Seagulls and love letters

Love is a lantern

Shining up like coins in a fountain

Hope is a tree sitting on a mountain where the grass don’t grow

There’s a sad old sea but my love is an island

Wild and free like the hills in the highlands

Hope is a breeze that brings me back to dry land

Where the flowers grow

~From a Passenger song, Coins in a Fountain

A day of small surprises unfolds.

Each afternoon when the wild spring winds aren’t too cold I do my daily meditation in the back yard.  Being of the persuasion that “whatever works” is the right position for this, I tilt my wheelchair back, raise the footrest and face the blue, blue sky with its numerous scudding clouds.  Diaphanous, black and scary by turns, they are.  Tree branches jerk and sway under 30 mph pummeling by those winds.

sun shining on apple tree
The sun smiled on the big apple tree and its glowing new leaves, even though I couldn’t get a photo of the flocks of seagulls who went wheeling across the sky above the back yard in the desert.

Today when I opened my eyes I had to wonder if I was still in the same place — there was a large flock of seagulls fluttering above me.  Two dozen, perhaps.  Too high up, they were, for any sort of iPhone photo, so I simply observed them as something of a miracle.  That many gulls in the middle of the high desert?  Gulls happen, yes, but this many?  Most often they’re singletons — but here?

I’ve seen gull groups flying like this in gales on both the Atlantic and Pacific Oceans.  But not before in the high desert.

Climate refugees?

Will the shallow Rio Grande just east  be enough for them to rest the long, slender and weary wings?  These white, short tailed creatures with herringbone looking underwing coverts are pushed up and down like corn popping in a movie theatre, tossed this way and that as they generally aim for the northeast.

I take their appearance as encouragement for moving my achey old bones into the dreaded packing project that heralds the move back to California — where there are lots of gulls, armies of ‘em — in early May.  Assuming that the house sale goes through.  Which I am.

Why do I assume this?  Because I am drop dead terrified of the thing, that’s why.

It is clear that there will be relief in escaping the frequent wildfire warnings this region endures during windy spells when the relative humidity is 10%.  Such as now.  Western wildfires are well worth being terrified about, planning evacuation procedures about, praying they don’t come anywhere near where one lives.  Fires have frequently ripped through the bosque (forest) along the river those lost seagulls may have been aiming for.  Many cities and towns, including this one, lie along the Rio Grande.

Lots of other, better reasons exist to channel said terror into getting on with it.  So why have I been feeling rather off for the past few days?  Somebody may understand, but that person is not me.

I have not entirely shirked working on the project.  My head is abuzz with plans.  Categorizing my stuff according to where it goes, how best to get it there.  Putting off the actual implementation, which will take physical energy.  Lots of physical energy, and not my forte.

Energized by the powerful birds being dashed about by fire weather winds — yet still holding their course, back into the house I go with enough speed that Elf and Opus race excitedly around me.

Not the least of today’s gift of little surprises are the welcome waves of energy — I immediately began sorting through mountains of tools and a trunk stuffed with old, some very old, family memorabilia.  Nice contrast between these projects, yes?

A good thing, this energy, since there are about six weeks left before the sale of my house closes, and off I go with my daughter to where she now lives in California’s Silicon Valley.  With Elf the Corgi and Opus the Dachster stuffed in there somewhere.  Hopefully not too excited at the time.  They are not used to long drives.

The most notable tool I set aside to keep is a huge antique wooden mallet.  Lovely for old mallet and Henry's love poemsclosing paint cans or beating up a pillow at moments of frustration.

From the family trunk emerged a small envelope tightly closed with a rusted paper clip.  It was simply marked “Yester-year”.  To my astonishment it was filled with typed poems, possibly written by my aunt Mary Lee’s first husband, while he was stationed with the US Navy in San Diego, and she was back in his hometown, Pembroke, Massachusetts.

He addressed her as “Divinity Lee” as he poured out his love, admiration and hopes about her.  Apparently, from his tone, she responded indifferently for a while.  Eventually Mary accepted him as her future husband.  I couldn’t help wondering how well the two had actually known one another, back in Pembroke.

