jack and jenny
Bitter cold outside with enough wind to make the wind chimes ting. Both thermometers are dead, both stuck at 42. I took them down so I won't see them, tired of looking at 42. Sunday morning was out of hay. I wanted to wait until early morning to drive down into the low place the barn sits while the ground was frozen. The ground has been wet for several days after rain, snow and ice, I did not want to mire up and need a 4-wheel drive pickup and a chain to pull the car out of the mud hole. As I had feared, the cold only froze the surface of the mud, making it even worse to drive on. It gave me a little bit of crust, anyway. The day before, Saturday, was above freezing, and I did not dare drive into the mud pit without at least a little crust. I backed down into the hold, a trick in itself, as the driveway turns to the right backing down the slope at a big dead red oak tree. I don't want to cave in the right side of the car with the tree. If I continue in that curve too far, it will put me into the worst mud of all. I have to stay in a certain track to stay out of the mud I'd get stuck in for certain, going backward. Ride the brake to keep control. Back up to the barn door, take key around to open the trunk lid. I stepped inside the old barn, which, to me, is a hallowed spot. The trees were cut by old man Tom Pruitt in the late 1930s. He hauled the trees down the mountain on a horse-drawn wagon to John Richardson's sawmill at Whitehead operated by my friend Jr Maxwell, who then was in his late teens. Jr sawed the wood into boards Tom hauled back up the mountain to this site and built the barn the old-time way beginning with four corner posts set in the ground like fence posts. Tom used two layers of wood. First, he put the boards at a 45 degree angle, then a layer on top of them vertical. The barn is made of oak and chestnut, chestnut on the northern side. The barn has two floors. Originally, the upper floor was for storing hay and the ground floor a place to keep cattle. The old trough is still there. I've changed nothing in the barn. I store hay in the ground floor and leave the upper floor empty. The wood is old and colorful. People visiting the waterfalls help themselves to a board off the side of the barn from time to time.
It feels good to me inside the little barn, built by my friend Tom and the wood sawmilled by my friend Jr, both important souls in the second half of my life. I know the barn's history and how it was built. It is a basic rectangle, maybe ten by twenty feet, with a tin roof that slants from north to south. The wood by now is delicate and needs repair from time to time. It was empty until I put hay in there for the donkeys. Anything portable kept in there would be carried off by tourists who think they're in the boonies and everything is free. Nobody steals hay bales. Some do, but that's another situation. Only other people around here with cattle who ran out of hay would steal hay. It happens. This is a bad spot to steal from with the mud pits that get everybody who drives down in there to see how far they can go. They don't get far. Finally had to put a no trespassing sign up. A game warden told me nobody pays attention to a store-bought sign. A hand-painted sign scares the hell out of everybody. I put up a hand-painted sign and put a stop to the pilfering. I hated to cut off the trail to the waterfalls, but the Chamber of Commerce was advertising them as something wonderful to do in Alleghany County. The road in front of my house became a state park parking lot. Something turned up missing from time to time. I trained the cats to stay away from people they didn't know. "Mommy, what a pretty cat. It's so friendly. Nobody lives in that old house. Can we take it?" "Sure, honey, I don't see why not. If you promise to take care of feeding it and the litter box." "I will, mommy." I liked the idea of people getting to see the waterfalls, but when it got out of hand, I talked with some people who had beach-front property at Jacksonville. They told me to stop it now, because I won't be able to stop it later. The hand-painted sign took care of everything. It continues a few cars a weekend, which is not a bother. The people that visit the falls now are somewhat respectful. I emailed the Chamber some photos taken across the road of bears and coyotes. I used to advise people about the bears, but everybody thought they could handle a bear encounter. Whatever. I don't bother anymore.
