Wednesday, January 28, 2009

Jack The Locksmith

Having had what was something of a pleasant winter day yesterday (surely an oxymoron), we are being made to pay for it today with a non-stop snowstorm. As Bertie Wooster once said to Jeeves, just when you think everything is going splendidly, fate is lurking around the corner with a set of brass knuckles.

Jack and I did our three second tour of the run-in, just long enough for a blast of snow to hit Jack square in the face. We beat a hasty retreat, Jack shaking the precipitation from his formidable eyebrows. "Huh", he said, "I shoulda just stood in bed." Ungrammatical, but cuts right to the heart of the whole winter ordeal . We supervised the chambermaiding, Jack licked the dog's winter coat until it was sticky and Sally watched all from the safety of her den. Breathing heavily in that unpleasant way she has, the woman trundled out with the wheelbarrow.

Jack was standing near the door and as the woman pulled it shut behind her, he gave it an extra hard shove. He hates the idea of cold air getting in. The woman plodded off with the wheelbarrow but when she returned she discovered that Jack has somehow caused the door to stick fast and nothing she did could turn the mechanism. There was some muffled thumping and cursing as she fiddled with it and I'm afraid some uncomplimentary things were said about donkeys in general. "Good thing I locked her out", said Jack, " s'obvious she's gone loco."

Her face appeared in the tack room window; no one should have to look at an apparition like that. It was very red and blotchy but we couldn't tell if the cause was frostbite or fury. She tried to lift the window, forgetting that she had locked it in the fall. Then she went to the back doors, but having no implements to work with, was unsuccessful in making a dent in the ice and snow using only her hands and feet.

We used her absence to sidle into the tack room and that's when the horrible face reappeared. She rapped on the glass and said all sorts of frankly threatening things but we just stared at her and politely pretended not to hear. Thankfully the face disappeared again. Jack sampled some of Sally's dry food and declared he preferred the squishy, smelly stuff. I put my head in what turned out to be a bag of the white powder she spreads on the floors of our rooms. A day later the sneezing is beginning to subside somewhat.

We heard a tremendous banging and crashing at the door and she burst in, looking like an early Neanderthal and clutching a chunk of ice in her hand. She had used it to release the lock mechanism - I've heard of this sort of tool-making amongst the higher primates but had no idea she was that evolved. We backed hastily out of the tack room, Jack scattering mouthfuls of cat kibble and self sneezing violently. She spoke at length in garbled and shrewish tones - we bustled into our rooms and stared at the floor until she ran out of breath. It was worth every minute of the inevitable lecture.

She has fixed the door mechanism but Jack vows to rework it into a more user-friendly state for donkeys. I don't doubt he will; he is a true artisan with endless patience.

Sunday, January 25, 2009

Happy Birthday To An Old Friend

Although Jack is the oldest equine I know, I have another friend, Mosby, who is celebrating his 34th birthday this month. Mosby is a Thoroughbred horse and every one of his breed celebrates their birthday on January 1st. How orderly. No birthdays dotted randomly around the calendar, just one day when everyone in the extended family officially becomes one year older. Complete mayhem for one day and then a whole year to recover. Now that's organization.

Mosby is a renaissance horse who has had many careers. He was a race horse, polo pony, hunter, tried his hoof at dressage and later changed tack and became a trail horse in western gear. He excelled in all his pursuits and continues to carry his human, Emi, around the forest. He is intelligent, kind and has a wonderful sense of humour. He and I share the same vet, Dr. Maggie, and he can claim seniority over her by several years. He remains perfectly sound in wind and limb, the only signs of age being a growing collection of grey hair and a slight hollowing of the back. The woman took a ghastly photo of him today, which I will post for now, but I have directed her to go back and do it properly. He appears to be looking at the camera but is actually responding to the shaking of a pack of TicTac mints, which he considers to be the equivalent of ambrosia. I wish him many more years of ruling his barn as a benevolent equi-despot.

Our own old man, Jack, has decided that the safest course is to simply stay inside till May or June. On this front we concur. This constant loitering in the barn allowed him to expand his food horizons yesterday and I'm not sure what I think of it. The woman had placed two of Sally's food bowls near the door to be taken to the house and washed. One had bits of some sort of cat pate or food paste and Jack decided to try it. He loved it and cleaned both bowls to a high polish. This makes me very uneasy but I can't quite put my hoof on the reason why. His breath was fishy for the rest of the day.

