I arrived at the Watkins Glen, NY birthplace of the farmed animal sanctuary movement at night. I had trekked through trees protesting my RV's passage, dirt roads that simultaneously shrouded and announced my transit, and a rather terrifying stretch of single-lane country road where deer could spring into my path at any moment. When my nerves settled with the pings of Katie Kowhugger's engine, I squinted to see the property on which I found myself - and I was awestruck. I had parked in the Farm Sanctuary visitor area, and in the wan August moonlight I could only make out a few buildings and a few moving shapes I would later learn were Nikki pig and two of her children. My desert eyes were flabbergasted at the moonlit suggestion of green growing wantonly everywhere I gazed. Four years I had heard stories of this place, and I was a trifle overwhelmed that I was finally there and had made it on my own. It looked like paradise, and I could only see a fraction of it.
By morning light I beheld the meander of fences framing towering red barns; the green expanses revealed varieties of hue and shade – trees and grass-carpeted hillocks and tall meadow flowers. The Visitor Barn before me dwarfed my expectations. What I assumed correctly to be the B&B cabins daintily blinked up at the rising sun with their guests. Lowing from nearby told me that one herd of cattle was readying for the day. The moving shapes I saw the previous night resolved into individual pigs exploring their meadow. A faint bustle of activity on the hilltop distance, in front of the only building not rouged but standing like a solidification of soft yellow sunlight, turned out to be the Melrose Small Animal Hospital and the staff heading out for the day. Behind me the front of the sanctuary was embraced by forest with only small pockets of human activity. There was magic everywhere my gaze traveled.
Part of the magic for me of Farm Sanctuary are the humans with or for whom I used to work. That was highlighted when my former boss Susie Coston, National Shelter Director and the human with whom the care of all beings non-human resides, drove up with Education Director Samantha Pachirat and the two canine companions that own Susie, Orville and Luke, the later of whom I refer to as one of, admittedly many, canine boyfriends. Orville wasted no time in nearly flattening Susie in his rush to escape the car, take a snort of my familiar scent, and then bound up and into Katie Kowhugger to lay claim to this new territory. Luke was a skosh more of a gentleman and at least let me snuggle him. Seeing these friends on their home turf was delightful, since I had only previously had the pleasure of their company at one of the California locations.
Many of the caregivers that work at the New York location are also humans with whom I feel fortunate to have worked, whether remotely or when they would come to assist at the Acton location where I used to be. Seeing so many faces I know, plus meeting many about whom I had only heard stories, was a joyous celebration after my cross-country travel and challenges. Despite having been absent Farm Sanctuary life for more than a year, I was welcomed in to the New York location as family, something I did not know that my heart had been longing for until it happened.
In the quest of the Yoga Animalia Project I did not anticipate just how the lack of a stable base would affect me, the stress and anxiety it would cause; settling in for what I intended to be not more than a week but which became three weeks in Watkins Glen, I was able to discover a seed of home across the continent. Being able to pitch in and help with health checks, cleaning, or photos was a balm to my frayed nerves. The camaraderie and support from people for whom I hold so much respect and love was a gift.
But it was not only the humans that offered this support: the residents worked their magic upon me, creating new friendships and bonds I look forward to sharing in the coming month. Adding to this was the very place – all that green in the late summer sun radiated into my very being, allowing me to look out at the hills where the sheep grazed, the wallows the pigs created to cool off, the patches of curious ground the chickens inspected, the little trails the goats forged through tall and dense grass, and see it with eyes heavy with appreciation and gratitude. It was here at Farm Sanctuary in Watkins Glen, New York, the first sanctuary stop on my easterly travel, that the challenges of the journey paled in comparison to what I beheld: a vision of a more compassionate world.