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On the best day of Marsha’s life, she fell off of a truck.
The truck was in Brooklyn. We believe Marsha and her flock were headed to one of the popular “live markets” there, where customers pick out live animals and pay to have them slaughtered on-site. The other animals are kept in cages, forced to witness the grisly proceedings.
So, on the best day of Marsha’s life, she fell off of a truck. Some of her flock-mates did not survive the fall, however Marsha and 49 others were allowed to go to Farm Sanctuary, who kindly taught them that many humans are friendly and not to be feared, compassionately treated their wounds, responsibly ensured that they were healthy and ready for travel, and then sent half of them to Indraloka.
We call them the Golden Girls because of their beautiful golden feathers. Inquisitive, friendly, and lively, the Golden Girls transformed the once-serene atmosphere of the barnyard into an all-day, everyday joy-fest. Everywhere you look, there are cooing, pecking, preening, chatting, nesting, scratching, dust-bathing Golden Girls. Everywhere.
And, if you are smart enough to sit down to watch, you will inevitably find yourself with a hen cuddling in your lap, another gently grooming your hair, a third trying to fit her head under your hand in an attempt to force you to pet her, and many more watching you with unabashed curiosity.
On a hot, humid day last summer, during a Sheep Shnuggling event, where guests are encouraged to spend the day spoiling the animals (and vice versa), a big, brawny, bald guy sat on the cool ground in the shade of the barn. Instantly, he was surrounded by friendly, curious Golden Girls. He sat transfixed, watching them watch him. Tentatively, he put out a hand, and Marsha instantly walked under it, settling in for a nice petting session. The man let out a surprised-but-pleased sigh and began stroking her soft feathers. Minutes passed, and tears began to roll down his face.
He wept, “I get it now. I finally get it.” Those girls taught him more clearly than any of the rest of us ever could. He understood that each of them is a unique, sensitive being—a being with much more to offer as his friend than as his meal. He understood that raising them in dark, filthy, crowded circumstances and then sending them brutally to their deaths at only 6-8 weeks old is, quite simply, unconscionable. He understood that it was up to him to change his ways. From that day on, he has refused to support the system that so violently harms more than 24 million of these beautiful, precious, precocious beings each and every day.
Often, when someone has a lucky day like Marsha and the Golden Girls, their past haunts them. The Golden Girls are not emotionally haunted by their past. They moved right on when they realized they were safe and beloved. Sadly, though, their past still haunts them physically.
When chickens are raised for meat, as the Golden Girls were, they are bred to grow very, very fast so that the agribusiness that is raising them can profit by selling them for slaughter when they are only a few weeks old. Thousands of these chickens are crammed into warehouses, which in most cases are never cleaned in the chickens’ lifetimes. Because disease and fighting amongst the stressed and overcrowded birds is rampant, the majority these “production facilities” feed the young birds a cocktail of antibiotics, sedatives, and growth hormones every day of their short lives.
Sadly, Marsha was among those in her flock most affected by this terrible, unhealthy past. Early on, Marsha’s feet began to swell painfully. Along with Juanita, Glenda, Layla, and Gracie, Marsha had a bacterial infection caused by the filthy living conditions from which they came. Lab cultures showed that the bacteria were resistant to almost all antibiotics. Our veterinarian had to special-order the only effective antibiotic from a compounding laboratory.
Day after day, our sweet girls drank way too much bitter medicine. While the others’ feet returned to health, Marsha’s only grew worse. Our compassionate and talented avian veterinarian surgically drained the painful boils. We had to pull off the scab daily and soak Marsha’s feet in warm water with herbs to encourage draining. Day after day, Marsha withstood the pain, drank the medicine, and allowed her wounds to be tended. She did all of this with her wise, clear eyes making direct contact with Shadden’s, the kind caregiver who devoted herself to Marsha.
Marsha became accustomed to the hour-long drive to the vet’s office. She would sit next to me as I drove, cooing and looking out the window raptly. When we arrived, she stepped proudly out of her carrier and wandered the office, examining every detail that had changed from our last visit. Truly, it is a rare chicken that enjoys car rides and vet visits, but that is who Marsha was—is still—a rare bird indeed. She made the best of everything and was determined to live life fully.
Last week, the bacteria that attacked Marsha’s feet managed to travel to her respiratory system. Her heart, already weak and too small for her overly large body, was forced to struggle even more to keep her blood flowing.
Still, she carried on. In too much pain to walk, but ever-dignified, Marsha sat on a bed of hay, watching her flock-mates as they went about their business. Dutifully, she complied with her many treatments. Her favorite part was being held in Shadden’s arms while soaking her feet in warm herb water. Cooing softly and snuggling closer, Marsha usually persuaded Shadden to soak her feet for much longer than necessary.
