Today is Jake’s day of glory. It’s Thanksgiving day and his spirit is flying free.
It is a good day to die.
Jake came to me with a flock of poults (baby turkeys) that were destined to be killed for Thanksgiving in 2003. I remember being spellbound by the little birds, who grew so fast that every hour they looked different. I had never known a turkey personally, and never even imagined the complex, fascinating, sensitive, curious beings I discovered them to be.
Jake never liked humans. I always took it as a great compliment that he felt free enough to eschew human company, including my own. He knew we respected him enough to understand he was his own being, free to make his own choices. We never tried to meld him into who we wanted him to be.
Jake was one of a kind. He could be a bit of a hothead at times, quick to defend when he perceived the slightest threat to his dominion. He protected his flock valiantly. Jake cherished his freedom, and enjoyed each day to its fullest. Even on the day before he died, Jake dozed in the sunshine, sought tasty delicacies in the grass, and hung out with his pig and turkey buddies.
Jake’s best friends were Tom (another Turkey), and Selick, a blind, elderly pig. Years ago, when Selick first came to us, we tried to have him live with other pigs, but each night, Selick broke out of the pig enclosure and into Jake and Tom’s pen. So, Jake and Tom got a new roommate.
Early this Thanksgiving morning, Jake succumbed to a heart attack. He died quickly, with his best friends, Tom and Selick, by his side.
Jake was one of very few free turkeys on this earth. He was much beloved and tenderly cared for every day of his life. Among the oldest turkeys alive, it is nothing short of a miracle that he died a beautiful, peaceful death in the company of family and friends on Thanksgiving Day.
Today, I give thanks for the blessing of having had Jake in my life. I pray that all turkeys will someday be free to live as the sacred beings that they are. I pray that every human will someday know the joy of nurturing, encouraging, and protecting life in all of its varied and beautiful forms.
Today is your day of glory, my precious Jake. My heart soars with your spirit. You lived free and died free. I am deeply, deeply grateful to you for walking with me for this brief time.
Hoka hey, my beloved familiar. It is a good day to die.
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”.
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.
It was the perfect weather to fall in love. Sun shone from a deep blue sky, while the wind played gently with my hair. Sunflowers reached towards the light, wildflowers bloomed in the meadows, and there she was, standing before me.
Her chocolate eyes were soft and playful. Her red coat gleamed in the sun. Muscles rippled as she walked. Gently, the giant warmblood reached down to place her nose against my heart, resting there for several breaths.
I met Catera on early on the morning of September 11, 2001. By the time the planes had crashed into the buildings, I was already in love—and horrified to hear the news on the barn radio. How could anything so vicious happen on such a beautiful day?
People told me, repeatedly, that I was too inexperienced to adopt a “green” horse. At the time, I had not yet given up riding horses. I hired trainer after trainer, and gave all that I had to learn to ride this giant of a being, but instead I broke many bones.
The first time, she broke into a gallop in an open field. I lost my seat, catapulted over her head, and landed on my head in front of her. She tried so hard to avoid stepping on me that she injured herself. I broke my occipital bone, cracked a rib, broke my shoulder, and tore my rotator cuff. Another fall from her back fractured my neck.
There was not a single person in my life that did not advocate for me to either euthanize Catera or to return her to the rescue she had come from. But I couldn’t do it. I had given her “Indra’s Lifetime Guarantee”. From the time I was a child, this is what I called it when I committed to an animal. My lifetime guarantee was that I would never give up on them, that I would love them no matter what, and that I would lay down my life in defense of theirs. She had my word. If I lost every person in my life, or every bone in my body, so be it.
I did not do this to be a martyr. I did it because I believed that we can only be redeemed – I can only be redeemed– through a pure, selfless love. Catera was giving me the opportunity to redeem myself.
Over time, spending hours and hours with her, I began to understand her better, and learned to adjust my behavior to meet her needs. She did not like being ridden—especially in a ring.
On the other hand, she loved taking me for a ride in the woods—and by that I mean she made the choices about when and where we would go. We used to disappear together for hours. When I relaxed and gave up control about where we would go, and at what speed, she began to trust and take care of me.
