Saturday, February 23, 2013

The Gentle Barn

Buttercup and Susan
Occasionally, aspects of my life become way overdue. Case in point, getting together with my friend, Susan, who I had not seen in 10.5 years, and visiting The Gentle Barn, a sanctuary for abused farm animals and a healing place for at-risk kids. Recently, I knocked both of 'em out in 24 hours. 

The last time Susan and I had seen one another was at the wedding of a mutual friend (whom we both adore) and once we started talking, it became evident that large chunks of life can happen in a decade:  
"Wait, you lived in San Francisco? Really? How long?"

"You lived in Colorado? When?" 

"What do you mean you're a farmer? How does that work?" 

Luckily, Susan is the same beautiful, smart girl I remember and I'm so pleased she came along on my visit to GB, conveniently located just up Interstate 5 from her place in Eagle Rock.

Vegan the bull, relaxing in the sun. 

His horns were removed as a baby in a sloppy, cruel way so they've come back deformed. Luckily, the horns are hollow and flexible, not cutting in to his head. It would cause more problems to remove them now so they remain.

For all the richness of my life, it has big, gaping holes in it and many of them are animal-sized. It actually hurts my heart that I have no animal relationships right now, one of my lifestyle sacrifices, I suppose. 

So, spending an afternoon after so many loving and deserving animals, well, it did me a lot of good. From the Gentle Barn website: 
The over 160 farm animals that reside at The Gentle Barn have all been rescued from severe abuse, neglect, abandonment or worse. They have been rehabilitated with traditional and non-traditional medicine, top quality nutrition, and countless hours in the arms of our staff and volunteers. They have regained their trust in humankind by realizing that they are now loved, and their abuse is over. Because of their ongoing physical and psychological needs, they can't be adopted and are given sanctuary with us for the rest of their lives.
Madonna, with her wee fans
We are home to horses, donkeys, cows, pigs, sheep, goats, turkeys, chickens, llamas, dogs, and cats. We believe that everyone deserves a chance at life, regardless if they are blind, crippled, deformed, sick, wounded, or just old. 

Because the animals at The Gentle Barn have experienced abuse and severe neglect, their treatment and rehabilitation is extremely expensive and can take a long time. But it is worth it to see them smile again, to watch their eyes light up, to feel them cuddle in your lap, and to see them play with new life and new hope.

Once rehabilitated, the animals become ambassadors, teaching children about the magic and grace of these precious beings.
The founder, Ellie Laks, gives presentations every hour every Sunday about how the sanctuary got started, how it runs and how guests might make the most of their visit. As a child, she would rescue every needy animal she could find and her heartbreak when her parents would get rid of them, saying, "When you're grown up, you can have as many animals as you want."

There were llamas, goats, sheep, enormous pigs, chickens, roosters, turkeys, horses, cows, bulls and donkeys - the whole barnyard was there.

Then, there was this guy, - a teenage boy with the most tender way about him, it was striking. He sat on the cement, in the barnyard, for what seemed like hours, his entire attention focused on Claire, an abused turkey who had been rescued just three days before Thanksgiving. 

He kept telling her how beautiful she was and she buried her face in his chest, cooing. He did not seem to be a volunteer or a staff member, just a visitor like myself. 

As people strolled around them, checking out the pigs, chickens and other turkeys, they stayed focused on one another. 

Finally, I asked a volunteer about Claire's story and she shook her head. "Really, it's quite amazing - a big day for Claire. She's been here since November but this is the first time I've ever seen her 'accept' affection from anyone. It's a big breakthrough for her." 

I took a zillion photos of them because I couldn't get over how much I could FEEL the unconditional love that can pass between an animal and human, both of whom need so badly to give and receive affection. I get misty-eyed just looking at these and remembering how gentle he was and how pleased she was to be under his gaze.

Okay, I may have some issues but this is the most romantic thing I've ever seen, like what marketers want you to feel on Valentine's Day.

And then, just when I already couldn't believe it, an amazing thing happened..

She let him rub under her wings! Folks, it's official, we have a serious case of BOY-on-TURKEY love! 

Friday, February 08, 2013


Image credit: skunks
Every night, there are helicopters, swirling overhead nervously seeking, watching, hovering.

