May 15, 2019
Good Day for Ducks
Closing my eyes, I listen
Comfort surrounds me
Cooled by the breeze as its feathery touch pushes aside the warm sun.
Bullfrogs croak their deep baritone greeting
Ducks quack like old friends gossiping over tea
Talking over one another
Their voices converging into steady harmonics.
Dexter duck slaps the pond with orange webbed feet
And soon turns upside-down with his pond-mate,
Paddling like kids at play in the local water hole.
I’m taken away by memories of summers at the lake,
When it was I who was laughing and gossiping with friends.
It was I who was swimming and slapping the surface of the water in fun,
splashing my friends as we cooled off from the summer’s heat.
It was I who swam with abandon,
As if the day would last forever.
(Poem copyright Barbara Hengstenberg, 2019)
April 25, 2019
The forest floor
skitter by –
and fallen trees.
A swatch of grass.
A mound of clay.
A pond for ducks
on which to play.
Listen, watch, feel and smell.
The world around us
has much to tell.
(Poem copyright Barbara Hengstenberg 2019)
Sitting awhile outside at the Refuge provides a playground for the senses. Today, I’m seated atop the goat platform in Pen 3, listening to crows squawking in the pine thicket while chickadees and warblers sing in the bright sunshine. Bees hover and hum, near the goat barn door, awaiting an invitation to enter.
The sounds of summer’s soon approach provide music to my ears as I contemplate the important role land plays at this sanctuary. Its beauty brings about immediate calm. Lounging at ease in the shade with my goat friends, I sense their much-deserved tranquility. Marceau goat is hunkered down between two pines, sleeping peacefully as I scribble in my notebook.
The goat pens provide large, sunny, grassy areas, wooded playgrounds with trees at-the-ready for horn rubbing, and shade from the warm North Carolina sun. Inside the goat barns, straw and hay cushion the floor, and more platforms serve as both jungle gym and a restful spot to sleep.
Sitting on the land with the residents, it doesn’t take long to realize that Nature is doing what she happily does best — giving back to all of us. The land is respected here at the Refuge and worked with gratitude. In turn, Nature provides her tapestry of play, nourishment and comfort to her inhabitants and visitors alike.
April 20, 2019
After a day of severe storm threats and tornado warnings, the sun rose brightly over Spring Chicken Day. I arrived at 10:30 this morning to volunteer and found the Refuge abuzz with activity. Volunteers here work collaboratively like a well-oiled machine. The merchandise tent was set and ready to go, the food table fully stocked, and colorful “eggs” hidden — treasures ready to be discovered by the many children who would soon arrive.
My assignment was to staff the Reading Roost, which was set up in the far chicken pen. I found the Roost comfortably outfitted with straw bales for seating and wicker baskets brimming with books such as Gwen the Rescue Hen, Libby Finds Vegan Sanctuary, and Anita’s Story – Compassion is Not a Crime.
For the better part of the day, families visited with these beautiful chickens, feeding them seeds, grains and greens. Children hunkered down on the bales to read aloud to their new feathered friends. It was a day of sharing these chickens’ stories and sharing stories with chickens.
However, for me, the best part of the day was when the sun became hidden behind thick grey clouds and a chill filled the air. Everything about this celebratory day seemed to quiet down. Families had moved on to visit with other residents and I found myself alone and cold, sitting on straw. A large white hen with her beet-red comb walked over to me and stood at my feet, offering to snuggle. I gently picked her up and cradled her for at least 15 minutes. Rubbing her warm cheek and wattle, and massaging her neck as her head rested upon my chest, she soon warmed me — both physically and emotionally. As she slept peacefully in my embrace, I found myself listening:
It wasn’t always like this.
Never had such peace.
Someone wants to love me…
I felt her gratitude as I held her quietly in my arms. Her warmth radiated and calmed my chill. I whispered and told her she is loved and safe.
Yes, as the air chilled and a few raindrops fell, for me, this was the best part of an already joy-filled day.
April 13, 2019
Since my first visit to the Refuge just one month ago, my life has changed for the better and I already feel a part of this compassionate community. I’m enjoying time spent with the residents, writing and working on the land, potluck dinners, cooking classes, and becoming vegan once again.
I first became vegan about six years ago, but I will admit my reasons at the time were selfish, as I was dealing with cholesterol issues and wanting to avoid medication. Don’t get me wrong, I’ve always had a deep love for animals, so not eating them or anything produced by them was an added bonus to veganism. But I’d be lying if I said that was what drove me to stop eating them at that time. Then, with a major move and for many other reasons (excuses), after a couple of years, I fell off the vegan wagon and got back on the meat wagon.