On our adventures, we got close to many, many wild animals that never would have trusted me to approach them on foot.
Once, she stepped on a ground wasp nest, and we both were stung multiple times. Even then, she did not bolt or rear or throw me. She calmly walked away from the bees. We had twin swollen faces for weeks.
Another time, when crossing a creek, we wound up in a tar pit. Instead of moving forward with each stroke of her powerful legs, we were sinking downwards. I swam around to her face and asked her not to move, and to wait until I could get help. She stayed still, patiently waiting, and then allowed herself to be tied with ropes and pulled out.
She used to love to open gates and barn doors. One of her favorite activities was to roll in the mud and then let herself into the barn where she would roll in pine shavings. I would find her in the barn covered in pine shavings with a goofy grin on her face.
She used to put her head against my chest and fall asleep while I rubbed her ears and called her “pretty girl”. Her head was the size of my entire torso.
Almost 15 years went by, and our trust and friendship deepened. Catera grew into the role of benevolent alpha mare and gentle giant.
Early one morning just a few weeks ago, I saw that something was not right with Catera. Her heart was racing, she appeared weak and in tremendous pain. I called the vet and began to run a wash cloth soaked in cold water along her body, trying to soothe her and bring her temperature down. It was nearly 100 degrees that day, and her body temperature continued to rise dangerously, along with her heart rate.
I stood her, soaking wet, in front of a powerful fan and tried to keep her calm while we waited for the vet. After a thorough exam, he diagnosed an impaction of the large intestine. He gave her medication for the pain, and threaded a tube through her nose, pumping mineral oil and water through her GI tract, in the hopes that it would help resolve the impaction.
And then the waiting began. Either the impaction would resolve and she would get better, or she would need surgery to keep her alive. Until a few years ago, Catera experienced similar impactions at least once annually, and it always resolved on its own. So, the vet and I thought her chances were decent.
Per the doctor’s order, I left her in a stall with lots of water to drink, and instructions for everyone to check on her frequently, while I led a tour. The people were lovely, as they always are, and despite the heat, I hoped they and the animals enjoyed each other’s company.
As soon as they got in their cars, I was back in the barn to check on my girl. What I saw will never leave my mind. My beautiful, strong, kind girl was belly up, with her feet too close to the wall to be able to move, breathing rapidly. The whites of her eyes revealed the extent of her fear.
Even then, she trusted me enough to wait while I got help and materials to get her back on her feet. With our heroic team assembled, we tied ropes around her legs and rolled her over.
She was a big girl, well over 1500 pounds. Her powerful back legs were too heavy for me to roll, even using all of my body weight. However, I did not want to place anyone else in the corner of a stall rolling a big, potentially flailing horse. Finally, we decided to have someone else stand behind me. Between an intern at her front end, the two of us at the rear, and two more caregivers pushing from the other side, we were able to roll her over. As she attempted to get her feet back under her, our intern and I jumped out of the way as planned. However, the young man who was standing behind me was not quick enough. One of her back feet grazed his chest and slammed into his chin.
His t-shirt ripped, he stood panting beside the panting horse. I wasn’t sure who to take care of first. “Are you ok? Can you breathe? Do you need an ambulance?” Miraculously, he was ok, but we did arrange for him to rest for the remainder of the day and ice his injuries.
Catera, on the other hand, was no better. We took her into the paddock, thinking in the larger space she would be safer. Every 20 minutes, we hosed her down. She refused all offers of water, and food was out of the question.
At 5pm, she went down again, this time with her feet stuck in the gate.
All but one team member had left. I couldn’t imagine how the two of us alone would have the strength to roll her again, but we had to try. I tied the ropes around her legs, and miraculously, our strongest volunteer (who was not scheduled to be here) appeared. A power lifter with a deep love for all of the animals, she was easily able to roll Catera’s back end, while I rolled her front end. We called the vet again, and this time his examination revealed that her large intestine was displaced, a life threatening situation.
The vet called the hospital to provide background to the doctors and our heroic volunteer kindly agreed to come along with me. Catera was terrified, but once again, chose to trust me. She followed me into the trailer and we were off on the three-hour drive to save her life.