Given the passion expressed in the poems,  whether or not they were entirely original, it felt especially sad to me that their brief marriage ended shortly after World War II.  His raging alcoholism was the reason.  Two babies miscarried, so the one dependent Aunt Mary took custody of was their glorious big collie, Sandy.  Henry eventually remarried, to another alcoholic.  Unfortunately, so did Mary, but that union was short-lived.  She was left with a big German Shepherd dog she called Tina.

Here is a rather philosophical tidbit Henry probably copied from another source.  In searching for an author all I could find for attribution was “Unknown”.  Who knows, maybe he did write it.  It was published in a lot of newspapers during the war, mostly in Texas:

Bad men want their women

To be like cigarettes.

Just so many, all slender and trim

In a case.

Waiting in a row 

To be selected, set aflame, and

When their flame has died


More Fastidious Men

Prefer women like cigars.

These are more exclusive.

Look better and last longer:

If the brand is good,

They aren’t given away.

Good men treat women

Like pipes

And become more attached to them

The older they become.

When the flame is burnt out

They still look after them,

Knock them gently

(But lovingly)

And care for them always –

No man shares his pipe.

As an example of sexist “wisdom”  this one caused me to shake my head in gratitude for not living back in those days.

This small collection of poems neatly typed on onionskin paper brought my aunt vividly back to me.   She who did much to keep me going during the years I spent in rehab hospitals, recovering from paralytic polio, learning to face life again.  Calm and steady, she visited me there,  with her sister Harriet, every weekend during those long years when my mother was severely depressed, emotionally unavailable to me.

She was there for me through my teens and 20s, till I left Massachusetts for New Mexico.  She listened, concealing her smiles, to my folk music, helped me prep for high school SATs, collecting me for a special dinner once the test was taken, gave me cash as well as presents at Christmastime during my college years, read my columns and stories faithfully during my news reporting years.  We shared many long, talkative dinners in the 1692 colonial she had painstakingly restored on her own, from the time I was 12 till I left at 28.

The only bad memory I have of my Aunt Mary was her death, at 68, of lung cancer, in 1988.

So reading Henry Melanson’s love poems, sensing how glamorous, calm and “divine” he believed her to be, introduced me to a phase of her life that I knew very little about.  A surprise in a small envelope amongst yearbooks from Mount Hermon and Harvard, portraits of family members in the early 1800s, old war letters from my dad,  a few relics from after my birth.

If moving is the catalyst for me finally digging into this big trunk, it’s a good thing.

Heaven help the rest of the stuff I need to get done.

I’ll let Passenger have both the first and the last words today:

Hate is a poison
Love is a remedy
Singing out like the sweetest of melodies
Hope is a ghost in the deepest of memories
Stronger than ten of me
Fear is the enemy
In the dark and it creeps like a shark
In the coldest sea
In the deepest part but
Hope is the beat in the oldest heart
A hand in a hand and a brand new start

~also from Coins in the Fountain

Several items that emerged from the old family trunk:

Give life a mad shake up, with joy

Blossoms below balloons, chaser trucks and Jedi master with Vader

Saying it’s spring now in the desert. Give life a mad shake up, with joy

Me and my house

garlic half
One of those things that feels like home…

So here be I on Saint Paddy’s Day, part Irish somewhere, laughing and sniffing by turns, in the midst of accepting an offer to buy my house.

If this offer doesn’t work out, soon enough there’ll be another.

There is much that could go right… and  wrong… in the weeks ahead, but should this man get his mortgage I will be saying goodbye to my home of over six years on May 5.  Bidding farewell to my nearly lifelong state of owning homes to living in small apartments owned by big corporations.

I’m finding this to be a lot for my poor little senior years spirit to go through.  Glad and relieved I’ll be to no longer have only myself to turn to when the roof leaks or a pipe bursts inside a wall.  Nonetheless I am still that rebellious teenager of the 1960s who finds it easy to resent big developers who scarfed up foreclosed homes for pennies on the dollar in the recent Depression to resell for fat profits, who plastered cities with so many cookie cutter apartment complexes, to rent to the folks who lost everything those few years ago.

A simplistic sort of resentment of the ways of capitalism, yes, but heartfelt nevertheless. And I  didn’t lose everything, merely half the value of my current home.

There’s no way to go forward without flying over it, and this is my testament to working on that.