Yesterday, as morning sunlight streamed through the barn; as the Golden Girls set busily about their days; and as Charlie, a sweet, elderly rooster with an advanced heart condition dozed on a heated mat under a blanket nearby; Marsha nestled into Shadden’s arms for her final foot soak. With one last look of love and gratitude at her dear friend, the air left Marsha’s lungs and her heart slowed to a halt.
The other Golden Girls paused their cooing and pecking, looking to the sky in silence. For a moment, every pig, every goose, every creature on sanctuary grounds observed the same perfect stillness as they hailed a great soul and a cherished sister.
Marsha’s spirit hovered nearby, comforting her beloveds, before drifting away like a puff of smoke rising from a dying fire’s embers.
On the best day of Marsha’s life, she fell off of a truck.
She managed to cram a whole lifetime of joy into six months of sanctuary before dying in the arms of someone who will never, ever, forget her.
On the best day of Marsha’s life, she was granted the chance to die a peaceful death.
(To the tune of Puff, the Magic Dragon)
Nunz, the magic piglet lived by Sabine
And frolicked in the autumn mist in a land called Mehoopany
Little Magdalena loved that piglet Nunz
And brought him hay and apple cores and other fancy stuff…
I lay in the back of the car, singing as we sped towards the vet hospital. Tears washed down my face, baptizing an old, wrinkled pig with love. He groaned and writhed in my arms. Nunzi was having a stroke.
Years ago, when Nunzi first arrived at Indraloka, he screamed whenever a human was near. We discovered that singing eased his fear, so I made up a million silly songs to sing to him daily. Nunzi has not been frightened of people in years, and the songs had faded from our days. Yet now, here, as he lay struggling for life beside me, singing seemed the only way to comfort either of us.
Blue moon, you saw me standing alone
Without a dream in my heart
Without a pig of my own
Blue moon, you knew just what I was there for
You heard me saying a prayer for
Some pig I truly could care for…
Suddenly, his struggles ceased. He opened his eyes and looked into mine.
The moment stretched backwards to encompass the last eight years we shared together: Nunzi as a frightened newcomer; Nunzi learning to trust again; Nunzi and Magdie learning to take off each other’ electric collars to escape the underground fence. Countless nights he slept cuddled with his beloved Magdalena; countless days he played with sheep, chickens, and turkeys.
He and Magdelena were very close to a horse named Sabine, whose chronic foot problems made walking painful. However, we had to keep her walking in order to keep the blood flow in her feet so that she could heal. So, I used to place her hay on the far side of her paddock. On Sabine’s bad days, Magdie and Nunzi would carry the hay in their mouths back to Sabine’s bedside. They would lay with her and comfort her for hours on end.
The memories continued to flow from his eyes, as if a projector were hidden behind his pupils. Nunzi went through a period of a few years when he bit everyone in sight. Volunteers were afraid to feed him. He bit me, too, but that only made me love him more. This was just another way of expressing fear. I knew it would pass.
And pass it did. For the last several years, Nunzi approached humans excitedly, with a twinkle in his eyes. To keep up his reputation as a grumpy old man, he complained vociferously whenever he was touched, but his smiling eyes and wagging tail gave him away.
We remembered last year, when a group of Buddhist monks visited the sanctuary. Nunzi was so excited to be blessed he forgot to grumble about it!
And this past spring, when he and Magdie had a terrible fight. For months they refused to talk to each other, or even look at one another. Happily, they worked through their problems and reconciled, more cuddly and friendly than ever through the long summer days.
Just last weekend, Nunzi had enjoyed himself immensely at Pig Pampering Day, when volunteers traveled from hours away just to give the pigs belly rubs and mud baths. Oh yes, Nunzi loved pig pampering days!
The film came to the present moment, me lying next to him, both of us covered in tears. And then, with one long exhale, Nunzi was gone.
Love you forever and forever
Love you with all my heart
Love you whenever we’re together
Love you when we’re apart
Namah Shivaya my friend, my magic piglet. It was a blessing to walk the path with you.
My name is Madalitso. You can call me Maddie. It means “blessing”, and the people here tell me that is what I am to them: a blessing.
I do feel your love and your prayers. They are like a blanket of light surrounding me, comforting me, holding me up. They make me determined to get strong and healthy. I want to enjoy this new life laid out before me, this blessing granted to an old goat.
You’d be amazed how much easier pain is to endure when you are beloved. I still have a lot of healing to do, but I’m okay with that. This pain is nothing compared to what my babies went through when the farmer sent them “away”.
They say I’m a free goat. They let me go wherever I want, around the whole sanctuary. At first I was nervous, but I saw that several of the animals here do the same. So, today I am exploring a bit. I still have to move slowly, but there are so many tasty grasses and plants to try, it helps keep my mind off of the pain.
