When I moved to Apifera Farm in 2004, I was donkey-less. But two years later I was communing with not one, but three donkeys. Nature and animals have always been muses in my art and writing, but I became enthralled with donkey ears. They appear in large canvases, unconsciously, or become organic patterns in illustrations.
My affliction to donkey ears is a beautiful gift not only to my art, but also to my life and health. Observing them requires me to stop and experience each twitch, which I find completely enjoyable. I see donkey ears as spiritual vessels, entities of their own that fill me up in ways that the man made world can't.
They are the first things I see when I enter the old barn, sticking up over the wood panels, moving to hear my voice or the distant scratching of a chicken. On a windy day, donkey ears can stand the pressure of a strong wind and the small hairs on their tips blow like mini pigtails. They are nothing less than poetry in motion.
While making art, my whole being is in the moment. Time stops -- or goes forward but I am unaware or uncaring of it. I am at my best when I am creating and when I am in the presence of donkeys and their tall spires of poetry, I am soaking in their texture, positions, and colorings, storing images and feelings in my heart to be pulled out when needed for a painting. My head chatter is gone. I am slowed down to the pace of their ears.
Just the other day I was doing barn chores. As I cleaned stalls, I was rehearsing the many tasks waiting back in my studio -- deadlines, phone calls, and problems waiting for solutions. I was anxious to get back and just get it all over with. In my impatience, I was trying to get one of my donkeys to move faster to get him into another paddock, but if you've been with donkeys, even trained donkeys, you know they do everything very slowly, at a lovely donkey pace, one hoof at a time. He stopped to stand like a statue, I sighed an impatient sigh, and I impatiently suggested he get going. While his ears pricked backwards to hear my plea, they then returned forward toward the lower pasture. I stood with him in silence to observe the fog blanket comforting the grass and weeds over our lower fields, with the white dots of our sheep peeking out. My donkey looked up, and there was a flock of ducks in formation, flying past, gone in seconds.
I never would have experienced that moment if it hadn't been for those donkey ears showing me the way. We all have the equivalent of donkey ears in our lives, pointing us to profound moments and simple beauties, inspiring painting, poem, or song... or just absorbed for nutrition. While my husband and I live on the farm with wireless internet and cell phones (the latter might work if you stand up near the Old Oak Grove), we are not texters or iPhoners. We work hard but live simply, and even I have to make a choice to stop, and look.
I've looked at paintings I did years earlier and wondered the exact moment that inspired it. I wonder how many inspirations I've missed that might have ended up in a painting, simply because I was going about my day impatiently, not taking time to stop and observe.
So this year I intend to be a bit more "donkey".
Katherine Dunn is an artist, writer, and shepherdess at Apifera Farm where she lives with her landscaper husband. Her new book, Creative Illustration Workshop [Quarry Books], is now available. She also muses about farm life, old goats, donkeys, feral cats, weeds, pie, chicken underpants and puppets on her regular blog http://www.apiferafarm.blogspot.com .