The week before I left Donkey Paradise in July I thought about writing a blog. While I walked Jack during siesta time I thought about how great it had been to be able to stay for almost a year at this lovely place.
I remember my first week at El Paraiso well: learning the names of all the volunteers was one thing…learning the names of the donkeys seemed impossible, or maybe not; learning their names was hard, but to tell them apart, especially when they were out and about in the field, seemed an impossible task. They all looked so alike: greyish or brownish with four legs and long ears. Now it sounds strange to me that I ever thought they looked the same, for they do not look like the same at all….except for, thank heavens, those four legs and long ears. More than 50 shades of grey, endless tones of brown, furry, bold spots, curly, smooth, freckles, skinny, fat and fattest, sad theatrical eyes like Sophia Loren, stern looking eyes, rigid ears or flexible ears that move like an owls head….the differences are countless and make each one of them unique. And yet I haven’t yet written about their character or the sound they make.
I was walking Jack that day and he was listening so well: off the lead, walking behind me and when I stopped, he would stop and when I told him go run and whistled for him not much later, he would go run and return straightaway on my call. What a wonderful difference from the black, unruly dog of months ago. Would the volunteers that were here that first week believe their own eyes?
While thinking that I should write to Marian for example, how well this dog was walking, I should write Avital as well, about dear stubborn Alfredo, who never wanted to leave the yard in the morning. Avital tried everything…from singing lovely Disney songs, walking him in circles through the yard or to pushing his bum gently, nothing would work. Nowadays he’s one of the easier donkeys to start walking…no singing needed. He will finish his bowl of extra food (mostly without the ears flat in the back and mostly without kicking) and then when you’re bringing either Flora or Charlotte to the field he will walk with you – just like that. I could write that to her. A miracle?
Also, maybe I should write to Claude about Stevie….about the fact that she’s far to big now to swoop up from the floor and carry in your arms (as we did once to weigh her; 20 kilos of screaming pig – not so easy). Or write him that we don’t have to put her, (while screaming her head off) on a ‘harness’ anymore in order to take her to her outside house in the morning. If we unlock the gate of her stable now, she will push her nose against the gate, open it and make her way up the hill while we follow her. Some days, I have to be honest, she will take a D-tour to the apple trees or to the far end of the field, but with a bit of guidance and some bribing (chopped up carrots will do the trick) she will go in. And in the evening we just open the gate from the outside area and there she goes…straight home to where her food is waiting for her. She’s such a lovely and smart creature and, besides that, she made some non-vegetarian, meat-loving volunteers here become vegetarian, which I think is great.
In the same stable as Stevie there is small horse Finn, a black Asturian beauty. Those who met Finn last year might remember him as a scared and scary horse…he would turn his bum to you if you entered the stable, eyeballing you and more than once he cornered me. With the love, patience and care of Marleen and so many volunteers, he’s now a cuddly boy. Although he might still sometimes show you his fierce self (which I really love about him), he is mostly the new softy…waiting at the stable door to be scratched on the neck and pushing his nose against your arm if you stop. He walks quite well on a halter now and it’s even possible to do his hooves (here too I have to be honest….he’s still not easy, but such a change) and I am so happy to have been there long enough to witness his change and that of so many others….both of animals and volunteers.
At El Paraiso the animals get love, care and attention; here they learn to trust humans again and, some volunteers who hadn’t been in touch with animals for a long time and kind of “lost touch with nature” as they called it themselves, have clearly found that touch again or discovered a whole new positive side of themselves, by working with the donkeys at the Donkey Paradise, or with the people.
And while I was walking Jack in July, up and down the hills behind the house for the last time, (he too was moving on too, being adopted by a young German volunteer) I thought about these things: about the animals, the many inspirational volunteers and the changes that I witnessed in the animals, the other volunteers, me, and the nature around me; magical, wonderful and, at the same time, plain and simple and so natural. I loved every minute of my time there and will be back one day, for a few days…or maybe longer.
