Above: I stopped to say bonjour to these two charmers alongside a country road in southern France
I wasn’t expecting a donkey book to expand my perspective on life.
I had been suspicious I might be one of very few people on the planet who had an affinity for the beast of burden. But secretly captivated I’d been—for years—by these dainty-legged steads (have you ever noticed it… their skinny, dainty little legs that are remarkably able to carry heavier loads than a horse?). And unconsciously, over time, I had been amassing a growing collection of donkey photos from my travels. And so, naturally, I was relieved and thrilled to discover the book, The Wisdom Of Donkeys: Finding Tranquility In A Chaotic World by Andy Merrifield.
I took the book with me on a recent trip to Palm Springs: a place with no donkeys. Two days into the trip and only 40 pages into the book, I was astounded at how slowly I was reading. A donkey’s pace, I suppose. The reading became a contemplative and grounding contrast to the sunny-pop swimming pool sensation that was Palm Springs. It was perfect.
Together with the author I journeyed through the countryside of rural France, alongside his walking companion, Gribouille, a chocolate brown donkey. We breathed in the cool morning air each day of his trek. We walked in deep thought. We walked in no thought. We felt the stones on the path under our feet. We considered the long, misunderstood history of donkeys. We grieved for the beating with spiked sticks endured by so many of Gribouille’s brothers and sisters, in so many countries. We cringed at the centuries of yelling, cursing and abuses put upon the donkey who hesitates a moment because they do not trust a situation and are considering a way to approach it. We wondered together why man could not consider that the beast was weighing his options, to go this way or that, through a stream or across an unstable mountain pass. We lamented that we humans can rarely find the patience of a donkey. That we can rarely find the calmness of a donkey. That we are so often not as gentle as the donkey.
Above: a wonderfully furry chocolate brown I met whilst toodling in Langley, British Columbia. Look at those eyes…
Have you ever gazed into a donkey’s eyes? Ridiculous as it might sound, give it a go. You may find your (stressed out) heart rate dipping down, splendidly so, and your spirits lifting, and your capacity for grace and compassion growing… You may find yourself honouring this beast who has carried humankind’s packs, treasures, and supplies–overburdened at the best of times, lashed and disregarded at the worst–walking on, despite pain, wounds and malnourishment, until the very moment they drop dead. You may find yourself reveling in that unwavering, steady, donkey stare, that stare only a donkey can hold, no matter what goes on around them. You may find yourself in awe that most third-world and developing countries run on donkey-power, and yet still this beast goes on uncelebrated.
As a people, we would do well to take a lesson or two from a donkey. Slow and steady. Eat wildflowers instead of the strange cultivated stuff. Choose fresh, clean water. Stop a moment and consider your options when faced with a perplexing situation. Go forward at a pace defined by you and you alone. Be a gentle pillar for others. Give kindness through your eyes, which so often speak louder than the voice. Bray for thrill of it. Roll in the dirt on your back with your legs curled skyward. Practice some deadpan humour. Cultivate tolerance. Stop to smell the roses. Hold true to your own nature. And dwell in dignity, no matter what may befall you.
Thank you, donkey, for being exactly who you are.
Above: Donkeys coming down the stone switch-backs in (Thira) Santorini, Greece. They carry lazy, foolish tourists up the mountain day in, day out
Above: (Thira) Santorini, Greece: the zig-zag switch-back track up the mountain, traversed non-stop by donkeys burdened with weighty, ignorant tourists
Above: a donkey who has accepted her fate, head down, in Santorini, Greece
Above: on the island of Crete, a mule (donkey X horse) waits patiently at the port
Original donkey photos © Glamorous Monk
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