birds

One Day of Sunshine

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Harika and Habibah

They lay helplessly before us, innocent babies.  It was clear that they had suffered greatly in their short lives.  Covered in open wounds and excrement, malnourished, with misery in their eyes, they were too weak to stand.

The tiniest of the three cried in pain. Instinctively, I scooped her up and cradled her close to my heart.  Her panicked heartbeat slowed to match my own.  I tried to convey, with my eyes, that she was safe now—that she was loved. She turned her head to mine, her gentle brown eyes filled with wonderment. This might have been the first loving touch she experienced in her life. Harika, we named her- Sanskrit for “beloved of Indra”.

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Harika experiencing the first gentle touch of her life

Gently, I touched the huge wound on this tiny girl’s neck.  She cocked her head to the left ever so slightly, seeming to be aware that I was sorry for her pain.  I moved my hands slowly over her body, assessing the damage.  At each wound or bruise I stopped and said a silent prayer.  Her eyes held mine and she nodded her head minutely each time. I felt gently along the splayed legs that would not hold her.  I touched her yellowed skin, most likely jaundiced due to blood loss.  I felt her keel bone through her skinny little frame.

Then I just hugged her close to my heart again, feeling her tiny heart beat against mine while I prayed for all those beautiful babies that never make it out… all those turkeys who suffer each day of their short lives.  Forty-five million innocent babies, every Thanksgiving, are raised in unspeakable conditions, never to hear a kind word or feel a gentle touch… never to experience sunlight on their feathers, fresh air, or grass and soil beneath them.

But this one, this one made it out.  How or why, I don’t know.  Fairly often, we get these rescues, lucky ones who somehow escape and wind up where good, caring people find them and bring them to us.  I imagined she fell off of a truck- it would explain her splayed legs- but who knows? Maybe she was dropped as she was being packed into a crate for transport.  Maybe she was asleep and, looking as she does, was mistaken for dead and thrown in the trash.

It didn’t matter.  All that mattered in that moment were those eyes looking into mine with what I can only describe as trust, and that little heartbeat against mine.  I can never explain this feeling in words- this moment when everything disappears and all that is left is me and a little life depending on me.

What could I ever have done to receive such blessings?  Such a miracle as this perfect, perfect little child gifting me with her trust, when nothing and no one in her short life ever gave her reason to feel anything but fear?

I began to spin dreams for her, speaking to her of a long life ahead.  Days of lolling in the sunshine and playing with other turkeys. Years of healthy meals and a clean, warm place to sleep.  Of humans who would hold her in their laps and pet her as we do a beloved cat, listening to her soft purrs and smiling at her joy.  Together, we dreamed of the beautiful life before her.  Her eyes never left mine.  I believed she was spellbound, and as hopeful as I.

Only a day or two in, we noticed that her leg was getting worse instead of better.  She seemed to be in more pain when we tried to give her physical therapy, or even place her in a sling.  The pain medication may have helped a bit, but it was clear that she was far from pain-free.  Her brother, Habibah (Swahili for beloved), was also faring poorly.  We decided to consult with the avian experts at an esteemed veterinary hospital.  The third baby, Hadaaya (beloved in Arabic), seemed to be doing better, happily, so we decided to leave her at home at the sanctuary.

Their appointment was on Wednesday, the sixth day we had them.  So, on Tuesday, despite the strict quarantine under which we place all new residents, we took the three babies outside, in an area far from any other birds.   One by one, I felt them relax in my arms as they felt sunlight on their backs, most likely for the first time.  I set them on the grass and smiled, listening to their delighted coos and purrs.  The color on their heads and necks turned red and blue- a visible way for them to express their joy (sort of like a human smiling).

With me was a woman with a huge heart. She was new to farm animal rescue, and she was appalled. “Who would do this to them?” she kept asking.  Everyone, I explained, just about everyone– everyone who ever eats turkey, everyone who knows what they go through and does not demand that it stop, everyone who says, “I can’t think about that,” and turns away from suffering.  I told her about how most animals used by the food industry are routinely raised.  She was shocked, and kept repeating, “People need to know.  If they knew, they’d make it illegal. They wouldn’t support it.”

So here I am, telling all who will listen.  This is happening, and no one will stop it if we don’t. Please, please, please, for the babies’ sake, please help us stop this.  This is wrong. No one should suffer like this.

It was such a miracle that these three got out alive, somehow, and were in the sunshine with people who loved them, their whole lives stretched out before them.  They were happy. They were free. They were beloved and they felt it.

If only for that moment.

At the hospital, we learned that Harika and Habibah were too far gone.  Their pain would only grow, and there was no hope of fixing their legs.  Given that theses types of turkeys grow to be very large, we knew their problems would only become worse.   I have often thought that the heart of sanctuary work is to be selfless enough to give them a good death. So, although it pained us greatly, we made the choice that was best for them.

