Sunday, January 21, 2007

Wherein Our Asses Are In Deep Water

Last weekend, the local news was breathlessly preparing for "The Big Chill: Ice Storm 2007 (dunh dunh DUNH!)". The temperature had started to drop and the rain had been coming down in sheets that morning. Normally we let the horses and donkeys handle weather in their own way -- we have barns for them, but they usually prefer sheltering out in the forest at the back of the property. "The Big Chill" (which, by the way, should win for Worst Weather Slogan ever), however, was a storm of a different stripe, so Annie and I set out around 4 on Saturday afternoon during a break in the rain to lead the donkeys into their barn.

We found them just over the usually dry creek bed, trying to make their way towards the house. The temperature had dropped to just above freezing and the water surging through the ravine was plenty cold. You know what to say when you're calling a cat -- "Heeeeere kitty kitty kitty!", and if you want a dog to come you can just shout "COME!" and use the dog's name.

With donkeys, not so much.

They're stubborn enough to flip you the bird if you try calling them by name, and "Heeeeere donkey donkey donkey donk" not only sounds ridiculous, but it activates the "Screw you" clause in the Donkey Code of Conduct. Knowing this, Annie had brought along a rubber bowl full of feed, guaranteed to pique the interest of our little herd. We stood across the creek for a few minutes, shaking the bowl enticingly, but the daunting prospect of the rapids was simply too much for the little guys. Apparently donkeys are afraid of running water, which is pretty surprising considering they're willing to fight off coyotes and such. That's still better than horses, who are afraid of everything, but still, kind of disappointing.

So, thwarted by the rapids, we switched to Plan B. I took the bowl and crossed the creek, and led the whole herd all the way around to the back of the property, where there's a little bridge over some culverts for the first part of the creek. We looked a little like a Grand Canyon tour group, minus the fat Americans (well, except for me), with the donkey train winding up, over, and down the rocky inlet.

Eventually (donkeys move really slow when they're of a mind, and apparently near-freezing rain puts them in a mind) we got to where the road that skirts the edge of the hundred acres crosses over the main part of the creek. There was so much water it had overtopped the span, and a very wide, very shallow stream now stood where I'd expected nothing but dry road base. I put on my best "Dances with Donkeys" frame of mind, however, and confidently tried to lure the donkeys across. "See, it's really shallow!" I said cheerfully, splashing about with the water up to my ankles. After much cajoling and enticing with the feed bucket, I got the three full sized donkeys and one of the minis (Sparky, by far the greediest) across the ford. I had to actually dish out some of the feed to keep them pinned to that side while I went back for the other three minis.

About that time Annie showed back up with a donkey halter, figuring we could drag them across if we had to. The photo above shows me huddled with my four brave donkeys, while the three cowards are whimpering on the far shore. Wimps! With Annie to hopefully keep the first four happy, I set off to try and lure Jack, Charity, and Molly (Jack and Sparky's mom) across as well. The temperature had kept on dropping, and it was starting to mist, so I was happy we were about to wrap this little adventure up.

Oh, how foolish are the prideful before their fall! Because as I stood there, bowl under Charity's nose, I heard some splashing behind me. Turning, I saw the four donkeys on the good side of the creek trotting back over to the three cowards. Disaster! Apparently they were bound and determined not to leave their friends behind, and while I generally applaud such noble sentiments, on this particular occasion I was about ready to make some donkey rugs out of the little angels.

Out of food and with now exactly zero donkeys on the right side of the creek, it was time to switch from Kind Humans With Lovely Food mode to Drag Your Ass (literally) Across The River mode. We got the halter on Charity, the young female, and with some pulling and shoving we managed to get her across the creek, which was really rushing through at this point. The other minis love Charity so much they willingly crossed after her, which is good because we only had one halter. Yes, seven donkeys and one halter -- math is hard when you're cold!

Unfortunately the three big donkeys, which had been willing to brave the deadly rapids for some food, were not as excited by the prospect of following Charity. They refused to cross, and frustratingly, so did Molly. Not even the prospect of being with her two sons, Jack and Sparky, was enough to lure her towards us. I swear, mothers today! We finally decided to leave that group where they were while we led Jack and Sparky, with Charity in tow on the halter, back to the barn.

With darkness threatening and storm clouds on the horizon, we hurried back to the last four donkeys, who were milling about on the shore, trying to muster the guts to make the crossing. I had the feeling that would be a long wait, so I set off across the waters. After some wrangling and maneuvering (Molly isn't as halter broken as Charity and the boys), we managed to get her hooked up. All of them were shivering uncontrollably, and I was really glad we were finally going to get them into shelter. I think of donkeys as extremely self-reliant, and they are, but they originally come from Sicily and they don't like the cold weather any more than I do.

Fortunately Jill, Julie, and Cody like Molly more than they like Charity so they willingly followed us across the creek and back towards the barn. I'm not sure how Charity feels about this, it's much like the Britney Spears / Paris Hilton feud ... Trust me, this analogy works, everyone involved really is an ass, after all, just like our herd.

We finally got back to the barn, where warm hay and non-flowing water were waiting. All the donkeys were shivering, so Annie brought out some towels and we rubbed them dry. We'd just gotten the new run-in barn finished the week before, which turned out to be very, very fortunate. As a result they were able to spend the next five days sheltered and safe from freezing rain and rushing torrents, unlike last winter when we had to bring them hay in the lee of some cedar trees.

Taking care of animals in the winter, we'd learned, was a lot harder than the rest of the year. I don't know how people in Montana or Wyoming do it, where temperatures get down into the negative teens. That's just unreal to me. We feel very happy that the new run-in shed and the closed-in main barn were ready for the first big storm, and that our animals made it through no worse for wear.

I do hope, though, that none of them deliberately get their hoochie photographed -- the Britney Spears parallels have to stop at some point!

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Great story, Jeff!! I was reminded of the guys in "City Slickers" getting Norman out of the raging river. You didn't look like a cowboy with your thick parka, but you did what any good cowboy or mama does -- you got those kids to safety, bundled them up and took care of them. I was reminded of trying to herd cats across that water. I have to admit, it went up pretty fast from the first pix to the last. And to think we were all in drought mode just last year and there were "no fires" signs posted all over Austin and Fort Bend Counties. Glad you got all your asses where they needed to go, you know, got your ass in gear, froze your ass off out there, etc. Spring is right around the corner!!! -- Denise