Looking through the six rooms (plus laundry/utility area and two baths) and enormous garage, the back patio and yard stuff, I am, at present, feeling stunned and overwhelmed by the sheer volume of STUFF that I must be disposing of as rapidly as strong goodwill and feeble muscle power can wrestle it out the door.  Well — initiate sales for other people  to cart it away.

What a time for my things to  begin radiating memories, comfort, grounded-ness about who I am, where I’ve been.

Say what?  How sorry a thing, to learn that your furniture is defining you?

Starting a load of wash this morning I discovered tears running down my face as I stood in front of the familiar white machines.  The ones that don’t need quarters to get them going, the way washers and dryers in apartment complexes, such as where I will be going, require.

There’s the solid pine cupboard I had made back in Massachusetts some 30 years ago, that I am about to put on Craigslist.  It’s developed funky hinges on the door, which I can’t fix myself.  Thus it’s the first candidate up for sale.  Unintentionally, when I look at it now I recall my mother and Terry, her carpenter friend, and there comes a powerful sense that it’s impossible to find such solid wood furniture easily now, or to afford it if you do.

I find myself wanting to lean my head against the warm pine boards and hug it.  And no, hugging furniture isn’t something I’ve done before — but that lovely old wood calls out to me…

Opus photo bomb
Opus photobombing as I took pictures of the pine cupboard to sell

And what the heck do I do with all the things that have been inside it?  Jam them into the stacks and heaps of boxes that contain things packed when I almost sold the house two years ago?  Since then I’ve mostly forgotten what’s in there.

Two ancient trunks are stuffed high and heavy with old family papers, letters, photographs, graduation certificates and college degrees.  Bookshelves stand in the living room.  My daughter, before going off to college, emptied out her bank account to buy them for us at a time when we really needed to redo, lighten up, our previous house.

And the books that fill them…  The last time I tried to sell my house I donated more than a pickup truck full of books to the local library, saving back only books that I truly love.  Now some of those must go, too.  However to make these decisions?

Venerable tables and dressers my dad refinished after he retired from one business and began another, with antiques.  On and on.

Elf and Opus saying goodbye to Jericha
Opus and Elf seeing Jericha about to return to California, several years ago

The goal is to fit as little as can be into the smallest rental truck we can come up with for the trek across New Mexico, Nevada and up through California — with two small dogs and their belongings stuffed in there somewhere, leashes just about permanently attached to their collars.

There’s so little to protect two dogs not accustomed to confinement or leash walking.  When the truck door opens it will be quite a project for semi-mobile me to ensure that they don’t bolt out ahead of me.

However will they, and I, adjust to having no convenient dog door into a large, safe backyard?  Add practicing well behaved leash walking to the list of to-dos for the next few weeks.

This place, the small city in which my home stands, has become increasingly lonely for me, and that’s where the desire to be close to my daughter took root.  I’m old enough, my physical condition has become precarious enough, to believe this new adventure is exactly what’s needed to renew my excitement about life — as a person who primarily goes out and does things rather than mostly hangs around home, taking  care of all these things that surround me.  Me, the curator of a family collection of old furniture, wood carvings from my artistic days, good books and a nice little dog door.

It’s just not me.

I’ve come to see the next part of my future as just right in a Silicon Valley city, with a large Baha’i community, surrounded by the diverse population I recall from my previous years a bit further south in California.  Spots like Yellowstone and Tahoe to visit.  To be where so many important tech outfits have of late been going through watershed moments.  Will Yahoo survive?  What’s up with Alphabet, really?

What’ll it be like if the city of San Francisco, now irked a bit by all the techies who’ve taken over the city, manages to shove some of them out?  Can apartment rents in the Silicon Valley possibly get any higher before people start sleeping in cars or under their desks at Google?

What’ll it be like to roll my wheelchair along city sidewalks, dodging driverless cars now and then in crossing streets?  To live not far from an ocean once again?

The mystery, of course, is how a woman whose income is from Social Security can possibly afford this new place.  There’s the feeling that I will be reverting to that familiar old 1960s sense that communes are sensible places to live, perhaps going from having a family-sized house and yard all to two small dogs and myself to said small dogs and me sharing a two-bedroom box with several roomies.  Wrestling ourselves and leashes in and out a few times a day for exercise, fresh air and potty patrols.

