Theoretically, the old donkey Mandrin belonged to my former neighbor Béatrice, the ex-wife of Bob. But Beatrice was more interested in horses than in this aging donkey… which she had received from a lady who loved the animal, but could no longer care for him. So, Mandrin was often left to his own resources, and he spent his time wandering around on the crest up above my house, on the edge of Moshé's paddock. In the beginning, I was reluctant to invite Mandrin into the same paddock as Moshé, because I imagined that the two males might fight with one another. On the contrary, from the moment they found themselves together in the same paddock, the two donkeys got along perfectly well together.
Based upon the Drôme locality in which the two donkeys were born, the lady who had reared Mandrin reckoned that he might even be Moshé's father.
Recently, I noticed that Mandrin was weakening, and I feared that he might be approaching the end of his life. The day before yesterday, while working in the garden, I was alarmed to see Moshé racing madly across the paddock and braying fearfully. A moment later, I discovered Mandrin's dead body in the shed, in a position suggesting that he had simply toppled over and died, with no signs of agitation. In the case of a farmyard animal, it's often difficult to determine the precise cause of death. I imagined immediately that Mandrin might have succombed to the present heat wave. While the high temperatures might have played a role, I believe that Mandrin simply died of old age… although I've never known his exact year of birth.
From that moment on, I was faced immediately with two problems: getting rid of Mandrin's dead body, and taking care of Moshé (suddenly deprived of his constant companion). Solving the first problem involved the rapid creation of a path behind the house, so that a tractor could access the donkey shed on the far edge of my property. Having been informed that the width of my neighbor's tractor is 2.1 meters, I started out by attacking the embankment behind the house with a pick and a hoe to widen the narrow pathway.
Then I used my powerful grinder and my chain saw to demolish rapidly my decrepit hen house, which happened to be located (through an error in judgment, which I made many years ago) right in the middle of the path from my house to the donkey shed. Incidentally, Christine will surely be happy to learn that the obligatory demolition of this Gamone eyesore has followed in the wake of the death of Mandrin.
My friendly and efficient neighbor Gérard Magnat succeeded in extracting rapidly the donkey's body, and dragging it down the road below my house. In the heat of the action (that's a literal description of our collaboration yesterday morning), I told Gérard that I would call in on him in the next day or so, to pay him for his efforts. Gérard: "William, you don't owe me a cent. This operation has not entailed work for which I might expect to be paid. It was simply a neighbor-to-neighbor service." I sensed with gratitude and respect the profound meaning of Gérard's words. The sentiments he expressed were surely a precious manifestation of the moral and social heritage of countless generations of Alpine farmers. As of tomorrow, I shall think up some kind of elementary gesture aimed at thanking him.
Afterwards, I set to work covering the donkey's body with quicklime, thick layers of straw and a plastic tarpaulin. Because of the Bastille Day holiday, the service that removes dead animals won't be turning up here before tomorrow.
While I'm saddened immensely by the departure of the old donkey Mandrin, I like to think that Moshé and I welcomed him here, at Gamone, for the final few years of his existence, which were surely spent in the donkey equivalent of peace and contentment.