Waiting out the Storm

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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“A Place For Us All Here”

They ain’t lying when they say it’s always darkest before dawn because it’s about a quarter of 6AM and the surrounding darkness is almost suffocating. I’m on a winding, two-lane highway which slowly and repetitively climbs up then dips down between heavy pines with dangling, skeletal fingers. Signs tell me that I’m fixing to cross over the Sabine River into Louisiana.

For the first time in probably thirty minutes, another vehicle appears around the corner in front of me and I quickly turn off my car’s brights. They do the same and I have to say how much I love the respect we strangers show each other during overnight driving. Rarely in my dark drives have I ever experienced the motorist who fails to turn off their brights and I think that says a lot about how polite people are just by nature. I’d wave, but they won’t see me—I imagine they think about waving, too. As soon as they pass, I click my brights back on. Long, curvy lines of yellow reflectors. Piney fingers. Slithering fog in ditches.

I’m ashamed to admit it being a native Texan and all, but I’ve never been to Louisiana. My friends give me a hard time for this. “What? You’ve never been to Louisiana? New Orleans? But you’re so close!” I know, I know, I’ve no excuse. But then here, around this corner, I come upon a break in the trees and the highway turns into a bridge and halfway over the bridge, my only travel companion, Google Maps, interrupts my audio book and says, “Welcome to Louisiana.” I smile.

The bridge ends and here I am: Louisiana. Maybe it’s the profound darkness, the solitude, or the fact that the fog sure seems to be collecting more and more of itself, but Louisiana feels different. Not even a mile past the Sabine and it feels like I’ve entered into a distant and strange land. As they say, Google Maps, we’re not in Texas anymore. I have about ten hours left to go on my planned drive to Atlanta, Georgia. I should get there by 5PM their time which will be just in time to head on over to The Tabernacle to see my most favorite band of all time, Old Crow Medicine Show.

My decision to make this trip is barely a day old: completely impulsive and last minute and the thrill attached to that kind of pseudo-recklessness is the real caffeine I need right now, just before dawn. This is exhilarating to me and also a bit chilling because coincidentally, as I’m making my debut travel through Louisiana, my audiobook moves to the next story: ‘Bitter Grounds’ by Neil Gaiman. For y’all who are unfamiliar with this story, (and if you are unfamiliar, I would recommend picking up his book of short stories, ‘Fragile Things,’ because they’re the kind that stick with you) it’s about a man who has decided to start driving without a particular destination and, on his own, ends up in New Orleans where…well…I won’t give spoilers. I begin to imagine that I am like that man, just driving and driving. This is not the first road trip where Neil Gaiman has kept me company. I hope he knows I’m grateful for this.

“Why are you driving to Georgia?” my mom asked me when she called yesterday and I told her of my newly hatched plan. I couldn’t really give her an answer. I didn’t know why I suddenly had this red-hot urge to just go somewhere and I suppose I still don’t really know. She wasn’t a fan of this plan, her being a perpetual worrier like me. I assured her I’d be fine and also, I had a knife in the center console which I know how to wield, so…all good. I could feel her eyes roll through the phone.

On I drive through an eventual pink sunrise, a small rain storm, sheep-clouds, no clouds, acres upon acres of cotton fields, and then fields of…what is that, soybean? I’m not sure. Corn, cotton, and wheat are the only crops I think I can pick out when they’re in fields.

Mississippi,

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Alabama,

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and then finally, Georgia.

I get to the venue early. I want to be in the front row because last time I saw Old Crow, I’d ended up in seats that didn’t give me any room to dance until I hurt which is, as far as I’m concerned, the proper way to behave at one of their shows: reckless, wild, and completely unhinged from everything. When they’re on stage, nothing else in the entire world matters. They are such, sweet freedom. (And darn cute, too.)

So I dance. I dance and I sing and I clap until my hands begin to bruise and sweat is winding down my spine and there, in the glow of the shifting lights and rhythm pulsing through the room, I am free…

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…free…

“Free from what?” I wonder as I bounce and sing and slide my gaze over all the elated faces around me while completely alone in an unknown place. Then I realize it: I’m free from my worries. Oh my dang worries, my parasitic worries. They stand no chance here.