The plan is to live with my daughter, for a while at least, and go from there.

I have to admit that there is something about not knowing how things will turn out that appeals to me at some level.  Entropy is the force of creativity, yes?  Opens doors to new ways of being.

Atticus mug

So, as writer Tom Ryan likes to say no matter whatever he and his mountain climbing mini Schnauzer, Atticus Finch, are facing:  “Onward, by all means!”  … Right now both are ailing, I find upon consulting the Following Atticus Facebook page.  They need your prayers.

And:  “Act as though things will go well, and they tend to do that.”  ~Me

E with bonsai
Me in my den, with one of the future bonsai ficus trees

Butterfly on her toes

 I remember the pow-wows, the moccasined feet stepping, leaping, fancy dancing, shuffling amongst persistent sounds of rattles and jingle dresses, whirling shawls and feathered head dresses, ankle bells and stomping.  Above all the keening singers at the giant drum.  That drum, relentless pounding in flawless sync by four men, sometimes more.  

All of it, a prayer.

Like being hit by lightning, it was, the first time I recognized the beat of Earth’s heart in the sound of the great drum.

its throb, my heart.

A voice inside the beat says,

“I know you’re tired,

but come, this is the way.”


comma butterfly on my toes 2
The question mark is a small, white semi-circle on the underside of the second wing

A native American butterfly sits upon the toes of the descendent of British colonizers of the continent.  The tiny creature is widely known as the Question Mark Butterfly.

The descendant considers, heavily,  the centuries-long genocide some of her ancestors began,  waged against North America’s indigenous peoples.  Focusing on the punctuation mark on her visitor’s underwing, she has a lot of questions.  The big “Why?” of the family tree.

She, who loves and respects the people she came from in this day and age, draws ever more strongly into her heart the friendship she has with various descendants of the first Nations known to have inhabited North America.

Their ready humor, biting though that may be.  Their smiles, their readiness to help her in ways she needs as a person of special mobility challenges, their readiness to share from their hearts, to look at the future we enter together, so many different kinds of people from such diverse spots on Earth.

She knows a little about the long awaited justice these Native people long for.  She knows of the kidnapping of children to drain their language and culture out of them, the beatings, the shootings that still happen — she saw them herself, back when she was a journalist.    She remembers how many Massachusett Indians sleep alongside her forebears in a small cemetery on a forested hill back on the East Coast.

She smiles, because she also knows the outstretched hand of friendship, the offering of prayers and dance for universal peace and friendship Native people continue to offer to the world.  She knows of the important speeches some of them make before the United Nations — in common with indigenous leaders from other spots on Earth — prescient warnings of global climate disaster should the governments and industrialists of the world fail to cease its over-exploitation of resources.

She remembers smoking the pipe with William Commanda,  Band Chief of the Kitigàn-zìbì Anishinàbeg First Nation which is near Maniwaki, Quebec, and roughly fifteen others.  Him she knew as Grandfather Commanda.

He brought a large group of people through New Mexico in 1995 as they were walking from Mashpee, Massachusetts to Santa Barbara, California, both places she knew well.  Inspired by Native traditions this group was marching for the Earth.  This walk was known as Sunbow 5.

She followed Sunbow’s progress through their online presence, exchanged emails with the walkers, arranging for them to visit Albuquerque, New Mexico’s Baha’i Center for food and fellowship.

Grandfather said:  No one ever said this walk was going to be easy; we have simply understood that it needed to be done, and so we are doing it.”

An inclusive visionary, was Grandfather Commanda.  His Earth marchers included Native people, a Japanese monk, a writer (or two) and several unquenchable brawlers.

During the Albuquerque dinner Grandfather collapsed, and went by ambulance to a local hospital…  Though he quickly returned to Sunbow 5, he was obviously drawing much from his great strength.  He was 81 at the time.  He offered the world his good energy for another sixteen years.

This woman remembers how quietly, even humbly, Grandfather Commanda became ill at the dinner,  not disturbing the many who had not noticed his distress.

