The Lessons of an Ass

There is a lot in life that we can learn from donkeys. I remember well when Muffy first came to my childhood farm. As kids we were utterly fascinated by this spotted creature with long ears. We wanted to get close to her and just touch those ears! I remember spending hours lurking in the field, hiding in bushes, and belly crawling across the meadow only to have her step away at the last minute...right before the coveted touch. She never got too excited about it all. She never expended energy running away unless it was absolutely necessary.  She never went bucking off across the field farting like the pony. She just stepped out of reach. It was a situation she did not know and she preferred to watch and learn first.  She did not see any need to make a scene or a commotion or get too buzzed up about any of it. She just stepped away and watched and learned and stepped away. No fuss. No muss. Just stepping away. When I left my childhood farm I lived in the city for many years before I was able to return to a farm of my own in eastern Ontario.    I have never lived on a farm without a horse so after  we purchased my Grandparents farm in Kirby I asked my father if he knew of any decent horses for sale.  And that is how my dear Tiante came into my life.  But anyone who knows horses also knows that they do not fare well on their own so when my father trailered Tiante to our farm he also brought a little spotted donkey with him as a companion.  I was so intrigued to have Muffy back in my life.  It had been years.  Frankly I was shocked she was still alive.  I contemplated those ears.  Muffy stepped away.  They remained out of reach.  But then Tiante decided he liked me very much and Muffy liked Tiante very much and through our mutual friend,  Muffy and I began to get to know each other. Donkeys take a long time to get to know people.  They can be perceived as shy but I think rather that they understand better than most that not everyone is a true friend.  They take their time and they observe.  They make a thoughtful methodical decision on whether to extend the bonds of friendship.  They are not interested in casual encounters or acquaintances.  They save themselves for true friendship. And when they become your friend they are your friend for life...through thick and thin they stand steadfastly with you.  It is a friendship that is enduring and lasting.

I once made the mistake of thinking that donkeys always move slowly.  I well remember when Muffy sorted me out on that front.  I find November to be an appallingly dreary month.  I could never understand what the issue was with February. The days are getting longer.  We are headed toward spring.  In November, we are headed toward the shortest day of the year.  It is my bleak time.  As Tiante and Muffy grew older on our farm, we would need to put them into warm stalls during cold rainy days and the snows of winter.  If it was a blue sky kind of day though, I would take them out of their stalls and put them in the field for the day to enjoy the sunshine.  We had had quite a run of dreary days one November and I was a bit down in the chips about it all. If I remember correctly John was out in Edmonton training for his tour in Afghanistan so I was on my own with four kids, an active farm and a busy job. I was feeling sorry for myself...Finally the sun dawned one morning and the skies were blue.  It took me a while to note this change in weather and even longer for it to occur to me that Muffy and Tiante might enjoy a stint in the sun. It was well into the day before I finally dragged my sorry butt out to the barn to take them to the field. Imagine my surprise when Muffy dragged me across the yard on the end of the lead shank in her haste to get into the sunshine.  The Muffy who normally plods along.  The Muffy who moves slowly when she decides to move at all.  Methodical steadfast Muffy...dragged me through the yard at a full donkey gallop. I sat and looked at her and she looked back as though to say 'get off your ass and get on with it'. I looked around at the blue sky and the sun shining and instantly regretted wasting the first part of this day. While donkey's may seem methodical and slow, I have noticed that Muffy always makes sure that she does not waste her time on anything.  She does not waste her time getting to know silly girls leaping out of bushes and she does not waste away a beautiful sunny day feeling sorry for herself.

Over time our family became part of Muffy's circle. She tolerated alot from us until she did not anymore.  I well remember Aidan ending up in a tree courtesy of Muffy. She had utterly no interest in the civil war charge he was trying to coax out of her.  Muffy is fierce about her friendships and a porcupine that ventured into her field of friends learned that the hard way. I knew for sure that we were firmly under her umbrella when she stood patiently without flinching as we plucked the quills from her forelegs. She trusted us.  We trusted her.  But never was this point more apparent then the morning after John returned from Afghanistan.  As the troops were rotating home out of the battlefield they were sent to Cyprus for decompression.  They are only there for a week so I am not sure that much decompression actually happens; however, they do tour around Cyprus in an effort to let go of a bit of the war mentality.  One of the tours that John enjoyed most was riding through an olive grove on a donkey.  It reminded him of Muffy.  So on his first morning home, he got up early before any of us and went out to the field and sat on Muffy's back inhaling the scents of his Canadian farm.  Muffy stood and just let him be.  This in itself was amazing as Muffy had made it quite clear to us through launching kids into trees and into water troughs that she was a companion only...never to be ridden. She was fine with John riding her that morning though.  Donkeys seem to know that while you may draw a line in the sand, that line can and should move with the sifting of the sand.  We need to be open to changes and the needs of our friends in changing times.

When our family took the decision to sell our place in eastern Ontario and move back to the West, we knew it was the right decision for our family.  I also knew that I would have to say good-bye to my beloved Tiante and Muffy and I knew that would break my heart.  Tiante was 32 years old. An utterly amazing long life for a horse.  He would not survive a trip across the country with us.  I worried that he would not survive the 3 hour trip to my parents farm where he would go for his last years.  I knew that the only way that I could have hope of that would be if his best friend Muffy remained by his side. And so I said good-bye to them both and to my dying day I will not forget the two of them watching me through the slats of the trailer as it pulled out of the lane. It did break my heart.  But they made a new home for themselves on their new farm and they were happy there. We made our new home in the West and we are happy here.  They missed me and I missed them.  I know this to be true as every time I visited them on the farm the greetings would be warm and wonderful.  Muffy was always the first to know I was there.  She would hee haw from the field and Tiante's head would snap up.  They both would run over to greet me with much love and affection.  I feared that one day that would not happen.  I feared they would forget.  But donkeys never forget.  They have long memories.  They make friends for life. And even when they are apart from their friends they hold them dear in their hearts and when they are together again it is as though no time has passed at all. They understand that sometimes we travel different paths and that if we should find ourselves on the same path again if only for a few days then we celebrate those moments together.

I found this picture the other day from my visit with Muffy in September.  John took it of us.  It was spontaneous.  I had not seen it before.  Muffy is older now and can no longer hee haw with vigor.  She still recognizes me and moves quickly to my side.  She steps closer now.  The ears are coveted no more.  And she has most certainly taught this ass a thing or two about life.



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