I’m not shy about the fact that I struggle with anxiety. Part of my dealing with it is constantly trying to break the stigma around mental health issues. I have anxiety? You have anxiety? Or something else? Not a big deal. Let’s love each other a little more for it so that we can create platforms to deal with our emotions in healthy and supportive ways. Our brains and hearts are so utterly complex and can feel so deeply that it’s not surprising that they can get a little out of hand from time to time. It’s up to us to not judge ourselves, but to instead be grateful for our layers and learn to explore and manage them effectively. As Mechanical Morty says, “Your feelings are not only forgivable, they are the very meaning of life that only pre-silicon, carbon-based entities can ever grasp.”

Free. Hoo boy. Sublime.

Sadly, the show ends and as the overhead lights turn on, I wander towards the exit, my body buzzing with fatigue, excitement, and something else I can’t quite put my finger on. People are everywhere, chatting and laughing with one another. They’re holding hands and kissing and finishing drinks out of plastic cups. They’re laughing and singing lyrics to songs they’ve just heard and when I make it back outside to the fresh air, I realize how badly my face aches from smiling for so long. Everyone is smiling…everyone…big, toothy smiles; and we’re all smiling at each other. A tall man with an impressive beard gives me a high five for no reason. A woman with a long, purple skirt and braided pigtails tells me she loves my boots. We’re this migrating flock of dazed yet connected people wandering in all directions, drunk off our asses from the consumption of Old Crow’s heavily intoxicating energy. It’s glorious.

I want to stick around to see if somehow, someway, I can meet the band so I can tell them just how much they mean to me (because they really, really do) and also by this point in the night, I’m craving human connection. For a few minutes I linger, but in the nearly midnight air, the hours of my travel and sleeplessness begins to descend heavily upon me. Also, I’ll have to walk to the nearest hotel alone and while there’s still a crowd, I figure I ought to be on my way. Just before I wander off for rest, one of the band members, (who’s a hell of a whistler, come to find out) Mr. Cory Younts, appears from between some buses and I want to thank him for handing me a guitar pick which I’m rotating between my fingers in my pocket to ensure I don’t lose it. As I stumble to find some coherent words to say (of which I don’t really find any), he agrees to take a picture with me. I wish I could thank him again for that.

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In my hotel room, I lay and stare at the ceiling still rotating the pick around and around between my fingers. It’s one of those ceilings that looks like an aerial view of intricate mountain ranges. At some point, I drift to sleep because I dream of being at the show, only this time I had a faceless dancing partner, but then suddenly, I’m wide awake and it’s only 2:00AM.

After another hour of trying to fall asleep without success, I decide to just leave and head home. I’d be able to take my time this way. I could stop in Mobile or maybe even New Orleans since I’ve never been.

So I do. By 4:00AM, I’m driving southwest through Georgia towards Alabama. The roads are empty on this early, Sunday morning but for the occasional driver. We turn off our brights and turn them back on as we pass. A silent wave. Polite by nature. I love it.
As the sun rises in my rearview window, I’m back to wondering why I decided to make this trip. The handful of people I met before and during the show who learned that I’d driven all the way out here alone from Texas were surprised that I’d do such a thing. I guess I’m a little surprised, too, but I like the idea of putting on a brave face and doing something a little crazy. I like the idea of being brave (and I sure as hell like the idea of seeing Old Crow).

On stage last night, Mr. Ketch Secor asked the crowd to turn to the people around them and tell them “you matter.” I did. And I was told, too. In addition to just loving the living daylights out of their music, I love this about Old Crow: their humanism. The lyrics of their songs touch the rawest parts of us: our vulnerabilities, our weaknesses, our excitements, our ability to connect but to also let go. I love life in Old Crow songs.

