Two days from now, I’m returning home. And leaving home.
Four years ago, I bid goodbye to San Francisco, the city where I’d spent my entire adult life, and moved to Santa Fe, New Mexico. I didn’t especially want to go, but I understood that in order to have another dog and a yard and all the comforts our gritty, urban neighborhood couldn’t provide, it was the sensible thing to do.
We arrived knowing no one, not a single soul. For a relatively small town, Santa Fe felt foreign and impersonal. That first stretch was difficult. I ached for my friends and family by the Bay, and for the animal shelter I relied on as my community. Although I’d come here voluntarily, I felt displaced.
And then it rained, unexpectedly, as is often the case in the high desert. And the ground drank and loosened, making way for new roots.
Four years is not necessarily a long time, but it is significant. Like navigating high school or going away to college, it’s education in spite of itself, a time of testing and discovery — just long enough to find your truest friends and to reveal your most authentic self. New Mexico afforded me those lessons and more. I learned about friendship and generosity in ways I’d never experienced. And I realized who I was as an animal advocate, how far I could push that passion, and where my limits lay.
For various reasons, largely professional, the time has come to return to the Bay Area. So I offer insufficient but heartfelt gratitude to the humans here I’ve been profoundly lucky to know — those both directly involved in animal advocacy and those who are “just” good people, supporting me fully and unfailingly on my meandering path.
Thank you, my friends, for following my writing and asking about my shelter experiences with genuine interest and enthusiasm. Thank you for dashing my fears that veganism would upend my social life (instead of ignoring it or only accommodating when convenient, you always made sure I had plenty to eat). Thank you for proving that fighting for your beliefs need not be a solitary endeavor, even though your fight and my fight may be for very different causes.
As I look around my house and see the boxes piled and taped, I’m reminded of a portion of an address Adlai Stevenson delivered to the Princeton class of 1954:
“Your days are short here; this is the last of your springs. And now in the serenity and quiet of this lovely place, touch the depths of truth, feel the hem of Heaven. You will go away with old, good friends. And don’t forget when you leave why you came.”
Unquestionably, I leave here richer in the only way that matters. The truths examined and the friendships realized are now embedded in my history, as much a part of my core as cactus and coyotes are to the Southwest. As for heaven — I’m not much a Believer — but if it has a hem, it’s here among the scarab beetles and adobe and purple sage of the high desert.
We joke that I followed you home from the dog park, but the reality is not so different. Seeing me for the lost little pup I was, you opened your home and offered us what you have. Without any expectations, you shared your friends and your family, your milestones and celebrations. You folded us in so seamlessly, it felt like we’d always been there. It is because of you, M, your generosity and total acceptance, that our path here took the direction it did. Thank you for your unshakable friendship, judgment free and with a large helping of laughs. I love you, sister.
I take immense comfort in knowing that there’s someone who sees and experiences the world so similarly to me. Thank you for not only making me feel less crazy, but actually more sane. Your understanding of my philosophy and your clarity about what’s right for animals — it keeps me on track. And it saves me from feeling alone. I know I could count on you for anything. Thank you for that, and for (along with Greg) showing me that not only is there life after cheese, but that it can be delicious. And that nothing tastes as good as cruelty-free feels.
Oh, T. No matter how hard you try to convince me you’re a party girl, your wisdom and motivation seep through. A poet in a dancer’s body? Maybe they’re one and the same… You literally lift me up (sometimes frighteningly high) when I’m down. You’re by far my best audience — thank you for never holding in a laugh — and my most loyal bodyguard, gracefully fending off the animally-insensitive with tactful blows. I’m so glad you have strong ties to the Bay Area. Come walk my dogs with me along the Embarcadero. We’ll be waiting.
I swear, if you hadn’t given birth a few months into our time here, I would’ve crawled into your lap and stayed. You’ve been such a ready, steady listener and a trusted advisor, providing companionship (not to mention museum tours) at crucial moments. For clever, funny people, you and Ben are so genuinely warm-hearted. I still find it ironic you have a Hollywood background. Thank you, S, for being so real.
We trampled into your life, N, but you never said “Enough already!” Instead, you dared us to bring it on. Thank you for your unparalleled generosity — for letting us crowd your holidays and edge our way into your social life, all the while filling our wine glasses like Riesling runs from the faucets. Thank you for sharing your wry wit, your keen perceptiveness, and in a pinch, Uno’s Garden.
Even before I was aware that your natural ability with dogs is exceeded only by your talent as a painter, I knew I wanted to be your friend. From the outset, you just seemed awesome. (You didn’t disappoint!) When I found out you were a Pittie lover with volunteer sights set on the Intake building, your image in my mind — and place in my heart — was cemented. Thank you for our Jinja evenings, for your recognition that a lemontini and a tofu appetizer is welcome therapy, and for being such a positive, active force in a mostly thankless arena.
I’m grateful for you for many reasons, but foremost is the staunch support you gave during a difficult — and ultimately transitional — time. I was crushed to leave SFAS, but you ensured work continued in Intake and you spoke up for the dogs who most needed an advocate. Thank you for your devotion to the mangy Pitties, the hopelessly diseased, the “unadoptable” — and for your friendship.
You don’t know how often I try to channel your zenliness. You’ve been involved in shelter life longer than me — I know you’ve seen and cared for some of the most distressed and abused there have ever been. Yet you remain not only strong, but optimistic, forgiving, and with sense of humor intact. Mary, I’m so glad shelter work allowed our paths to cross. I’m so thankful your perfect mix of seriousness and silliness showed itself so early, guaranteeing a lasting friendship. I still need to meet your goats…
Thanks to you, I began seriously considering the lives of animals outside dogs and cats. Our talks — your guidance — ultimately led me make to major changes in my own behavior. I sleep better because of it. Thank you for all you do on behalf of animals, and more importantly, thank you for making my hair look fabulous. Wait. Scratch that — reverse it…
I wasn’t so eloquent in person, so I’ll try to elucidate here. It’s meant so much to me to spend time, doing what I consider my life’s work, in a place where I felt respected and appreciated. Thank you for creating an environment where trust can be earned, emotion is acceptable, humor is encouraged, honesty is valued, and compassion reigns. Not all shelters operate this way, but I wish they did.
Our times together in person were few, but I feel we’re kindred spirits. Thank you for your unwavering advocacy for the voiceless. Thank you for sharing my blog posts and for your well-timed words of encouragement. More often than you realize, you’ve helped me to keep pushing forward. CZC, extra gratitude for the love and attention you gave my two at Tails.
Be good, New Mexico, because I’ll be back to visit before you can say Land of Enchantment…