…until I met Ace.
I undertook this Writer-In-Residence assignment with my past vegan experience under my belt. Yet, I wondered if I would feel odd, not being vegan and working at a sanctuary for animals who were rescued from the hell of dairy farms, slaughter and mistreatment.
…and then I met Ace.
That first day of my writing stint, I roamed the Refuge with Lenore and took to heart all of the stories she relayed from the residents. I heard about baby goats being torn from their mothers so their moms could continue to produce milk for human consumption — their female kids facing the same fate; their male kids facing slaughter.
I learned about chickens, whose beaks have been scorched off so they won’t peck at other hens who shared extremely tight quarters in commercial chicken farms. I learned of many atrocities that happen at factory farms just so humans can grab a bucket of white meat or order up a fried egg with their toast.
…and then Ace came up and nuzzled me.
He enjoyed scratches behind his horns. And then he looked me with pleading eyes, asking me to understand and become more compassionate. In that moment, I realized that if his mother, Sweet Mama, hadn’t escaped from the slaughter auction, Ace, being a male goat, would have been sent to slaughter once he had gained weight.
Ace reached me. I became vegan once again on March 12, 2019.
This time it is different. This time, it is for the beautiful, sentient beings who have quickly found a place in my heart. That first visit was a turning point in my life. The Refuge is such a magical place that it is easy to be involved and to embrace all that it offers its residents and humans alike.
It’s a running joke in my house that I don’t cook, but I’ve been cooking more and even having fun doing so. I’ve been a baker for most of my life, so I was unsure of how to transfer my baking knowledge to vegan treats. To my delight, the Refuge offers cooking and baking classes, and today I attended a vegan baking class run by Monika and Tessa. When I arrived early to volunteer during set-up, Monika asked me to bake a prototype funfetti cake. It was a breeze…and delicious!Throughout the day, 30 of us bakers (with a variety of baking experience) went on to create cakes, croissants, sweet bread, sourdough bread and cinnamon rolls. At the end of the class, we all sat down together to enjoy the delectable treats we had created.
Since everything had been baked with compassion, each bite tasted all the sweeter.
April 3, 2019
Have you ever watched a turkey, up close and personal? I’m talking about turkeys who are living a peaceful existence, strutting around a barnyard with relaxed feathers, retracted snoods and pale, pink caruncles? (I’ll fill you in on these terms in a minute.)
With the blessing of another sunny springtime day, I’m sitting atop a straw bale, shaded from the warm North Carolina sun by the turkey and chicken house on the Refuge. As I rest quietly and observe Andi and Jordan, they become more comfortable with my presence. Today, I approached their pen quietly and talked softly to them as I entered. On other visits, they’ve been fluffed out in full feathery finery, snoods extended, and caruncles deep red and blue. As I recently discovered, a turkey’s snood is a loose, fleshy protrusion on the forehead. When a turkey is excited or wants to show off, the snood hangs below the beak. In a relaxed state, which I was able to witness today, the snood shortens to just above the beak. The caruncle is the crinkly flesh around a turkey’s head and neck. Like a mood ring, the caruncle changes color from white to pink to blue to purple. And I swear the other day while Jordan and Andi were entertaining many visitors in their pen, I saw their caruncles turn orange.
But today, these two turkeys’ caruncles look as if their heads have faded in the sunlight, as they slowly doze standing on their hefty legs until they finally fold up and lie on the earth. These two fellas were bred for the table. Even with relaxed feathers, they are rotund. Their legs are not spindly as one often thinks of with fowl, but they are thick and hefty — they have a lot of weight to carry. Both Andi and Jordan were rescued from the food industry (but sadly not before they had been debeaked), and dropped off at Farm Sanctuary, who arranged with the Refuge to provide a forever home for them.
Have you ever touched a turkey’s head? It’s soft, a little bit fuzzy and a lot bit wrinkly. Feeling warmth radiating from Jordan’s head, his personality shines through as he looks me in the eyes and fluffs his feathers. He likes having his head gently rubbed.
Andi and Jordan both seem proud of their physical attributes. While their weight hinders the amount of strutting they can do, they are still free to mosey around their yard and visit with their feathered neighbors: Tony, a heritage breed turkey, as well as a flock of roosters and hens. This is a peaceful pen, where every now and then a gobble-gobble and a cockadoodledoo waft through the air and the peck-peck-peck of hens’ beaks signal happy birds joyfully eating their feed at their leisure.
