okay to be an anxious and protective creature because for many, that’s what it means to self-preserve. They’ve taught me the importance of trust and how to be strong and that no matter what, you keep going.

As I sat in a fold-out chair in the back row watching Mark Meyers talk about the organization that him and his wife, Amy, built, I realized that I was among people that understood all of these things about donkeys—so much so that they work tirelessly and devote their lives to the welfare of these amazing and overwhelmingly forgotten creatures. I was surrounded by people that don’t have to ask the question, “why donkeys?” but instead ask, “why the hell NOT donkeys?” They are a species that are unmatched in intelligence, strength, complexity and grace and they need a voice, too.

That voice came together this weekend and I had the honor and privilege to be a part of it.

I travelled alone to this conference which was probably a good idea because by the time I made it back to my hotel room after our first day at the San Angelo ranch, I spent a good amount of time letting tears stream down my face as I tried to fall asleep. They were tears for the hundreds of faces I saw at the ranch that had been through so much: hooves that were grown out so far that the donkey would never comfortably walk again, blinded and injured donkeys, scared and formerly abused donkeys. But they were also tears of joy that at least now, those donkeys were safe. They were tears of appreciation for how much these people I’d met have given and will continue to give just so these donkeys have a chance. They were tears of gratitude for the good that still exists in the world and the pure bad-assery that I…nervous, awkward, what-the-heck-am-I-doing-with-my-life Jess…gets to be a part of it.

Besides the invaluable education I received through our hands on workshops, the friendships I made over drinks and good food, and the hundreds of donkeys that I got to put my hands on and look into the eyes of, I was also assured of something this weekend that I didn’t expect: that this…aiding in donkey rescue even the tiny bit that I can…is exactly what I’m supposed to be doing with my life. No doubt. I know this because as Mark Meyers spoke to all of us at the Board of Trustees meeting on Saturday night, he read from his gavel the quote, “Know who you serve.” For the first time in a long time, I’m certain of that. Stars aligning, blue moon gazing, ladybug landing certain.  

On Sunday, after picking at donkey’s hooves, trying my hand at clicker training, learning about wound care, sliding my hands into a donkeys mouth who was having dental work done, and picking up some great tools for transporting donkeys, I said my goodbyes and headed home. I imagined my own donkeys and wondered what kinds of memories stirred behind their deep, brown eyes. I wondered if when I got home, they’d smell the other donkeys on me in the same way dogs do. I wondered if they’d missed me as much as I missed them. I couldn’t wait to get there to find out.

Below are two slideshows of various photos from the weekend. For more information on how you can help, please visit www.donkeyrescue.org.

And to all the staff, volunteers, and supporters of PVDR—I freakin’ love all of you. Like, a lot.

Big BRAYnnouncement!

 

 

With an old kitchen rag, I whacked old, dusty cobwebs from the extra water troughs that are stored in the back house.  Later, I dampened the same cloth to wipe down all the hay feeders until they shined. I thought about where I might hang the feeders and place the troughs and imagined what they will be like—our first shipment of rescue donkeys.

I imagine they will be scared. Donkeys don’t forget things. Some have been neglected, abused, overworked, or abandoned. Lucky for all of us, the Peaceful Valley Donkey Rescue has grown into the largest organization of its kind after its humble beginnings 16 years (and 8,000+ rescues) ago.

We are honored to become a part of such a loving and prestigious group of fellow donkey enthusiasts and we are thrilled to be able to contribute to such a good cause.

Please follow us on Facebook here to keep up with the latest news and invite your friends to ‘like’ us too—especially if they’re fellow donkey enthusiasts!

Thank you so much to PVDR for welcoming us into your organization. We are so touched.