Meanwhile, all yesterday and today, an intense manhunt is afoot. A violent man, bitter about his firing from the LAPD several years ago, is on a murderous rampage, already killing three people, including a cop and a young engaged couple, all in the name of revenge. Last I heard, they were chasing him through the mountains.

Here in Southern California, I hear about killings every single day; I'd forgotten about the region's pervasive homicide. Part of our lore, I suppose. I can't help but compare it to the quiet life in North Dakota and really, it comes down to math.

Turns out, murder rates in California and North Dakota are actually quite similar, thanks to massive population growth in North Dakota's oil fields on the western side.  Per 100,000 people, just .5 people were murdered in NoDak in 2008; in 2011, it was 3.5. In California in 2011, it was 4.8 - a vast improvement from 1996, where the murder rate was 9.1.

All day long, the LA media screams, "Murder! Murder! Murder!" because there are 38 million+ people living in the Golden State, compared to 700,000 in NoDak. More people means more beings that kill and die, simple as that.

And being Los Angeles, the media is constantly pining and frothing for new gore and the monster must be fed. The button-downed culture of the Midwest keeps a check on sensationalism. Here in LA, there are no buttons, all the shirts are wide open - off, even.

There's also an inherent wildness about the place - all these races and cultures swirling together in one hot soup, plus all the traffic. All the desperate people who have come here to live out a dream and find reality instead. People live - and die - here in big sweeping gestures. It's grand, and sad.

Meanwhile, life goes on. Should I run today? Oh, look it's raining. I need to get some money from the ATM for Debbie's birthday party at the Gaslamp bar this evening. It's 80s Night, so there may some foul neon-colored shots that must be consumed as Flock of Seagulls or Tears For Fears plays in the background. Do I have any hairspray?

The real question is, would I rather have a sky full of buzzy, ominous helicopters or low-flying crop dusters raining pesticides?

How about kites? Anyone fly those anymore?


After posting this, I went downstairs for lunch and found this in the newspaper's op-ed section: "Helicopters Buzzing LA County Must Be Regulated", about a proposal written by Dianne Feinstein, Barbara Boxer and Adam Schiff.

Monday, February 04, 2013

My Second Race

"OMG, I'm so happy it's over."
With all that goes on in my life and in my head, I have no idea why running is the only topic that's covered here lately. Though I am only just beginning to refer to myself as a "runner", it has come to signify so many things for me, not the least of which is a big, fat metaphor = running from aging.

Me with Jaime
ANYWAY, I completed the Surf City Half-Marathon yesterday in Huntington Beach, California, along with my pal and running coach, Jaime. They shut down a big chunk of Pacific Coast Highway and about 20,000 of us gave it our best shot. The day was gorgeous, although because there were so many of us, they released us in waves so nobody would get trampled. As a result, we didn't get running until at least 8:30 a.m. so we ran in some heat, which I hate.

Nevertheless, the scenery was - as the surfer bros might say - EPIC. Crashing waves on the left, snow-capped mountains on the right, along with palms trees and a wetlands preserve with heaps of beautiful birds. While there weren't as many cheering roadside volunteers on this race, there were plenty of school kids handing out water and running in to the crowd to distribute much-needed high fives.

Here's the thing, in the Mississippi race, I hit a wall at 9 miles but kept going, never once stopping to walk. On this race, I hit a wall at 11 miles but stopped briefly to drink some water. After that, I slid into a run/walk/run situation that slowed me down considerably. My hips were complaining, my feet were whining and it felt like I was turning the key on a motor that would rev but never catch. Rrrr-rrr-rrr-rrrrr...

I completed the Mississsippi race in 3:02 and this one in 3:07, just 5 minutes slower. I'm blaming the heat, the later start and maybe - just maybe! - I wasn't prepared as much mentally for this one; complacency is thine enemy. Still, I'm proud to say that I am still without injury or so much as a blister, so there's that.

With Jaime in HB after picking up bibs.
Still, this one was close to home and running the race with someone more experienced, whom I have known and liked for many years, made it extra special. After the run, we peeled off our shoes and hobbled across the sand (Aaaaaaaah! A sand massage!) and stuck those hot puppies in the Pacific Ocean - glorious.

Truth be told, this race kicked my ass. Methinks I'll stick to some 'maintenance running' and break from training mode for awhile. That is, until I get the itch to race again, which I just know will come again...