In this season of “must-haves” and “must-dos,” it is easy to lose one’s balance. There is one place I usually think of when I need to catch my breath: Poplar Spring Animal Sanctuary, one of our favorite places in the world.
Poplar Spring is a 400-acre refuge for farm animals and wildlife in Poolesville, Maryland. Its mission is to “offer care, rehabilitation, and permanent sanctuary for neglected, abused, or abandoned farm animals; provide protected habitat for wildlife; furnish information to the public regarding farm animal and wildlife issues; promote compassion and humane treatment for all animals.”
The sanctuary does all of this well, wholeheartedly, and sincerely–and it shows: It is a pleasure to be there, a pleasure to think oneself helpful to the work done there, and a pleasure to know that this place exists.
We last went to Poplar Spring one warm winter afternoon. Visitors are welcome, but you should call in advance* to make an appointment, or come to one of the events and open houses throughout the year. Of course, volunteers are always needed. During our weekend visit, we saw two families, one with teenage sons, and another with middle-schoolers, helping around the barns. All seemed to enjoy themselves immensely, despite the hard work that was being done to make the animals comfortable.
I really enjoyed spending some time with goats and sheep, relaxing outside.
Pretty quickly, I began noticing social interactions unfolding before us: there were loners, cliques, rivalries, friendships (or at least obvious attachments). Most animals paid us no attention, but several were curious, engaging. My favorite was Lily the Sheep–she was so affectionate and gentle.
The undisputed stars of the pasture, though, were Chelsea and Crackerjack–their interaction was priceless to watch. Crackerjack was an old goat. He couldn’t really walk, but scooted around, surprisingly quickly, his front legs bent.
Chelsea, a younger goat, came by frequently and seemed to snuggle up to him, which Crackerjack appeared to enjoy. They both looked so comfortable and comforting.
A little distance away were the cows, most lying down, immobile and very large. We were smitten with Heidi, a stunning Jersey cow with an extraordinary story. As we approached her, she leaned her head toward us, slowly, her horns rather intimidating. I thought the gesture was vaguely defensive, and froze. “She wants you to pet her,” a translation came. And, indeed, that’s what she wanted. So close to her, I felt in awe, somehow–the first time I felt this engaged with such a large animal.
Heidi is an important part of the herd at the farm: she takes care of Emily, who arrived at Poplar Spring as a weary, blind calf several years ago–the story of Heidi and Emily is just one of the sanctuary’s many extraordinary, heartbreaking, and heartwarming stories.
We have been supporting Poplar Spring for several years now. There are a number of opportunities to do this: We usually sponsor a pig, and recently began sponsoring a goat in honor of my friend–probably one of the most successful, happy, and consistently appreciated gifts I’ve given.
It’s been a while since we visited the farm, but I keep up with the animals through the newsletter and the sanctuary’s Facebook page. Until we go again, the memory of this last visit is where I escape when I need to pause, regroup, and shake myself away from losing perspective. It is my peaceful place.
* Note: From Facebook comments, it seems that Poplar Spring is closed for tours until April this year (2013)–definitely call first.