A Beautiful Christmas Passage
I'm the middle of reading a beautiful book called Animal Camp
, by Catskills Animal Sanctuary Founder Kathy Stevens, and I came across this passage about how she celebrates Christmas. It humbled me beyond belief and moved me so move that I feel compelled to share it here. I hope you will read it with an open heart and enjoy it as much as I did.
(Catskills Animal Sanctuary's mission statement: Located two hours north of New York City, CAS provides a safe and loving haven for abused horses and farm animals – animals who have never known warm shelter, spacious pastures, good food, or the touch of a kind hand. Since 2001, CAS has provided refuge for over 1,700 such animals, and served as a center to raise awareness of their mistreatment and its impact on all of us.)
"Merry Christmas World!
I could be with David in Hawaii, my Dad in Florida, my brother in Virginia, my sister and her wonderful brood in Michigan, or my grandmother, aunts, uncles, cousins - the whole maternal clan - in Nashville.
Instead, clad in long johns, jeans, boots, gloves, hat, T-shirt, turtleneck, fleece vest, and jacket, I'm scooping poop at Catskill Animal Sanctuary, assisted by the great dog Murphy, and I couldn't be happier.
With our two animal caretakers either on vacation or taking the day off, I'm in the barn - per usual - on Christmas Day. WAMC, the public radio station, is airing Christmas essays, including David Sedaris's hilarious account of his single day working as an elf in a shopping mall. April and Allen and Alex (my volunteers) are here with me. Quickly and effortlessly, we divide up the morning feed routine: April and Allen will feel the "outside" animals, mostly big animals in big pastures the farthest from the barn; Alex feeds the "barnyard" animals, the rabbits, ducks, and chickens in seven different shelters clustered closer to the main barn; and I feed the menagerie inside the barn: eight special needs horses whose age or condition have earned them a permanent spot there; the eighteen potbellies and big pigs who appreciate the heated stalls; twelve goats; Lama and Jack, our two blind (or nearly) sheep; an eclectic assortment of birds - five roosters, Norma Jean the turkey, roosters Sumo, Rocky, Doodles, and Scribble... and so on. Today, a few extra treats are placed in each feed dish. Today, every single animal gets a kiss. Every chicken gets held, every pig is massaged, every horse muzzle has a kiss planted on its smooth, warm center.
'Umh umphh,' Franklin the pig grunts in gratitude. And Norma Jean, our rescued turkey, settles into my lap - uncertainly at first, but with each new breath, she lets go a little until her eyes are heavy and she's asleep.
I steal away mid-morning and an hour later return with three dozen pancakes. Christmas brunch in the barn! We pass juice and maple syrup, and vegan dietician George Eisman and his girlfriend, Melanie Carpenter, come by with one of Melanie's extraordinary desserts. So what if we've just finished a pound of strawberry pancakes apiece? It's Christmas! We dive into Melanie's chocolate mousse pie. This food is all made without animal products. And it's all divine.
Outside the kitchen door, Franklin the pig grunts. "Can I come in?" he pleads. We're tempted, but as you know, Franklin is no longer the five-pound piglet who arrived at Catskill Animal Sanctuary three winters ago. He is 700 pounds, and a 700-pound pig loose in a kitchen wouldn't be pretty... not even on Christmas.
I grab a handful of pancakes and slip out the back door. "Merry Christmas, best pig in the world," I whisper to my friend, who gleefully gobbles the pancakes. "Come on boy, it's time to go back to work," I say to him, and Murphy, Franklin, and I head down the drive to clean the goose house.
Merry Christmas, World."