My TevaLand Story
(Originally Posted: March 3, 2019)
For every dollar that I make through McSpiritual Healing, I donate 5% to TevaLand Sanctuary Farm, a 501(c)(3) non-profit organization located in the Ramapo Mountains whose mission, at its core, is to heal and be healed by nature. Rescuing countless animals in need such as horses, pigs, goats, bunnies, chickens, and more, the selfless work that this group has done to both help animals and educate the world about them is absolutely inspiring, and I want to do everything I can to support their beautiful mission.
Instead of telling you guys through a blog post how I came to be involved at TevaLand, I decided to share a short story I wrote a few years back about my arrival there. It's my hope that this story will be able to better convey the beauty and energy of this magical place. So without further ado, here's my TevaLand story...
“Announce your arrival with love,” reads a hand-painted sign hanging over an array of large, dangling chimes. As I watch my eight-year-old brother loudly bang the chimes against one another, I realize I have no choice but to enter Tevaland Sanctuary Farm with at least some sense of admiration and affection, as the sign suggests. Until this point, I’ve only heard through my mom about the hard work, sacrifice, and positivity of founders and owners Taly & Farmer D. Though I’ve been hearing stories of flying chickens and earless goats for over a year now, I’ve had to wait until this hot July day after my first year at college to discover what all the fuss is about.
Over the loud whacking of chimes a few feet away, I am surprised to be greeted by a youthful, beautiful woman dressed in a white polo shirt and cargo pants. I can’t tear my eyes away from her beaming smile or long, dark hair as she introduces herself to me.
“Oh, Summer, it is so amazing to finally meet you! I’m Taly,” she exclaims in an Israeli accent. “I’ve heard so much about you - I love you already!”
She pulls me into a hug, and I can’t help but smile as it starts to make more sense to me. After hearing of all the sacrifices this woman and her husband have made to create this farm, I had been expecting to meet someone who looked weathered and tired. But those who are truly beautiful on the inside are beautiful on the outside, as well, I think to myself, and after one hug I know that this woman’s passion and selflessness are far too great to be concealed by a worn exterior.
“Shall we get started on our visit?” she asks as she turns to face my younger brother, who’s now mercilessly attacking the chimes. “Let’s start at Heart to Heart.”
We walk through the lower half of the farm, passing chickens at our feet and stopping momentarily to feed grapes to Lola, the farm’s famous pig. A canopy has been set up over benches and a fire pit, where birthday parties and other visiting groups can roast marshmallows, Taly explains. We walk alongside a fence where each post has been painted a different color by volunteers my mom had collected in March, and I notice that every fence, barn, and enclosure has been constructed by hand. Another sign reads: “As a policy, as in nature, this farm does not believe in straight lines.” I can tell though the brightly-painted barn and zig-zagging fences that every detail was given special thought and care.
I feel a strong yet confusing sense of belonging as we climb the ramp to the upper half of the farm and enter Heart to Heart, a makeshift enclosure comprised of white fencing, wooden benches, and a roof to keep the animals safe from rain. We sit down as Taly hands us each a soft, downy baby chick, no bigger than a baseball. As they try to chirp over us, Taly explains that we should perch them on our arms and swiftly drop from underneath them, as Tevaland’s chickens must all learn to fly in order to avoid predators like snakes and foxes. Though weary at first, the three of us quickly learn that the chicks’ natural reaction is, in fact, to fly, and soon you can’t hear the chirping over our giggling.
“You should hope that you get pooped on by one of them – it is a sign of good luck!” Taly calls over us. Our only response is more laughter.
Soon enough, the chicks are back in their cage, and our empty hands are met with warm and silky baby bunnies. A wave of nostalgia hits as I’m reminded of the rabbit I had when I was eleven. Taly explains that all too often, parents buy Easter bunnies and teachers buy chicks without looking past the holiday or an elementary science experiment. As she tells the tales of some of her rescues, she refers to the animals as her kids, and despite all that she’s done already, I can hear in her voice that she yearns to help more.
“Why don’t you take the kids and bring them close to your chest?” she instructs, as this is how Heart to Heart earned its name. “It’s very therapeutic, for both you and them. You are not just here to pet, but to help us rehabilitate.”
I’m overwhelmingly content as I feel the pulse of the white ball in my hand beat alongside my own heart. I smile because I can sense that Taly’s passion makes her want to help so many, but it’s been a mere half an hour and she’s helped me more than she’ll ever know.
Two days after my first visit, I found myself longing to escape to the farm from my tiring job as a high school custodian, and Taly and her husband D were more than willing to accept me into their family. Since June, I’ve been working Monday through Friday, seven in the morning until four in the afternoon, scraping gum off of desks and waxing floors. You’d think I’d be avoiding more physical labor at all costs, but it never feels like work to be on the farm. I know that Taly and D don’t trust just anyone with the care of their kids, and so I’m filled with a sense of gratitude and pride every time I make my way through the Ramapo Mountains to their home. I make the drive as often as my mom can lend me the car, and this day happens to be one of those fortunate ones.
The earth is muddy and the air smells of rain and sweet hay as I make my way to the goats’ enclosure. When I climb my way there, Taly is nowhere to be found, but I am still warmly greeted by Paige, Winter Monkey, and some of the other LaMancha goats as they reach over the fence and ask to be kissed on the nose. Not knowing what Taly has in store for me, I take my time scratching the fine, glossy fur of each goat, being careful not to let them nip at my pants.