Hadaaya, the third baby bird, is continuing her recovery at the sanctuary, with lots of TLC. In the absence of her siblings, she has lots of toys and human attention.  Just as soon as her quarantine is complete, she will join another flock of baby birds we rescued recently.  Her days will be filled with all of the freedoms and pleasures Harika and I dreamed of together, and Harika and Habibah’s spirits will live on through her, and in our hearts.

One day of sunshine was all I could give them- my beloved Harika and her sweet brother Habibah.

Six days of love and one day of sunshine. And I trust that was enough.

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Once a Lonely Peacock

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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.

Majja the Fabu
Majja the Fabu

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.

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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.

Mother Superior
Mother Superior

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.

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“Majja, tell me,” Mother Superior asked one day, “Where do raindrops come from?”

“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.”

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“Exactly!” Majja was relieved to have cleared this up.

“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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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“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.

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“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?”

“I did.”

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.

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Coming Home

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On Sunday, a new hen arrived and my world changed again.  I am swimming languidly, luxuriously, in the warm sea of new love.  I can’t get her off of my mind, and I don’t want to.  I revel in her intelligent, sensitive gaze… her vibrance… her spunk.  Oh yes, Enid is the chicken of my dreams and I am beyond thrilled to have her here at the sanctuary with us.

Enid and I met once before, briefly, in September 2012, just over a year ago.  It was just after she and 249 of her flock-mates fell off of a moving truck headed to the slaughterhouse.  She was dazed and frightened and I doubt very much that she remembers me.  I however, remember her well.  I was deeply moved by the incredible web of karma that brought Enid and her flock to that moment in time.  They had been forced to spend the first six weeks of their lives in a love-deprived, drug-filled haze in a dark, dirty warehouse, only to fall off of a moving truck just in time to escape meeting an incredibly painful and frightening end. Then they found themselves surrounded by well-meaning people, who coddled the little birds as the precious beings they are.

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Enid was lucky enough to be adopted by a big-hearted couple, Jen and John.   Jen and John understood the sensitive and intelligent nature of chickens.  They took beautiful care of Enid and her sisters, Billina and Octavia.

However, chickens that are bred for meat (technically “Jumbo Cornish Crossbreeds” but usually referred to as “broilers”), don’t live very long.  They are bred to be large enough for “processing” at only 6 weeks old.  According to the University of Arkansas, if humans grew at a similar rate, a 6.6-pound newborn baby would weigh 660 pounds after two months (source: Chickens Used for Food).  You can just imagine all the health issues that come with such rapid growth and unnatural size.

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Sadly, Billina’s time on earth came to an end in August, and Octavia crossed over this past Saturday.  Enid lost her two sisters just a few months apart and she was devastated.  From years of time spent living with and observing chickens, I can tell you that they are incredibly intelligent and sensitive beings.  They develop deep bonds, show great care and compassion, and they grieve over the loss of loved ones in the same way that we do.  Enid cried audibly, refused food, and spent the rest of Saturday and most of Sunday in her hen-house alone, mourning her sisters.

Enid cuddles with Octavia
Enid cuddles with Octavia – photo by Jen Washicosky

Enid’s adoptive human family, although they loved her deeply, knew the best thing for her would be to live with other chickens, and so they brought her to Indraloka Sunday evening.  Enid was not the first of the chickens from this accident that made their way back to Indraloka, after having been adopted by others but that is another story for another day.

Today is Enid’s day.

Sherman, one of our lovely roosters, fell immediately in love and entertained Enid by prancing proudly back and forth in front of her as he cooed and explained where all the yummy food is to be found.  Enid watch in calm amusement.

Then Thelma and Louise, the turkeys, approached.  Thelma took umbrage that another female had entered her territory and, fluffing up her feathers, began to make intimidating noises.  Enid never cowered, never shrank away, and never got angry.  She simply stood herself up to her whole height and looked Thelma in the eye.  Thelma backed right down and the three are now fast friends.

Next Sheba, our pea hen, approached.  Sheba is quite certain that she is Queen of Indraloka, and never hesitates to assert her authority over the other birds.  Interestingly, Enid was already standing at her full height, with great dignity, by the time Sheba arrived to greet her.  They looked one another in the eye, completely silent, for a full 90 seconds before Sheba pivoted on her elegant left foot and glided away.

Sheba, Queen of Indraloka
Sheba, Queen of Indraloka

Late that night, I saw a different side of Enid.