During the Sunbow 5 walk Grandfather’s activities were continuous.  He also joined with other Native leaders, in support of harmony between the different peoples.   Here’s an excerpt from the Sunbow journals, for October 6, 1995:

In Washington, DC Grandfather Commanda was up well before the Sun, as is his habit, and made a short journey to the Washington Monument for Sunrise ceremonies at the “One Mind, One Voice, One Heart, One Prayer” vigil in the heart of the city.

With cane in hand, Grandfather walked across the mall to the sacred fire in the center of the circle of tipis set just to the north of the Washington monument. There he joined a ceremony being led by Corbin Harney of the Western Shoshone Nation. Mr. Harney and his helper sang five songs, and asked the people—over 200 of them at sunrise—to dance a simple round dance and thereby help to anchor the energy of the songs more strongly to the earth with the sacred intent of their steps.

Later in the morning Leon Shenandoah, Tadadaho (Chief of Chiefs), Iroquois Six Nations, led a half-mile walk to a site near the Lincoln Monument where three Trees of Peace have been planted in recent years—one in the South, one in the West and one in the North. On this day Chief Shenandoah presided over the ceremonial planting of a fourth tree in the East direction—signifying the beginning of a new day for the Seventh Generation of children to be born since people of different colors began to move onto this Turtle Island continent. As the Washington walkers drummed, chanted, and stepped toward the young white pine at the planting site, a tangible wave of energy preceded them by a good 40 feet.

Over the course of the weekend Grandfather Commanda spoke both privately and publicly about the Sunbow 5 Walk for the Earth.

The Question Mark flits off and onto toes belonging to the descendant of British settlers to the USA, punctuating her musings with its indestructible continuance over the centuries.  These small orange and brown butterflies with their black spots are found, long term, all over the country.  So are the descendants of early British settlers, right alongside members of 560 federally recognized sovereign Indian Nations (plus a fair number of tribes seeking federal recognition) and descendants of immigrants from countless other countries.

How to work towards making things right, just and equitable for the People who were here first?

Shut up and listen, she thinks.

Just listen, pause, for a change.  Stop assuming that you know so much.  Maybe there’s more to wisdom than you picked up with your fine education, your good jobs, your great successes in business and government.  Other ways of knowing than through division, political wrangling, coups, scheming.

Listen to the sounds of wind ruffling through prairie grasses, the grunts of buffalo, chittering of sandpipers and swallows, the spout of salt water drops and air from a breeching whale, the nearly soundless wingbeats of a Hawaiian pueo crossing the brilliant glow of a full moon during a special man’s memorial service.  Listen to ocean water rippling over the sunken USS Arizona at Pearl Harbor, to the hoofbeats of nomads on their small horses in Mongolia.  Hear the wind roar through urban canyons, walls of granite and glass.

Listen to the Native voices.  Earth’s heartbeat in those drums.

Listen and hear the voices of forces so much greater than any of us, for the force of love that keeps all of it, and us, going.  All of us, the rich and stingy, the rich with helping hands held out, the homeless, the workers, the peasants, the scientists and teachers, the subsistence farmers, the GMO developers — the grumps, grouches, the curmudgeons, the atheist and the devout, the writers and  the lovers.  The Morris, kabuki, ballet, the fancy dancers, alongside the square dancing set and flamenco performers — the sea of humanity is filled with sparkling jewels when it comes to ability to express and relate to one another.

The Earth, our shared home, is a symbol of humility:  

”They… should conduct themselves in such manner that the earth upon which they tread may never be allowed to address to them such words as these: ‘I am to be preferred above you. For witness, how patient I am in bearing the burden which the husbandman layeth upon me. I am the instrument that continually imparteth unto all beings the blessings with which He Who is the Source of all grace hath entrusted me. Notwithstanding the honor conferred upon me, and the unnumbered evidences of my wealth – a wealth that supplieth the needs of all creation – behold the measure of my humility, witness with what absolute submissiveness I allow myself to be trodden beneath the feet of men….'”


Love holds the universe together — we need to learn to draw from it, thinks Woman-with-Butterfly-on-Her-Toes.  Use it to be free of hatred, prejudice towards one another — what a remarkable feeling!  To love, without condition.


Rumi, who lived during the Golden Age of Islam, was writing at the same time when the Anasazi were at the center of a vast trading center in what is now the American southwest:

Are you jealous of the ocean’s generosity?

Why would you refuse to give

this love to anyone?

