Every morning, when we put hay in the feeder, the chickens hop up, jump in the feeder and prowl around. I figured out that this is because the second cut hay has seeds and they are looking for some. Chickens are mysterious, but relentless. They never stop eating, never seem to tire, and are intensely curious. Like some dogs, they are smart about food and not too much else. Fran gets around and seems very interested in the camera.
It is difficult to remember a time before Simon, or Lulu and Fanny, or a life without donkeys. This is a curious thing to say from a man who lived much of his life in the country’s major cities, where I worked and traveled as a journalist and an author. I think I had never seen a donkey before I took Orson and Rose for sheepherding lessons at the Raspberry Ridge Sheep Farm in Bangor, Pa. Carol was living alone in a fenced in pasture, and she took a liking to me after I started bringing her apples – donkeys appreciate apples. When I got my sheep from Raspberry Ridge, Carol came along with them. She didn’t like me too much, except when I was bringing her apples or music. In my early days at the farm I took my boombox out to the barn every night and played Willie Nelson songs to her. She loved Willie Nelson. He seemed to calm her. Carol bit and kicked me regularly, especially when she wanted a snack or I tried to medicate her.
I loved Carol, old and grumpy donkey that she was. She had a few good years before she succumbed to foundering and a stroke. Donkeys have changed many of my notions about animals. They are affectionate, intuitive, very connected to us. I love their independence, and I could spend many hours watching Maria and her powerful connection to them. I do. In the morning, they come down for hay in the winter. And just before dusk. I usually bring carrots or apples out, and I often think of Carol, who had a good run her before she succumbed. I am grateful for her, but also for her opening my eyes to the spiritual and healing power of donkeys. Simon loves his straw bed in the Pole Barn and is first at the barn door for grain on cold days. He is also the first in line for some attention.
Sunday is my day of reset, my Sabbath. No computers, e-mail, blogging, cell phones, Ipad or Ipods. We have nothing planned at all, but sleeping, reading, listening to music, walking the dogs, and especially, spending time with the donkeys. When we sit with them, they quietly approach us, leaning into us, bumping us with their snouts when they want attention, standing quietly to be touched, talked to and brush. When we decided to put the farm up for sale a couple of weeks ago, we told the reader we would not consider moving to any place without a good barn and pasture for the donkeys. I cannot imagine living without them. And as they are profoundly spiritual creatures – the Old and New Testament are crammed with references to them – they will help make a day of rest especially meaningful.
As I’ve mentioned, I’m considering writing a series of Bedlam Farm Bedtime Stories For Children. These would be e-stories, downloadable on computers, tablets. I’m thinking of charging two or three dollars for each one – gentle stories about the dogs, donkeys, cats and other creatures on the farm. I thought I’d try a couple out. My plan is for the stories to be offered as files with photos, and presented in a catalog on the website but these first few will be free. You know me, jump right in. In this format, they need to be short and abridged, so I’ll offer the first one in two brief installments, one tonight and one tomorrow evening – at bedtime. A downloadable story would be longer. We’ll see what happens.
This is part one of the Secret Dance Of The Barn Cats, a story I’ve been thinking about for a few years about the most mysterious creatures on the farm:
Sometime after dark, the farm settles down for the night.
The donkeys are in the barn, the dogs are in the farmhouse, the chickens in their roost,
the children are in bed, getting tucked in, waiting for their bedtime stories.
In the big barn, there is a stirring. It is the magical time of the barn cats,
creatures of mystery, spirits who live in-between the human and animal worlds.
Brave and independent, they fend for themselves, living among the hay bales,
the cows, watching out for cars, trucks, hunters, coyotes, foxes, racoons, hawks and
all of the thing that can harm them.
They are not like your pets. They come and they go,
as they wish, and then one day, when they choose, they disappear
and are never seen again.
They never say goodbye, and noone knows where they go.
No person has ever seen the dance of the barn cats, which always begins in the same way.
The big old spirit cat comes out of the darkness and the mist, and appears in a puff,
on the highest stack of hay. He jumps through the moonlight and calls the other cats to life.
Soon, the other cats arrive, from other farms, from far away. They come silently, like whispers in the dark.
Like shadows on the meadow.
They leap through the moonbeams. They paw at the bats. They stalk the mice,
and rats, who live in the barn. They jump through the big spider webs
that stretch across the rafters and play hide-and-seek in the bales of hay.
And then the barn cats call on their magic:
The chickens and donkeys close their eyes and quiver and the mice tremble and squeak
and fly out of their holes, and the bats flap nervously around the darkened rafters,
and spiders scurry out of their webs and skitter up and down the wooden beams,
and ride the soft wind that blows through the windows.