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Tuesday, November 11, 2014


jenny and jack

The night of the full moon Jenny would not let me shovel dirt onto her baby. Sometime in the night she dragged her baby out of the hole and about half way to the place of birthing. I discovered her night activity in the morning. She would not let me near the body. She grazed around it, sometimes nudged it to make it move, and would lie on her side, holding her head up like a horse's head on the Parthenon in Athens. It appears a warrior kind of stance she makes with her head up and alert, her mane spiked out like punk donkey. She is ready to take on anything that comes after her baby. She knows the wild animals around here. She looks like she is ready to take on a bear or a mountain lion. Unafraid. Jenny has a powerful boldness in her nature. The full moon night I walked to the grave to shovel dirt, Jenny followed me close behind, her nose almost touching my back. I have no fear of Jenny, though I do know she can push me in the back with her nose hard enough to knock me down. It would be a gesture to get my attention. She moved around in front, between me and the grave. Jack was walking beside me on my right. Jenny spun around quick as a cat. Jack and I both jumped back by automatic reflex. When Jenny swings her rear end around on you, it's time to scatter. She has power in those back legs. Jack knows all about it. I've seen Jenny hit Jack in the ribs, both feet with all she had, and Jack took it like a tree. He didn't show he even felt it. If she'd hit me like she got Jack, I'd have flown at least ten feet through the air like in a cartoon. Jenny is gentle with me such that I don't believe she would kick me with intent, unless I attempted to shovel dirt onto her baby. Swinging her ass-end to me was a warning. We communicate now that I have learned to read their body language, which is their language. I know she would have kicked me if I'd moved toward the grave. It must have made her laugh to see Jack and me jump at the same time. 

donkey jen

It has been a year that Jenny has lived here with Jack. Their first anniversary was spent in sorrow. This experience has shown me the degree of my connection with the donkeys, as people I know, as friends. Jack had lived here two months before Jenny showed up one evening. Jack and I bonded over those eight weeks. We came to know each other. The day he played a trick on me and laughed, I felt we really communicated. He ran at me full-gallop from about fifty feet away, his eyes bearing down on me. Delight glistened in his eyes. I thought: he won't knock me down, but I don't know. Concluded: he either will or he won't. If he does, I'll get up. I believe he will not. I stood still watching him run full-tilt in a straight line. He stopped quick as a polo pony, from running to motionless, his nose two inches from my belly. He gave me a glance with his eye that said, I thought you'd jump. He wanted to make me jump. This is a favorite game I've seen among all the animals I've known. Kittens like to make each other jump. Making somebody jump is the apex of slapstick animal humor. In our early childhood making somebody jump is hilarious. It's funny to be made to jump. Jenny wasn't playing when she spun around on Jack and me, but I know it gave her a laugh to see us jump like we did. I've learned from the animals I've known they have a sense of humor. They must think we humans are without humor. One wants to play and the human only scolds. One of the things animals love about human children is they like to play. We adults talk to them like they can't understand anything. I find them aching to be understood by humans. They're ready to communicate. All they need is for us to pay attention. 

beautiful jen

I can see it in Jenny and Jack that it makes them happy I communicate with them. The day after she lost her baby, I was giving them carrot chunks. While Jenny was chewing I talked to her. I told her I love her, as I do every day. I said to her, "You're my friend," and she fluttered her lips in a particularly equine way. Jack flutters his lips like this when I tell him he is my friend. All the dogs and cats I've known living here have responded to the word friend in a way that shows they know its meaning. I've learned that I can talk to the donkeys in sentences and paragraphs, and they will show me later they understood everything. I spoke my sorrow to Jenny in her mourning, aware that she knew my meaning. She understood. As much as it hurts and as much as I wish it hadn't happened, I like that this experience brought me into their circle. They like it that I share their feeling with them, that I understood Jenny's sorrow, and Jack's. I see the sorrow in Jenny's eyes. They don't seem to show much, yet I see her eyes every day, several times a day. In the first six months of her pregnancy, plus the new space to live in, fenced in with a serial rapist, Jenny's moods were different every day. Carrot time in the mornings, I read Jenny's eyes to see if I needed to be careful with my fingers. Her eyes flashed in those months. Jack moved within kicking range, she'd nail him. I stayed out of the meadow in Jenny's first three months. The months after, I was wary of her. My wariness has gone. I learned the day I stepped between her and Jack when they were beginning a kick-fest, something like stepping into a donkey mosh pit, Jenny would not kick me. She kicked one leg at Jack as I stepped into the scene. Her hoof connected with the side of my upper leg. I did not feel a thing. She withdrew the power from the punch when she saw what she'd done. It barely touched the outer skin of my pants. Not even a touch. She showed a moment of contrition letting her foot down. I told her it was all right, thanked her for not kicking me. 

jenny jenny jenny

This moment taught me she would never kick me with intent, unless I might provoke her. Jenny is not one to provoke. In Jack's humble nature I see how a donkey makes a good beast of burden, so willing to help a human, valuing friendship with a human. Donkeys have good minds. In Jenny's nature, I understand the statistic I heard on NPR not many years ago, around the globe more people are killed by donkeys per year than die in plane crashes. Jenny and Jack are like yin-yang of donkey nature. Since Jenny fell in love with Jack after living with him six months, she gave Alpha role to Jack and became a quiet, humble donkey, to a point. Her eyes have have had a stillness in them the last several months. I am able to see the sorrow in Jenny's eyes since she lost her baby. I call her Beautiful Jen when talking to her. Today, the third day, she allowed me to drag her baby to the grave and cover it with dirt. I covered the body with a flannel sheet the second day. Jenny removed the sheet in the night. She seemed less interested today. I busied myself in the meadow filling up two five-gallon buckets with droppings for a rhododendron. I put down some sweet grain for Jenny and some for Jack, two donkey lengths between servings. Her ears go back when she's eating grain, meaning everybody stay back. I rolled the baby onto the sheet, dragged it to the grave and lowered it, wrapped it in the sheet and shoveled the dirt into the hole fast as I could go. Jenny saw what I was doing and allowed it. At sunset I looked into the meadow for Jenny. She was lying on her side, head up in guardian mode, next to the spot the baby had been. I've an idea she will be partial to that spot for some time, maybe years.  

donkey jack

jack a-lookin atcha



  1. Such a sad, poignant story but, mostly, one about the wonderful connection you have developed with your two friends up on the mountain. Sending you condolences on your loss and hopes that a baby will come into the picture along the way, when the time is right.

  2. I love your pictures TJ and your documenting of this grief and loss in your life. Hugs, C