Fish don’t hold the sacred liquid in cups!

They swim in the huge fluid freedom.

comma butterfly on my toes
Listen to the Sioux version of Amazing Grace

My MOE to Einstein’s TOE

This afternoon’s outdoor MOE session involved the passage of delicate, transient things in life, reasons for their indestructibility  despite their fragility — all accompanied by a duet performed by two dogs in a nearby yard.

If I had to guess I would suspect that neither dog had been “fixed”, that one was a male (who whimpered and whined to the chorus of yelps) while the other (the yelping singer) was the female.  Each chained in separate corners of the yard, of course.

Too few people fix their canine companions around here for reasons that sound almost religious when spelled out regarding the males.  “It’s what’s really HIM, how could I take that away?”  “It completes his nature.”

The reasons given about not spaying females are less lofty:  “Those vets, they charge too much!”

Mouring Cloak with rays
Mourning Cloak butterfly feeds under strong sun this afternoon, on plum blossoms as they drop petals like snow

So what is MOE, you might ask.  First cousin to TOE.  The Theory of Everything.  Musings On Everything..

Watching a glorious Mourning Cloak butterfly twirling, flitting, floating, twirling some more upon tiny plum flowers, brought back something I read last night which resonated with my own thoughts in the past — how we are stardust, ourselves and our surroundings for infinite light years. But it’s always the same particles making up the stardust, eternally.

Quantum entanglement means that the tiniest possible bits of us, particles, are both here, twinned, in us and millions of light years away in something else, a system in which what happens to one particle also happens to the other.  Simultaneously.


…[A] single primordial atom has had its great journeys through every stage of life, and in every stage it was endowed with a special and particular virtue or characteristic.  ….  All things are involved in all things.  … In every form of these infinite electrons [a phenomenon] has had its characteristics of perfection. …  Hence do you have the conservation of energy and the infinity of phenomena, the indestructibility of phenomena, changeless and immutable, because life cannot suffer annihilation but only change.

The apparent annihilation is this:  that the form, the outward image, goes through all these changes and transformations … [T]he elements, the indivisible elements which have gone into the composition of the flower are eternal and changeless.  ~Baha’i

This was written in the days of theory of quantum mechanics, when Max Planck and Albert Einstein both had wicked, wild heads of hair.

So the plum blossom petals raining down upon the good earth of New Mexico this

fallen plum petals.jpg
Petals drifting down

afternoon may be about to disappear, only to release their atoms and particles to morph into something else.  In time.

I wonder what is going on with any entangled particles of my plum blossoms with their “partners” in very distant galaxies?

On Earth, I loved every moment this large, richly colored butterfly spent a couple of feet from me and my iPhone camera, mining nectar from plum blossoms.


Mourning Cloak flies
Flying Mourning Cloak

The pink donkey applies her smarts

Gigi soon after her release from the quarantine pen

Gigi was a slender, pink roan donkey jenny, half an inch shy of being what people classify as mammoth.  She was smart, the boss of her  companions.   And she was possessed immense powers of observations, as well as uncanny skills which we will hear more about soon.

Gigi spent her first six months on a small ranch of 300-some acres in the rippled plains of south Texas.  Her forebears had arrived two decades earlier,  where mesquite — some grown into enormous trees — stood alongside oak, hickory,  bushy huisache and plenty of brush.  And prickly pear, miles of it.

Those forebears had come through a BLM auction in Arizona, as many as would fit into a good sized stock trailer, to be turned loose on the place in South Texas, where they were often left to their own devices.  There was, for a few years, a man who took a great interest in them, visiting from Houston, sometimes for long periods at the ranch. Eventually he grew sick and the donkeys did not see him any more.  They did remember the stench of cancer, however.

From time to time long horned cattle shared the scanty bounties the land had to offer.  A local veterinarian leased some of the acreage for them, hunters paid to bag mule deer, dove shoots took place every spring. These things are how some ranches survive in the region.

The ferocious weather did what it always does in South Texas — floods the land four feet deep in low spots or hurls drought at it till the earth spits apart and wildfires rage.  In between there are lots and lots of fiestas amongst the people of the area.