Jack has also developed a new method of eating his gruel and he is extraordinarily pleased with himself. He fills his mouth with hot food and then spreads it along the metal strip on his stall front. Then he licks if off very slowly, saying "ahhhhhhhh" every few seconds. It takes him forever to finish his meal but if it makes him happy I am willing to put up with the slurping and squishing noises. When he has finished the last crumb, he sighs deeply, turns to his hay and the woman takes his bucket away to be sandblasted.

As someone who has been referred to as an "old soul" since I was five hands tall, I have the greatest respect and admiration for my ancient acquaintances. Long may they dwell amongst us, imparting their knowledge to the younger generation.

Wednesday, January 21, 2009

Winter Abides

We are stuck in some sort of time/space nightmare where it is always winter. There can be no other explanation. It has been snowing and blowing for eternity. Every morning Jack and I take one turn around the run-in and are back in the barn before the woman has the door halfway closed. We find the air just a tad too fresh to be healthy.

Being inside has allowed me to observe Sally the cat more closely, so at least there is that silver lining to the snow cloud in which we currently dwell. Sally is very, very small and of a fastidious nature; she keeps her brown fur coat tidy at all times and even though she has been starved, she never bolts her food. We all wondered how her introduction to Penny the dog would go and it went just fine. Sally sits regally ensconsed in her blue igloo and regards Penny with amusement tempered with a hint of disdain. Penny performs a clean-up operation on the floor and ingests any spilled cat kibble. A state of symbiosis is obviously evolving.

Jack is obsessed with the idea that Penny wears a coat like his and he insists on examining it closely at every opportunity. The dog has given up trying to evade him in the close quarters of the barn and allows him to run his nose all over the material. "Huh" he says " I never seen such a thing as dogs in clothes before." When I point out that he himself is wearing a larger version of the same coat he just shrugs and says that's different. You simply cannot reason with someone that age who has made up their mind to ignore logic.

Doc is rather subdued owing to the fact he is outside on his own all day. Molly on the other hand, is the belle of the ball and rarely has fewer than six or eight people clustered outside her stall inflating her already supersized ego. She'll need an overlarge trailer to return home - one with room for her ridiculously swelled head.

Saturday, January 17, 2009

Animal Ice Sculptures

I am one of the above-mentioned ice sculptures. And that's just from being inside. Well actually, Jack and I haven't been outside in two days - we are given the choice each morning and flatly refuse - but I must reluctantly admit, the barn is quite bearable. This is in spite of the fact that the invisible but relentless Jack Frost has now painted the inside walls with his demonic rime. He did the windows before Christmas and they have stayed frosted. He's a complete lunatic. I loathe him.

Our Jack insisits that I mention his new accomplishment. He's very pleased with himself. Earlier this week, we were outside and he decided he wanted to go back inside. The woman was cleaning our rooms so he honked politely and tapped on the bottom of the door. When she didn't answer immediately, he began to work at the horse-proof latch on the door. Within five minutes he had it figured out. With that, he threw the door open wide in a dramatic fashion and marched in. The woman was dumbstruck (well, dumberstruck - she's not that bright to begin with). Jack may have only a handful of teeth left but he has positively prehensile lips that are a match for any hardware.

As for Sally, my new cat friend, she is slowly settling in and beginning to relax just a little. The woman can pat her all over and Sally even bumps the woman's hand onto her head when she stops. Sally stays in her heated cat den because the barn is so cold but she's quite toasty and warm in there. I'm very anxious to make her acquaintance and am leaning so far over my stall-guard, straining to see into the tackroom, that the woman says I will topple over and do myself an injury. She's threatening to put a helmet on me to avoid a concussion. Jack is much more phlegmatic on the cat front. "Ya seen one cat ya seen em all", he said.

Molly's ego is swelling to Hindenburg-like proportions. Every human at her winter barn stops by her stall to hug and kiss her and give her tasty morsels of various foodstuffs. "She's so keeee-yooot" they rant. "We can't let you take her home in the spring". Hmmmm, I'm sure that could be arranged - everything has a price. Now the woman is glaring at me.

Wednesday, January 14, 2009

It's Official - Hades Has Frozen Over

Abandon hope, all ye who enter here. We have reached a temperature so low that I fully expect to see penguins migrating through our paddock any moment. The device that records temperatures this morning announced that it was -28 degrees.