Charlie the rooster has trouble getting around, too. We hobble along and explore together. He gets hot and tired fast, so we spend a lot of time resting in the hay by the fan.
Selick, an elderly blind pig, is also pleasant to graze with. Opie and Daisy, the ducks, are a lot of fun to watch while they jump in and out of their pool and chase each other around, but they never stop talking.
Listen, though, please. I have something important to say. I made it out. I have a name. I am getting the love and care I so desperately needed for years.
But other goats aren’t that lucky. Other goats, other animals of many species, continue to suffer. Many, many more mothers and babies are being torn from one another right now. Most animals live in pain and fear every second of their lives. Most never once experience a kind word or even a moment of comfort. They suffer all day, everyday, until they are brutally killed.
Don’t forget them. Please don’t forget them. Please find a way to help them, just as I have been helped. You can start with the choices you make—what you eat and what you wear. You are more powerful than you think.
Maddie’s road to recovery will be long, involving a great deal of expensive veterinary care. Please share her story and please donate towards her care. Every dollar is matched, and every bit makes a difference.
Please don’t turn away.
I know it’s hard to look at me. But I am someone. I matter. And I didn’t always look this way. I was young and carefree and healthy once. People thought I was cute and funny and took videos of my antics. Please hear my story. Please acknowledge that I matter, that my life matters, even if I am just an old goat.
I was born a 4-H project– raised by a little girl who loved me, coddled me, kept me clean and fed me well. We used to pretend that she was a pilot, and I’d leap and jump…a passenger flying in her plane. She told me all of her secrets. I knew the names the kids at school called her. I knew how her mother scolded her for being “scraggly”, and warned her she’d never find a husband if she didn’t learn to clean house. She cried into my fur when one of her classmates had a birthday party and invited everyone but her.
I loved her so much! I loved listening to her problems. I loved to comfort her and make her smile. I thought we’d be together forever, best friends. But then one day there was a big contest. I didn’t win, but she sold me. She was crying the whole time, her mother admonishing her to grow up. Her father told her, “That’s just the way things are.”
I was taken to a clean, pretty farm, and put in a pasture with other goats. They all had horns, but mine had been cut off by the little girls’ father. I thought of my little girl as they bullied me. Finally, I understood what she had been through. I learned to stay out of the way, to be quiet and unassuming. As long as I didn’t sit somewhere they wanted to sit, or try to eat something they wanted to eat, they ignored me.
The farmer was nice. He gave me cookies and banana peels when the others weren’t looking. But then something happened.
I got pregnant. Oh! Finally I would have someone of my own, someone to love and care for! Someone who would never leave me!
Things got really good for a while. The farmer separated me from the bullies and fed me special food. Then my baby was born and he was a beauty! Long lashes, chocolate brown eyes, ears way too big for his little head! We frolicked and played and I thought I’d never be happier.
I was right.
One day the farmer came and took him away, and then put me back in the pasture with the bullies. I cried for my baby and did everything I could to get the farmer to give him back, but he was gone. I never heard from him again. At least in those days I was too naive to know where the babies went when the farmer took them from us.
Every year after that, I got pregnant. I usually had two babies. One year I even had four babies. I tried not to love them, I knew they’d just be taken away and killed. But I failed. I loved every one of them. And every time they were taken from me, a piece of my soul went with them.
One day, I realized I was an old woman. My body was worn out. My feet couldn’t hold me up anymore, my ankles were too weak. It hurt to walk, but I had to walk to graze and browse. I had become so skinny, there was nothing to me but my rumen and some bones. But still I pressed on, grazing when the sun went down, staying out of the other goats’ way. I thought of my babies and my little girl. The memories sustained me.
I thought for sure, now that I was too old to have babies, that the farmer would send me away to the place all the others have gone. But instead, something happened. I think it might be something good, but I’m not entirely sure yet.
I did get sent away, and now I am at a place they call a sanctuary. None of the other animals are frightened here, and none of them are bullies. I made a friend, sort of. A woman comes and sits with me. She sings songs and strokes my fur, and keeps trying to get me to eat. Part of me wants to melt into her and let her hold me. I want to cry into her hair like my little girl did with me all those years ago. I want someone to love me like I loved that little girl, and like I thought she loved me.
I don’t know, though. Maybe she’ll send me away like the little girl did. Maybe she’ll kill me and eat me, although she doesn’t smell like a person who would do that. I just don’t know. I’m an old goat now. If they are not going to kill me, what could they want from me?
Could it be possible, after all these years? Have I found someone to love me? Might I even make friends here? Maybe I am finally safe…
Maddie’s road to recovery will be long, involving a great deal of expensive veterinary care. Please share her story and please donate towards her care. Every dollar is matched, and every bit makes a difference.
