Wednesday, October 27, 2010

Donkey expedition day

In my article of 2 August 2010 entitled Moshé's future companion [display], I spoke of my intention to acquire a young donkey named Fanette, as soon as she was old enough to be weaned from her mother.

Last Monday was donkey expedition day. Sylvie in Presles (the girl who was responsible for finding me my dog Fitzroy) had agreed by telephone, a fortnight ago, to drive down to Gamone to pick me up at 9.30 so that I could accompany her in the operation of bringing the donkey Fanette down here, along with Fanette's mother Nina and another adult female donkey named Margot. (Sylvie's irregular working hours at the hospital in St Marcellin mean that she has to plan ahead precisely for "leisure-time" activities such as this.)

When I crawled out of bed in the semidarkness, I sensed that this was the first really wintry day of the cold season. I could see snow on the slopes at the end of the valley (my regular "barometer" for approaching winter conditions at Gamone), and a mild blizzard was blowing gusts of freezing rain through the air at Gamone. My first reaction was that this was not a day for creatures such as me to be wandering around out in the open on the mountain slopes. I wondered whether Sylvie might phone to suggest that we should postpone our expedition for a nicer day. But I nevertheless went ahead dressing in warm clothes, because I realized that a young rural woman who has grown up on a farm in the mountains is unlikely to be impressed by a bit of sleet and wind. When Sylvie arrived at exactly 9.30, the first thing I noticed was that her small Renault car carried traces of a layer of snow. And the first thing that she noticed here was the fine kennel I had built for Fitzroy. She was also struck by the fact that Fitzroy's snout had grown amazingly in a Pinocchio fashion since the last time she had seen him (at the start of September). I left Sophia in the kitchen, while Fitzroy remained outside, as usual.

The road up to Presles was bathed in fog. The snow started as soon as we reached the plateau. Sylvie had been sufficiently forward-thinking to install snow tires on her car a few days ago, so she had no trouble in driving to the place where her three donkeys were located. She left the vehicle by the roadside and we trudged through a wind-swept field to the donkeys' paddock. There, I waited in the blizzard while Sylvie disappeared into the mist with a bag of apples and stale bread, calling out to her animals: "Margot, Nina, Fanette…" Fortunately, I was decked out in my long R M Williams oilskin coat (seen here drying).

I was also wearing a woollen bonnet with waterproof lining, rubber boots and leather gloves. It took Sylvie some twenty minutes to locate the three donkeys and lead them back to the wire gate of the enclosure. Then we set out walking in the direction of Choranche. We were particularly worried that the donkeys might refuse to enter the short tunnel on the cliff face, just a hundred meters down the road from the plateau of Presles. In fact, there was so much fog that the donkeys didn't even realize that they were entering a tunnel. So, an hour later, we were down at Gamone.

The three female donkeys moved calmly into Moshé's paddock. Since then, their coexistence with Moshé has been perfectly peaceful.

One of these days (there's no hurry), Sylvie will take her two adult females back to Presles. Between now and then, if all goes well, Moshé and Fanette will have become accustomed to one another.

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