Every week when I write our blog, I ask for insight from the herd. Ask them to show me something, to somehow help me know what is meaningful for us to share this week. Several weeks ago I felt a nudge to write a blog specifically dedicated to Whisper, our beautiful donkey.
But each week as I went to write, the words weren’t there. A few hours before posting this, a friend asked, when are you going to make good on your promise to write about Whisper? It finally dawned on me. The words would come in true Whisper form, when they’re good and ready! And, as though she was waiting for me to get this message, as soon as I got it, the words started flowing.
Before Whisper, I was, you could say, a donkey virgin. I don’t ever recall even meeting another donkey, beyond perhaps a petting zoo when I was very little. I certainly didn’t know anyone with one. And in a way, Whisper arrived here with the herd of her own volition. As we were preparing for the 6-hour shipment the horses would have from the home we were leaving in Burlington, to the farm in Ottawa, and dropping off ‘moving packages’ at the boarding barn and rescue facility where they were going to be picked up, Lia convinced me we should adopt a donkey from the rescue for coyote protection. I can only guess that I was in an Oprah sort of state of mind, “Sure! A donkey for everyone!”
(As a side note, living with packs of coyotes around us, I don’t believe horses need protection from them. Although, lying in bed, listening to their calls which seem right outside my window, I’ve wanted the horses to have protection – for my sake!)
I’m almost embarrassed to say now that while I was very conscious of connecting with the horses we selected, Whisper sort of just slipped into the fold. The horse shipment company didn’t even charge for her passage, even though she still took up a horse stall. I’ve come to see that while it may be true that donkeys are the ‘forgotten equine’, there is also an element to how Whisper arrived here that has to do with how her magic shows up.
While people come to Flying Moon Farm to work with the horses, no one has left without Whisper leaving a mark on their heart. In fact, after only a year with her, we have what feels like thousands of Whisper stories. Many of which have made their way across oceans and to places in the world she will surely never visit.
There are so many moments of her shining in all her glory. Like the time she convinced Lia, at twenty-years-old, that she needed to join her in the house and very nearly made it in the door. Or the time she decided she wanted to play with me moving around an obstacle course I’d set up – she chased away the horses and then proceeded to make her way at liberty and at a pace that was reminiscent of walking down the street with an 18 month old (you know the ones that take like 2 hours to go 3 blocks). She made her way around the course, not one but four times! And one morning a group of us stood around a table in the barn with three large guys who were operating massive machines to clear the land, reviewing the plans for the day and Whisper, from her own special donkey stall, one-by-one convinced each of them to leave the drawings on the table and rotate turns petting her. If you haven’t heard the voice of a donkey, it’s hard to imagine how convincing they are!
But Whisper’s magic is not about getting what she wants. That would be far too simplistic a view. It’s her ability to own who she is – to be her, in all her unapologetic, intelligent, loving and oh so clearly articulated way.
As one Courage Herder put it, “Whispers’ way of being so independent and different but also part of the herd is a great lesson for me that everyone has something special to bring to the world and therefore, we all belong in our own way.”
As I began to wake up to her magic, I wondered if she would want to do the FEEL work. What I got was, “possibly, I’ll let you know on a case-by-case basis.” Which, as I’ve come to learn, is another important aspect of Whisper’s magic … Don’t assume anything, you’ll need to just keep paying attention. And by the way, if you think you know me, you probably don’t.
Ironic given that old adage about assuming making an ass of you and me.
Whisper has taught me a lot about the fact that she may be an equine, but she is not a horse. And, she needs to have donkey care, not horse care. The horses seem to get this too.
One-night last winter, the first night the temperature dropped below -20C, I found the whole herd standing around Whisper at the gate asking to come into the barn. Which I found strange because the horses couldn’t wait to get back out after only being in for an hour in the morning for minerals. Later, I realized that donkeys can have a much harder time with the cold. As soon as I got a blanket for Whisper and started listening for her hee-haw cue as to when she needed to come inside, she was content to come in on her own and burry herself in shavings while the horses were fine to stay outside.
It felt to me as though the herd asked to come in to help Whisper. They seem to get that she is one of them and also not.
In the summer, I make a very rudimentary fence of rope around trees at either side of the backyard creating a make-shift paddock between the house and the actual paddock. The horses are so happy to come right up to the deck and munch while I savor the evening. Whisper, however, always joins briefly and then ducks under the rope enjoying her own private munch fest. Somehow they seem to have a pact – you stay there, together, and I’ll go over here by myself and we’ll all be happy.
This is her gift to us – we can be apart and together, we can be of the same stuff and different.
I have even found that almost without exception, people who meet Whisper constantly flip between referring to her as ‘she’ and ‘he’. Even my dear and expert guide in animal communication will often write what she gets from Whisper by alternating gender references. When I see young people expressing their frustration with the world wanting to label them as a particular gender, I often wish they could meet Whisper as a kindred spirit.
A friend recently sent me a link to a New York Times article about a Donkey Symposium. In the article is a quote by a donkey trainer (a title which, in itself strikes me as an oxymoron). “Anyone who says a donkey is stubborn, has been outsmarted by a donkey.”
Seems sort of funny at first blush, doesn’t it? I chuckled when I read it. And as I pause, and hold Whisper in my heart and all she’s taught myself and others, I sense that perhaps even those who seek to find the love for donkeys, may still have a deeper message from them waiting to be heard. One that may not be anything about stubbornness or smarts.
Even though Whisper is very clear and forthright in her communications, even though there is no convincing her or moving her if she needs a few more minutes to decide, I have never felt her intent as anything other than to be seen for who she is and to deeply connect. When she commanded the machine operators to come to her side, she simply wanted to give them a hug, to share her big, beautiful heart with them. And she wasn’t taking no for an answer.
But when the world seems almost stuck in fast forward, determined to cram more and more into every moment and instead you move mountains and carve out valleys with the strength, clarity and pace of a glacier, it’s hard to be heard.
Every time I have been rushed, consumed by a to-do task, and tried to get Whisper to move at my pace, she reminds me … it will all get done, but not like that.
One of the reasons we gave Whisper her name was in honour of the rescue organization who saved her. One of the other reasons was because, at first, she didn’t seem to have a hee-haw beyond a whisper.
Needless to say that has changed. Whisper has indeed not only found her hee-haw; she’s found her voice. And as the strength of her conviction to be heard grows, we find the same in ourselves.
May you be like the herd and listen, quietly, patiently, with love for the voice of others and support that voice and all it can become for the sake of our larger herd. And may you be like Whisper and find the inner resources and conviction to know your own voice and settle for nothing less than having it heard, in the fullness of its time, in each and every moment.