Invisible Voices

a voice for the voiceless

Poplar Spring Open House 2009

I got to the sanctuary at 7am this morning, sort of shocked. Like, what was I doing there at 7am?

It was so beautiful though. Peaceful, the moon was setting, everything was quiet and hushed. I love those early mornings.

My schedule was:

  • 7-10am: animal chores
  • 10am – 1pm: help setup
  • 1pm – 5pm: the event! working the chicken yard
  • 5pm – 7pm: help cleanup

What was I thinking? I was actually thinking that I know myself, and I know I can’t walk away from work I can see needs to be done even if I haven’t signed up for it. So I might as well sign up and stay to the bitter end. Plus the bitter end comes with Stickyfingers cake!

I actually spent almost the entire day in the chicken yard. I was working with two of the weekday employees, which I love because they know so much about the chickens, and I learn so much. Simply based on the timing of when I asked the farm manager where he wanted me to start working, I was sent to the chicken yard to help there first thing. And that’s where I stayed until we finished that area, at about 11am.

The chicken area always ends up feeling like it is in its own universe. It is not far from the house, but it is down a slight hill, so the busy activity happens almost entirely out of sight of us. And it isn’t on the way to a different part of the sanctuary, so unless someone is going to the chicken yard, they don’t come down the hill.

In other words, it was almost surreal in its peacefulness, given the frantic activity we knew was happening just a couple hundred yards away, as everyone scrambled to get all the last minute things done for the big event.

Even when I made my way up the hill to see what I could do to help with set up, I ended up inside the gift shop folding t-shirts. While this is not my favorite activity, it was also quiet and peaceful, and even more significantly, it had nothing to do with tables and chairs. Tables and chairs are the typical set-up and break-down chore, and that’s what I’ve always ended up working on at every event I’ve helped at in the past. Today, purely by chance, I didn’t touch a single table or a single chair. If I’d had a dream, that’s what I’d have dreamt. Only it didn’t occur to me to dream of that; it just landed in my lap.

When I left almost exactly 12 hours after I arrived, Terry told me that they are guestimating that 1200 people showed up. Many more people than they’ve ever had in the past. I hope the silent auction went well. I put down some bids right before I headed down to the chicken barn when the event was about to start, but I don’t think I won any of them.

It is hard to gauge the size of the crowd from the chicken yard, for many of the same reasons that it was a peaceful oasis during the morning chores. We get a steady stream of people, but I have a feeling plenty of people never even make it down the hill.

The Open House tends to be primarily the current supporters of the sanctuary. And while you would think that means mostly vegetarians and vegans, truly most of the supporters are neither. They are the target audience of a sanctuary for precisely that reason.

There were many people who had never held a chicken before today. I am pretty sure that everyone who has ever held a chicken falls in love. I talked to some great people, and saw several people I recognized from previous events. Cornelius and Leopold, the Japanese Silkies, continue to be a big hit. They’re super sweet; they don’t necessarily make it easy to pick them up, but once you have them, they seem to enjoy being held. Oddly, or at least contrary to people’s assumptions, most of the chickens who don’t mind being held are roosters.

At one point we could hear a horse whinnying. I assumed it was Darcy; he’s blind, and thought Tally wears a bell to make it easier for him to find and keep up with the rest of the horses, sometimes he gets separated. And so he’ll whinny. This time it was Didi whinnying, which I thought was unusual, but then I also heard Darcy whinnying. I think Didi might have been calling back to him. Eventually Darcy heard Tally’s bell, and they walked over to each other, and touched noses. My heart melted.

At the end of the afternoon, the chickens started parading themselves into the barn. It was the end of the day, and they knew it. They wanted to go in and get settled for the night! It’s pretty amazing to watch.

After I helped with clean up chores (which again, purely by chance, ended up having nothing to do with tables or chairs), it was cake time. And cookie time. And leftover samosa and other tidbit time. Relaxing time, with fellow volunteers. I got some really sweet comments about this blog (*waves*), which is funny because there are actually very few people associated with the sanctuary who do read this blog. Especially not my fellow Saturday volunteers! Though as their source of Izzy and Morty pictures and videos, maybe they’ll start.