Once a lonely peacock lived on a magical farm. Actually, he still lives there, but he’s not lonely anymore. And it is not actually a farm, but a sanctuary for farm animals— a farm sanctuary…But I am getting ahead of the story.
Once a lonely peacock lived on a magical farm sanctuary. He wasn’t a lonely, sad peacock. He was, for the most part, a lonely, happy peacock. After all, he did live on a magical farm sanctuary.
His name was Majja the Fabu, and he was a beautiful, beautiful bird, even among peacocks! And he was a happy bird, for the most part. He spent his days wandering free, wherever he chose. As the self-appointed protector of the magical farm, and all of its magical inhabitants, Majja considered it his duty to visit every inch of the farm every day. He also spent lots of times in high up places, like barn roofs and tree tops, and called out his beautiful, magical, super-loud warning if ever danger lurked. But as I told you, it was a magical farm so pretty much everyone was safe there anyways.
Majja was very popular and had lots of friends. There were several chickens in particular that Majja was very close to, but he also enjoyed time spent with the giant pigs, the little pigs, cows, sheep, and especially the horses. Actually, the horses were the only ones good-looking enough to truly be seen with. After all Majja was so handsome, everyone else looked a little, well, not as glamorous in comparison.
So Majja had lots of friends, and a good life on the magical farm. But he was still rather lonely. You see, he spoke every language fluently—pig, cow, sheep, goat, chicken, turkey, goose, duck, horse, mule, English—but no one spoke his language. And every once in a while, it is lovely to hear one’s own language spoken.
Once, there was someone who spoke peafowl with him. Her name was Mother Superior, and she was so much more than the word chicken might convey, unless you know a lot of chickens personally. Simply put, Mother Superior was a hen among hens. She was vast in her inner beauty, compassion, wisdom, and sense of humor. Mother Superior’s keen eyes took in everything that happened on the magical farm sanctuary, and she always understood it through the eyes of Love. She kindly mothered her flock day in and day out for many years. She showed them where to find yummy tidbits of food, shepherded them in the barn every night, and took care of them in many more ways.
By the time Majja got to the magical farm, Mother Superior was an elderly hen, and had handed over her active mothering duties to several younger chicks.
On the day that Majja arrived, he was a bit nervous. He had never seen so many other animals, all speaking different languages. But luckily, Mother Superior was there. She took him under her wing (figuratively of course– a peacock is much too big to fit under a chicken’s wing!) and taught him all the languages on the farm sanctuary, while he taught her peafowl.
Mother Superior and Majja enjoyed discussing the nature of things around them, and through comparing their experiences, they often learned a lot about the world.
“Why, they come from clouds, don’t they?’
“It does seem to me that they do. And Majja, you can fly a lot higher than I can, so please tell me, are clouds made of raindrops?” Mother Superior persisted.
“No, I mean yes, I mean, sort of. Clouds are like rain in the form of air, like moist air. Well, you have been in fog, right? Fog is a cloud that is nearer to the earth.” Majja struggled to explain.
“Ah! So clouds are not made of raindrops, but they are made of water in a different form, yes? And yet raindrops are also made of water.”
“And what happens to the raindrop when it falls to the ground? Does it stop existing?”
“Er, no,” Majja puzzled, “The ground gets wet, so the water the raindrop is made of still exists, but it just changes form again.”
“Ah! So the essence of the raindrop– the water– exists even when the raindrop as we know it is gone.” Mother Superior sounded happy about this.
“Yes, yes that is exactly right.” Majja agreed.
“Majja, my dear friend,” Mother Superior said, “I will be changing my shape soon, too, and I want you to understand.”
Remember, Mother Superior was no spring chicken, in fact she was a winter chicken. What I mean to say is, Mother Superior was super duper old. She was nearly ten, and that is much older for a chicken than it is for a human little girl or boy.
“Majja,” she said softly, “just as a raindrop melts into the ground, evaporates into the air, forms clouds in the sky, and then rains down again, I, too will be changing form soon. I will no longer be here in the same way, to travel the sanctuary with you, and to have lengthy conversations in peafowl about the meaning of life and other important things. It is my time to travel on. But just as that raindrop remains water, no matter what its form, I remain me, even when I leave this form. And my Love will remain with you,” she explained gently. Majja cried quietly as he listened.
“Everything changes, my friend. Everything changes.” she cooed.
The next morning, Majja awoke at dawn without his lovely friend. Mother Superior had died in the night. Of course he was sad and he missed her, but Majja remembered that her Love lived on. And he also realized he had many more loved ones and much to be grateful for.
For two long years, Majja the Fabu wandered the farm alone. Of course he stopped to play and visit with all of the animals, just as he always did, but he never found a friend as close as Mother Superior, and he had no one with whom to speak pea fowl.