Over the years the nearly wild donkeys learned about the dry oven-like and humid sauna conditions that made up well over half the year in those parts.  They endured the flash floods for which the region is infamous, and the great droughts that left the cattle with nothing but prickly pear cactus to survive on.  Over time the parched earth gleamed with plenty of bleached cattle bones alongside the more delicate ones of the donkey herd.

The nearly wild donkeys watched the weekend rancher in his worn out jeans or shorts as he went around with a weed burner — trying to flame vicious thorns off the myriad prickly pear for the cattle.  At other times they watched him doing his best to ignite the thin, dry grass of late winter into enough of a fire to bring on fresh green grass the next time it should rain. The fires seldom caught, much, but the donkeys would throw themselves down onto the burnt patches, rolling and grunting with that immense pleasure they take in getting dust rubbed all over themselves.

They saw the man clearing weeds in places around the ranch’s few stock tanks, at other times shaking his head as the tanks dried out for lack of rain. They also watched his scowl deepen as armadillos bumbled their way across the land, leaving deep holes wherever they dug for food.  The man would grab them by their tails and swing their heads against whatever tree or wall was handy.

When Gigi was born there was only that one man taking care of the ranch. He did spend a couple of weekends a month there, repairing   fences, buildings, equipment, bush hogging encroaching brush, setting up blinds for deer hunters, feasts for dove hunters.

Nobody was around when the tiny jenny made her appearance into this harsh world, so nobody knew how her front left pastern came to be so badly broken.  When the weekend rancher arrived one day he was surprised to find a mature jenny leading a badly limping foal.  He summoned a vet to bind the leg and did his best to keep an eye on her.

Months later there was only a slight limp.  Baby bones had healed well.  Which was good, since the friendly jenny found herself climbing into a beat up horse trailer, rumbling and jiggling along unpaved ranch roads, away from her herd.  Across dusty, arid West Texas and the Llano Estacado of eastern New Mexico — said to be the flattest spot on earth — she rode, and then up and up, a mile and a half high, slightly down again, through the southern Rockies.

There she — and the strange stick-walking woman who drove the truck to which her own clatterling chamber was attached — promptly ran into a terrific haboob.  A high desert sandstorm that, for 80 mph traffic, reduced visibility from ten miles to 0 — in under ten seconds.

There were uncomfortable maneuvers and a couple of startled brays from Gigi before the punishing sandblasting ended, and there she was, descending from the trailer, led into a small panel corral.  Beside it her future companion — Jasper, the former pack donkey from the Navajo Reservation — was so excited to see another donkey that he took off buckfarting and braying all over the dry lot he lived on.

Gigi had landed  in the middle of New Mexico, joining a family who loved donkeys a lot more than they understood them.  Which suited the red roan girl just fine.

One of the first items to be settled was a name for the new girl.  The three humans lined up to take turns saying — loudly — the names they had in mind for her.  Three sets of eyes were fixed on her, awaiting reactions.  When the name Gigi elicited a particularly alert look on her part the jenny got her name.

She took on her manners fast enough during her days of quarantine in that panel corral.

Gigi in her small corral

Shocked to find that her new humans did not take kindly to normal donkey herd antics like quick nips to the shoulder and kicks to the shin, she would start to take a chomp or let fly a hind hoof, only to freeze, then rescind the motion as though nothing had happened.


Trying to let them know that she, Donkey, was the boss of them, Humans, she would start to drape her big head over someone’s shoulder, which would quite abruptly be removed.

But she did get her lessons down very well, outwardly.  Inside, the pink donkey held onto her innate wildness.  She could work her system to her own advantage when she wanted to.

The food was steady, the water tank filled afresh daily, her short Texas winter coat gently brushed out in a hot New Mexico spring.  The carrots and apples were great, especially since they appeared  faster than they had back there in the bigger, wilder herd.

She and Jasper — who was at least as clever as she was, Gigi rapidly discovered — settled their territorial disputes in no time.  Gigi was allowed to assume the natural dominance of jenny over jack or gelding.  In the wild jack donkeys form loose bands and stay there for much of their lives.  Jasper, however, excelled in shrugging off Gigi’s bossiness by pretending to be a stud herd all his own.

