jenny says come on in
donkey jen in her kitchen
donkey jack looking in
This was another learning day. I put hay on the ground of the donkey den thinking it might make a nice place for the donkeys and calves to lie down on the cold ground. I was reminded how far equine behavior is from any animal behavior I'm acquainted with. They are fully aware. I think of Jonathan Swift's, Gulliver's Travels. I look into their eyes when I speak to them and they have shown me time after time they understood what I was saying. My relationship with them is about like it would be with two big dogs too big to let in the house. Marsha Wagoner told me in the beginning they are like dogs in many ways. I know Jack very similarly to how I know a dog. The first counsel Tom Pruitt gave me about working with animals was to talk to them. He said they like to be talked to. Jack and Jenny are settled down in their understandings of each other. They are well acquainted now. They can stand side by side with me there and not go into kicking fits. It means I can feel safe in the meadow among them. Jenny is not completely broken by Jack. My impression is that she doesn't think a great deal of this male domination activity that has forced her sumission. At the same time, she's not too annoyed. She's not in love with Jack, but he's a friendly feller. Jack is playing out his stallion role and Jenny is playing out her mare role that goes all the way back to North Africa a very long time before humans were throwing spears. Donkeys have walked with humans since the first stirrings of civilization in Africa. They like us in the same way dogs like us. It's such a natural attraction it seems genetic.
jenny in the new den
southern living donkey den
I think about questions such as how donkeys, equus africanus asinus, spread from northeastern Africa to the entire earth as a beast of burden. A month or so ago I rented a French film, Au Hazard Balthazar, a life story of a donkey from being raised a pet by children, then sold for a beast of burden, sold again. Nobody treated the donkey right, but every once in awhile the donkey got a bit of a break. I couldn't stand it for the donkey and turned it off not far into it. I was seeing Jack mistreated in my mind's eye multiplied by all the donkeys in the world down through all history that humans have used for nothing in return but a shelter and something to eat. And many donkeys have had a good life. They have as wide a variety of possibilities living among humans as we do living among one another. I want these donkeys during their time in my care to have happy lives, comfortable on a donkey's terms. The day's great learning was how silly it was to put a bed of hay in the den for them to lie down on. The two calves found it and started eating. They spent the night sleeping on it. All day they grazed on the hay inside the den, shitting on it, pissing on it. I had not foreseen the need for a pitchfork and took the rake to clean out the mess the calves made of all the hay. Jenny didn't want to pick up any of it. The calves had ruined it. I raked the hay out with the droppings. They put back everything they ate. I saw that keeping the dirt floor in there cleaned regularly is what I do from here on. That's ok. I like participation with the donkeys and calves. I like the scent in there. I like barnyard scent near the house. I'd like chickens, but too many coyotes and dogs roam around here.
I'm converting this little shed to a stable, a donkey den, to give the donkeys a place to get out of the weather in winter especially. I built it for a chicken house in my first summer here, 1977. Had chickens for ten years until too many dogs came in and keeping chickens became a problem. I didn't want to kill all the dogs, so eventually they killed all the chickens and I gave up chickens. In the old way they killed a dog that killed chickens, but the mountain is an exurb now and different rules apply. Tom Pruitt has been gone from the mountain several years, more than twenty, leaving me as the old man of the mountain, the keeper of the mountain. It's a role I take seriously in my heart. I was looking at the donkey den while taking pictures of it, thinking this old-time way of having a dirt-floored shed for the stock, a meadow with two donkeys and two calves, is keeping the old hillbilly style alive surrounded by subdivisions. I feel like my great grandmother whose farm was initially out in the country, a long ways from the city, surrounded by houses as far as you can drive in an hour any direction. She got her water from a hand pump in the ground behind the house. She kept a milk cow and chickens, had apple trees. From the street, her house, the original house in the area, was just another house in a continuous line of houses. The last time I saw her, she was sitting on her porch swing. I sat beside her and we talked. She was in her dementia, then senility, and took me for my uncle Sonny. I did not correct her. It didn't matter who she thought I was, she forgot a few seconds later. Grandpa gave me all kindsa hell when I told him I sat with her and let her think I was Sonny. He took it I was making fun of her when I was not. I couldn't explain it, a totally inarticulate teenage boy with red hair and freckles. I let grandpa believe what he had to believe.
I suppose for the exurbanites inhabiting the mountain now, I'm the old turd of the mountain from another time, like Tom was for the generation before. I'm connected with the history of the mountain, knew people born here, who went to school in my house, who worked the fields here, who hunted in the woods and made liquor in the woods. The road once a gravel road and before that a wagon road for horses and walking. Before that, a walking and a horse trail. And before that, a hardwood forest for so many thousands of years it runs into multiple millions. I have a couple of spear points I found nearby from 4,000 to 8,000 years ago. I feel like they are my contact with the people of this mountain that go way back, with the mountain itself. In my first year, I suddenly had some chickens I did not anticipate and needed to build a shed for them over a weekend. Finished it in three days. I went to Tom Pruitt and asked him how to put up a shed. He told me about planting four posts for corners, connect them across the top and the bottom with a board, and nail vertical boards to them. He told how to frame the roof. I went home and did it. I wanted to learn the old-time ways and this project was a good beginning. Tom told me to get the used wood from an old shed we had recently dismantled. The wood of this donkey den was sawmilled on this mountain, on the Caudill farm, which my land was once a part of. I feel like the donkey den is one of the remaining living traces of the hillbilly way of life.
donkey jack waits outside
donkey jen says see ya round