She must be psychic. I haven’t even turned the light on, nor have I spoken – either to myself as I grumble about getting up at 445 AM, or to the dogs (who don’t grumble because it’s breakfast time). She is in the barnyard, often not even outside the barn, which is several hundred feet away from the house. The windows of the house are closed. So, there is no way she should know that I am getting up, getting dressed, and stumbling my way out to her to mix up her wet porridge of horse pellets. Wet and mushy as her teeth have gone past the time of being functional.
Somehow, she knows. And then comes the bray – big, alive, and large, and way bigger than her 30-inch-high shoulders, way bigger than the round oil barrel of her belly as it expands outside the dimension of her four stick legs. Oil barrel on stilts, I call her. The bray is one of excitement, of saying hello to me, of owning her space, knowing and trusting that she is cared for within it, of encouraging me to hurry the heck up. Like regular sized donkeys (she is a miniature), her call squeaks in and out as it occupies two or three breaths. It is so energized, sending word to the bigger space around her that she is present, accounted for, and that she won’t be ignored, and that she is excited.
Gina’s bray is almost her only outward expression. Other than a rare time when the bigger horses crowd her and she reacts with a squeal and kick out of her back, stilt legs. She is stoic and reserved, and until you get to know her subtle, nuanced ways, you might think she is boring. And, you might write her off. And that, would be a big mistake.
She is the smartest of the animals in the pasture and barn yard; and although, she does not do the call and response of trained obedience that the dogs do and revel in doing, she likely is smarter than they are. She knows instantly, when meeting a strange dog, if that dog is trustworthy. You see, donkeys are known for their natural vigilance for and subsequent attack on any coyote or wolf (read dog) that comes into the pasture. Gina can spot a newcomer minutes before the horses have any clue. And she is ready – to initiate the brutal kicks that would take the intruder out.
Her minimal outward expressions have given me ample opportunity to read more closely, to sense without a lot of obvious signs; I have become better at trusting my read of the refined shades of her communication. How she hesitates just by my side when I open the pasture gate to give her egress to join the horses. If I miss the signs, if I am clueless as to what she is saying, she takes a small 8-inch step toward me, lining up along my leg. Then, inwardly I clap my forehead with a “what-a-fool-I-am, I-get-it” gesture, and go get the curry brush and scratch her back a few times before I shepherd her out to pasture.
Gina has shown me a lot, over the years we’ve been together. And daily, I laugh or chuckle about her larger-than-life personality, cloaked by what seems to be flat outward expression. She finds the magnificence in warm mush, of three strokes of the curry comb, of a nuzzle from the dogs now and then. And, unless you look closely, you will miss what is obviously joy. And, if you are very lucky, she will remind you with her early morning Hallelujah. Life is good.