Not having any close friends, though, was not for a lack of trying! In fact, Majja the Fabu tried really hard, everyday. He followed Thelma and Louise, the turkeys, around but they just ran away. He tried to befriend Lou C. and Lucy Goosey, but the geese simply hissed at him. The pigs were very kind to him, but their interests were just so different! So, Majja remained a lonely peacock.
Until one day, a car pulled in the driveway and two shiny happy people got out. Peacocks have very keen hearing and sight, so Majja was able to sit on top of the barn and observe the proceedings. The shiny happy people said their names were Joy and Tom– can you believe it, this lady was so happy that her name was Joy! Majja felt that boded very well.
And wait, what’s this? Who was that in the back seat? Could it be? No! Majja flew down and hid behind a tall bush where he could watch and listen without being spotted.
It was! It was! Majja could hardly believe his ears!
“Hwaaah!” he let out his eery mating call, “A girl, a girl, and not just any girl! A peahen!” Majja could not even remember the last time he heard a peahen! The shiny people carried her into the barn in a dog carrier, and then they opened the door.
Majja peered into the barn from the back doorway.
First one scaly, gray foot emerged, the talon-like toes daintily outstretched. Majja gulped. The way her scaly leg pulled his heartstrings, I cannot even describe, but pull them they did.
Next, her body and head appeared. Silver body and wing feathers with an iridescent green head, a Burmese Peahen! Majja, being a Peacock of Indian descent, had never met a Burmese Peafowl before, but their beauty was legendary.
The gorgeous peahen straightened to her full height, stretched her wings, and shook her feathers out. As each feather settled perfectly in place, the majestic peahen turned her head and looked right at Majja. Majja did what any red-blooded male who draws the attention of a woman in whom he has interest would do. He ran away.
Sheba paid him no mind. Instead, she stood still for a moment so everyone around her could admire her beauty. She understood that it was difficult for others to take in a sight as glorious as she, and that they would need a moment.
Next, she wandered off and began exploring.
After a few hours, Majja worked up his courage and perched next to her. She turned to him and their eyes met. “Finally, I’ve found you,” she said in peafowl.
“Y- you’ve been looking for me?” the regal peacock, king of the barn, was reduced to tears at hearing his beloved language again.
“I was captured as a peababy and forced to perform in a traveling show. Everywhere we went, I sought someone who could understand me, someone with whom I could ponder the mysteries of the ages.”
“How did you escape?”
“I was rescued by a gaze of raccoons–”
Majja interrupted, “– excuse me, but could you tell me what a gaze of raccoons is, I am not familiar with the term.”
“Certainly. I didn’t know either, until they explained it to me. A gaze is what raccoons call their group, just as we call a group of us a party of peafowl.”
“Fascinating, thank you for that explanation. And now, please do tell me more,” Majja requested.
“The raccoons were lovely and treated me quite well but alas, life with a gaze of raccoons was simply not for me. I summoned assistance from Beyond to find the Life I was meant to live. Joy and Tom then came for me and brought me to Lasa Sanctuary. Whilst it is a wonderful place, with many happy animals, I did not find any one to bond with among the chickens, cows, and sheep there. Oh, I did love them all, but there was no one I felt especially close with. Joy and Tom understood, and they began to seek out an appropriate mate for me. Joy consulted her magic box– have you seen one of these devices? It is similar to a crystal ball and allows humans to communicate over great distances.”
“Yes, I am familiar with these magic boxes. Our humans have them, as well.”
“That is how Joy found you, and so they brought me here, to Indraloka.”
“You came here for me?”
Mother Superior, from her place Beyond, embraced the two with changeless Love. And with Love– capital L– the two peafowl found themselves connected to each other and All That Is, never more to be lonely, for none of us is ever truly alone.
Sometimes, these precious beings don’t stay with us as long as we’d like…
A compassionate humane police officer brought Leif E. Greene to us. She had rescued the skinny little goat from a dark, dirty garage, where he was tied up. Children were taunting him, throwing rocks, and he had no escape. The person who had called in the complaint stated that this had been going on for months. No wonder this little guy didn’t trust humans!
At the time, we were still struggling to keep our new calf Mookie alive. He had terrible digestive problems, refused to eat solid food, and struggled with bloating daily. Mookie was skin and bones, and nothing we tried was helping him heal.
Leif took one look at Mookie and decided they were new best friends. He pranced over to him and invited him to a hearty game of tag. The next morning, Mookie ate solid food for the first time. By the next day, Mookie’s digestive problems had disappeared. The calf and goat played all day long, until they fell asleep in a heap, like puppies.
A few days later, Leif looked me in the eye and smiled. Progress! This precious little being, on the strength of love and play, was saving Mookie’s life, and had a heart so open he was willing to give humans another chance.
Soon, Leif was dancing with joy every time he saw us. He even began to leap over his fence to find us anywhere on the property, demanding that we play with him and Mookie.
