The joyful peace of mucking out...
Sometime during my Instagram lifetime I started following an account run by an animal sanctuary located in Spain. I use my Instagram feed pretty much as a happy place where I can see pictures of cute animals (especially cats) and other things that make me smile. Jacobs Ridge Animal Sanctuary fit that bill.
I'm not sure exactly how long I've been following Jacobs Ridge – definitely more than two years, maybe three. I quickly learned they offer volunteering vacations, and started imagining myself there, helping out. This year I stopped just imagining and made it happen, so that I spent two weeks of June 2019 in southeastern Spain hanging out with a bunch of wonderful critters and the human animals that care for them.
A greeting from Barney
For two weeks I slept in a comfortable bed in a spacious and pretty luxurious tent. I ate delicious vegan meals every day. I swam in three different lakes (on top of the sanctuary's pool) and visited the Murcia Badlands. I went on countless dog walks – and a couple of pony walks – through stunning scenery, from fruit orchards to rocky cliffs and a turtle pond. I watched and listened to multiple species of birds, saw wild rabbits and foxes. I marvelled at the changing light on the sanctuary's namesake ridge.
All the above would sound lovely to me at any time. But I couldn't predict the joy I would feel carrying out less glamorous daily tasks.
I admit, on my first full day there were moments I wondered how I could survive two weeks in the sun and heat, with the continual uphill paths, lugging heavy buckets full of water or heavy wheelbarrows full of straw and animal dung. But it wasn't long before I felt like I could, and would happily, do these things forever.
Yes, I did adjust. I got stronger over the two weeks, a little more used to the weather, and definitely better at knowing how to pace myself. And it was all made so much easier by the way the sanctuary's team looked after us volunteer guests and by the good company of the people I met and worked alongside.
But I also learned how to take pleasure and find fulfillment in the work itself – with the help of the four-legged critters that tried to help/get in the way. Before I knew it, I was feeling at peace in a way unlike any kind of peace I had experienced before.
Ben mostly covered in mud
I still miss Jacobs Ridge and the things I did there – like coating an enormous pig with mud to protect him from sunburn, being walked by a determinedly strong doberman, and dancing with donkeys while they "help" with the mucking out. But I can still remember the joyful peace I felt there, and I managed to bring a little of that feeling back home.