Amidst the snoring of pigs, as the ducks and geese slept with their heads tucked primly under their wings, and as all the other chickens cooed in dreamland, Enid let her guard down.  She was breathing heavily and her comb was very pale.  It was plain that her heart had already become quite weak.  I stroked her soft feathers and said, “I’m going to take care of you.  I know you don’t feel well, and I know you’ve just lost your family.  But you’re here now, and I promise you I’ll be here for you every day of your life.”

The look she gave me was merciful and tender as she said with her eyes, “I won’t be here much longer, my dear.  I’ve simply come home to die.”  We sat in the sleep-filled barn, the light of the full moon streaming through the window and my hand resting on her back.  Together, we cried at the beauty of autumn and the brief, sacred journey of life.

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One Flock

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Many of you have asked us how our lovely Thelma and Louise have adjusted to life at Indraloka Animal Sanctuary after we rescued them from slaughter just days before Thanksgiving. (Click here for the blog and video about their rescue.) So, to answer your inquiries, we created a follow-up video. Enjoy watching what your support makes possible!

Born to Fly

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When I was about seven, I had a small green parakeet named Toukou. I would call him from my bedroom and he would open his cage and fly to me from the other side of the house, landing on my wrist. He’d look me in the eye indulgently and climb up to my shoulder. From this perch he’d kiss my cheek and talk to me. “Toukou loves love.”

“Good boy, Joshie,” Toukou would say to the dog, perching on his back as Joshie carried him around the house.

I loved to watch him fly, and used to take him outside for the sheer joy of knowing he came back because he loved us. Because he wanted to be with us. The intoxicating freedom of lifting one’s wings and riding the wind was a subject of great contemplation for me. I wanted to fly, too. One day, I called Toukou to my room and quietly closed the door.

“Toukou loves love,” Tokou chirped his usual greeting.

“And I loves Toukou,” my ritualistic reply. “Toukou,” I looked right into his wise eyes, “I want to fly. I want to fly like you.”

Toukou shifted to thought-speech then, “My child. My love. Fly, then. Just fly.”

I dragged a chair across the room and climbed up on my dresser. Toukou sat on my bed and watched me with a tender, indulgent expression in his eyes. Countless times, I had envisioned myself flying weightless, wind brushing across my cheeks and streaming through my hair. I took a deep breath, summoned the vision, and repeated Toukou’s words like a mantra, “Fly, then. Just fly. Fly, then. Just fly.” Arms raised high, I stepped off of the dresser.

I landed loudly, my feet awkwardly folded beneath me. Toukou, now perched on the curtain rod, watched quietly. “You said I could!” I groused.

“And you can, but not the way you think.”

“Show me,” I begged.

“Believe,” he calmly replied.

I managed to convince him to climb onto my shoulder as I stood on the dresser, and to fly from there across the room. I watched each movement, each breath carefully, and mimicked him exactly. Well, exactly except that I landed in a heap on the ground instead of flying gracefully to the curtain rod as he had done.

“You were born to fly. Believe,” Toukou encouraged me, while sending me images of the beauty he encountered when flying above the trees in the backyard.

Maybe, I reasoned, I needed to take off from a higher spot. This way I would have more time to take flight…

I ran to the living room, Toukou flying alongside, Joshie running behind. I cranked open the big bay window, took a deep breath and leapt with faith. I believed, but I landed in the shrubs several feet below. Joshie and Toukou looked down on me from the window above as I caught my breath and untangled limbs from foliage These experiments went on for months. Every time I fell, Toukou would tell me, “You were born to fly.”

Me and Joshie…

Toukou grew old, and frail, until finally the time came for my dear friend to soar beyond his body. I still have one of his feathers. And I never forgot his adamant belief that I was born to fly.

Visiting my parents in India in recent years, I sometimes saw wild parakeets flying free, and felt the old familiar tug within me. I wanted to fly. I wanted to fly like them. “Believe, my child. My love. You were born to fly,” Toukou still whispered in my heart.

Parakeet in flight

One day, not too long ago, I hiked to the top of a very steep, very tall mountain. So many times, I wanted to give up. I nearly did. Except that my good friend kept encouraging me. “You can do this. Believe.” Purple and golden wildflowers as tall as me decorated the path. The smell of wild sage surrounded me, filling my lungs with healing strength. We passed a grove of ancient Silver Oaks covered in Spanish moss. Far below and miles away, the ocean’s waves sparkled and danced in the sunlight.

And I believed. I kept climbing, kept breathing. It may have been the first time in my life that my eyes were wide open. The first time I had ever been completely present. My heart leapt. And I believed.

High above the summit, surrounded in the mountain’s lush glory, two Condors flew, their vast wings still as they rode the air currents.

My spirit soared and I understood dear Toukou’s words at long last.

Believe. You were born to fly.