The people went to work, the girl to school — and there she was, this pink donkey who had once had hundreds of acres to roam upon, confined to an enclosure ringed with oil field pipe and wire mesh — about half an acre.  She could see far and wide, though exercise was confined to circular gallops with Jasper, round and round till the two would collapse for side-by-side rolls in the dust.

Resting after rain
Jasper, Gigi and Ambrose, the pinto donkey who took Chipper’s place, lounging in mud after a thunderstorm.  Oso the German Shepherd was limping in his leg brace after pulling an ACL.

Boredom set in.

Lessons learned at her mother’s shoulder resurfaced in Gigi’s quick donkey brain.  Dovey, a champion lock picker, had taught her offspring well.  But this tiny place had lock challenges less often encountered on the Texas ranch.

Gigi was not familiar with the chain link locks that included the gates to her paddock.  A plan of attack was hatched ….  For days she ambled gently after the man who picked up manure and chopped back some of the six foot ragweed every day.  For her private amusement she frequently tipped over the wheelbarrow of dung when he was turned away.

Shuffling along quietly behind him when he opened and closed the big gate, she kept a brilliant eye — half hidden beneath her thick forehead fringe — on what moved, rattled, shook and stayed still around that big old gate.

One day a bolt fell out, the man leaned down to retrieve and refasten the thing and Gigi knew what she had to do.

Donkeys were not endowed with their strong, flexible, prehensile lips for nothing.  Those lips, with sensitive whiskers, serve donkeys well in their natural niche as browsers.  They are unlike horses in their specialized relation to the land as they do not really graze.  Using those lips they  finesse bites of soft grass, woody shoots or leaves out from amongst things like sharp thorns, crevices and fences.  They learn how to bite off and carefully chew all manner of thorny things.

Jasper and Gigi chomping dried, viciously prickled tumbleweed at their big gate.
Me, in those donkey days, reading Andy Merrifield’s wonderful book: The Wisdom of Donkeys, Finding Tranquillity in a Chaotic World.  …  The particular chaos of donkeys includes — you might like to know – eating books.  But they never got this one.

In barns and pens they unfasten girths, remove one another’s fly masks, pluck their halters and lead ropes from hooks, carry buckets, toss large rubber balls, run side by side with another donkey as each holds one end of a long stick, fling plastic chairs  — and undo screws.


Gigi had her eye on a rose garden a few acres away from her fence line.  The lavish garden had been slowly established on the far side of a weedy field by people who first built a spacious home for their retirement.

Surrounded as she was by five foot fencing, the only way Gigi could see to getting into that garden of prickly delights was to undo the gate when no one was around to stop her.

And so, every day for a good long while Gigi watched her people drive off and disappear into the home office to write, then settled into the tedious process of removing nuts from bolts holding the chain link to the gate post.  Some of those nuts were frozen in place after years in the sun, rain and snow, yet they gave way to infinite donkey patience — and those strong lips of hers.

Next the determined jenny began pushing the bolts out.  She started at the bottom, and the humans failed to notice that the chain link was slowly, ever so slowly, coming away from the post.

That is, not until the day when the woman drove into the yard to see zero donkeys standing at the gate with their usual welcoming brays going full blast.  A crooked, bulging gap separated chain link from its post and also suggested the exit of round bellied creatures.

A visual search of the loafing shed and stalls established that there were no donkeys present.

In due course the human noticed unusual motions down the street in that rose garden…  What a very big butt was sticking out of some distinctly short rose bushes!

A few minutes to get down there with her daughter, find that the neighbors were not at home — and that there were not many roses, either.  Just two sleek, well fed donkeys gazing benignly at the glaring humans.  Ready to trip their dainty way back down the road, just in time for:  Dinner!


If there was ever a song that expresses what I feel in remembering the 15 years I had with my donkeys and mule, it would be this one, sung by Mercedes Sosa and Joan Baez:  Gracias a la Vida

Sun shafts and plum blossoms

tight plum buds


Plum buds are swelling

as errant dove broods doomed eggs —

atop garage lights

dove on garage light nest



dove detail


Small man in b-i-g truck 

rolling by my place each day– 

pointing at the house…

House for sale


sun and thin cloud


sun shafts pierce dry air —

bees,  white butterflies work in

flowering plum trees

plum blossoms opening


Certain we are not

what happens the next hour, day…

what’s in motion now?