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

Sunday, December 26, 2010

Winter guests at Gamone

Since Xmas eve, my donkeys are sharing their paddock and their hay with William's two horses. If ever there were any antagonism between the animals, I had planned to put the horses in an independent paddock, with their own hay. But everything seems to be going smoothly. And why not? The donkeys and the horses are like the Denisovans and the Melanesians. They appreciate company.

Thursday, December 2, 2010

First snow for Gamone newcomers

I've had an outage of the Internet and my house telephone for the last couple of days. Funnily, I don't think this breakdown had anything to do with the violent winter weather that hit us at the same time. It's more likely due to a mishap brought about by the armada of earth-moving engines that are working nonstop, down on the road below Gamone, installing a new sewage system for the entire district. These huge renovations (which will prevent us from driving through the main street of Pont-en-Royans for another month) don't concern me personally, because my house was renovated according to the new sanitation legislation in vigor in 1993, and I have an excellent ecological system of sewage disposal—inspected annually by the competent authorities— installed underground on the slopes below my house.

Meanwhile, Fitzroy has had his first in-depth contact with snow… and he loves it.

That's to say, he sees it as a marvelous soft support for his never-ending jousts with Sophia.

The little donkey Fanette has also experienced, for the first time, the slight discomfort brought about by the disappearance of the greenery (grass and weeds) under a 25cm-thick blanket of snow.

I prefer to speak of "slight discomfort" rather than of hunger, because the two donkeys are obscenely fat, after dining regularly on apples and walnuts over the last month or so.

As for the mésanges (wild birds, known in English as tits, which spend the winter months at Gamone), they've been happy to discover a big stock of sunflower seeds in the bird-house, and they swarm around it as a throng of a couple of dozen tiny black-and-gold creatures.

As of this morning, the sun is shining, the snow is melting, the road has been cleared by Frédéric Bourne in his tractor equipped with a giant steel blade… and my Internet is up and running. All is well at Gamone.

Monday, November 8, 2010

Gamone evolution

My article of October 27, 2019 entitled Donkey expedition day [display] described the long walk of Sylvie Rozand and me, leading three donkeys, from Presles to Gamone. Yesterday afternoon, Sylvie returned here, with a friend from Presles, to retrieve her two adult donkeys Nina and Margot. The operation went off with no problems whatsoever. We had nevertheless had certain apprehensions: How would Fanette react to the sight of her mother Nina being led away? How would Nina feel about leaving her 6-months-old daughter behind? Would Sylvie run into problems in trying to coax her two donkeys through the road tunnel up towards the plateau at Presles? Back here at Gamone, how would my Moshé and his new friend Fanette get along together on their own?

As of yesterday evening, I was delighted to realize that not a single one of those problems had arisen. In other words, everything went off like a charm. Fanette didn't appear to be concerned by the departure of her mother and the other adult donkey. When she returned to Gamone late in the afternoon to pick up her car, Sylvie told me that Nina and Margot had strolled eagerly back up to Presles, and that they didn't seem to be bothered by the idea that little Fanette had remained with Moshé at Gamone. This morning, I took this photo of the donkeys and Fitzroy:

As usual, my two dogs get on marvelously well together. Their relationship remains asymmetrical. As I've pointed out already, Sophia spends most of her time lounging in her big wicker basket on the kitchen floor, whereas Fitzroy is a strictly outside dog, now completely accustomed to the idea of getting into his kennel from time to time.

Preventing Fitzroy from moving inside the house is not even a personal choice of mine. It's rather a survival issue, in the sense that many objects inside the house (furniture, books, clothes, tools, etc) probably wouldn't survive for long if Fitzroy were to get in physical contact with them. Fitzroy's genes are such that he likes to be bossy with recalcitrant beasts such as cattle, sheep and donkeys. So, why would he be unduly worried about tackling a lounge chair, say? Out on the lawn, Fitzroy is fascinated by a permanently running hose from the Gamone spring. He drags it all over the lawn, meaning that puddles spring up every now and again in unexpected corners. He has trouble understanding why he can't simply pick up the water jet in his mouth, as if it were a stick, and dash around with it clenched between his teeth. In attempting to fathom this philosophical mystery, Fitzroy often gets soaked… and he then moves onto the straw in his kennel to dry himself out.

The other evening, on French TV, I watched a fascinating US program on the subject of our prehistoric ancestors. Directed by Graham Townsley, its English title is Becoming Human, and it was made last year. The fact that such a show can be seen in prime time on a Saturday evening (dubbed in French) is yet another tribute to the excellence of French TV. Here's the opening episode:



Well, one of the recurrent themes in this series of documentaries was well expressed in the latest book by Richard Dawkins, The Greatest Show on Earth. Here are his words:

We've been land animals for about 400 million years, and we've walked on our hind legs for only the last 1 per cent of that time. For 99 per cent of our time on land, we've had a more-or-less horizontal backbone and walked on four legs. We don't know for certain what selective advantages accrued to the individuals who first rose up and walked on their hind legs…

Not so long ago, people used to explain that bipedalism came about because we needed to get up on our hind legs so that we could use our hands for carrying things… but that's surely a case of putting the cart before the horse. We still don't know the complete answer to that question, although both Dawkins (in The Ancestor's Tale) and the Townsley documentaries propose various speculations on this subject. Getting back to my dog Fitzroy, I often have the impression that he might already be working hard, with the help of his mentor Sophia, at evolving into bipedalism.

In this tandem position, when Sophia decides to move forward, Fitzroy is perfectly capable of following her on his hind legs, like a ballet artist. I'm convinced that, soon, he won't need to lean on Sophia's back any longer. He'll simply raise his front paws in the air, as if he were praising the Almighty for the gift of bipedalism, and he'll wander off in an easy upright gait. Maybe I should get in contact with Dawkins and Townsley, to see if they're interested in writing a book or making a movie about Fitzroy. In fact, I suspected, right from the start, that Fitzroy (who'll be 4 months old next Wednesday) was a wonder dog. Maybe I should look into the idea of teaching him to read...

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.

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.