In the mornings, as I fed Mookie his bottle, Leif pranced joyfully in circles around us, stopping occasionally to kiss Mookie or me. He was actually celebrating Mookie’s care! This little goat stole my heart, and I felt it would burst for the love of such a giving soul.
FOUR MONTHS LATER…
One day, he seemed like a healthy, joyful goat that would be with us for years to come. The next day, his kidneys shut down, and then his heart stopped. We don’t know why, the vets don’t know why. We rushed him to the hospital, but there was nothing they could do.
His time with us was invaluable, if all too brief. Our sweet little angel died in our arms, knowing he was much beloved, and that we were sorry to see him go.
We cannot be surprised. We must simply have unending gratitude that he was in our lives at all, and that his friendship saved sweet Mookie’s life.
Long may your light shine, Leif E. Greene, in the star world and in our hearts.
Rain fell on the metal roof, adding to the sacred silence. Humans, bovines, and felines alike gathered round the deathbed of a Divine Mother, a truly Holy Cow.
This old stone barn always brought comfort, as if the stones and beams themselves held all who entered in a loving embrace. Today, it was warmed by the body heat of a several cows, who gazed at us benevolently from under their long lashes. The sweet smell of hay mixed with frankincense, sage, and a death whose time was right.
One by one, people approached to whisper their truths in her ear. My dear friend and I sat with her large, warm, lovely head across both of our laps. Wesley T. Monkey, unusually attuned even for a cat, lay purring across Penny’s back. Others gathered round in the thick bed of hay, laying their heads and hands across her body, most with tears falling into her luxuriant, red coat.
Many brought offerings– prayer flags, which we hung above her; mala beads, which we strung around her neck; crisp apples, which we fed her in small pieces; sage and frankincense, with we we smudged and anointed her; and sweets to comfort the rest of us.
Gazing into her eyes, I traveled back in time to revisit many of my most treasured memories: a silent walk we took together, she and I, watching the wildflowers wave in the wind, and butterflies shine in the sunlight; the look on her face as she was surrounded by adoring children; her joy on many a hot summer day we designated as spa days, when visiting school children would giver her a cold bath and feed her cold cucumbers; the time she– literally– joined in on a picnic with our Farmitecture students as they took a meal break from building the new chicken coop; and just a few weeks ago, when a group of traveling Buddhist monks kindly stopped at the sanctuary to pray over and bless Penny and all of the animals.
Penny Power needed no fences to hold her in, but roamed the sanctuary freely, going wherever she was needed. She nurtured all the animals (human and other) here at the sanctuary. She comforted all who sought her, and taught all who had open hearts. She showered us with unfailing wisdom, unending compassion, and the deepest form of pure, unselfish love.
Penny lived fully, simply, and serenely, with a sense of wit and grace. Once or twice, she came right to the front porch of the house to share a salad at meal time, and took to sitting peacefully with us in the evening as we watched the sun set. Last September when we brought home a starving calf, her compassion was so strong and pure that, although she had not had a baby in seven years, she began lactating.
Penny faced her death easily; she was clear that the time was right. She lay her head on our laps and breathed a deep cleansing breathe as the sedative entered her bloodstream. Prayers were uttered as the vet administered her final shot. In the silence after, Penny’s spirit hovered near us, comforting us.
Outside, the rain gently transitioned to soft, lacy flakes– confetti honoring the eternal triumph of a Great Master. Penny’s spirit softly turned from us and landed on her dear cow friend, Gus. A few moments later, she was gone.
Silently, the snow continued to fall.
Please share your precious memories of Penny in the comments below, we love to hear about all the ways she touched hearts.
The trembling calf hid in the brush, peering out fearfully. Finally, lured out with the promise of a bottle, he sucked hungrily. He was less than half the size he should have been, stunted from malnourishment and trauma. His red coat was lackluster, with big patches of hair missing along his bony spine. Fleas and lice crawled over him, while flies painfully bit at his exposed wounds. Manure encrusted his tail. He was little more than a skeleton, every bone clearly visible.
His eyes, though. Oh! His eyes! Big, round, deep brown eyes gazed through achingly beautiful long lashes. Even as he sucked at the bottle, he watched warily, ready to bolt. This calf had already learned, in his short, painful month on earth, not to trust.
In the car on the way home, he leaned into my touch despite his misgivings. Soon, his desperate need for affection overcame his fear, and he laid his head on my lap, sighing with relief. We named him Moksha, which means liberation. I smiled to myself, knowing that soon, he’d be with Penny.
Penny is a wise, wonderful, elderly cow whose nurturing instincts extend to the young of every species. She had been raised on a beef farm, bred yearly. Each time, she loved her babies, and each time they were taken from her. She came to us in 2007 and is now in her mid-twenties. Of course, we would still bottle feed the baby, but she could provide motherly love. Finally, Penny would have a baby she could keep. And Mookie would have all of the love he so needed.
