The donkeys are settled in their stall. The hay bin is filled with a quarter of my mixed quality hay and seventy-five percent with the sweet smelling and lovely, lime green hay Peggy brought from Crown Meadow. In addition, Chippo and Ziggy have cool water in a bright red bucket, pine shavings on the floor, minerals in a dish, and access to a salt block. They even have a red rubber ball to roll around on the cushiony matted floor. Their stall is large enough for three horses and gives them plenty of room to run around and get rowdy.
Skookum and I are almost as comfortable in the loft above the donkeys. My meal sits on the table. The green lentils, sliced carrots, onions, and tomatoes comprising dinner are slightly firm, and the flavor of the soup broth is rich with olive oil and deep with cumin. I’ve heard gluten free products can taste like dirt, but these savory Glutino crackers seasoned with poppy seeds and rosemary bits are delightful and taste as though they contain butter. The stormy night is perfect for hot soup.
The forecasted tempest has arrived, and the wind is roaring through Three Mile valley. The force of the storm reminds me of the weather in my previous home in Southeast Alaska. A high wind warning is in effect here, and it seems the wind is already blowing in excess of 50 miles per hour. The report predicts winds will reach sixty-five miles per hour by three a.m. Since this is the donkeys’ first night at Mule Springs, I am glad to be close. They’ve never been away from the farm where they were born.
My biggest concern has been how the donkeys will feel tonight, but now Skookum is a pressing worry. The day has been unseasonably warm, and flies, wasps, and honeybees materialized to explore their surroundings. The windows in the tack room were covered with houseflies that had hatched from the pupa in the summer-like heat. Peggy noticed the spots coating the window panes as she walked through on her way to see the donkeys’ new stall and said,” Happens in our barn every year too.” I was relieved Peggy thought flies all over the tack room were normal, for frankly I was a bit disturbed by the sight of so many flies coating the walls and windowpanes.
Unfortunately, a few of those flies made their way into the sleeping loft and now were crawling and buzzing ominously, just out of the reach of the swatter, despite my best efforts to flatten them. A few flies, in the loft, were not a problem for me, but for Skookum –they were a crisis.
Nothing –real or imaginary– reduces this big muscular athletic canine into a cowering, brain-less mass than a few buzzing flies. I never realized this, because in Southeast Alaska summers were so cool, we seldom dealt with flies. But two summers ago Southeast Alaska got hot, really hot, while two girlfriends and I were on a camping trip together on Prince of Wales Island. We hiked down into the cool banks along Staney Creek to escape the sweltering, uncommon heat, and while we sat on the rocks with our feet in the cool water, we discovered Skookum’s extreme response to flies. He tucked his tail and began pacing and running low to the ground as though evil spirits were tormenting him. And flies were, indeed, flittering all around him. I watched in amazement as this dog, that men drool over because he is so powerful, handsome, and such a fine hunter, retreated behind a dense thicket and wedged himself against a rock face. He refused to move though we commanded and coaxed. He only came out when, three hours later, we wished to leave. He scrambled up the bank and onto the road when we had almost made it to the truck.
Tonight the houseflies are transforming Skookum, once again, into an agitated and neurotic dog. He paces and whines. He can’t settle down. I take off the bell he normally wears on his collar, because it keeps clanging incessantly as he trots in circles around the room. Finally I turn off the light; I am ready for bed, even if Skookum is not. I hear a thud as he crashes onto his side on the vinyl floor. He’s trying to sleep, but he keeps sensing flies nearby and soon he bounds up and begins circling the room once more. The donkeys seem quiet in their stall, though it is hard to know for certain as sheets of tin clang against each other outside and huge pieces of black plastic, partially covering old barn wood, snap in the wind. After a short period I can’t hear the dog anymore, and I assume he is finally resting.
Just as I begin to slip away, I hear a series of stomps and snorts from below followed by the sound of donkeys running. Is the storm scaring the donkeys? I snap on the light. Skookum is not in the room. I put on my green rubber clogs and walk to the stairs intending to go down and check on the donkeys. I see the dog at the bottom of the steps. He is scrunched into the bottom step pressed up against the door. He’s condensed seventy pounds into the space of one step! This dog is nuts.
“Skookum come,” I say.
He lifts his head but does not move his body. So, this is how he escaped the flies. I walk down the stairs, lean over the dog, and open the heavy wooden door. Skookum breaks into the barn. When I reach the donkeys’ stall I peep inside. Chippo and Ziggy are standing quietly and all seems well. I’m not sure what they were doing five minutes ago, but they seem ready to sleep again. Do donkeys’ sleep? I think horses can sleep standing up, and probably donkeys do the same.
So, I go back upstairs and try and sleep again, but by three a.m. my nerves are raw, and I cannot deal with Skookum’s nonsense any longer. I tell him to follow me, and I use my flashlight to lead him to my Jeep. “Kennel up,” I roar along with the wind, and Skookum jumps into the vehicle. I slam the door, and shuffle back into the barn and find my bed. I fall into it and sleep soundly until 630 a.m. The wind is still howling while rain pelts the tin roof. I still feel sleepy, but I want to see what the donkeys are doing, and I should let Skookum out of the car.
The donkeys have mostly been quiet all night. In fact they seem to have done better than Skookum or me. I slide open their door and see Ziggy has pine shavings covering his grey coat as though he’s been rolling in his bedding, and Chippo stands before the empty hay manger and says, “I can use some more hay.” I give him a flake of Peggy’s hay and a flake of my hay, and then I walk out to my Jeep to get Skookum. He is sitting slumped over in the passenger seat, and to my surprise he appears to have not slept all night. His eyes are dim, his head hangs, and when I open the door he remains staring at the dashboard without giving me any kind of greeting. Oh boy, I think there must have been some flies in here too. “Come on, let’s go Skookum,” I say. He collapses out of the Jeep and trots toward the woodshed where he lifts his leg. Then he quietly follows me back into the sleeping loft. I guess it is too cool and early for the flies; Skookum flops over onto his foam bed, and I craw back under the sleeping bag.
An hour passes, and through my sleep comes the loud sound of “scrape” and “crunch” from the donkeys’ stall below. Oh my god, I know that sound. I’m awake, and I jam my feet into the clogs and hurry to the donkeys’ stall. I slide the door back and see Ziggy opening his mouth to take another chunk of wood out of the old post.
“Hi guys, is everything okay in here? (I wave my arms to get their attention) Here we go, let’s go outside and see what’s happening in the yard.”
I distract Ziggy just long enough for me to slide open the door that leads into their paddock. Ziggy and Chippo come over for a scratch, and then they peer out into their new yard. The step out and explore the new territory. For the moment the wood is safe. I turn and run up into the main barn to get them lots of hay, which I then drop into their manger. Then I run back to the loft, reach for the cell phone, scroll down the contacts and select the name Chip.
The phone begins to ring.
“Chip, it’s Sher from Mule Springs. I’m sorry to call you on such short notice, but could you come over here for a slight emergency?”
“Sure I have some time this morning. What seems to be the problem?”
“The donkeys arrived last night, and I need all the wooden edges in their stall covered with metal strips.”
“Chewing are they?”
“Yes. It’s started, and I need to get this taken care of before they ruin the old wood. I need twelve strips of tin to cover both edges of six posts.”
“I’ll pick up the metal and be right over.”
Thank heavens for Chip, and if I’m really lucky Bruce won’t even notice the shining tin lining the posts in the stall.
The donkeys’ first night is behind us, and we all seemed to have survived despite a few chunks of missing wood, the dog needing a psychiatrist, and me wishing I could have more sleep.