Christmas morning, the sun casts long tree shadows over the ground of last year's grass the color of beach sand. Rhododendron leaves are curled up tight as cigarillos, telling a temperature below 20. In the mornings when I get up, I can look out the window at the rhododendron leaves and know the temperature. They curl up looking like green cigars at 32. Below 20 they tighten up. They look like green pencils hanging when temperature is down around zero. I woke not long after sunrise this morning, thought about rolling over and inviting sleep to descend again, but thought of Jack and Jenny in the very freezing cold, waiting for the human to bring some breakfast to warm their blood. I sat straight up, put on my outdoor jacket, shoes, gloves and hat. Pre-donkeys I'd have gone back to sleep. Now, they are the first entry in my mind when I wake. In my mind's eye they were out there shivering, pleading for me to bring them some hay. I stepped out the door, saw Jenny and Jack waiting at the gate. Jack set to braying. I try to match his note and sing with him. I walked up to him singing his note, face to face. When he stopped, I reached over the fence and put my hand on his forehead. I'm glad they had a day of sunlight to dry their wet hair between the rain and the cold. Something on a donkey website said they're hyper-sensitive to cold. People I know familiar with donkeys say they handle the cold well. It's not like they're given a great deal of choice.
Jack and Jen appear to me fairly comfortable in the cold. Yesterday, rubbing Jack's legs, I noticed below the knees his legs were freezing. I thought of myself sitting here at the desk with feet freezing on the cold floor and legs cold up to the knee. It's uncomfortable for me. Jack never gets a relief from it. His feet touch the cold ground all day and night. Before thinking, I rubbed his lower right front leg until he lifted it enough to tell me that's enough. I was thinking a warm hand on his freezing leg might be a comfort. Maybe his legs are so used to the cold, a warm hand was uncomfortable. Or maybe he was just saying that's enough. Donkeys don't like to linger a feeling like we humans do, who try to make a moment last, say we gotta do this again. Going through the gate with half a bale of hay in my arms, the donkeys wouldn't move back from the gate. I had to push Jack aside to get in. I looked out the window just now and saw Jenny with her head up looking at the road. A neighbor's yellow and white dog was walking down the road. Jenny started walking toward the dog and Jack went with her, both of them watching the dog. Jen the protector. She'll make a good mother. The dog walked on down the road with donkeys watching until it left their view. Jack wanted a bite of hay, so I let him take some. Jenny wanted to take some hay and I let her. She had a look in her eye that said if I wasn't her friend, she'd knock me down. I was a little apprehensive walking out into the meadow, listening to their footsteps on the frozen ground behind me. It felt like Jenny was a bit hormone driven this morning, or something.
About half as far as I intended to carry the hay, Jenny stepped up walking beside me, pushed me to put the hay down. And meaning it. I attempted to walk a little further, but she wasn't having it. Put the hay down now. Her ears were back and her rear end jumped up when Jack came within kicking range. I dropped all the hay, intending to pick up sections of it and spread it around. Jenny wouldn't let me touch it. Jack came up to have a bite and she swung her rear end on him, her back end hopping up and down, back feet cocked to kick. I watched her closely, because it looked like I was a target today, too. I thought I'd see if she'd let me take some of the hay. She swung her behind around ready to let me have it. I put my hand on her rump and pushed her aside, using the momentum of the push to quicken my exit from her kicking range. Her kicking was not an attack, but a defensive gesture telling everybody to stay back, this is Jenny's hay. Jack stepped over to me and I put my hand on his back, ran my hand along the dark chocolate line down the middle of his back to his tail. I looked at the bristled hair of his mane, fascinated to have such intimate access to an African herd animal that I can pet him, look into his eyes, take hold of a leg to look at his hoof, and best of all, have this chance to know such a being. I think it wildly impressive that the Bush people of southern Africa go back 200,000 years. Donkeys go back as far as horses, a very long way back. Donkeys have places in the very most ancient stories from the early phases of civilization. I might want to reread Carlo Collodi's children's novel, Pinocchio, to review the donkey's role in that beautiful story of becoming a real human being.
I've seen reference to "legend" somebody made up for the convenience of the symbolism that a Bethlehem Cross donkey got the cross on its back because Jesus rode one into Jerusalem. Another story says it is the donkey Mary rode to Egypt and back. A fundamentalist woman I know told me it's true the donkey got the cross from Jesus riding it. I said, "Genetics doesn't work like that." While speaking it, I knew this was going nowhere, changed the subject fast as I could think of something, anything. I don't even think she knew the word genetics; watches Faux tv and believes science is evil. I can believe the breed of donkey got its name, Bethlehem Cross, because Jesus rode a donkey and the symbolism made a good story. Jesus wasn't born on December 25 either, but it makes a good story. I can believe, for sure, that three God-realized men from India made a journey on camels, probably by caravan, and possibly separate caravans, the only safe way to travel in those days and part of the world, some time within baby's first year or so. I can believe the angels were having a fit over the baby. Probably the donkeys, horses, camels, too, felt a certain stillness within. Animals are inclined automatically toward babies, ie, Tarzan, lost human baby raised by apes. There are accounts of human babies raised by wolves. Probably down through time there are many such cases unknown, possibly even from kidnappings. My feeling is the animals in the Bethlehem stable felt a reverence that a human baby was among them. For somebody in the vicinity who saw angels, the sky must have been alight with them, something like the Milky Way. I loved it when the old boy Simeon saw the baby and said in his language, Now I can leave the body satisfied mine eyes have seen.
jack in front
The Bethlehem stable had to have donkeys in it for the symbolism of humility. Easily done; it likely had more donkeys than anything else. The human form to be the essence of humility was among them in the most humble time of this human's life, who would live humble as a baby and receive his fate humble as a baby. Ever thought about what the floor in a beast of burden hotel is made of? And everything from the waist down covered with? It's interesting to me to see the nature of God is humility, the humility of a baby born in a hay-lined trough in a nasty old stable, no midwife, no pot of boiling water, no nothing, definitely not FDA approved. A hymn playing in my mind's jukebox, He'll always say, I forgive. Wow. We're looking for God in heroes, in belief systems, in visions, in spiritual feelings, on and on as far as the human mind can figure, when God lives in our own humility. When Donkey Jack is not driven by the brain between his back legs, he is so noticeably humble, it was the first characteristic I saw in him. Jenny has humility too. It's just in a different personality. It's only been in the last days to weeks that she's been allowing Jack within biting range. They're doing donkey-to-donkey business that is none of mine. I've been seeing them draw closer to one another as time goes by. These pictures I got of them close together is a new experience. She has Jack trained to stay off her back such that she doesn't need to be watching him all the time. She leads the way and Jack follows. Jenny's fit over the hay didn't last very long. After a short time-out with Jack, I stepped in to take some of the hay, not threatening to touch the part she was eating from. She let me take the hay without an issue, whatever. This is not to say she didn't watch me with an eye that reminded me she's fast. I spread the hay around for everybody, out of Jenny's kicking range. I went to walk around Jenny and her rear end followed me all the way, ears back, donkey warning. I walked on a little bit out of range and said, Merry Christmas to you, too.