Indeed, no one should feel a world away, even when you’re quite literally, 850 some odd miles away from anything familiar. I didn’t, despite my solitude departure. I didn’t because in Old Crow world, there is no stranger. There is no worry. There is freedom to live and to love and just be without anxieties and judgements. They create this space just by being them. In Old Crow’s world without any kind of goggles, there’s just humanity: beautiful, complex, deep, cosmic, and smiling oneness. There’s a place for us all here.

I realize now as I head home that I needed that place. It’s been a heckuva summer with lot of challenges, changes, and uncertainties about what the future holds and I think I’ve allowed myself to get swept up and a little lost in it all. But last night, free as a mocking bird and alone but not lonely, I realized that whatever is on yonder past that curious and uncertain horizon is just that: yonder. I’ll get there.

The rest of the drive home is mostly uneventful. I do stop and see a few things but by the time the afternoon rolls around, I start itching to get back to check on my sweet donkeys. Upon arriving home, dazed and light-headed, a chorus of brays erupts from the pasture. Before even going inside my house, I leave my duffle bag on the hood of my tired car and head straight for the barn where a few sets of long ears are waiting for me. They nip my arms and swish their tails and I’m quite positive that if I had a tail, I’d be wagging it, too without one little worry in the whole, wide world.

“There’s a place for us all here and ain’t it enough?” – From OCMS Song ‘Ain’t It Enough?’

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The Storm That Sprung Some Links

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

The Midday Scorcher

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Mini Donkey: Big Hero

I want to start this post by clarifying that contrary to popular belief, not all donkeys are natural guardians, especially mini donkeys like our little Tee. Please don’t assume donkeys will act as guardians—in fact they can be quite vulnerable to predators. Make sure that if you own donkeys that their fencing, paddocks, barns, and sheds are secure to keep them safe from threats.

That being said…

Earlier today, I was out fixing part of the fence in the pasture while my two year old son, Little Foot, sat next to me drawing shapes in the dirt with a stick. The town’s roaming flock of guinea hens were fluttering about on my property with four young guinea chicks in the center of the group. I was securing a new section of chicken-wire when suddenly the flock burst into a frantic squabble. I turned to find that a small (I’m assuming young) wild boar was charging the flock.

I should note that upon first glance, I thought that the boar was some kind of domestic pig. There’s a notorious woman in our town who breeds pigs and animal control has about had it with how often her young pigs get loose. But this was no domestic pig. This was a boar with a line of thick, black hair down its back and stripes along its sides. Boar’s noses are typically longer, too and this was quite a snout.

I stood from my project and the small boar caught sight of me. I paused and it paused and for a moment, we stared at each other. I gripped the wire cutters tightly in my hand and with the other hand, I slowly nudged my two year old son behind my legs.
The guineas retreated into the bushes, their chattering terrified, and the boar began running straight for Little Foot and me, snorting angrily. I turned to pick up my son, thinking I could try and outrun the boar and as I did, from the right like a bolt of lightning, Tee came flying through with his head down and ears back.

The boar squealed, changed course not fifteen feet from Little Foot and me, and ran away so fast he was nothing more than a black and brown blur. Tee followed directly behind him grunting and bucking his legs and running after that boar faster than I even thought possible. Dirt and sand flew up fiercely in their tracks.

Tee chased him all the way to a small opening in the fence far across our property which the boar struggled to squeeze through. It managed to escape as Tee stomped his hooves around and around.

I clutched Little Foot tightly in my arms, my heart pounding so heavily I could hardly hear a thing. Bunny and Tink appeared behind us, eyes wide and ears up when Little Foot said, “Mommy, Tee chase that pig so fast!” All I could do was nod. We all watched Tee who paced back and forth across that small opening, his ears perked and chest puffed.

I’m in absolute awe of our mini donkey right now. I’ve known that Tee is fiercely protective of Little Foot for a while now, but I didn’t know he had this in him. I’m flabbergasted and grateful and dumbfounded. I don’t know what that small boar would’ve done had it reached us. I don’t want to know. I also, apparently, have another part of the fence to secure.