Forty-five minutes away from the hospital, Catera could be heard trembling and flailing in the trailer. We pulled over and found her shaking uncontrollably. A call to the vet confirmed the dire nature of her condition. We were instructed to give her more pain medication and get to the hospital as fast as we could. The valiant trailer driver drove the trailer safely and confidently, in a lightning storm, in the dark, on winding roads, faster than I dared drive in my little, easy to manage vehicle.
On arrival, a team of earnest and caring veterinary professionals was ready for her. She fell as she made her way off of the trailer. By then, she was clearly incoherent, and barely able to stand at all. They worked valiantly to keep her on her feet long enough to start her on IV fluids.
But it was too late.
Her huge body crashed to the ground as she began to seize right there in the hospital’s entrance hallway. The kind vet asked for permission to euthanize her. If we did not, she would die painfully. I agreed.
With my hands on her head, my beautiful girl’s huge spirit gathered into her eyes, and with a last look, she was gone.
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.
Angry wind burned my cheeks and stung my eyes as the Harley engine’s raucous song filled my ears. I hid my face behind the back of the driver, trying to protect it from the air we viciously cut through in our headlong tumble down the country road.
I was accustomed to travel by horseback, to feeling my warm horse beneath me, anticipating my requests and changing pace or direction before I even shifted my weight or squeezed a finger to ask her. Together we explored the woods and rivers of the surrounding countryside. We travelled so silently, and in such harmony, that we were often able to observe deer and other wildlife up close.
So this other mode of transport was utterly foreign to me. And whilst I admit that the danger and speed of it gave my younger self a thrill, I think even then I knew this wasn’t really who I was.
He turned halfway around and yelled something to me.
“Pardon?” I yelled awkwardly, straining to be heard.
“How much time do you have?” It was so much easier for him to trumpet his big voice over the engine’s grinding chorus.
“I’m in no hurry,” came my naive reply.
Off we plunged, down winding roads and around sharp turns. Trees, pastures and farmhouses contorted into Dali-esque shapes as we whizzed by, too fast for me to surmise or even wonder at our intended destination.
We slowed, and the world we passed took on more definite shapes as we turned onto a gravel lane cutting down the center of two empty pastures. Rounding a curve, a centuries old stone farmhouse gracefully came into focus. Daringly, I lifted myself up a bit to speak into my companion’s ear.
“Who lives here?”
“Someone I want you to meet.”
That someone was Anne Nicodemus Carpenter, horsewoman, poet, dog trainer, and since that day one of my closest friends.
The house had big rooms and windows, unusual for such an old home. Anne sat in the living room, surrounded by paintings of children and animals. Horses, dogs, cats and chickens gazed out at me from silver frames scattered across every surface, frozen in posterity.
Her lively eyes sparkled as she took me in. “Do you write?” she wanted to know first.
“Do you ride?” was her next query, which she clarified with a pointed gaze in my companion’s direction while chuckling at her own double entendre, “I can see that you ride, but do you ride horses?”
Satisfied that I was a bona fide word and animal person, she dismissed my friend and took me outside to meet her familiars. We continued our conversation from that day to this, sometimes with long pauses in between, but always great energy to resume.
Perhaps once or twice in a lifetime, you meet someone you can really relate to. Someone who understands why you do the things you do, because they do them, too. Anne was one of those for me.
When I met her, she was in her 90’s and I was in my 30’s, and yet the 60 year age difference never hindered us. Anne was living alone on her beautiful old farm with her horses, chickens, guinea hens, dogs, and cats. I was wishing I lived alone on my farm with my animal companions.
She spent her days spiritedly observing the life teeming around her and reporting her astute findings in cleverly rendered verbal portraits. I spent my days getting lost on horseback, and my evenings recounting the infinitesimal drama of barn life for my dogs, whom I had banned from the barnyard after one too many chickens were lost.
Anne and I used to spend hours together, discussing minute details of animal behavior, positing ideas on how to help them, sharing notes on our interactions with all forms of life. She showed just as much interest in and compassion for the raccoons who stole birdseed from the bird feeder strategically placed by her window as for the powerful, pedigreed stallion in her pasture.
