Showing posts with label donkeys. Show all posts
Showing posts with label donkeys. Show all posts

Monday, August 2, 2010

Moshé's future companion

My donkey Moshé has been upset (disoriented ) by the recent disappearance of his old companion Mandrin.

It's a well-known fact that donkeys don't like to lead a solitary existence, so I immediately started looking around for an animal to keep him company. As of today, I'm happy to have found an ideal solution: a baby female donkey named Fanette who'll be available (that is, weaned) by the middle of October. This afternoon, Fanette's breeder, a young woman from Presles named Sylvie Rozand, introduced me to the beautiful little donkey.

In October, to get Fanette down to Gamone, Sylvie and I plan to walk down the slopes from Presles to Choranche. The road starts with a short but difficult section comprising a tunnel. Normally, donkeys refuse to enter tunnels, just as they refuse to cross streams. Sylvie has done this journey already. She tells me that Margot can be coaxed into entering this tunnel, while Nina and her daughter can be roped up behind and led along by Margot.

Fanette's father is a Provençal donkey owned by my Châtelus neighbor Jean-Marie Huillier (in fact, Sylvie's cousin), whose farm is located just across the Bourne from Gamone. By chance, I've been saying hello to this male donkey for ages, every time I drive across to Châtelus.

After leaving the donkeys, Sylvie invited me for a drink with her parents, in front of their old farmhouse in the village of Presles. My daughter Manya and I have known this couple for ages.

They're natives of Presles and traditional farmers, members of a race that has almost disappeared. Sylvie's companion happens to be a Welshman named William, whom I've not yet met. He's a professional shepherd, stationed for the moment in an Alpine context with a huge flock of sheep. In French, the operation that consists of a shepherd and his dogs leading their flock up to high-altitude pastures for the summer months is referred to as alpage. Then they all come down again to the valley as soon as the first snow appears.

This afternoon, I received an open invitation from William and Sylvie to drive up to spend a couple of days in their Alpine cabin, some three hours away from here by car. I hope I'll be able to accept this invitation, along with my dog Sophia. If so, a surprise awaits us. We'll be returning to Gamone with another companion, for Sophia: a pure-bred Border Collie pup.

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.

Tuesday, May 11, 2010

Nice key ring, noble NGO

I've always liked this key ring, which was given to me by my daughter Emmanuelle soon after I moved into Gamone and invited the young donkey Moshé (born in a neighboring valley) to join me.

At that time, this key ring was associated with a French-based NGO [nongovernmental organization]: Veterinaries without borders.

Recently, a reference to agronomists has been inserted into the NGO's title. [Click the banner to visit their French-language website.] Their noble goal consists of using agronomic and veterinary know-how in the planetary combat against hunger.

The donkey is an excellent symbol for the quest for durable solutions… if only because the beast itself might be thought of as a kind of living "durable solution" that has come down to us intact from African prehistory. Admittedly, here at Gamone, my two donkeys happen to be living in an exceptional environment, where there's always something to eat… even in winter, when there's half a meter of snow on the slopes. For their ancestors in parched lands, life was surely much harsher.

Monday, February 22, 2010

Donkey dinner

When I found a few apples lying in the grass, preserved by the snow, I cut them up and put them on top of the donkeys' daily dose of oats.

I was a little surprised to find that the animals promptly pushed aside the apple fragments so that they could get stuck into the oats.

I had always imagined that the donkeys are immensely fond of apples. Well, they are, I'm sure... but it seems that they're fonder still of oats.

Five minutes later, when I returned to pick up the dishes, both the oats and the apples had disappeared. Maybe it's like children having a meal in such-and-such a celebrated junk-food restaurant. I would imagine that, spontaneously, a normal kid would tackle the hamburger and French fries first, and then move on to the sundae.

The donkeys were standing still at the same spot, above the empty dishes, digesting their dinner.

Judging from the respective positions of their ears, old gray-faced Mandrin is waiting for me to say something (or maybe he's intrigued by the buzz of my Nikon adjusting its focus), whereas young beige-faced Moshé is more interested in keeping an auditive "outlook" on what might be happening behind him: in particular, the presence of Sophia... who learned long ago that it's not wise for a dog to spend too much time behind the powerful rear legs of a donkey.