Saturday, 21 February 2009

Donkey Rites

Gawd, you can just tell I've had my nose in books since jspace and my hard drive crashed. I think it has been a kind of therapy to go back into the book in the knowledge that it won't vanish into the ether. Books make words substantial - their covers and pages respect the fragile recording and protect the message encoded therein. I also think that analogue recorded sound is better than digital, probably for the same reason.

I guess I felt the need to re-read some of the stories I've collected - stories that I measure my life up against, the ideas and inventions of others that accord with my own conscience, and guide me through the labyryith of the present.

So - here in the present, I'm at one of those eternal t-junctions, about to make a life-changing choice on the question of whether or not to acquire a pair of donkeys.

Yes, donkeys. And the jenny is pregnant. Do I take on the responsibility of three demanding, gregarious and utterly mesmerisingly beautiful creatures, or continue on with life as I know it.
We've been imagining these donkey's for a while, ever since Geoffrey wrote this lyric;

Got bag of sticks, I got donkey, 
got red cloth hat on a dry hillside. 
It's some old fashioned painting.

Every time I hear it, the old fashioned painting pictures itself in my head, complete with Geoffrey, props and donkey. Then, just recently a new image has emerged:

Come all ye pretty poesy maids
Enjoy the bed that Spring displays
You know what the wise man said?
So lift your dress for donkey rites
we might as well stay up all night.

And another, about the retreat of an army through the eyes of the camp follower who is;

riding out of victory
on the back of that donkey.

It's been a recurrent theme, and now I'm infected with it too since he started singing it into creation. Then the phone rings. The woman over the western ridge has a pair, and she'd heard on the grapevine that we were thinking of getting a donkey to replace the tractor for steep hill work, like snigging log thinnings and carrying tools and wire to repair broken fences. I think the idea of a companion out in the field appealed to Geoffrey too.

Now the reality of concept donkey is at my threshold. 

In order to make this decision, I'll do what I always do when confronted with a choice between desire and commonsense. Back to the web to find out everything I can about their care and training, and absolutely anything else related to the topic, and again I'll hit the books because I want most of all to know about how people 'feel' about these extraordinary creatures; why they have been given such a central role in our imaginings. Christ rode a donkey as did his mother. There are films with talking donkeys, Pinocchio turns into one, Sancho Panza rides Dapple. 

So, if you've come across any literary Donkeys in your reading,  please let me know. 

I have begun research into the pros and cons of keeping donkeys, this has become a major consideration in our deliberations.


  1. Is that vid being considered a plus or a minus?

  2. The Sufi Mullah Nasrudin, subject of many well-known teaching-stories in the Sufi Islam tradition, has a donkey which pops up pretty frequently.

    The Nasrudin stories are very interesting. They show an insight that parallels the Zen folk in many ways, and when I first encountered them, they offered me a window into a version of Islam I hadn't known. These days, I think the Nasrudin stories should be required reading.

  3. Hmm. That URL finishes with the word 'stories' by the way. It seems to be correct when I try to copy it from the comment, but I can't see the end of the word...

  4. Fantastic Flinthart - just the thing. Thankyou.

  5. Umada - I think I'll leave that up to your imagination.

  6. I've been going through the same thing with a cow, i rather convert grass to compost than mow it. After this trip to NZ i'll be getting a jersey as soon as possible

  7. So, you going to buy one already milking or get a heifer and get her into calf? If you don't want to be married to a cow every morning at sparrowsfart and every afternoon, I'd suggest getting a calf and getting it used to being close handled and trained to come when you call. It is well worth it just for the cost of petrol alone to slash a house paddock, and if at some stage the depression really kicks in and you have to become self sufficient, you can get her mated and do the milking thing at some time in the future. Cows are lovely creatures, especially if they are relaxed around people.

  8. My sister, who has experience with the creatures (not the sort of experience as the poor sot in the video, thanks), says that the beasts are untrainable. That probably means they are highly intelligent! She & b-i-l have used Haflingers for the kinds of work you mention. They do have a burro keeping guard over the sheep, though.
    Eeyore is hands-down my favorite literary donkey. Not that it matters.

  9. isn't there that Spanish guy who rides a donkey and tilts at windmills?

  10. Yep - got that one, though it is Sancho Panza who rides the donkey, not the Don.

    Poor doleful Eeyore.

    They are incredibly intelligent. Unless you are prepared to treat them as people, they'll 'jack up' (which is where I imagine the term comes from, a male donkey being a jack.)