I would assume that mama boar must not be too far off which has me nervous. I’ve heard about wild boars being a thing out here but…Hoo boy. As they say, sh*t just got real.

Tee was our hero today. I….I just kind of can’t even right now.

I think I’ll make him a carrot cake.

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.

Donkey Mind

In the lush shade of one of the pecan trees out in the pasture, I ran a circular brush along Bunny’s spine and down her sides as she blinked heavily—her long lashes moving in slow motion over her glossy and flickering brown eyes. Sprinkles of shedding, gray hair tumbled around in the almost non-existent breeze before either disappearing into the brightness of the day or landing on my boots and jeans. Donkey dust.

On this morning, Autumn teased us with tiny hints of itself in the breeze—it carried a ripeness in the wind that smelled like someone had just sliced a ripe, honey crisp apple and the trees were mostly still except when the leaves took turns twinkling as that fresh-apple air tickled them. Everything was in full, green bloom and seemingly asking for a trim and a change from that first bitter cold that’s hopefully not too far away.

With my hand on her back, I circled behind Bunny to continue brushing her other side. I read somewhere long ago (when I first took up an interest in donkeys) that brushing donkeys is a way to bond with them and I agree with that theory. The donkeys love when I’ve got the brush and sometimes, like this moment, they seem to fall into a trance with their ears lowered and eyes drifting. It’s therapeutic for me, too: line after line of combing and watching the stray hairs fall. I wondered what Bunny thought about as I brushed her. Not just about what she thought about the brushing, but what kinds of things regularly go through her mind? When she spaces out, I wonder what she imagines? What is created in a donkey mind?

I tucked the brush into the back pocket of my blue jeans as I knelt down in front of Bunny’s face. Her eyes widened, meeting mine and in them, I could see the silhouette of me and my cowboy hat and the brightness of all the blue and clouds behind me. She lowered her large head and rested her snout in my lap as I scratched the insides of her ears.

With my forehead against hers and now my own eyes closed, I focused on the way the air touched my skin. It was a perfect temperature—not cold or hot but Goldilocks perfection—and in that absolute comfort, my skin prickled. Goosebumps covered my entire body and I began to feel like I must have been glowing a bright, honey gold.

It radiated—that place where my skin met the most perfect air and it started to shine so brightly that it could no longer be contained in my own skin and in seconds, it’s warmth exploded outward like the birth of a brand new universe. Elements of all kinds scattered and shimmered and suddenly, the whole world was a radiating, healing gold.

The light touched my family and my friends and it healed them of all their pain—physical or otherwise. It touched those people who have helped and assisted me. It touched those people who really, I don’t have much of an opinion of at all and it even touched the difficult and hurtful ones, too, stripping them of hate and hopelessness. It touched all animals and all plants and all the rocks on the beach and in the center of it all was Bunny and me. My best friend. The creature responsible for such a big chunk of joy in my world.

The light circled Bunny and seeped into her heart and her mind and with it, an assurance that she would never, ever be abandoned again. I poured all my alabaster gratitude into her through my hands and imagined wrapping my arms around her entire being which is far larger than the donkey shell in which it’s contained.

I am so grateful for my friendship with Bunny the donkey. Her and I share a world beyond words; beyond human expression. My dear Bunny, where would I be without you?

The pulsing, warm gold covered absolutely everything—the whole world and all of it’s contents floated above the ground. Waterfalls ran up cliffs. Flowers bloomed at lightning speed. Wolves howled and the sky began to sing in an angelic chorus that vibrated the entire history of mankind.

I opened my eyes and leaned back as she lifted her head and snorted. The air around us was still and silent but for that flickering, fall breeze that drifted by. I made eye contact with her once more—my silhouette and a bright, golden sky peering back at me.

I stood up, knees popping, pulling the brush from my back pocket and adjusting my hat. From behind me, Tyrion nudged my legs and so I placed a hand on his back and started to run the brush along his sides. I wondered what he must imagine when he’s spacing out, too? Who could ever really know?

Donkey dust