On December 19 a stray donkey appeared in the driveway. Our only fencing contained the garden and the backyard for the dogs. Our barn housed sprayers, chippers, mowers, blowers, and tillers.
I assessed how long it would take me to remove from the barn the thousands of things that may be harmful to a donkey. Tiny star-shaped bits of rusted chicken wire, bolts, screws, lumber, fencing and the farm equipment. I calculated fence posts.
Five days before Christmas and a donkey arrives. Is this some sort of comment from the universe? Donkeys symbolize humility and wisdom.That sounds serious. Not sure how many more lessons in humility and wisdom building opportunities I can handle. Still, we’d been saving for fencing and planning for livestock to complete our closed loop system homestead. Building organic soil takes manure and he’d earn his keep protecting future livestock from predators.
As I moved piles of lumber from the barn floor up to what should be a hayloft, I thought of humility. The song “Radiant beams from they holy face, with the dawn of redeeming grace, Jesus, Lord at thy birth”escaped from my body without my control.
We decided on the Catalan spelling of Catalonia (the part of Spain we lived in for a year and a half once) for his name, Catalunya. The symbol of Catalonia is the donkey. He seemed comfortable under the large oak near the potting shed and readying the barn was gonna take time. So, his warm bucket of water was placed under the oak. It was 18 degrees outside so I placed it inside a tire and smushed blue foam board pieces around it.
Alan brought home Bermuda hay bales and sweet corn that the man at the farmer’s co-op said was good for all livestock. I placed them near the bucket. My donkey research revealed that sweet corn could cause health problems. But, he moved towards us if I shook the bowl and I needed the bribe temporarily as there was no touching him. I calculated vet bills.
I created a cozy manger of straw with a tarp overhang from lattice that we’d used for bean trellises between his tree and the potting shed on the west side o the property. He allowed us near when he was eating and he loved his water. But if we approached he bucked and turned his rear to us. Bad weather threatened and I was anxious to get him a shelter while we put up fencing and reworked the barn. We’d just have to trust him stay overnight by choice.
I moved his water and hay from under his tree to under his new lean-to in order to allow him to get used to a shelter before the arrival of more predicted thunderstorms. Thankfully they’d never materialize in our neck of the woods.
While Alan went to get a curry comb, salt lick, cattle gate and hoof pick from the hardware store, and talk to the old vet in town, I tried to walk our rottie/birddog mix rescue, Zippy. Catalunya came stomping up the driveway trumpeting bloody murder as if to run us down. My legs felt weak at the thought of him kicking Zip’s head in. We herded up on the porch with my mop handle in tow.
I’d taken to carrying it on our daily walks. The woman two ranches over had shot and killed a mountain lion in broad daylight and an older gentleman who’d stopped by my farmer’s market booth showed me a photo of five of them moving through his property. He lives near Wildcat Mountain which edges the back end of our 75 acres. The local word for mountain lion is wildcat.
Walking our paths with the dogs, I pretend that my mop handle is a machete and that I am Michonne from THE WALKING DEAD. I whack at small trees for practice at whacking a mountain lion. But this screaming, unbridled, rogue donkey holding us all hostage in our own backyard was making me feel less safe. Is there some cosmic wisdom I’m missing here? At once safer and less safe.
Early in the day we noticed Catalunya pressing his big Shrek butt against the fence in the clearing beyond the well house trying to get next to the cows on the other side. I realized then that he’d obsess on the cows because he was accustomed to being with cows as a watchdog we figured. I’d read that donkeys prefer company and can bond for life with other equine but were often placed to guard cattle, sheep and goats.
After feeling attacked by the rampaging donkey I’d watched him head back over towards the cows sulking and stomping and complaining like a toddler. I realized the rampage had nothing to do with me. He couldn’t even see me and Zippy through his blind “the-cows-left-and-now-I-have-nobody ” hissy. It was as if I wasn’t even standing there. Offering friendship. With a mop handle in my hand and a dog at my heel. I began to see why they are so often misunderstood and how they must often misunderstand.
