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Biblical Creatures

 
A sweet mini donkey enjoying fresh hay.
Photo © copyright by Jim Bergman 2019

The donkey has been used as a working animal for at least 5000 years. There are more than 40 million donkeys in the world, mostly in underdeveloped countries, where they are used principally as draught or pack animals. Working donkeys are often associated with those living at or below subsistence levels. Small numbers of donkeys are kept for breeding or as pets in developed countries

 

--source, Wikipedia

 

 

As the world reels, as terrorists perpetrate atrocities on Easter Sunday, a Christian Holy Day, and the regime in Washington continues unabated with an anti-Christ at the helm, and Passover has passed, I wondered what to do to raise our secular spirits and remembered what I'd read a while back in a New York Times article about a "donkey park," in Ulster Park, NY, not far from where we live in New Paltz.


It was cool and cloudy, all the blossoms out after a day of heavy rain. A short ride down a long, quiet highway, the windows wide open, and when we arrived at the enclosure a small crowd of adults and children were standing among the donkeys, donkeys of all sizes, standard and mini. Although people were talking quietly to one another, and a few were brushing the donkeys, the animals made no sound and the air was oddly still, as it is in church, or in a canoe on a calm mountain lake. Sacred animals, tender and gentle animals, protective spirits from the antique world in my writer's imagination, they carry 5,000 years of history in their genes.


The donkeys walked around, they trotted a bit, they kept their noses to the ground eating hay, they seemed to enjoy having the back of their very, very long ears rubbed and their thick winter pelts brushed. "Their bellies are really soft," Carol, one of the volunteers told us. "But if you see them raise their tails, best move aside. They are about to poop," her husband, Larry, said. Carol and Larry live down the road and have been volunteering at the park for three years. They seemed comfortable in the enclosure, and were also eager to talk about two larger equines—a mule and a zonkey. The thought of cross-breeding a zebra with a donkey was a bit chilling, I'm not sure why. The large beast, not friendly exactly, not unfriendly, had stripes at the bottom of his long legs and looked more like a horse than a donkey. Not surprisingly, he was called Stripes. And there was a mule, too, which, by definition is a hybrid of a horse and a donkey, and therefore cannot reproduce, we were told. Perhaps that is for the best, I thought. Again, I'm not sure why. Maybe the deliberate manipulation feels unnatural, unlike the hybridization of plants, which we hardly notice, or the raising of animals for slaughter, which we do notice and question, if we are so inclined.


Stories about donkeys are plentiful in the Bible, in children's books, in mythology and fiction. The donkey can often seem ridiculous and is sometimes treated unkindly by storytellers—Pinocchio, for example. But I don't think of them as ridiculous creatures. When I told my colleague, Deb, at the SUNY Ulster Writing Center about our plans for a Jewish Easter Ecumenical Sunday—if that is not an oxymoron—she told me the story about Mary carrying Baby Jesus into the manger on a donkey. "That's why donkeys have crosses on their backs," she said. And, sure enough, they do. I snapped a picture of a donkey's back and sent it to her via a modern apparatus, the iPhone.


Check out the Donkey Park website: www.donkeypark.org

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The Stallion & The Donkey

Photo © copyright by Carol Bergman 2018
Once upon a time a black stallion and a donkey lived together in a shed on a horse farm in New Paltz, NY. They lived in perfect harmony with one another, the landscape and their owners. I visited them whenever I walked down Dubois Road, formerly the homestead—twelve generations ago—of Jennifer Dubois Bruntil’s French Huguenot family. I have written about Jennifer’s book, “Hugo the Huguenot,” in a post on May 7 and, since then, have walked the road on Saturday mornings, weather permitting.

The French Huguenots escaped from persecution in France and settled in this magnificent valley in the late 17th century. Despite their own struggles, they became slave owners. Historians at the Huguenot Historic Site (HHS) uncovered a slave register more than a decade ago. It documented what everyone knew: By 1790 there were 302 slaves in New Paltz belonging to 77 families, 13% of the population.

For more information about slavery in the Hudson Valley:

https://omeka.hrvh.org/exhibits/show/missing-chapter

Currently, there is a controversy on the SUNY campus about removal of Huguenot family names from dormitories—another “monuments” discussion. Decisions are forthcoming in a report that was due in April but has been delayed. Meanwhile, many roads in this town are named after the Huguenot families, including Dubois Road. What will the town do about them, ultimately, I wonder? Perhaps nothing. Perhaps a memorial to the slaves who labored here will also be erected. There are many possible solutions. The horse farm has changed hands many times over the centuries, but originally was on the Dubois tract or patent “purchased” from the Esopus tribal sachems. But that is another story.

Echoes of past lives are everywhere here, and so much history that still feels very present, very visible. Devoted New Paltz citizens, descendants of slave-owning families, have inherited some tough history. There is a reckoning now both locally and nationally. I hope it remains civil.

***

I grew up in the city and don’t know anything about horses or donkeys, but I was as captivated by these two gentle creatures living together without discord as I have been by the history of the area. They always came to my call: first the stallion, then the donkey. The stallion was taller than I am, a very large creature indeed. He would broadside his body to the fence, snort a bit, which I took as a greeting, and let me stroke him. I talked to him for a while, he went on his way, and then the donkey arrived. I had never seen a donkey up close before. Those ears and eyes and snout, so adorable. Biblical creatures, they have been used as beasts of burden for 5000 years.

I looked forward to these visits every week and to learning more about the farm, its particular history and its current owners. But this past Saturday, when I returned to the field where the horse and donkey grazed, it was empty, as was the shed. I picked up the newspaper at the end of the driveway and walked to the iron gate. There was algae bloom on the pond, the gate was closed with a bungee cord and the greenhouse was overgrown. This farm, like so many in America, is hurting. I soon learned from the grand-daughter of the owners that it is up for sale and that sadly, inexplicably, the beautiful black stallion has died. It wasn’t the heat; they’d been hosing the animals down all day. No, he had an attack of colic—horses cannot vomit to clear their digestive tract—and the vet could not save him. He was only sixteen, which is young for a horse these days.

The owners are bereft, as am I. Before leaving I walked into another field where the lone donkey was grazing peacefully. I don’t know if he feels the loss of his stallion friend—these are human emotions projected onto our beloved animals—but before I walked away I marveled at the dignity and simplicity of their lives.  Read More 
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