When we introduced them, tears rolled down Penny’s face, and her udders became enlarged, despite the fact that she had not given birth for at least seven years. We could see that something was wrong, and were glad we already had the vet scheduled to come out the next morning.
In the meantime, Mookie was refusing his bottle and having trouble settling in. All he wanted was affection from Penny, but Penny just cried and turned away. By morning, Mookie was nursing on Penny, clearly causing her tremendous pain. But Penny, being Penny, withstood the pain and treated him kindly.
Her eyes seemed glassy. She clearly wasn’t well. A closer look made it clear that Penny had rapidly developed mastitis, an infection of the teats which can be life threatening.
We separated the two and awaited the vet anxiously.
When Dr. Elena arrived, she was all business. Penny’s condition was advancing far too aggressively and we had to act fast. I sighed as life-saving medication was administered intravenously– not knowing that the worst was yet to come.
We moved on to treat the calf, whose numerous health problems also required urgent care. Crouched beside him on the ground, we conferred on the best course of treatment, discussing the pros and cons of our options. Suddenly, Penny was looming above us, unsteady on her feet, eyes unfocused, and saliva pouring from her mouth.
She was about to fall on the calf, all 2,000 plus pounds of her. And Mookie was too weak to get up. We tried to lift him, but he struggled and fell back to the ground. Penny took an unsteady step closer. At any second, she would fall and crush us all.
Two strong volunteers who had been hovering nearby came to our aid, and carried Mookie out of harm’s way just before Penny collapsed. Rushing to her side, we found her heart pounding, her fever skyrocketing, and her udders strangely, excessively, expanding.
Dr. Elena acted fast, giving Penny a steroid to help her body fight the lethal infection coursing through her blood. I do not like pharmaceuticals, and avoid using them with the animals at all costs. Yet at this point, I had to trust in the doctor’s wisdom. This was our beloved Penny. The beautiful, wise, grand dame who acts as the heartbeat of the sanctuary, whose compassion and calm have comforted so many humans and other animals, who gives and teaches and loves unstintingly. And it seemed that she was dying.
She leaned her massive head against my chest and cried in pain, her chest heaving. Her eyes rolled back in her head. All I could do was hold her and pray. Mookie looked on, distraught. Would the poor baby lose a second mother in his short life?
Silence descended on the farm, even the songbirds stopped chirping. Time stood still and the universe collapsed into the pained eyes of this one, marvelous, blessed, perfect being. This cow. This Divine Mother.
We waited an eternity in those few moments.
And then slowly, Penny’s eyes rolled back into place and focused on mine. Her breathing slowed. “Thirsty,” she weakly mooed.
We brought her water and she drank deeply, sat back, and sighed.
Penny lived. Mookie lived. Both are still fighting to recover as I write this, but their hearts are still beating, pumping blood through their veins. They are both breathing, giving their all to beat the odds. And together, they face the unimaginable task of recovering from the physical and emotional traumas that humanity routinely inflicts on cows.
The vet will return tomorrow. We will continue to bottle feed, nurse, medicate, and comfort. And we pray that Penny and Mookie survive to help one another heal their wounded souls.
Words escape. Words are wispy, vague, slippery. A thousand– even a million– of them cannot paint a picture of a life and a love and a death and a joy, a being full of rich complexity and glorious simplicity. The wonder and the grief and the gratitude and the billion hallowed moments that make up a life are so essentially related, so fully interconnected, it renders that life unutterable. One wordless love.
Nearly fifteen years ago, I set out to change the world with two goats by my side. One was all sweetness and harmony, the other was all impishness and shenanigans. Both had eyes that glimmered with mischief and senses of humor that were subtle, complex, and silly.
These little goats were my family, my friends, my confidants, my loved ones, my little devils. Truer than any human loved one has ever been– could ever be. These goats were my home.
And now they are my past. My memories. My spirit friends.
My goats are gone.
Ruckus and Hootenanny were young when their first family decided, after only a few months, that having goats wasn’t such a good idea after all. They had tried to keep these intelligent, rowdy, energetic, mischievous little rascals in a tiny pen. As a result, they broke out constantly to wreak havoc on the garden. Finally, the people found a way to lock them in the pen so they could not escape. And the little goats just cried and cried, not understanding what they had done to cause them to be held prisoner in this way.
Finally in frustration, the people gave up the goats. And I was lucky enough to get them. I gave them a huge pasture, an airy barn, a jungle gym, and we played constantly. What fun those little devils were! It was impossible not to laugh in their presence, so full of comedy was their every move.
But the days wore on. I became much less carefree and no longer played with them. And they went from being two of my only farm animals to be two of nearly 200. They kept having fun. I never tried to fence them in– they free ranged over the whole farm, and yet never left the property, taking great joy in their liberty.