Still no petting, no touching, much less bridling and containing. He stretches his neck and nostrils as long as they will go without making contact. I worry all night about what he is stepping on and what he is eating that might kill him as he freely stalks the perimeter of the property.
I risked all of the trust that we’d built by moving his water and food from beneath the oak tree/ lattice corral to beneath the cedar tree (on the east side of the homestead) in the imaginary barn corral. We could no longer put off fencing. We’d dodged the bad weather but more was set for Christmas day.
Five days to ready one side of the barn. I sectioned it off down the middle so we could avoid cleaning another outbuilding and moving the farm machinery again. Luckily it is a large barn. I’d raked the entire corral yard inch by inch, gone over every inch with a magnet on a stick, hauled buckets of sand and spread it down, added a thick carpet of straw in the paddock and stall area and out into the corral and under the big cedar tree. I’d hoped he’d relate to the bucket under the oak. He did. He’s wicked smart.
Day 6 Christmas
When he looked for but did not find his sweet corn and Bermuda hay in the corral by the oak tree around 7am when we began pulling back curtains looking for him he pouted off.
We’d started on the corral fence from the barn wall to the dog fence at 8 am. Alan pounded the stakes into the ground, stretched the hog-wire with a come-along, and set the gate posts in concrete. Beginning around 10am we’d heard the cows bellowing and gunshots scattering through the morning. Still no donkey. We’d put down tools and walked to the fence twice worried that he’d killed a calf (after the mailman told the story of pulling his donkey off of a calf that had been mistaken for a coyote) or jumped the wrong rancher’s fence. The winds gusted all day and the weather felt like that scene in The Wizard of Oz just as Dorothy leaves the wooden caravan having had her future told by the future wizard.
In a blizzard he was lost. She ran calling Wildfire, she ran calling Wiiiildfire, she ran calling Wihihihihildfire ran through my head. It was 67 degrees outside. Still. We had no idea where he goes all day. He was lost. And a storm was coming. Hot and cold air masses colliding. And blizzards on both coasts. And I can’t control what songs come into my head.
Around 4 pm I’d picked up some boutineer sized mistletoe pieces from the imaginary- being- made- manifest corral area. “Merry Christmas, honey.” I held the mistletoe over our heads and we kissed. I looked at it again and wondered out loud if it was poisonous for donkeys. Googled it and, of course, it is. I started calculating tree removal.
I tried to nap and not to cry over him being possibly dead. He’d been gone since 7ish that morning.I imagined that I had loved him to death. Killed him before we even got started. Drove him away trying to help him.
I Wikipedia’d paintings of The Nativity. The only one where a donkey appears is in the Botticelli. The others show oxen and lambs. I thought about Mary from Nazareth and Joseph from Bethlehem riding out on the donkey’s back with the baby Jesus fleeing Herod’s Massacre of the Innocents to Egypt just hours after his birth.
It was impossible not to think of the children of Aleppo. Little girls in their pink cardigans. Little boys leaving behind their soccer balls. Fleeing their own Massacre of the Innocents. I can’t even help a donkey without accidentally getting it killed. I’ve done nothing to help those people.
I rose from my non nap to find him following Alan around the garden area, past the chicken coop, and into the warm manger we were making for him. Six days without touching but he can obviously figure out anything. I ordered a clicker training course. Now if we can figure out anything.
Alan saw him lying down.
The past four days I have recovered 57 iron fence stakes, 18 aluminum posts, 14 wooden fence posts, 3 rolls of hog wire, 2 rolls of barbed wire, and hired some qualified and reasonably priced fence builders. Alan set one of the gates and the remaining side wall fencing which took Catalunya a half a day to accept and yet he nimbly stepped straight through the 6 slat tall cattle gate lying on the ground like he coulda won at Chinese jumprope.
He followed me around his new corral with both gates still wide open, around the front yard where his favorite Bermuda grass is brown for the winter, down past the chink log cabin, down our path named pinecone alley and back to the path that goes out by the burn barrel. I sang. He liked it.
Ten days without touching.