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 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.
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.