As I awake to the sound of torrential rain, a deep tone on my metal roof, and the sound of busy waters in my gutters and downspouts, I think, Fall has fully set in. Just 10 days ago we were celebrating our volunteers and donors with an appreciation party in the warmish sunny barnyard. I recall how amazed and delighted I was by the busy conversations. People who had never met were head to head in deep conversation forming new friendships. Other guests said they hadn't seen the other person for 40 years and had found each other here after all this time. My son Paul told me of the hilarious stories that 85-year-old Bill Honcoop entertained him with of Bill’s adventures on a construction project with his brother Ike. We had a lovely fall day to enjoy each other's company. Nearly 50 people came to celebrate the beautiful work that we do here and to be celebrated for their myriad of contributions over the past two-plus years, since the founding of Unbridled Spirit 7. Sean Ferguson Borrell fed us with the most impressive charcuterie spread thanks to Bellingham Denture Clinic and Haggens Grocery. Everyone was thanked with a mouth-watering gift from Chocolate Necessities! And Molly McKenna did a beautiful job of orchestrating it all.
Looking around at all the faces that were familiar to me, I was overcome with humble gratitude for the immense support that I personally have received and that our animals have received and that this land has received from the people surrounding me. We have a beautiful team of dedicated staff, volunteers and community supporters who make this work possible.
As the rains pour down I think about this day ahead. We have a small group of elementary kids coming at eleven who are so excited to be here every week. The rains cannot dampen that. Yesterday we received a sweet essay, written by a 9-year-old, that his resource teacher shared about his love for Rusty and how he looks forward to seeing him every week. This is only his third week here.
Later today will be the passing of Persephone, our dear Persephone. Persephone is a dwarf miniature horse, with her little black fuzzy self, especially this time of year, being the most huggable friend on the farm. Her bright blue eyes surprise you as she lifts her head to gaze at you, giving you a sense that she is seeing your soul. And she appears to always be looking forward to what's next.
Persephone has had quite the life in the twelve years with us. She has warmed the hearts of thousands of people at Microsoft conferences at the Seattle Conference Center in downtown Seattle. She even traveled to the Microsoft campus in Redmond before COVID-19 stopped all that. She and Toby were ambassadors for Animals as Natural Therapy for many years. Persephone met thousands of elders living in care facilities. One of my favorite memories was of a gentleman named Ken sitting outside his assisted living facility. We had high school kids taking the animals to visit elders meanwhile discovering that they could enjoy conversations with someone six times their age. The teens were learning to value the wisdom and the stories of the elders while the elders were delighted by the youths’ young energy and smiling faces. One sunny day Ken took Persephone's little head into his hands and sang a Dutch auria to her. Of course, I did not understand the words, but the tune was one that my own mother had sung to me as an infant. Ken didn't notice the tears that welled up in my eyes and rolled down my cheeks as he sang his beautiful song. Years later we were at a skilled nursing facility with the animals where Ken was in his last few weeks on this earth. Persephone and I found him and visited this elderly man who was now silent, but I was sure his beautiful song was still there in his heart. Today, when Persephone leaves this worn-out body, I am sure that she will meet Ken on the other side, where life is easy and where one no longer carries the burdens of this painful body.
Persephone has told us that she so appreciates the life she has had here these past 15 years. She has taught preschoolers to share, elementary-age kids to not be afraid of horses, middle schoolers what bullying looks like as well as self-care. She has taught high schoolers to set boundaries, to revere elders and to see their own ability to positively impact another’s life. They can make the world a better place. She's taught families how to better communicate and value each other. She was even a bridesmaid and a flower girl in a couple weddings! Her photo is on the side of the Animals as Natural Therapy Mobile ANT van and her legacy carries on.
My dear friend Gracie has been the human “owner” of Persephone and we have a photo of her holding Persephone as a newborn. I thank Gracie for giving Persephone this life with us. Persephone has told me not to cry for her but to cry for the horses that don't have wonderful lives. Persephone says that her life is complete and her job is over. Occasionally, over ten years, she has suffered with painful laminitis but we were always able to reverse the flare ups with herbal compounds, soaking hay, feeding low sugar hay and sometimes pain meds… and lots of tender loving care. Since we can no longer keep her comfortable, the vet says it is time, and Persephone says she appreciates us letting her go.
On this rainy blustery morning as I sit in my cozy room writing this, I am so appreciative of our feed staff who are out here day and night, in sun, rain, wind, light and darkness. They bring sincere dedication to our precious animals. They're the unsung heroes, often unseen, the backbone behind the work of these great animals, the reason why we're not walking through a foot of manure and why our animals are so healthy. Thank you so very much, dear animal care team!
And of course, while I sit here writing, Merlin, the big fluffy black cat, shows up to remind me it's been one year since he came to my home. He seems to love computer time, I think its a carry over from his years with my dear friend Tara. When his human Tara died in an accident Merlin came to live with me. Despite coming from a farm, he was afraid to go outside for months. He is dry and fluffy this morning so he hasn’t been out in the rain yet.
Finally, he gets some message that I am not privy to, jumps down, and shortly Figaro is here. He has come in from the barnyard soaking wet and he jumps up for some loving and to let me know that he's part of this story. Then Gabby the Golden comes over from her bed and is moaning that the cats shouldn't be getting all the attention. "I just spent all night here protecting you, so you know, I'm not just chopped liver.” Oh, so much delight from all these animals that I have the honor of living on this beautiful farm with.
We are settled right here next to King and Queen Mountain which was for eons the passageway of the Nooksack peoples to the ocean and the tall landmarks that always guided them back home again. I know I
dwell on unceded land and it is quite a privilege along with a sadness and a sense of a need for restitution. Therefore, anything that our farm can do to support our indigenous people we are ready to jump in and do it. We've
offered retreats to the Lummi Nation teachers, provided visits to their school with our animals, provide summer camps to their youth. We look forward to working with a new organization called Healing for Hope, started by two inspiring Nooksack women, who Molly and I just met.
Thank you, Loving Creator for the honor of this land, these animals and all the hearts who come here seeking their inner peace and joy. May we continue to offer them your love in whatever ways we can.
Written by Sonja Wingard