Before we begin this riveting tale, let me paint a picture of the current state of my hands: The best that can be said is that all of the bones are still intact. Probably. There is a chunk of skin missing from two fingers on my left hand. A small gouge in my palm. Some sort of rash creeping around my thumb, across the back of my hand, and up my arm. And that’s my “good” hand. The other one, while deficient in scrapes and rashes, has a rather fetching band of purple and green bruising spreading outward from my wrist, and even though all my fingers are still pointing in the proper directions, I probably won’t be using it to grip a hammer for a while. (Or a week, whichever comes first.)
Saturday evening, my hands were fine. The usual amount of scrapes and scarring, nothing to write home about. And that’s where this story begins. Saturday evening, with only mildly beat-up hands, and a couple of donkeys who were out, mowing the lawn, and needed to be put back in the pasture.
Over the last couple of weeks I’ve been working with the donkeys on being “off the lead” in the yard. They wander around and keep the grass down. They don’t run when I get close. They come when I call (mostly to see if I have a carrot hiding in my pocket). And when it’s time to go in, I hook Doc up to the lead and Parker follows complacently behind.
They’re not perfect. They walk on the leads great until it comes to taking that last step inside the gate of their pasture, and then it takes oats and singing, and sometimes a firm shove on a donkey butt to get them to actually cross the threshold. But for the most part they have been fantastic.
Here for example, are my boys stretching their legs, and come full speed when they hear me shake the oats bucket.
Saturday, started out just like every other time I’ve let the boys out in the yard. They spent a few hours meandering around the house, tasting this-and-that, and since I was leaving for dinner with friends it was time to go back in the pasture. Doc handled it like a champ… walked great on the lead, right through the gate. For the first time, however, Parker didn’t follow.
So once Doc was in, I hooked the lead up to Parker’s harness and led him back to the pasture. We were almost there, when he decided to detour around the side of the barn, and then Parker– Parker, who has been my sweetheart from day one, who hid with his face pressed against my leg the first time we went out on the lead– Parker got spooked. The lead rope rubbed up against the side of the barn, make some sort of a noise, and that donkey took off.
My immediate reaction was to tighten my grip on the rope. These are little donkeys– about the same size as a large dog on a leash–and of the four I’ve had close contact with (including a few struggles on the lead) not one has actually gotten away from me.
But not only did Parker get away, he took a good chunk of my finger-skin with him on the rope.
“No problem,” I thought, “A few oats, another 10 minutes, I’ll have him in the pen.” I may have even rolled my eyes at the delay. And the blood dripping down my hand.
I’ll skip the play-by-play of the next two hours, but suffice it to say, Parker plays a mean game of keep-away. I probably walked, jogged, and ran 3 miles worth of circles around that donkey as he trotted just out of reach.
As the sun started to set, I let Parker calm down and graze at the very back end of the property for a while, and I strung 600 feet of fence-wire between the house, donkey barn, and pole barn forming a “funnel” to lead him back to the gate.
Then I walked a wide arc around him, approached slowly, expecting him to run away back towards the barn. Instead he let me come right up to him, checked my pockets for treats, and didn’t mind when I grabbed a hold of the lead. But when I tried to walk him back toward the pasture?
I talked to him, stood silent, got down on my knees in the dirt and tried to have a logical conversation with him about taking a step (just one step) forward. I sang. I waited. I pleaded. I made up rhymes about stubborn little donkeys who didn’t want to go home. All to no avail.
It was officially dark, and I was afraid at any time something might spook him and if he took off into the field behind my property I wouldn’t even be able to see him. So I considered for a minute what had happened so far, if Parker was likely to take off again, and if I could control him if I had a tight grip on the halter or the lead close to his head.
I mean, he’s three feet tall. I know I don’t have epic proportions myself, but I was pretty sure I could handle a midget donkey, for crissake. So I wrapped the lead around my wrist a few times and gripped it tightly.
I was totally in control.
And then– to my surprise–I was totally being dragged across a field, face down, arms stretched out in front of me with a death-grip on the lead, by a donkey the size of a doberman.
This is probably a metaphor for my life.
Also a metaphor for my life. I hung on. I was never stuck, but Parker was heading away from the house, and I knew if he was spooked enough to drag my flailing ass through fifty feet of bramble, letting go might mean I never see him again.
He actually stopped for a minute, snorting and pulling as hard as he could, and there I am laying on the ground, two hands on the rope, playing the most ridiculous game of tug-o-war ever invented.
He took off again dragging me behind him, and when he hit the actual bean field behind my property I gave up and let him go. And then I laid face down in the field for a minute and contemplated both the new level of ridiculous my life had reached, and my options given that it was pitch dark, I was bleeding from one hand, numb from the wrist on the other, and had a bucket’s worth of dirt shoved down my pants. So I finally, finally did what an actual reasonable person would do at a time like this: called for help.
My neighbors? Oh you guys, I can’t even tell you how much I lucked out with them. They are huge animal lovers, totally love the donkeys, hardly even blink when they catch me napping on the roof of the barn mid-shingling, and occasionally pay to have my lawn mowed because I let them store a couple of cars in my huge-ass barn for free.
And when I call them at 9:30 PM and ask them to trudge around my property to help me guide a scared donkey back into the pen, they are there in a second.
The magic of having three people, a veritable donkey-funnel leading into the pasture, and one very tired donkey cannot be overstated. It only took another 15 minutes to get him safe inside, after which I thanked my neighbors profusely, walked inside, sat on the floor of the kitchen, and spent the next half-hour shaking from head to toe when the adrenaline crashed.
Holy shit, you guys. This is going to be one of those stories I tell a decade from now, when I’m an old-hand at donkeys and chickens and managing a small farm. I’ll look back and laugh about how I had no idea what the shit I was doing, and that time one of my tiny little donkeys dragged me bouncing across the field on my stomach. Oh, and managed to run me through a patch of poison ivy while he was at it.
But the aftermath is actually less intense than you would think. Parker and I are on speaking terms again (although I’m not going to halter him for another week or two), the boys will be staying firmly put inside the pasture, and since I managed to install a good 200 feet of fence posts on Sunday, I’m pretty sure there’s no lasting damage to either of my hands. The poison ivy effing sucks, but it’s limited to one hand. So in the end, all is well.
Except next time I go donkey-dragging, I’m definitely wearing gloves.