We breakfasted inside but then Doc became so agitated with the idea of staying in his room that the woman put a second blanket on him, Jack's checked coat on him and let us out into the elements. We all immediately grew a heavy frost coating on the side away from what passes for the sun these days. Doc and I were quite comfortable but Jack grew more and more upset, stamping his feet and trotting back and forth to the barn door. Finally, he began rapping on the door very sharply with his hoof whilst making loud honking noises. The woman let him in. I didn't wish to go in and loitered in the run-in. Jack didn't want to be inside without me and the woman tried to coax me in but I feigned deafness and stared into the distance. Eventually she gave me a lecture about letting the heat out of the barn and chivveyed me indoors.

Jack was still quite upset and shivery so he leaned on the woman for a bit and she rubbed his ears warm and convinced him to share a pile of hay with me. She decided that the heated pet mat bought for Sally simply wasn't up to the job and brought out a quilted, pillowy heated rectangle used by humans. She installed this in the bottom of a plush cat bed and surrounded the whole thing with a blue blanket. Sally is very taken with it and has consented to move out from under the saddle rack.

Sally has been very badly treated by humans and expects to be struck every time she sees a hand attached to a person. I find this most puzzling; she is a shy and retiring sort who desperately wants to lead a quiet life. She is slowly coming around and has begun to eat a bit of tinned food. She is the smallest feline I have ever seen but I am assured she is full grown and is in fact the mother of two. She has had some sort of procedure to prevent further offspring but I don't care to know what that involved. She still has a bare midriff, which must be a tad chilly in this weather. Because she is so frightened, I am trying to be patient but ruffling cat fur is one of my favourite tactile sensations.

This weather nonsense is supposed to continue for the forseeable future. I'm looking into the process of hibernation as an alternative to living in an arctic air mass for days on end. Our local bear is slumbering in a cosy den at the moment but next spring I will quiz him on the finer points of remaining catatonic for the winter months. On the bright side, the woman says I have enough body mass to hibernate non-stop for several years straight.

Monday, January 12, 2009

I Have A CAT!

This morning the woman bustled around, carrying strange items out to the barn, including foodstuffs that, judging from the smell, had a high fish content. Doc wanted to try them, of course, but she said no - of course. She even brought in a heated bed, which I foolishly hoped was for me, even though it seemed a touch on the small side. It wasn't for me.

Awhile later, she appeared with the cat transportation cube and there was a cat inside. The cat was somewhere at the back and seems to consist of a pair of enormous and horrified eyes. We are all cat fanciers to the core and clustered around to welcome the new feline. We blew welcoming hot breath into the interior and nudged the cube with our noses. The cube and contents were hustled into the tack room where the eyes promptly disappeared under the saddle rack. Thus far we have no idea what the new arrival looks like but hope for a sighting in the next week or so. I can't wait to meet the feline attached to the eyes. Her name is Sally. We are overrun with mice and I now have a faint hope we can sleep through the night without constant scratching and rustling coming from the tackroom. It won't solve Jack's eighty decibel snoring but I've grown used to that.

Meanwhile, we are in a deep freeze and it's about to plummet even further. When the thin, wintery sun makes an appearance, I plaster myself against the front of the barn to absorb the reflected heat. The woman says my back felt like a radiator but she's notoriously prone to exaggeration. I've attached some images so you can see how dire my situation has grown.

Thursday, January 8, 2009

My Barn Rules

As usual, Doc was very sorry after the fact (undressing Jack) and to make amends, he washed him from head to foot. Jack didn't necessarily want to be washed but he knows Doc well enough to recognize that the offer was meant in good faith, even though it's a bit cold for a full-body bath. He also knows that sometimes a little discomfort is better than a more physical Doc apology . The woman later spent ages brushing Jack to try and flatten the collection of cow licks that occured when his hair dried. She reassured him that he didn't look peculiar with his new disheveled style, but was sporting the very trendy "bed head" look. He appeared dubious.

The next day, when the woman was off visiting Molly, Doc felt compelled to carry all the rubber mats from our run-in to an area at the back of the barn. He piled them in the snow and was viewing his handiwork when she returned. She seemed to understand that it was some sort of sublimation of his desire to undress Jack and she just patted him and said not to worry, spring would be here in six or seven years.

