Wednesday, July 14, 2010

Mandrin no longer with us

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.


  1. I'm very touched by this story. I hope that Mandrin didn't suffer too much. I also think that you will find very quickly a solution in order to find a compagnon for Moshé - animals are attached to each other and they also suffer when one of their "friends" dies.

    I don't know very much about donkeys or horses, but it seems that even rabbits could keep them company. But be carefull with rabbits - once you got two... But it is not an Australian I will teach anything about rabbits.

    Sorry to make jokes with a very sad subject, but I'm very disturbed when an animal I lived with for ages dies.

    Of course, life has a beginning and and end.

    As far as I'm concerned,the loss of an animal itself is quite difficult to deal with. But it also awakens the death of other people I loved. It also reminds me about the fact that 10, 12, 16 years of my life have passed and I didn't even notice it...

  2. Thank you, William, for this story of the passage of life and also Corina for her thoughts on it.

    I'm glad it's summer, far better than in the snow and cold of winter. And good that you didn't have to make any decision to assist his departure, which would have been necessary had Mandrin been suffering for days.

    Two of our horses had a very different response to the death of their friend, Charlie, who died in the open paddock. They stood, one each side, heads down. My brother, seeing this from a distance, reported that Charlie "Didn't look very well." He was, in fact, dead. I'm sure it was old age.

    Hope Moshé doesn't miss him too much.

  3. Thanks, Corina and Annie, for your remarks. Over the last two days, I've been closely following the behavior of Moshé, which indicates that he has been affected by the sudden absence of his old companion. I'll have more to say on this subject when I understand a little better what might be happening in Moshé's head.

  4. Corina:

    I believe that our friend Mandrin died without any suffering whatsoever. As I said, I found his dead body in a position suggesting that he had simply simply toppled over… from life into death. The thing I loved about that old donkey was the manner in which he slowly accepted my presence. In the beginning, I was a total stranger, and my presence frightened Mandrin. But, observing that his young companion Moshé did not fear me (on the contrary), Mandrin opened up. I was able to caress him, just like Moshé. But I always had the impression that the head of dear old Mandrin was full of memories of less happier times, of which I knew nothing, of times when a donkey such as Mandrin had to beware of human associates.

    As you say, the departure of an animal friend reminds us that we humans are not eternal (who might ever imagined such a thing ?) and that we are not necessarily making world-shattering achievements. Concerning the latter observation, we are in fact reinventing the universe every time we deplore with poetry the departure of a friend. The "with poetry" is important. That's where the light gets in. That's what makes us human, not just keepers of the beasts of Eden.

    When you say that "10, 12, 16 years of my life have passed and I didn't even notice it", you must remember that we, your friends, have never failed to notice who you are, at every moment in time-space. And we appreciate constantly this knowledge of Corina. Nothing is lost.

  5. Inoticed!

    And I think it was Le Marquis de Montaigne who observed "Man is truly mad: he cannot make a worm, but he creates gods by the dozen."

  6. Paul: I appreciate greatly your observations. I'm certainly not surprised to see that you've "noticed"… That quote of Montaigne is splendid.

  7. Thanks William, for the kind words.

    Of course I often have HTML problems and should have written " I noticed."

    As for losing a pet, I recall a little cat I once had - "Algernon" who had a kidney disease and sadly had to be destroyed. I recall the vet saying after he gave Algernon the injection, "Would you like to stay with him?" I couldn't, I was too upset.