Months have passed since I wrote these words, since I set Ruckus’ spirit free. And still words escape me.
It is not that I mourn him; it is that I cannot describe, with mere words, who he was to me– who he was to the world, who he still is and ever will be.
His death was beautiful and peaceful. He faced it fearlessly, with his two closest two-leggeds at his side. He knew he was loved; he knew it was his time. My dear, sweet Ruckus had no regrets and neither do I. I did what I set out to do. I gave him– and beloved Hootenanny, who crossed over a year before him— a good life and a good death.
This is my job and I do it quite well. And yet…
My goats are gone.
Ruckus believed in me. He had faith in me. He stood by me lovingly, unwaveringly, through the dark times, times when I struggled to care for my growing flock of orphans, when it was just me and the animals, alone on the mountain. And he remained steadfast even as he watched the light come back into our lives– as he watched the sanctuary– and me– bloom.
I remember one day, very early on, when I despaired of ever succeeding in this mad experiment of plucking as many lives as possible from hopeless pits and giving them the freedom to experience a joyful, natural life. It was the deepest part of winter– when the sky darkens in these mountains as early at 3:00 pm.
One of my beloved goats, Hullabaloo, had been killed by predators. Her blood stained the snow and ice. I locked them in every night for safety, but she had found a way out in search of mischief. If I had been more adept at fixing things, I could have created an escape-proof pen, and she would have lived. Further, I had not even heard her being attacked. I had vowed to protect her, and instead, she was eaten alive.
I fell to the icy ground, wind howling around me, and sobbed. I was unfit for this task. I couldn’t go on. After I was all cried out, I made my way heavily into the barn to finish my chores.
And there was Ruckus, gazing at me steadily, faithfully. He trusted me to care for him– to care for all of them. He believed in me, and I could not let him down. In order to live up to the trust of that little goat, I found the strength and help I needed, and banished the darkness.
Through the years, I often found Ruckus’ calm eyes on me. His faith never wavered. There is something that happens to you– or at least it did to me– when someone places their faith in you so wholeheartedly. You find inner power you never knew you had. You draw on all of your reserves and you find a way to live up to that trust.
I set out to save him, and he set me up to save hundreds more. That one little goat has changed so many lives. And I have realized, as I write this, that he knew I was ready. He wouldn’t have left if he did not know, for certain, that I was strong enough to go on. That I have the faith I need, and know who I am.
Beautiful spirit. Beautiful goat. Treasure of my heart, my gratitude will never cease.
This song of mine will wind its music around you, my child, like
the fond arms of love.
This song of mine will touch your forehead like a kiss of
When you are alone it will sit by your side and whisper in
your ear, when you are in the crowd it will fence you about with
My song will be like a pair of wings to your dreams, it will
transport your heart to the verge of the unknown.
It will be like the faithful star overhead when dark night is
over your road.
My song will sit in the pupils of your eyes, and will carry
your sight into the heart of things.
And when my voice is silent in death, my song will speak in
your living heart.
– Rabindranath Tagore
The emaciated little pig struggled to breathe as blood poured from his snout, and yet his eyes were filled with hope. Under filth-encrusted sores and protruding bones, he glowed with such sweet purity that I had to turn away, my heart seared.
We named him Jeremiah, “God will lift him up.”
The humane police officer heroically rescued him from a living nightmare on Thursday night, but we did not know if she had gotten to him in time. The vets warned us that the damage might be too great. Jeremiah might not survive.
Wiping tears away that first night, I approached him with a bowl of fresh water. Our eyes met, his holding a spark of gratitude and trust. He sucked down the water thirstily, ate as much as his strength would allow, and allowed us to help him into a soft bed of hay. We piled blankets on top of him and slipped a soft pillow under his head, then just sat with him as he fell into a deep sleep, grunting contentedly.
But our fight for his survival had only just begun, and he got worse before he got better.
The last several days have been a blur of vet visits, medicines, feeding his broken body by hand and even by syringe when necessary, and prayers for his survival. Long-term pneumonia left his airways so scarred that blood and mucus spewed from his nose as he battled for air. Painful ulcers on his feet and legs from being forced to live in his own filth caused his legs to swell unnaturally.
And yet, throughout all of it, his eyes held mine kindly and steadily. Jeremiah’s purity remained wrenching in its deep sweetness even as he fought for his life.
This morning, I entered the barn at dawn to find him sitting up and alert, breathing normally. His legs are still sore, but no longer grotesquely swollen. He ate and drank with only minimal assistance, and smiled broadly as I sang to him.
Jeremiah has a long way to go, with a lot of healing yet to be done, but I believe he is going to live. Welcome home, dear boy. You have been lifted up.