I’m in my happy place here on the Refuge, and it’s obvious that my feathered friends are, too.
Free just to be
In my glory, I’m
In my existence, I’m
In my friends, I
Hasn’t always been this way,
but it is now.
Free to just
Poem copyright Barbara Hengstenberg 2019
March 27, 2019
Thank You, Sweet Mama
I was saddened to hear of Sweet Mama’s passing this past week. She was the first goat resident at the Refuge. A strong-willed mother, she broke free of the slaughter auction to save herself and the two babies she was carrying, Ace and Ivy. Sweet Mama touched my life briefly, as I’m relatively new to the Refuge, but she and her kids moved me to work harder for this sanctuary and to embrace a vegan lifestyle. I am grateful for all she did and all that she left behind.
Thank you for the choices you’ve made that have influenced so many — most importantly, your kids, Ace and Ivy, and all the lives you’ve touched at the Refuge.
We miss you. But I’m sure you know that.
The sadness in Ivy’s eyes breaks my heart. Today I sat with her for a long while and listened to her cry. She’s trying to rest in the warm sunshine as she often did with you and Ace, but you’re not here. She remembers safely snuggling up against you and aches to have you near once again. Ivy knows you were struggling with pain and are now at peace, but it doesn’t ease her pain of missing you.
Ace is searching for you and wondering when you’ll be home. He’s keeping an extra-watchful eye over Ivy as he tries to reassure her of something he himself is so uncertain of. He’s staying close.
Sweet Mama, your kids will carry on your legacy of strength and unconditional love. They want you to know how grateful they are for your perseverance and your unbreakable family bond.
As the warm spring sun begins to lower and longer shadows are cast upon the pasture, a sense of peace drapes over your children. While part of them continues to expect you to peer around the corner, they know you are gone.
For Sweet Mama
Because you jumped
Because you loved
Because you snuggled
we know comfort
Because you cared
Because you left
Thank you, Sweet Mama.
Poem copyright Barbara Hengstenberg 2019
March 19, 2019
Meeting the Flock
It is a sunny, spring-like day as I pull into the driveway of Piedmont Farm Animal Refuge. Spring begins tomorrow, and this is the perfect place to celebrate its arrival. The small, nondescript, faded yellow ranch house seems to have once been home to farmers long gone. Opening the front door, compassion spills from the house as I’m greeted with a hug by founder Lenore Braford. This is how my introduction to the Refuge begins, and I know immediately it will be a special place.
On the back side of the house, a gravel road meanders past woodlands, pastures and barns. Over 100 animals who have been rescued from traumatic conditions of abuse and neglect are residents. Here, each being is known by name and provided a sanctuary in which to live out their lives. But it’s even more than that. This is a community created around a symbiotic relationship of animals, people, land and architecture. There is a serenity to be found on this plot of land for anyone willing to sit a spell amongst these creatures and get to know them with an open heart.
Today is my first day of writing from the Refuge, and I find myself plopped in the middle of a pasture full of sheep. Counting them, there are eleven who are coated out in full wool and one, Flower, who sports a short jacket of hair rather than the wool of her pasture-mates. Sheep have been bred to grow wool, but require shearing in order to get the weight off in warmer months. Lenore tells me this needs to happen sometime soon for these eleven wool-bearers, as our warm North Carolina summer is fast approaching. It is important to find a compassionate, gentle shearer, as the process can otherwise be rather violent for sheep.
After about 45 minutes of sitting quietly and observing, I am rewarded with a greeting. All except Flower (who seems unsure of my presence) have decided that if they approach me as a group, I’ll be a safe friend. One found delight in untying my shoelaces while another smiled and left tongue prints on my metal water bottle. They all decide face pets would be fine until, curiosity squelched, eleven wooly heads turn in unison and they trot away enmass. I’m left to finish writing in the middle of their pasture with lanolin-coated hands, watching as these sweet creatures choose to nibble on their tender springtime grass rather than on my shoes.
As I get up to leave, I talk with Flower from afar, assuring her that I will take the time to get to know her. I know that she, as well as her flock of friends, has a very important story to share. I promise I will listen.
Curious from a distance
Wooly cotton balls with legs
Stay in the flock
Don’t wander off
It’s safer that way.
Go about your business
One eye on the visitor – one eye on the grass.
Curiosity brings you closer
Do we trust – do we scamper?
A brave one approaches
Standing still and sniffing
Then turns and walks away.
Curiosity is tempered
The grass is too tasty today.
Poem copyright Barbara Hengstenberg 2019