Once upon a time there was in the Donkey Paradise a much beloved volunteer. He, a traveler, had seen a lot of places in the world and now wanted to settle down and learn to grow his own food. Around the cabaña in the valley he created his own small paradise. Miche -Michael – left after a stay of 2 years. He and Maria now have their own family.
In case you wonder where the name of our new donkey ‘Miche’ came from: now you know, he was named after our volunteer with that name. Donkey Miche came from Gijon, where he had lived alone and without a shelter in a plot of land near the harbour for over 15 years. He is not really used to people or other donkeys. He wants to make friends but doesn’t really know how to go about it.
After his castration he will be able to live together with lots of other donkeys; he will be able to socialize and gain the skills needed to make friends and he will be well cared for.
I will never forget the early morning of the 4th of August 2015. Marleen went into stable 4 to do the morning feeding. Stable 4 is the home of mother and daughter Burri and Burribu, the ‘evil sisters’ Eyore and Fiona, and pregnant Xana. As the ladies were quite wild, I followed right behind Marleen to help her. Then I saw the expression on her face… Marleen looked like she just saw a ghost. Her jaw dropped, she held her breath and pointed. ‘Look!’ she said.
And there, in the middle of the stable, stood a little miracle: a brand new, fluffy, furry, perfect baby donkey. Everything about her was perfect. Her beautiful long ears, her cute white nose, her wobbly legs, her curved little hooves, her big bright eyes. She was clean, she was standing and her mother looked like she had no idea what all the fuss was about. We had tried to prepare ourselves. Marleen had informed the vet; we had a little stable where Xana could deliver; co-volunteer Tom had checked Xana every day for signs of an upcoming birth… and then Xana went her own way and gave us the biggest surprise the next morning.
Franka – named after the Dutch volunteer couple Frank and Helma – is two weeks old now and seems in perfect health. She jumps and runs around in the field, got acquainted with many aunts and uncles and looks exactly like her mother. Xana is in fact a teenage mom. She got pregnant when she was only one year old. She was meant to have babies every year until she would be worn out and ready for the butcher. Marleen rescued her in October last year, a shy and scared young donkey. And look at her now! She behaves like a perfect mother to Franka and the future of mother and daughter looks bright. Franka, our little miracle, born in a donkey’s paradise!
The lovely Frieda died during the night of Thursday 9th July. Volunteer Tom went in at 4 to turn her over. “She looked calm, with her friends standing and sleeping by her side,” he said.
Volunteer Miriam dedicated the famous song ‘No coming, no going’ (Thich Nhat Hanh, Plum Village France) to her:
‘No coming, no going
No after and no before
I hold you close to me
I release you to be so free
Because I am in you and you are in me
Because I am in you and you are in me”
Winter is a beautiful time of year here in Asturias, when the Picos de Europa mountains are often covered in snow and there is a good view of the mountains from the grounds of “El Paraiso del Burro,” however, at this level, we rarely get snow covering the ground for any length of time.
Winter is a time of year for taking a little extra care of the animals to ensure that they do not get too cold or too wet. At “El Paraiso del Burro” we have large, dry stables and outdoor shelters, stocked with plenty of hay and drinking water, to keep our donkeys warm and dry. They are always brought back into the stables to shelter from the heavy rain, wind and occasional snow.
Donkeys come originally from hot, dry countries and their coats are quite different to that of a horse. A donkey’s coat becomes wet through very quickly on rainy days and the donkey quickly becomes cold and miserable. As donkeys can also be prone to pneumonia or bronchitis, it is important to provide a shelter for them so they are able to get out of the rain. How often do you see a donkey left out in a field in the rain? They never look very happy do they? Please provide a shelter for your donkey and remember that if you look after him or her well he will live longer and be healthier.
Finally, I wish you all a very Happy New Year from everyone at “El Paraiso del Burro”.