She used to get so excited every time she learned about a new insect! Her eyes would light up and she’d laugh in delight as she told me little known facts about potato bugs. The last time I saw her, which was just last week, she spent nearly an hour regaling me on stick bugs, ancient and clever creatures that shed light on Earth’s mysteries.
“I think that’s why we live,” Anne confided once, “It’s our job to learn. Once we stop learning, there’s nothing more for us.”
Anne was the only person I have ever known who truly understood my certitude that it is perfectly reasonable to give over one’s attic as a winter home for squirrels or rodents, and that to live fully and completely with a pack of dogs, herd of horses or a flock of chickens is more fulfilling and engrossing than any other lifestyle.
She never questioned my frequent practice of going days on end without leaving my farm or speaking to another human. To her, this was not an unhealthy or lonely life, but one replete with intellectual stimulation, excitement, and emotional fulfillment.
She never questioned the wisdom or expense of trying to build a brace for a turkey with a deformed leg; she simply offered ideas from her own vast experience. She never second guessed that I would know whether to keep trying to help my foundered mare and when to let her go. She appreciated that because I was living as one with the animals, I understood and respected their wishes.
I remember visiting her one day after she lost a hen to a red-tailed hawk. She poured her grief into a poem filled with elegance and reverence for the drama and glory of life. Oh, how I loved to sit on her sofa with her and read her latest poems! Her handwriting was atrocious, and arthritis didn’t help, but Anne had a rare command of words and I was intensely affected by her work.
Anne’s home, aptly dubbed Halcyon Farm, became a refuge to me when life’s challenges knocked me flat. She listened as avidly as I spilled my heart about my failures with human love as she did when I plied her with anecdotes on my successes with animal love (and no, that was not another double entendre).
I can never list the things I learned from her. I can never express the satisfaction found in such a true and profound friendship.
I love her deeply, respect her fully, and miss her mightily. That motorcycle ride was one of the most important journeys of my life.
Last night, Anne crossed over. She still lived at home with her horses, cats, and hens, and was surrounded by her children, grandchildren, friends and admirers. She remained cognizant until the last.
I know she hasn’t gone far. I feel her in the wind. I hear her in the birdsong. She lives on in her poems and in every ant, butterfly, and stick bug that captured her imagination.
“They are not dead, who live in the hearts they leave behind.” – Tuscarora
The horses are brought in early in the summer,
Too many green heads when the sun is up.
I move from one dream
To the front steps of another.
The flute that played me awake in tears
Is still crying in the wild cherry,
And some mouse must shudder too loud to live.
Two great blue herons come in sight,
Strung out against the setting moon,
A cliche of a Chinese painting,
Their legs stretched long behind.
They cry hoarsely as they reach the river,
A sound I never knew was theirs.
The unknown artist had been up early,
Not swirling in the vapors of an opium dream
Where a star can cradle impossibly
In the bosom of the crescent moon.
A scuffle in the multiflora. The shriek stops all our blood.
A rooster’s crow is cut in two.
The shock waves gradually fade out.
The air is loud with relief and night business is winding up.
The worst has happened, and it was none of us.
The rooster starts again. Another answers.
Together, they will bring in the sun.
A bat flashes by my head and slips behind the shutter
In a blink of time, two more, there is squeaking
As they hang up for the day like clothes in a closet.
Now there is some light at the edge of the world.
The picture of mares and foals in the meadow
Is developing– so far just black and white silhouettes–
The Welsh filly sees me and calls out in a toy horse’s voice.
Heads lift up from the grass and turn towards the big mare,
She and the young prince move off slowly,
The others follow in close order.
By the time they reach the barnyard
Day is there ahead of them.
Night has gone to fragments of a half-remembered dream.
—by Anne Nicodemus Carpenter from Ma’s Ram and Other Poems
After writing this, I went outside to seek comfort in the arms of a large mare and found a new cat in my barn. Young and lithe, she happens to be long-haired and all black, a cat I know Anne would have found especially beautiful. Remembering that Anne once remarked that, should she be reincarnated, she wouldn’t mind life in my barn where she could enjoy the animals without figuring out how to pay for them, I named the new cat Halcyon, Hally for short. While I don’t think Hally is Anne, I rather think they both might admire the symmetry of it.