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Sometimes coming home is the best part of the trip. I’ve just returned from a two-week writing retreat, and this gave me the opportunity to see the sanctuary with fresh eyes.

I went out to the barn just as Cheryl and TJ were unloading the pick-up truck after the weekly run to the feed store. (Thanks again to everybody who pitched in to help buy a suitably durable used truck!) Roosters crowed, geese honked, ducks rushed around quacking (why are they always in such a hurry?), and guinea fowl contributed their indescribable cries to the cacophony as Cheryl filled me in on the latest news. Ah — the sounds of home!

Danielle looking badass after being beat up by a rooster

Danielle looking badass after being beat up by a rooster

Danielle ducked into the barn on her way back down the hill after looking in on the birds in Wayne’s World and the pigeon aviary. As she sat on a bale of hay to chat, I noticed a new gash under her eye. Turned out that a usually very friendly rooster had taken offense at her effort to treat a patch of frostbite on his wattle. Ouch! We all know the feeling, and the stories of our bruises and other injuries always make for amusing conversation.

Next, I walked through the barn and was happy to see blue-eyed Sky, who arrived on solstice with such ragged feathers that she had to stay in the iso-coop for a while, mingling with the other geese. Walking up to the hay ring, I chatted with Princess, Rose, Autumn, and Blake but most of the front pasture cows (and all of the sheep) were too busy “supervising” Kathy as she divvied up donated vegetables for distribution to pay any attention to me.

So, I headed up to the back pasture, eschewing the ice-slicked driveway for the crunchy snow. Even so, I had to keep all of my attention on my footsteps, to make sure I didn’t start sliding back down the hill. (Don’t worry! That particularly icy passage is off limits to sanctuary residents at this time of year, but the tractor, ATV, and pickup truck are capable of navigating it.)

As I opened the gate into the pasture beside the back barn, I noticed Be looking at me in that super-skeptical way that she has (completely understandable, given what she went through at the hands of humans). “Don’t worry,” I said as I slipped past her, “I’m just here to say hi to the ones who want to see me.”

Most of the back pasture crew were standing near the solar panels that power the pump. As I headed in their direction, I noticed young Emma off to one side and started to veer toward her, but then I felt Vito’s eyes on me. “What?” he seemed to be asking, “You’re not going to come over here?” So, I veered again, to pet Vito, at which point Midnight Moon came up, so I started petting him too. “I remember when you were so hand-shy that the only way I could touch you was with the tips of my lips,” I said to Midnight Moon as I planted several kisses on his big wet nose before turning toward Emma again.

As I began to pet Emma, who in her wintertime shagginess has begun to look a lot like a donkey, I noticed Athena doing what we call “cow yoga,” pretzeling herself into a remarkable pose. I pulled out my phone to take a snapshot, but of course only managed to catch her standing back on all four legs, looking at me like “Whut?”


Meanwhile, Jasper had walked up to get in on the cuddling action, stretching out his long neck for scritch-scratches. In an instant, his brother Poncho appeared (as though he didn’t know I would find and greet him wherever he happened to be). And then —who’s that? can it be?!?— Luna’s daughter Orchid, once so shy, was snuffling my pocket, licking my coat, and leaning into my fingers as I scratched her forehead.

So that was four cows but only two hands, and then here came Midnight Moon again, looking for more love. Clancy and a few others hovered at the edge of the circle, waiting their turns.

Try to imagine yourself in the middle of such a love-fest! Remember: Cows are BIG. Dainty Emma, whose growth was stunted by early starvation, probably weighs 900lbs. Poncho is gargantuan, his hips taller than my head, and Jasper comes close to him in height. They probably weigh 2,000lbs each. The shorter but bulkier Midnight Moon and Orchid probably weigh between 1,200 to 1,500 pounds each. And we were all standing on a snow-covered, icy, hillside.

I pulled out my phone again, hoping that a snapshot might capture some sense of the experience, and here is the result.

From left, Orchid's neck, Clancy's head, and Midnight Moon's hip

From left, Orchid’s neck, Clancy’s head, Midnight Moon’s hip, Poncho’s hip


From right, Jasper’s nose, Orchid’s eye, my sleeve.

Pictures couldn’t have done the moment justice anyway. So much joyous communion. I finally tore myself away because I wanted to visit “down the hill” too and had told Miriam to expect me at a particular time. So, I said a quick hello to Buddy, Jack, Linus, and anybody else who I thought might appreciate a greeting, gave Poncho one more quick cuddle, and then headed down to the front pasture, at one point sliding rather than walking, and then down again to the scattering of coops around Miriam and Aram’s house.

