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Tuesday, December 10, 2013


jack and jenny

The weather today made feeding the livestock less of a burden. The temperature was in the low 50s, sun was in clear sky some of the time, and when clouds covered the sun they were thin. It wasn't really a day for the donkeys and calves to lie down and soak up the rays. They grazed on hay all day. I take the hay to different places each day to avoid manure buildup. They drop it wherever it happens, Jack the exception. Jack has several piles around the meadow he goes to. As I spread the hay around the meadow over the course of the winter, the manure will go evenly over the meadow too. They eat the grass and they fertilize it as well. Somewhere along the way I read something about trees drop their leaves and fertilize themselves, that they do best fertilized by their own leavings. If there is anything to it, this meadow is doing well, fertilized by itself. I don't like oil-based fertilizer. It may be the best of all possible, but I'd rather do it the old-time way. I realize there is nothing I can do to preserve the topsoil of the land beyond my own reach, so I take care of things the way I like it done on my own fenced-in meadow. The meadow has been left to itself almost my whole time here. The creek has changed its course quite a bit since 1976 when I first became acquainted with it. In my time working at the courthouse every day for about six years, I became familiar with the mapping office. I found that this creek running through the meadow did not have a name on record. I asked if I could name it and was told I could. I named it Spring Lizard Creek, and the creek that joins it from the meadow across the road, I named North Fork. It was fun to have the opportunity to name two creeks that I live with. Spring lizard is the old name for salamander.
It feels good to throw on a sweater, slip on the outdoor shoes, heavy shirt over the sweater, gloves, hat and I'm ready to go. I'm now aware of being awake early to take hay out to them first thing in the morning to help them warm up from the night. It's changing my rhythm. I like carrying hay out into the meadow, Jack and Jenny close behind and the two calves behind them, walking out to a clear place. I shake the compacted hay loose for them and spread it on the ground in several places to allow them all the distance they want or the closeness. The calves are each other's best friend. Today I saw them eating the hay with their necks crossed like crossed fingers. The one was alone for several months, a young calf just a few months old, wasting away from depression, terrorized at night by coyotes. It has an ear tag number 21. Then a similar calf, same age, number 23, was put in with the calf. They are inseparable. They are happy when they are together. Jack wants to feel that way with Jenny, but she won't have it. They stay close by her choice as much as his, though she is continually guarding herself from his advances. She holds her head high and goes her own way. She does not get her identity from her meadow partner. Jenny is independently herself. Jack might be able to subdue her, but he doesn't control her. I looked at some YouTube videos of African Wild Ass, and one of them mentioned that the female donkey in the wild is oddly herself, independent. The male-female behavior I was seeing in the wild donkeys in what remains of their native territory was very much Jack and Jenny's relationship. In one scene, the announcer told it was two males fighting. It was a male and a female, doing like Jack and Jenny do, Jack biting down on Jenny's neck to subdue her. It was funny hearing that confrontation told as a stallion fight.   
African wild ass
 African wild ass
I was glad to see that about the female donkey. It explains that Jenny is acting out true female donkey behavior. She is charming and friendly, doesn't like being touched, but loves being talked to. She likes me to talk into her nostrils like they were her ears. She's smelling my breath in the puffs we humans make when we speak. She listens as intently with her nostrils as Jack listens with his ears. Jenny, of course, hears with her ears too, but she has a fascination with feeling and smelling the puffs of my breath as I speak this odd human language that fascinates her to listen to. She likes to rub her sensitive muzzle over my whiskers, just lightly feeling them. The other day in the coffee shop somebody asked if I kissed my donkeys. I said, Every day. Jenny likes for me to kiss her muzzle. I think somebody kissed her before she came here. Jenny is a proud woman. She's bigger than Jack and she keeps him reminded of it. Jack likes to stay close to her, yet he's always alert in case she suddenly might swing her rear end around and kick. I can see how somebody who does not know donkey behavior could think this was two males scrapping, jabbing, biting, kicking. This behavior I was thinking must be Jenny's unique personality. No. It was female African Wild Ass, donkey behavior. I'm more comfortable with it now. I see that when I carry the hay and they follow me, their ears are back, they grunt their donkey growl back and forth, saying, Don't get too close. Sometimes they act like they're about to start kicking. I've learned when one or both start dancing around me like they want to kick, I make my own grunting sound that says, Cut it out, and it works. They get it immediately when I speak in their language. They have quite an extensive vocabulary of sounds and gestures.  
That video made a difference in my understanding of Jenny. Before, I was looking for the donkey in her as if separate from her personality. Jen's personality is female donkey nature. Now I can see that when she makes her presence known, it's nothing but the donkey in her. She can take charge of me in a hurry. I don't struggle against her or hit her or scold her. I needed to learn not to get near her with the bowl of grain I thought I could walk past her carrying. She took charge of me with her head, pushing my resistance out of the way with her head that is heavy and controlled by big neck muscles. Jack doesn't do that to me. Before, I thought it was personality difference. It was gender difference. I like Jenny's independence. I don't mind her muscling me to get at the grain. I'm so fascinated by everything about donkeys that I'm not afraid of them anymore. I know when Jenny is getting jealous. This morning while I was putting down the hay, she started acting like she wanted me to get away from it, because it was hers. I walked away. I'm not looking to control them, except to keep them inside the fence. I want them to feel like they can communicate with me like they can another donkey, except I don't want to get kicked. Marsha tells me to be the Alpha donkey. I do and it works. I don't really want my role with them to be the big dog, but they don't think like I think, and they have already read my size, my vulnerability, my weight. Both Jack and Jenny know they could kill me if they took a notion to. But I'm not abusive. I bring them hay, carrots and grain. I talk to them, tell them every day I'm happy to have them here, individually.
I give them affection in tone of voice and eye contact. I tell them I regard them my friends and am happy to have them for my friends, happy to know them. Jenny doesn't like being touched, so I don't push her. I don't need to be putting my hands on her neck or face. Jack likes being touched a little bit, but prefers to be talked to with hands kept to myself. I'm ok with that. They're not wanting to rub my face or neck with one of their hooves. The need to touch is human. I like to honor that in them. I don't want to force them against their own nature to do tricks for me. Jack likes for me to rub his legs. Jenny won't have her legs touched. Jenny likes to get face to face, look into my eyes, and listen to me talk to her, inhaling my words, fascinated by this human that feeds her and treats her well. The humans she knew before, were good to her, talked to her, gave her consideration. It's like that with her here, too. She appreciates being treated well. She likes for me to keep my hands to myself. She will allow me to pet her if I feel the need, but she'd rather be left untouched. She does, however, like the tuft of thick hair on her brow gone through with my fingers. Sometimes, after we've communicated awhile, she will coax me to rub her chin and under her neck. Just for a little bit, not like she's a lap dog. Jack comes to see what is going on, his ears back, him snorting disapproval. She is to stay away from the human. Jack knew him first. Jenny backs away and Jack wants attention for himself. I don't struggle against their natures. They're acting out African Wild Ass and I can't change it, would not want to. I need to learn what it means to help me understand them.

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