By Kathy Johnson
A well-fed field mouse was trying to sneak nearer some of the grain on the barn floor. Nearby, one of Rita Reynolds’ goats, Sito, was being introduced to visitors. Sito is old (13) and has some health problems. The mouse retreated under the door and disappeared, planning his strategy for the removal of some of that dropped grain. Almost immediately it reappeared from under another doorway, moving ever so slightly closer to the grain. Then it determined the risk to be too great and disappeared entirely.
Field mice are known to be intelligent creatures, but this one allowed guests visiting the sick goat and its owner to distract him. The mouse miscalculated, because Reynolds’ barn is a sanctuary that extends even to the humble field mouse.
There are two goats (Patrick is the other, possible a donor goat depending on Sito’s prognosis —he currently has cancer). Both goats—male French Alpines from a farm in Earlysville named Ironrod—were bound for a freezer when Reynolds got them. Sito also has bad legs and spends a lot of time on his knees.
Nearby two donkeys, Nori and her daughter, Julia, are walking through the brush. They originally came from Waynesboro. To one side lies a serious garden overflowing with tomatoes and other vegetables. The neighbor’s dog (also an adoptee) is guarding the fence line and warning strangers to keep away.
Inside the house are four dogs. Caliope, a Jack Russell who was once run over and has since recovered, acts as the greeter, offering puppy kisses.
“This is Lily, and she has issues,” Reynolds says. The others include Jonathon, a miniature poodle, and Rosie, a Yorkie Cairn, are all upstairs sounding the alarm. Their barks signal “intruders!” Reynolds clearly has a love of all living things.
She brought out copies of her books and magazine. The magazine, ‘la Joie,” is a quarterly publication “dedicated to promoting appreciation for all beings through education, adoption/sponsorship and inter-support programs.”
Reynolds said she got started writing “in third grade. I remember that we were given an assignment to write a creative story. It was something about ‘she was running down the road and her feet picked up some of the dust.’ Everybody else wrote like this much” (her gesture showed pinch of space) “I had four chapters.” Reynolds looked introspective as she talked. Her grandmother was a writer. “I lived with her and she always encouraged me. I guess I’ve always loved creative writing, and I’m a reader.
“I was doing a lot of work with animals. Some of them would show up and die. They’d be the old ones, or the ones that had been injured and abandoned. So I learned early on that I needed to get a grip on death and dying because it was killing me.
“I started studying a lot of different philosophies and religions and reading everything I could. I wrote Blessing the Bridge about my experiences and it’s done very well,” she said modestly. The book focuses “on what animals teach us about death, dying and beyond,” she said.
Currently out of print in English, the book has been translated into Mandarin Chinese, Indonesian, Korean and Italian. Her favorite is the one in Mandarin Chinese because the book reads from back to front. The Italian printing has a different title. “The interesting thing is that in Italy no one is allowed to ‘bless’ anything except the Pope and the Cardinal,” Reynolds explained. “So it had to be the Bridge of Life.
“Sometimes I get emails from people in these countries. I’m corresponding with a lovely woman whose name is Lilianna about her old dog. She speaks English so it is easy.”
“So often you lose a pet, a dog or a cat or a horse, and people say, ‘well, it’s only a dog—go get another one.” Reynolds’ book was an “overnight” success but it took her 12 years to find a publisher.
The book received excellent reviews, but Reynolds found that out only when it was reprinted the first time and blurbs from the reviews were added to the back cover. The book is being reprinted. “The new book is going to have experiences that happened after [the first version] came out,” said Reynolds. “We’re hoping to get it out by the end of the year.”
Reynolds seemed baffled by the success of the book. “I don’t go out on book tours. I don’t do readings or book signings, mainly because I’m here taking care of the animals. I do a lot of emails and I talk to people. I just had a conversation with a women in California about her little dog. The first 20 minutes she just cried, and then eventually she stopped crying and I was able to say something, and by the end of it we were good friends.
“But phone calls are tough. You have people who are grieving for their loss.” It can become emotionally draining and very fatiguing.
She started publishing her magazine in 1990. “My good friend Mary Birkholtz, who runs Caring For Creatures in Palmyra, started with me but after about three years she had to kind of back off.” The magazine is published quarterly. Original drawings, paintings and photos are included in the publication and it is available by subscription from Animals Peace Garden, P.O. Box 145, Batesville, VA 22924 for $5 an issue. Basic Necessities occasionally has copies there as well.
Reynolds sings the praises of the veterinarians that help her, but admits, “I’m not taking any more animals in now. I can’t.”
Her cow Christina is the focus of Reynolds most recent book, Ask the Cow, A Gentle Guide to Finding Peace.
Early in the book, in response to a question regarding inner peace, Christina responds, “Cud.” Cud? Cud is what cows chew, and for those not familiar with a cow’s digestion, cows have three stomachs and so they chew and swallow, regurgitate, chew and swallow, regurgitate and repeat the process one final time.
Christina, a russet-and-white Hereford, moved in some 14 years ago while only a six-month old calf. At the time Christina belonged to a neighbor, but made the decision that living at the Reynolds Peace Garden would suit her better. As Reynolds tells it, Christina kept jogging down the road and up the drive to Rita. Eventually everyone gave in. Christina won.
She now lives full time at the Peace Garden and she has “shared” her views of life, death and the beyond. Ask the Cow shares a series of questions that Reynolds asks and Christina answers. A reader might scoff at the ‘thought penetrating’ voice of the cow, but Christina shares her wisdom on important questions of life for 174 pages.
Cud? What does it mean? “Keep it simple. Life and everything about it. Chew your ideas with care, swallow your pride, be willing to cough up when necessary. Waste nothing. Love everything you do, even—especially—the mundane things. And above all, remember: Keep it simple; give it back.”