After this week of drama, it seemed a good time to discuss the list of barn rules that I had posted in the barn a couple of years ago. The humans went to an exhibition on Catherine the Great of Russia and came back with her list of rules to be followed by anyone attending her salons. They are so perfectly thought out that I have adopted them as my own. I mean, even such luminaries as Voltaire had to follow them. If he ever comes to visit me, he will already understand the ground rules. They are as follows.

1. All ranks shall be left outside the doors, similarly hats and particularly swords (Doc disputes the sword rule)

2. Orders of precedence and haughtiness, and anything of such like which might result from them, shall be left at the doors. (A touch of donkey aloofness will not be frowned upon, however).

3. Be merry, but neither spoil nor break anything, nor indeed gnaw on anything. (Twigs will be supplied for guests).

4. Be seated, stand or walk as it best pleases you, regardless of others. (Guests may also lie down and roll if they so choose).

5. Speak with moderation and not too loudly, so that others present have not an earache or headache. (Braying is permitted).

6. Argue without anger or passion. (Doc says what's the point,then?).

7. Do not sigh or yawn, neither bore nor fatigue others. (Molly is not allowed to expound on her "great beauty" adinfinitum).

8. Agree to partake of any innocent entertainment suggested by others. (Except Twister - it overstimulates Doc and makes Jack too stiff the next day).

9. Eat well of good things, but drink with moderation so that each should be able always to find his legs on leaving these doors. (Doc disagrees violently with the second part).

10. All disputes must stay behind closed doors; and what goes in one ear should go out the other before departing through the doors. (Although donkeys never, ever forget anything, especially disparaging remarks about their ears).

The punishment for infringing on these rules was to drink a glass of cold water and read a page from the "Telemachida" out loud. I find this puzzling - it sounds like more of a reward to me, but I seem to be alone in this sentiment.

Monday, January 5, 2009

Jack The Reluctant Test Pilot

With Molly gone to winter boarding, Doc has been moping around and just generally looking glum. This morning the woman went off to the human feed store and left us in the sun with our hay. Because there was a cold wind blowing, Jack was wearing his checked coat. And that gave Doc an idea. Doc's "ideas" invariably follow a tortuous path to an inevitable cataclysmic finale.

"Dood", Doc said to Jack. "I kin have ya outta that dork suit in no time". Jack wasn't convinced. He's quite proud of his new coat and said he'd have to think it over. What that means is that he will suck on one of his remaining teeth while falling into a reverie which then turns into a light doze. Doc is not noted for his patience, and while Jack was at the reverie stage, Doc grabbed the top of his blanket and suspended him in midair, like someone dangling on a rope under a rescue aircraft. Jack awoke with a start. "Lissen sonny", he said, "I never volunteered for the air farce, you set me down quick". Doc made some muffled noises and dropped him with a thud.

Jack was now sitting on his hindquarters with the blanket pulled over his head. There were exclamations of horror from inside the blanket but we couldn't quite make out what he was saying. I began berating Doc, reminding him that Jack wasn't some sort of elderly Flying Walenda to be spun around like a circus performer. With that, Doc grabbed the blanket once more and by dint of a series of violent jerks, caused Jack to slide out onto the snow like a newborn seal. Jack was both incensed and disoriented and went off to the run-in to have an attack of indignant squitters.

Doc swung the blanket around in circles over his head and when that grew old, threw it on the ground and began attacking it like a terrier. He did not realize that the woman had turned in the driveway and had seen the drama unfold in it's entirety. She sped up, shot past the house turn-off , beeped the beeper thing at him and screeched to a halt. We could hear her ranting before she opened the door. When the door flew open, she disembarked, followed by an avalance of spilled foodstuffs. She was an unbecoming shade of dark purple. Doc attempted a hasty retreat, which would have been flawless except that one of the straps from Jack's blanket was caught around his front leg. He galloped away, doing a demented Highland fling with the encumbered limb and eventually flicking off the offending blanket. Then he hid behind the barn. And the woman stomped off with the blanket.

There is always some sort of farce being played out around here. I just never know if I'll be a member of the audience or in the spotlight. I tried to comfort Jack by telling him the Bard of Avon had once sagely remarked that "all the world's a stage". "Don't know no Bart Haven", said Jack, "but I'm at a stage where I could do with considerable less ickcitement".