I don’t know how much time passes, but suddenly I hear Taly call for me from just inside the barn, and I push through stubborn goats to meet her. Once inside, my breath is taken away by the sight of Target Heart, one of the female goats, nursing a kid about the size of a house cat.
“There’s a baby?!” I ask in disbelief. “When did this happen? Is it a boy or a girl? What’s it’s name?” My questions come to a halt and my smile disappears as Taly’s eyes point towards a second kid, cradled in her arms. Something’s not right – Taly never looks as solemn as she does in this moment.
“We we don’t name our kids until they’ve been on the farm for at least a week… It’s so that we can get a sense of their personality… but also because sometimes farm life is cruel to the babies….”
I can tell she doesn’t want to finish explaining, but I understand. All too often, when a goat has more than one kid, she’ll favor the strong one and refuse to feed the weak one. The baby girl in Taly’s arms might not make it long enough to be given a name.
Though we’d both love to spend time watching over the youngling, the sun is starting to set and there are too many other animals we can’t afford to neglect. We make our way out of the barn and towards the horse’s enclosure, where Taly and I are met excitedly by a brown mare, Lana Love, and Tony the Pony. As we take off their harnesses and give them each an alfalfa treat, I notice Sophie Spirit, Tevaland’s striking, snowy white mare, is enjoying her time alone at the other end of the farm.
“How did you find Sophie?” I ask Taly as I admire the horse from a distance.
“Well…” Taly begins, and though I know she’s preoccupied with thoughts of the goat, her eyes brighten a bit, and she unveils the story behind this mysterious creature.
“D and I thought it was time to rescue a horse, so we decided to visit a place called Last Chance Ranch. When we arrived, D fell immediately in love with Lana and decided we had to take her home with us, and I agreed. But then, I saw this gorgeous white horse with a sad look on her face, and I felt drawn to her… So I walked over to her, and – I’m telling you the truth – there was a single tear falling down her face. They told us that she’d been a circus horse, and was probably abused for many years until she couldn’t perform anymore. They packed up one show and left her behind, and she had to fend for herself, abandoned in a field for years. We couldn’t afford to take two horses home… but we both felt so connected to each horse that we decided we’d just have to find a way.”
Sophie’s story remains on repeat in my head as we finish closing the rest of the farm and wander back to the goats. Her solemn demeanor suddenly makes sense, as does her beauty – of course an animal as beautiful as her would be a great circus attraction. I just can’t believe someone could willingly hurt something so beautiful & leave her behind like they did.
I then switch my focus back to the goats as Taly and I try to help the baby girl feed from her mother. As I hold the baby boy in front of goat to distract her, Taly slips the girl underneath and helps her feed without being stomped. I’m amazed at how much work goes into caring for each newborn, and am again inspired by the dedication and passion Taly has for her work.
On my drive home that night, I start to think about each animal that TevaLand has undertaken, and like Sophie Spirit, I feel a tear drip down my cheek. Though they couldn’t survive without the help of ach animal has faced some adversity in their life – regardless of whether they were born on the farm, or rescued from elsewhere. Much like humans, each animal has its own story, its own hardship. I now realize that I’m inspired, not just by Taly and D, but by their kids’ strength and determination to keep moving forward.
Just as the sign reads, I am touched by nature.
Now, it’s November, and I’m relieved to return to TevaLand on my Thanksgiving break from college. The gravel driveway crunches below my feet as I walk from my car towards the entrance. I hear the roosters crowing and the goats bleating, and I’m greeted by the familiarly sweet smell of corn feed and hay. Chickens scurry at my feet as Taly greets my mom and me, hugging us as if it’s been an eternity since our last visit (and it sure as hell feels like it).
We spend the visit admiring how big the chicks have grown since we first tried to teach them how to fly. We meet Ollie and Wilbur, two new pigs who’ve found their way to the farm, and all the while I get to carry Brownie, the sweet baby goat who’s grown to be much bigger (and significantly heavier) than the last time I saw her running around in her enclosure.
Seeing how much I’ve missed at the farm gives me a sense of regret, and yet I somehow feel as though I’ve never left. There are new additions, surely, but the passion, determination, and love that I’m so used to is as effervescent as ever. The family has grown, but the dynamic hasn’t changed.
And that, I guess, is when it really hits me: TevaLand has become my family. Family, in the literal sense, would never group humans with pigs, ducks, horses and the like. But on an emotional level, family is simply those who make you feel welcome, supported, and loved, and Taly, D, and the animals have made me feel more loved than I’ve felt in years. For quite some time, I’ve felt lost, hurt, and abused, but though I’m no farm animal, TevaLand Rescue Farm has managed to rescue me.
As we’re leaving, Taly formally invites me to join the family as TevaLand’s public relations coordinator. She explains, with that fiery look of determination in her eyes, that TevaLand wants to teach their mission to as many people as they possibly can. They need my help to manage social media accounts, grant applications, fundraising ideas, and donation collections. They’ve seen my work, and they trust me with a job that they’d be skeptical to give to anyone else.
I hug Taly in response to her offer, at a loss for words as a million visions run through my head. Over her shoulder, painted below a bright, beaming sun, is my favorite TevaLand saying of all: “Get lost in nature and you will find yourself.”
To find out more about TevaLand and how you can help their mission, you can visit their website www.tevaland.org or find them on Facebook. I'm no longer their public relations coordinator, but I would be happy to answer questions, myself, as well!