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Thursday, January 8, 2015


el capitan yosemite

The temperature dropped below zero last night. It was the most benign zero I've experienced. Absence of wind was the key. Didn't even need an extra blanket in the night. In the morning I looked out the window at the rhododendron leaves. They were hanging down rolled up tight as pencils. This means zero. I've learned to read the cold by the rhododendron leaves. At 32 they curl up like cigars. When the temperature moves toward zero they curl up even tighter. I looked out another window at the outdoor thermometer. It read 40. It's been there for several days leading me to believe it was 40 all the time. It is now midday, the old thermometer still reads 40 and the one I put outside this morning is reading 26. My friends, Lucas and Judy Carpenter, are visiting now at their mountain retreat across the road and into the woods. It's always good to  have them here, this time especially. Lucas had never experienced zero or below. Three times he went out last night to read the thermometer, before, during and after the movie, without coat and shoes. Judy said, "Your feet are going to freeze." I felt like he was going into the cold unwrapped for the experience, to feel it. He returned without frostbite. It was so cold that when I parked the car and stepped out, I took off one glove and the hand froze instantly. I think of Himalayan climbers returning to base camp with toes, fingers and nose frozen off from frostbite. I think of Reinhold Messner, who climbed all the 8,000 meter mountains solo. Almost all his toes are gone from frostbite. He is so devoid of fat molecules, his body amounts to bones and muscles, not show muscles, but functional muscles. He does chin-ups with his fingertips. At this moment, two climbers in California are scaling the sheer rock cliff, El Capitan Yosemite, with their fingertips. It's a few days journey from bottom to top. Pictures appear online of them pulling themselves up with two or three fingertips. I can only feel awe. The best I can do with fingertips is type. Typing four to six hours a day, my fingers have some strength, mostly the endurance of long-distance runners. It's a different kind of strength.

climbing el capitan yosemite 

German director, Werner Herzog, made a short film of Reinhold Messner talking about his life of climbing. The video has three short films, Dark Glow/Little Soldier/Precautions. Dark Glow is the film featuring Messner. I went into netflix to look for the film's title. Scrolling down through several pages of Herzog films, I've seen nearly all of them. He's made many, every one a good film. Herzog is perhaps best known in America for his film Grizzly Man, the stoner surfer who lived summers in Alaska among the Kodiak bears with tent and cameras. Much of the film is his own footage, extraordinarily beautiful video of the bears in their everyday lives. One of Herzog's films I could not watch, The Enigma of Kaspar Hauser. If I recall correctly, and I don't, he was a child raised by wolves, found and brought into civilization. I could not watch it for the same reason I could not watch a French film, Balthazar, the story of a donkey's life from birth on, going from one owner to another, a beast of burden. I couldn't stand it. I thought I might learn something about donkey nature, but could not tolerate knowing a donkey has a brilliant mind. Seeing it taken for conscious as a post, something to hit and yell at was too hard for me to endure. I already knew donkeys are humble by nature, the reason they're used unto death as the original pickup trucks. I love my donkeys so much, what I saw of the film made me want all the more consciously to give them a good life, being appreciated for who they are, their consciousness. Several years ago, early 1980s, I bought a book of Messner's accounts of the 8,000 meter mountains he'd climbed. I enjoyed the Herzog film for a look into the man, Reinhold Messner. I feel awe of someone who can climb any of those mountains solo and without oxygen. I have the same kind of respect for Messner the mountain climber as for Werner Herzog the filmmaker of consistently beautiful films.

reinhold messner on top of the world

I took a break to bring hay to the donkeys. The hay I gave them this morning was the last of this year's hay up here at the feeding station. Cold as it is, it's a good day to back up to the barn and throw three bales in the trunk to bring here to the feeding station, offload the bales, stack them and spread the tarp over them. Twenty-six degrees. I started dressing up for the Arctic, calmed myself down saying, You can take it. You know where you are. This is merely a winter day. Sometimes I tell myself I'm in Finland and this is a summer day. Both donkeys were waiting with heads over the fence for me to toss some some hay over, smells so good. They like to watch me roll the bales down the hill. First time, it startled them. Now, they stand at the fence to watch. Both perked up smelling the hay. I want them to have as much hay as they'll eat today, help them to keep warm through the night. It's the right day to drive to the barn, just across the road, as the ground down in the bottom at the barn is always damp. It is frozen today. The ground has been so wet I've been waiting for this cold wave to freeze it. It's a short, steep uphill run to road level. Lose traction and I have to back down to the beginning and start again. The driveway is grass. A small patch of exposed gravel about half way up the incline I use to give the right front tire's traction a grip. The first moment a tire starts to spin, forward momentum is over. I've done it so many times I have the knack, which amounts to, don't lose traction. The only part that bothers me is getting bogged down in mud in the bottom. The donkeys will not eat the leftover of last year's hay. I use it to spread on the floor of their shed for a bit of insulation. Also, they've taken to using the shed for a toilet. I was concerned about cleaning it out, a hell of a job, until last week, talking with Melvin about the donkeys, how odd it is they're using their shed for a toilet. He said they do it for warmth at night, it's warm, insulation. He said, "They don't do it in the summer, do they?" No, they don't. Concern evaporated. I spread a thin layer of last year's hay over the mess every few days. I think about keeping them clean. They don't care. It's not a mess to them. It is their own scent and, perhaps, each likes to wear the other's scent as well as their own. The hay adds a little, maybe, to the insulation. 

fresh hay for donkeys

I have no blame for them refusing to eat last year's hay. Mold and musty scent rises in a small white cloud when I break a bale open. Jack will sometimes nibble it and Jenny doesn't even like to smell it. Everyone I know who knows equines tell me, "They'll eat it. They get hungry enough, they'll eat it." I don't want  my donkeys to get hungry enough they have to eat something they don't like. It would be like giving me liver every meal. He'll eat it when he gets hungry enough. The donkeys are my friends. At a Thanksgiving gathering, I was asked by someone well-meaning about my stock. I said, "They're not stock. They're pets." I said it not to correct her, but to note my relationship with the donkeys is subjective, not objective. I've seen a character difference between Justin and me regarding the donkeys, and there are many; we're two different people, two different bundles of particular experiences. He wants to handle the donkeys with force, tells me I need to hit them. For me, force is the "bigger hammer" option. When I treat them right, pay attention, aware they are conscious, they treat me right. A few days ago, carrying hay out into the meadow for them, I put some down for Jenny, then picked some up to take someplace else for Jack. I thought I'd test Jenny. I walked around behind her so close I knew it would make her nervous, just a few inches away, enough not to touch her. She automatically raised her left rear hoof and let it back down. Her gesture told me what I wanted to know. She trusts me. I anticipated the automatic reflex and did not believe she'd kick. It answers my question of how close we are now. I've only been kind and gentle with Jenny. Since we mourned her baby together, we have a bond. At carrot time in the morning, I tell her I love her, I'm happy she's here with me and not somebody else, happy she's Jack's baby doll. She tilts her head back and forth listening like a dog will do. The donkeys are such individual personalities, as different as two people, I'm inspired to love them all the more.     

jenny munches new hay



1 comment:

  1. Jenny looks so cute and warm in her fuzzy winter coat!