As we were all milling about, revved up on our sugar highs, Wilbur came over to join us. To do this he had to squeeze himself between two parts of a fence, offset specifically to be wide enough for humans to get through without having to be messing with gates, but essentially it is closed off for the other animals. No way will horses or mules or cows or pigs to get through there! Well, not full grown pigs. Wilbur just barely squeezed through, and it was hilarious. Of course he was going to get into everything if he stayed on the atypical side of the fence, so I sacrificed one of the awesome chocolate chip cookies that one of the other volunteers makes, and bribed Wilbur back through the gate we opened for him.

He was so cute. And his strength? I thought it was amazing that he was all the way down at the goat yard yesterday, but this morning, he walked all the way down to the creek; past the chicken yard by quite a ways.

We watched him walk past, and looked at each other wondering “is he supposed to be all the way down here?” As far as I know, he got himself back up to the pig yard just fine. He seems to have made some major progress in the past couple of weeks!

It was a beautiful, if exhausting, day.


9 responses to “Poplar Spring Open House 2009

  1. sheryl, washington dc October 5, 2009 at 6:30 am

    Man, that’s a long day. I got there by 12:30 p.m. and by 1:15 we were serving beer (and not just to ourselves). That area gets really busy for about an hour an a half while the food is served, and then again for “seconds.” It’s kinda fun, though, because I like hanging out with Ron and Mona.

    Oh yes, tables and chairs … Definitely not fun. We were on our way to boxing them up when Terry came outside with the snacks and cake. Saved! Mina was fine when I got home, despite her petsitter getting sick after dinner and not making the second visit. Next year, I’ll probably be able to come and stay all day, too. 😦

  2. Kristen October 5, 2009 at 7:52 am

    It was a good day. Perfect weather, everyone was in a cheerful mood.

  3. Deb October 5, 2009 at 7:56 pm

    @sheryl, i’m always so glad to not need to work the food areas! but sounds like you enjoy it, which is good.

    @Kristen, the open house is always more relaxed than the farm tour, I think. shorter event, people are there for the whole time, not just trying to get through and get to the next place. it does seem that everyone is more cheerful!

  4. Mary Martin October 5, 2009 at 8:43 pm

    The first time I saw the last photo, I didn’t catch all of the ducks and geese, and you KNOW how much I love water fowl. Thanks for helping the humans and nonhumans, and for giving us a window into that looong day! It’s all so sweet, and like the life I wish all “farm” and “working” animals could have.

  5. Deb October 6, 2009 at 5:10 am

    Mary, I thought of you as I posted that picture! 😀

  6. Ron Kearns October 7, 2009 at 3:15 pm


    Thank you for the photos and the story. I especially liked the photos of that gambrel barn highlighted by its reflection and shadow within the stock pond and the way you bookended those images from daybreak to twilight.

  7. Deb October 7, 2009 at 6:05 pm

    Ron, I had no idea that the barn was a gambrel barn! We call it the “pig barn” for obvious reasons. lol. I’ll have to look up more info on gambrel barns. Some of the structures at the sanctuary actually have quite a history. The farm house predates the civil war, for example. (If I remember correctly!) Glad you liked the bookended images of the barn + reflection. I hadn’t planned on it in advance, but couldn’t resist once I had them!

  8. mindy October 9, 2009 at 8:45 am

    Absolutely beautiful pictures all around, but that first one makes me want to go to the sanctuary and NEVER LEAVE. It just looks so peaceful and amazing, and knowing that there are HAPPY, well-cared-for animals there makes it absolute perfection! Thank you for sharing!

  9. Deb October 9, 2009 at 8:22 pm

    @mindy – thanks! I know what you mean about not wanting to leave the sanctuary. They are always so gracious and thank us for helping out every week, and I always want to laugh. I feel so grateful to have the sanctuary to go to, I should be thanking them!

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