There’s a Donkey at the Door

Saturday, February 5th, 2011

I don’t know why folks assume that all farmers arise before dawn; it may have something to do with the myth of roosters crowing at first light or the assumption that all farmers are hard-working, nose-to-the-grindstone kind of folk; or perhaps people simply like the comforting thought that SOMEONE is getting up early.  Roosters do crow at first light, sometimes.  They also crow at 3 am and noon and in the middle of the afternoon, making for interesting napping patterns.

Until last week a rooster lived right at my front door: Ramon, who came here from the animal shelter last year.  All attempts at integrating him with the “regular” chickens had failed regularly and completely and so ultimately I assigned him 3 nubile hens (born just last October), whom he mothered tenderly.  This gang preferred to perch on the fence to sleep, but if the weather was cold or wet, they’d nestle in a wooden box that I lined heavily with straw, right on my doorstep under the eaves.  This bunch snatched every opportunity to sneak in the house, inspecting the kitchen and living room, leaving ample sets of droppings, and settling in comfortably on the sofa until I rousted them with great swoops of my arms and fairly unequivocal shouts of “Out of here, out, out, now!”.  Ramon did enjoy a good crow now and again, but he wasn’t insistent about it and certainly not reliable as an alarm clock.  He was far more interested in welcoming cars coming up the driveway (and trying to sneak into them should an unsuspecting visitor leave a window or door open).  On more than one occasion I heard mild shrieks of alarm, “oh my God, there’s a chicken in the car!” when Ramon had settled into a vehicle for a good snooze.

Ramon was an insistent bird.  He was simply always there.  Jumping up onto the back deck to greet me with wing spread out he would do a little mating dance ritual every morning for me, making melodious cooing, chirping noises.   Admittedly, he was sexually a little confused (I caught him more than once making love to a garbage bag).  He pretty much took over the front steps and yard, standing his ground and not letting the dogs out the front door to pee.  And before I turned my office into temporary storage space, he’d perch on the windowsill (sometimes crowded by 3 little hens wanting to see what was going on inside), watching me work at the computer and talking to me.  He particularly liked crowing when he saw me on the phone with clients.

Then the other day they were simply gone. All of them:  Ramon, Ava, Raquel, and Zsa Zsa.  It was that day we had very warm spring-like weather.  Knowing what had happened with a sick kick in my stomach, I still looked and looked everywhere, only finding a small pile of his blessed feathers and evidence of a terrific struggle.

Grief is physical.  It’s completely different for every loss, and I think often we don’t even know how much someone meant to us until they are gone.  OK, I know a good share of you may be cooking a chicken stew right now and may not understand buckets of tears shed over a missing rooster.  “Good eats” – certainly what the hungry fox thought.  But there is no accounting for the human heart – nor, it would seem, the rooster heart.  For it’s clear to me now that in his own funny way Ramon really loved me.  He may have loved the treats of whole kernels of corn I doled out more than my actual person… but I’ll take what I can get.

The thing is, we get used to things. We make assumptions.  We’d go insane if we didn’t have some assumptions we could hold onto: the sun will come up every day; we’ll have disgustingly hot humid weather assault us in just a few months now; there is a Starbucks selling overpriced coffee in every neighborhood.  We need that stability.  But a lot of assumptions that urban and suburban people in industrialized countries make don’t – can’t – apply on the farm.  Things like: when you wake up in the morning there will be hot water and electricity.  The car will start.  There won’t be an irate call from the neighbor about horned steers tearing up their front lawn.  So we make do with the little things, like: a funny, friendly rooster will be at the door knocking to come inside.

Last night it was snowing.  Earlier in the day the Saturday volunteers had scrubbed the barn and filled it with fragrant pine shavings and straw, and the heat lamps made everything cozy and warm.  The animals were enjoying the shelter and munching on hay.   Satisfied with my evening chores, I headed back to the house and not a minute later I heard a clatter on the back porch.  Thinking it was some dog or other wanting to muddy up the house again, I opened the door a crack and found, instead, Dee Dee donkey at my back door.  She had clambered up onto the deck.  Wearing her little blanket, little crystals of snow speckling her mane, she stood there expectantly.  She has never done this before.  She’s a loving and sensitive donkey, but she’d never coming knocking before. Confused, I talked with her and petted her and both cold (I couldn’t exactly invite her in, though admittedly the thought DID occur to me) and, almost embarrassed about the special visit, I gave her several peppermints which seemed to settle the matter.  I know I felt better.

I’m frankly not all that good about metaphysical stuff.  I know some people are comforted by beliefs, sensations of energy, stories of the rainbow bridge.  I’m more literal about things: I like the physical presence of my animals.  But the truth is that time consumes us all.  Dee Dee donkey is approaching 40 years old.  Louie the horse is 30, and Mr. Newman Goat, who came here as a young whippersnapper buck, is over 10 years old.  And I’m no spring chicken, myself.  Stupidly, I still take for granted that every morning I’ll go out and everyone will be standing up.  Shoot, I take for granted that I will be able to stand up every day.  But perhaps a little more mindfulness is in order – for all of us.  Remember, at a moment’s notice, a fox can take it all away.

Till next time,

Farmer Anne

Star Gazing Farm 501(c)3

A haven for retired farm animals and wayward goats

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