This afternoon, when I entered the barn I got a big whinny from Rocky, as I often do and Maria often does. I was talking at my reading Friday night about what I have learned about talking to animals on my farm and in my research, and I said that food was the foundation of love for animals. Food is life and death to them, and when people bring them food day after day, it builds trust and connection. I have been feeding Rocky for nearly two years in one way or another, and he is very aware of me and my movements.
Many people prefer to think of animals differently. People might think Rocky is grateful to me, that he appreciates being kept on the farm. Some people tell me I "saved" Rocky which is not so. He was healthy when I arrived on the scene and is healthy now. People want more than connection from animals. They want unconditional love, gratitude, appreciation. I don't want that. A woman at the reading ask me if I expected to see Rose and Izzy at the "bridge," and I said, Lord I hope not. The last think I want to see when I die is all my border collies running in circles, driving me nuts for all eternity.
The way I have learned to talk with animals is to not talk with them. I don't know their language and they don't know mine. They are alien minds, and gratitude is a human construct, not an animal one in my mind. We all see the stories we need to see, tell the stories we need to tell.
Rocky is very connected with Maria. She feeds him, brushes him, talks and sings to him. More important, she listens to him, and does not tell him – or anyone else – what he is thinking. She doesn't know, and I don't know either. I am sure that it is not, "wow, I love Jon and Maria because they are saving me, keeping me here." It is perhaps an image of hay or grain, something that matters to him very much, something emotional, an exchange of feelings, of images and emotions. I am listening, working to figure it out. I will share what I learn. Rocky is a teacher, I do know that. Maria and I both believe we are communicating with him, mostly through tone, voice, feeling and body language.
So many people have expressed concern about Rocky's acclimation to other animals, but it is clear that there is no basis for concern. He has been missing it, waiting for it.
He is, it turns out, a very social being, he will have no trouble with the donkeys, he has told me that very clearly in his own way in his own kind of language.