There was Danielle, chatting casually with chickens as she always does while working. In the infirmary, Miriam and Aram emptied bags of organic scratch and birdseed into bins. I strolled around, saying hey to everybody, then Miriam, Aram and I seized the opportunity for a quick meeting about pending administrative matters. Oh, and I opened up a package sent to us by our board member lauren Ornelas — delicious vegan chocolates for the VINE staff!!

I headed back up the steep driveway, my steps lightened by the pocketful of chocolates I carried to distribute to the folks up the hill. As I started to type this, I glanced up and out my window to see Maddox (he’s gotten so big) and Justin (he’s gotten so brave) playing a boisterous game of head-butting. Then I got so caught up in typing that I came out late to help with closing chores. Now, it’s getting toward bedtime for those who will get up at sunrise for morning chores and the beginning of another day at VINE Sanctuary.

8 comments to Homecoming

  • What a lovely picture you’ve presented here. It’s nice to read the comforting things amongst the tough stuff in the world once in a while. Thank you.
  • Sanctuaries are so full of love. Every time I rescue someone at Eden I think in terms of their rescue. Then each time, as I get to know them as individuals, I become more and more convinced that it is the animals we rescue who are saving humanity from itself. They have utterly changed me and my life.
  • Marcia Mueller
    I can’t think of anything better to come home to and finding all the animals safe and sound.

    This was an especially happy read this morning. Last night I was on-line at the New York Times reading the expose of the US Meat Animal Research Center. I know the USDA has been virtually useless in fulfilling its responsibilities for the Animal Welfare Act, but now that agency is actively engaged in behavior so abusive the whole team should be in prison. Fortunately, the letters to the editor reveal shock and disgust.

    I’m hoping every animal rights/welfare group will get petitions ready to flood the USDA and members of Congress to shut this torture chamber down. Just signed for PETA and Farm Sanctuary. This weekend I will be writing letters and e-mails. I’m always shocked and horrified at the human treatment of other animals, but this story is beyond words.

    Thank you for all you do. I wish all the animals in this “research center” could be as lucky as the ones at VINE.

  • Welcome home pattrice!

    Thanks for sharing your home with ours. I’m going to print this page and read it to my school students. I’m a substitute K-12 school teacher in Pennsylvania. I’m always looking for things to share with the students that will get them thinking about veganism. I also hope you’ll write a children’s book one day soon. It would go well in language arts with all of your special words. I read Aftershock and it helped me a great deal. I gave it to a friend of mine.

    Thanks for all you do to educate us and to save animals. Love Boe

  • Barbara Beierl
    Just yesterday, I looked at a package in a supermarket which falsely portrayed cows grazing happily on green grass with farm buildings in the background. I turned on MSNBC to hear news of Hillary Clinton’s trip to Canada and learned that she attended neither to the Keystone Pipeline debate nor the elephant who had been living by himself for close to twenty years, pleas made for his release ignored by all, including Clinton. On MSNBC–a tv station supposedly dedicated to social change–never is a word mentioned about the horrid circumstances in which nonhuman animals find themselves in society. My town newspaper isn’t even aware of the animal abuse occurring everywhere in the state; it covers stories only from the human point of view. In fact, too few human animals have discovered the idea that we see things from human, not nonhuman, perspectives. The idea seems not to exist. It is only among animal advocates that this intellectual and emotional construct exists and/or is acted upon. Vine Sanctuary is a key example. A small band of human animals who are enlightened enough to experience empathy and compassion for other creatures, they are so in touch with them that their lives are made meaningful and filled with joy. I wish I could export sanctuary members everywhere so that they might counter the indifference and barbarism toward nonhuman animals that we demonstrate in all times and places. Bless them and support them! Christian, Jewish, Moslem, Agnostic, Atheist alike–we must live our lives in fellowship and as stewards of our common world, simply making it better and more civilized. Barbara Hardy Beierl
    P. S. I hope this reply isn’t too “corny.” I just feel very moved by Pattrice’s post. b
  • pattrice
    Wow, thanks for all of these sweet comments, which I am just now seeing! I’m so glad that this post managed to convey some of the sense of joyful wonder I felt when coming home to see the sanctuary with renewed appreciation after a couple of weeks away.
  • CQ
    What comes through so strongly for me in this post is the way you acknowledge the individuality of each of your friends when you greet them and write about them, pattrice. It was fun recognizing Autumn, who my friend is now sponsoring! I’ll be sure she reads your post–and my comment! :-)

    You’re right, each of the comments is so sweet–just as sweet as you and each wondrous resident of VINE.

  • […] I’ve said before, cows are BIG. Imagine yourself, as I was the other evening, standing in the barn as three calves […]

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