Saturday, January 3, 2009

Our Magnificent Presents

We were finally allowed to see the mysterious presents from our aunt and uncle and it was well worth the wait. The woman clomped in, the male human in tow, followed closely by the dog. The male human carried one of those noise making tools that fasten things. The woman was carrying two beautifully crafted signs with our names on them - and the legend "Donkeys Forever" underneath. She showed them to us so we could see our names writ large and Jack and I were quite overcome. I'm not sure how well Jack can read but I spelled it out for him and he said "I never seen nothin' the likes a that". I have attached photos for my readers to see. I believe these name plates are very much like those in the Queen's own stables (but even nicer). Thank you very much indeed to Mr. & Mrs. Gale.

This was a very positive experience after the fright the woman gave us last night. We were snoozing peacefully when we heard her footsteps clumping toward the barn. Ahhh, we thought, last meal of the day is on it's way. We saw the beam of the portable light and heard the latch on the gate clunk. Then I heard a strange clinking and clanking superimposed on the other noises. I went into instant high alert mode. Jack's a bit deaf so he just said "I don't hear nothin cept Doc snorin".

The door swung open and she turned on the lights. What I saw caused me to try to exit directly through the back wall. It was her alright, but she was wearing a Medusa-like headress of icicles that stuck out crazily at all angles. Her beady blue eyes peered at me shortsightedly and she said "Sheaffer, what on earth has posessed you"? Posessed ME? Hah! I was the one to be asking that particular question. She leaned into my stall, making the noise of a thousand breaking bottles and tried to touch my neck to reassure me. I tried to climb up on the stall partition. It seems she had washed or dry cleaned or whatever it is she does to her hair and had come directly out to the barn. I don't care to be wakened from my slumbers by what appears to be a spectre with an ice cactus on it's head. I hope I made my feelings clear.

It's always something.

Thursday, January 1, 2009

A Brand New Year

The woman has been flagging at her keyboard duties (she claims it is a busy season for humans) but today I have shamed her into action. I don't care for having my communication with my friends at the mercy of her social life. I have spoken to her sternly and she says it won't happen again, at least for another year. I will accept that for now - with reservations.

Today began as usual but around noon Molly was taken inside and cleaned up - as much as a wooly mammoth can be said to be cleaned in any way. Her mane was slicked down and her tail poofed out and the longest of her leg hair removed. Hmm, I thought, something is afoot. Sure enough, around three o'clock the tall woman showed up with her box on wheels and off went Molly. It seems she has gone to something called "winter boarding" not far from here. There is a large room called an arena and Molly will haul the woman around in there while they both try to get in shape for the upcoming trail season. Oh to be a fly on the wall. The grunting and groaning will be heard as far south as the border and I expect they will churn up clouds of dust in the process. Much like a buffalo stampede but without the majestic prarie backdrop. Doc is bereft.

Yesterday we received a surprise New Year's present from our aunt and uncle, Mr. and Mrs. Gale. A brown box on wheels rushed up the driveway and the human inside jumped out and inserted a box between the house doors. The blasted woman won't show us what it is. There is to be some installation by the male human and until then it's a "surprise". Hah! Semantics is what it is - witholding our personal present for her own devious reasons is more like it. She promises photos sometime soon and says we will be thrilled. Attilla the Hen isn't happy unless she's calling all the tunes around here.

We have news from the PrimRose Donkey Sanctuary, where all is busy as usual and TJ has learnt his place in the herd. Now he's actually being bullied by some of the others - and what better way to start my New Year's than to hear that! He is slowly letting Sheila touch him on his flanks but likes to control the amount of "hands on" time and simply leaves when he decides he's had enough. Sheila has the patience of Job and needs it, given the treatment many of the donkeys have endured before they reach her. Her oldest resident, Brennan, died shortly before Christmas and she is missing him sorely. He was well into his forties and she ensured his that last years were spent in comfort, surrounded by worshipping humans and donkey companions.

Sheila is not one to blow her own horn so I will do that for her. She was awarded the very prestigious Animal Action Award, given by the International Fund for Animal Welfare. Six hundred nominees were narrowed down to ten and then Sheila was chosen as the winner. I can't think of anyone more deserving. Of course, just letting TJ into her life should earn her a medal for extreme valour and bravery. Or a lifetime supply of nerve tonic.