Inside the barn, I counted the bales of hay I have left for the donkeys. Twenty-two. At a rate of about three a week, that's about seven weeks. That's close to the end of March. It's still winter. End of March is when we have surprise blizzards. Last year's hay from then on. I don't know what I'll do. They will not eat last year's hay. I use it to spread on the floor in their den every week. I'm told, "They get hungry enough, they'll eat it." And they probably will. May not have a choice. That's a bridge to cross when I get there, not today. I threw three of the bales out the door, then put them in the trunk with lid up. I encountered on the way out the very problem I had been wary of. The ground was a little too soggy to get some momentum going before the uphill grade on grass with ice mixed in with it. One little spot of gravel about half way up to help with traction. I made a run for it and made no progress up the hill. Had to back up and go again. Needed to back all the way to the barn to get some momentum going. Made it a little further next time. By this time, I've made some ruts in the mud to render it all the more difficult to wind up some momentum. Third time, almost. Fourth time, I said,"I'm coming out of here." Backed up to the barn and bore down on it in Dr-1, low gear. I knew I had to go through the mud like it's not there for the momentum necessary to make it all the way to the top. Got a good start, the spot of gravel half way up the incline came in for an assist when I needed it, smoked the left front tire a little bit. As long as I was creeping forward I gave it the gas. When forward momentum ends, it's over. It kept on creeping like an inch at a time, tires spinning, and finally caught on some gravel under the grass and pulled me the rest of the way. Another test in what I've learned living in these mountains the latter half of my life. I would not have backed down there without new tires on the front, nor without knowing the spot of ground as I do. The new tires made it possible. They brought me out of there.
jack and jenny
I learned first-hand why to stay out of there when the ground is wet. If it doesn't dry soon, I may have to ask Justin or Melvin for help in a pickup with four-wheel for next haul. I've found the limit of front-wheel drive. Rear wheel drive would not have had a chance coming out of there; it would have mired up in the mud. It felt good driving onto the pavement. Had to leave the pavement again to off-load the hay bales. The grass was covered with ice, though not a problem. I only had to drive forward on the uphill grade enough for the car to be off the road. I can back onto the road from there, which is easy on ice. You might say it was superficial ice; it was only on the grass, not on the ground below. OK to drive on, but not uphill. The donkeys wait at the fence, side by side, ears up. They know new hay. They like this hay. They watch me roll the bales down the hill, one after the other. It appears to me, anthropomorphizing, they want to play with the rolling hay bales the way a child likes to play with a rolling ball. I have thrown some over the fence in the past for them to roll down the hill in the meadow. The donkeys jump and play. Toys. They know it is their hay I keep it under the tarp. They watch me toss the tarp aside and place the hay bales on a platform of old pine branches put there to keep the hay off the damp ground. Hay in place, I unfastened the gate, picked up about a third of a bale, carried it out into the meadow, a place in the sun where donkeys can stay warm while they eat. I walk across the soggy, icy, muddy ground inside the gate where they keep the ground walked the most, around a spread of donkey biscuits, walking beside the donkey trail so Jenny, walking beside me, can walk in her trail. It is a joyous experience first thing in the morning after waking up to interact with donkey friends I've learned to love, and they love me.
I feel good, at-home good, the feeling that this is my place, the spot on earth I belong to, the spot on earth I have loved enough never to allow it to be used for anything commercial, like Christmas trees or pumpkins. I feel like this spot of ground, these few acres are mine to have dominion over. I've heard dominion defined as the right to kill, but I think that's a tyrant's perspective. I want my dominion to be in peace, like King Samuel, my favorite of the Hebrew kings. I love it about him that he retired himself so far into the desert the camels could not hold enough water for the journey. Samuel was out of reach. King Saul used the witch of Endor to get in touch with Samuel in a psychic way to ask him a question. It was an awkward moment for Saul who had been responsible for the purge of the psychic women. The witch of Endor lived so remotely she was one of few psychics left, and legitimately afraid for her life with him in her house. Samuel's belief about dominion was peace. The people grew weary of boring peace and wanted the drama of war. Samuel turned them over to a tyrant and left them to what they wanted. I want the ground I have dominion over to live and breathe. Before donkeys, I let the deer graze it. Donkeys bring the meadow to life in such a way it's become my yard. This morning we had a quarter inch of dry snow with enough wet to hold it in place. I spread the hay on the ground under the dogwood tree. The limbs were covered with snow almost like spray paint. The ground white and the dogwood with buds at the tips of twigs all in white, the underside of the branches like pencil lines, it was like a bouquet in the center of a table. It felt like a good place to let the donkeys graze for the day. It snowing, I did not want to give them more than they could eat in a day. Gave them enough for half the day. At two, the braying began. Jack bellowed a long bray and Jenny followed. She has found it. All she needs to do from here on is learn how to play it. She has a good bray; she plays alto to Jack's tenor. Donkeys had finished the morning hay. They were standing at the fence looking at me in the window. Jenny called to Ice Cream Man like Billy Idol's song, with a rebel yell, she wants more, more, more. Time to put on coat and hat and take them more. The snow had melted from all but the shaded places.
jenny and jack