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A Little Burro Therapy

The three burros who live with Alice MacDonald Greer, lawyer/amateur sleuth protagonist of my Texas Hill Country legal thrillers, bear a strong resemblance to the three burros who rule our patch of the Hill Country.

We manage our small piece of the planet for native grasses and birds under the county’s Wildlife Management Program. Today I received our spring box of blue grama and buffalo grass seed, for re-seeding bare patches with native grass. (More below on bare patches.)

The burro idea sprang full-blown into life at a wedding on the banks of the Blanco River years ago, when we were enchanted to see docile and well-behaved burros with panniers on their backs full of cold bottles of water or beer, being led to the guests by docile and well-behaved teenagers. Immediately I envisioned myself trekking up and down our fields leading a burro bearing panniers of grass seed, which can be (believe it or not) heavy. And we knew the burros could help keep down tall dry grasses—a concern during fire season.

So just before Christmas we bought two smallish burros from the wedding venue, with certificates attesting to their conformation, heritage, and names (Amanda and Caroline). Both were elegant, with classically lovely faces, straight legs, and dainty hooves.

Per Random House Unabridged, “burro” is “a small donkey, especially one used as a pack animal in the Southwestern U.S.” (We use donkey interchangeably.) Let me just say for the record that the “pack animal” concept went nowhere with Amanda and Caroline––they were deeply insulted at the idea of any burden on their backs. They made it crystal clear they had not signed on to work. Still—they were decorative, and they ate down the grass.

But on Christmas morning when we looked across the pasture, my spouse asked, his voice disturbed: “How many donkeys do you see?” ...Three.

The newcomer was shorter, pudgier, and male—well, an “altered” boy. Knock-kneed, chipmunk-cheeked, he seems to keep a chewable cud in each cheek. He’d climbed through a fence to visit. We found his owner and bought him. Given his appearance (and the snootiness of Amanda and Caroline) we gave him a new and more dignified name: Sebastian.

While Amanda and Caroline are ladies of leisure, Sebastian has taken on two jobs. First, he’s our designated greeter. He brays a loud greeting as you drive through the gate. He brays again to welcome the dawn (or pre-dawn).

Second, Sebastian has declared himself the official guard-donkey. In particular, he’s hell on canines. Pre-donkeys, there were cows on the property—and coyotes. But no coyote dares invade Sebastian’s turf. He’d be happy to kick a coyote into the next county. Donkeys are shockingly fast on their feet and could easily catch a coyote. Earlier this year I found Sebastian standing triumphant and motionless in the middle of the dirt road, ears back, head up, posture stubborn, hooves planted—a picture of victory. Visible in the dirt? Tracks of a mama coyote with one pup, who’d erroneously strayed into forbidden territory. The tracks indicated a frantic exit. As he stood in the road, surveying his domain, Sebastian was announcing, “I’m walkin’ here.”

Random House Unabridged includes a definition of “donkey” as “a stupid, silly or obstinate person.” Donkeys are not stupid. They are curious, persistent, intelligent, and acute of hearing. Are they silly? Well...Amanda and Caroline are aloof and standoffish, but Sebastian wants to play. With a bucket between his teeth, he’ll run over and whap Amanda on the hindquarters with it, then stand there. He so wants her to join in his favorite game, which apparently is called “I’ve got the bucket, now you come bite the bucket and yank it away, then you can hit me with it, then I will chase you, and then...?!?!” So far, the girls steadfastly refuse to cooperate. When whopped with the bucket, Amanda will bite Sebastian instead of biting the bucket. Maybe that’s a different game?

Obstinate? Oh, yes. They are persistent in searching for ways to get past the gate into the yard and eat the roses. They’re also very hard to stop when they want to go somewhere, and very hard to move when they intend to stay put.

Re-seeding bare patches? These three donkeys pick a spot, then take turns rolling on their backs until the grass gives up and a circular bare spot remains. Then, after rain, they race to the soggy bare spot and roll on their backs until they’re thoroughly muddy. Hence my constant race to re-seed bare patches.

Donkeys model companionship. Indeed, they need it. Despite their occasional spats, Sebastian, Amanda and Caroline spend their days and nights together, never more than about 100 feet apart.

Writers have to take breaks, or go nuts. Https:// I’m in that situation right now, because I’m almost but not quite finished with Book 9 in the Alice MacDonald Greer Mystery series. As is well known, writers in such situations can be subject to breakdowns—small rages, or tears, or snappishness, or overdosing on Cheezits.

I can recommend burro therapy. As I stand next to Sebastian, stroking his neck, and he leans back against me, I feel my heartrate slow and my breathing relax. Maybe that’s how burros feel too? Maybe this is their secret advantage, a resource that helps explains their long presence on the planet? Here’s how Alice Greer puts it in Ghost Cat:

“Donkey hugs meant leaning into their sides, stroking their necks. The donkeys instantly settled, leaning back against her. The weird thing, Alice thought, was how the donkeys settled her. They weren’t dogs, loyal and needy, or cats, neutral and non-needy. Donkeys were ancient residents of the planet, tough, independent, curious herd animals with their own inner life.”

And in Ghosted: “Finding herself needing a little burro therapy, ...Alice stood in her driveway surrounded by the three. At the moment she was brushing Big Boy. He leaned against her; the warmth felt good in the late morning chill. Those eyelashes, those soft ears, Alice thought. No wonder Titania fell in love with Bottom.”

Indeed, Queen Titania, seeing Bottom with his head magically changed to an ass’s head, says,

“I pray thee, gentle mortal, sing again.

Mine ear is much enamour’d of thy note;

So is mine eye enthralled to thy shape;

And thy fair virtue’s force perforce doth move me

On the first view to say, to swear, I love thee.”

A Midsummer Night’s Dream, Act III, Scene II.

If you’re in need of burro therapy, fellow writers, feel free. Come on out. And bring some carrots!

Helen Currie Foster, February 27, 2024

Copyright Helen Currie Foster 2024 All rights reserved

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