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Truffles--Partner of Karen


thought you might get a kick out of my year-old donkey, Truffles, who is a genuine character. Here she is with her own fanny pack filled with peppermints, and her own clicker (the yellow blur). She likes wearing my shirts and hats, and she wanted her own fanny pack,too. She has to open a velcro pouch to get the peppermints out, and then when it's empty, she whirls it in the air and then brings the fanny pack to me to refill. This little routine is all her own idea, and I know she'd "click" me if she could, for learning to re-fill her pack.

When I saw that Valentine had exiled Truffles after giving birth to Senor! Milton Burro, and that she had written the eviction notice with hooves, pinned-back ears, and bites, my heart broke. I knew this was Mother Nature at work, but still, Truffles is my BABY. I knew that little Senor! had to be kept safe from a kerfuffle between his Mom and his big sister and that Valentine should have time alone with her new baby. So I decided to be the Grandma that comes to look after the little "big sister" while Mommy is unwrapping the new baby from underneath the cabbage leaves, where the stork has left everybody's new baby for thousands of years, as we all know.

The Donkey House had just been completed and pulled into the little pasture on Saturday - how's that for timing, since "Uncle Miltie" was born on Monday? It's the size of a nice bedroom, about 10 x 15 and has deep straw inside and a tin roof for listening to the rain, and a dutch door facing east. Dale looked at it proudly and said, "They'll probably eat it."

Truffles was despondent without her Mommy because they've never been apart, but I explained to her that her Mommy and her new little brother needed a day or two together, and now that she was a whole year old, I thought it would be great fun if just the two of us would live in the Donkey House during that time and we'd play games and have snacks right before dinner and read Winnie-The-Pooh and stay up as late as we pleased and maybe even tell each other scary stories at night under the moon. To which she agreed for the most part, but secretly harbored thoughts of seeing her Mommy, too.

Dale found me a sleeping bag and even a piece of foam to go under it. I laid them in the straw in the Donkey House, up against the south wall. I brought out a folding chair, books, an extra shirt and jacket, carrots, oats, granola bars, peppermints, a box of animal cookies (Truffles likes the donkeys best), yogurt, a jug of water and a booklight. And my donkey bag, of course, which goes everywhere I do, which holds bug wipes and hoof picks and brushes and hair barrettes and Off Skintastic Spray Lotion Every Farm Woman's Elegant Parisianne Perfume.

So in the mornings, I sat in my chair in the shade of the Donkey House and Truffles stood beside me while we watched a mother blackbird feed her grown baby bird on the ground next to the water trough while another bird looked on. We put our heads back and watched the long, entire flights of barn swallows, from beginning to end, while they gathered bugs from the air. Usually, humans only see part of a swallow's flight because we're always busy doing "something important." But now I was on Donkey Time, and Truffles was showing me a window onto her world. She was so very sad, though, and cried now and then. It was a different, grief-filled bray she uttered, while she'd run back and forth along the fence every few hours, hoping to catch sight of her mother. She'd come back to me when I called her, though, and I'd give her lots of huggies and scratches, and we'd play a clicker game and have peppermints. Once, two dragonflies came and flew around her in patterns, and that cheered her up for awhile.

In the afternoons, we played Hide The Carrots in The Bath Towel, which she thought was great fun. I'd bite off carrot pieces and hide them in the folds of a bath towel, and Truffles would have to find them all with her nose. Once when I wasn't looking, she grabbed my barn jacket and dragged it away and ate all the peppermints out of the pockets and then picked it up in her teeth and swirled it around like a lasso. Sometimes we'd just walk companionably around the pasture in the breeze, while she sampled plants and I rested my hand on her back as we walked. Sometimes we'd go over to the water trough and have a drink together and she'd wipe her nose on my shirt and I'd wipe my hands on her sun-warmed rump.

Three-thirty was nap time. She'd lie down at my feet in the shade and I'd sit in my chair and read to her about how Eeyore lost his tail and Owl had it on his tree porch as a bell-pull, and how Winnie-The-Pooh got it back. She listened intently and then after awhile, half-closed her eyes and fell asleep.

Around six I went in and heated leftovers in the microwave for Dale's and my supper, ate quick, and went out again. Dale didn't mind, because he could hear Truffles crying while I was gone and he knew I wanted to get back to her. He didn't want her trying to get through the fence, either, into the other pasture. I'd go visit Valentine and little Senor!. He was friendly and hopped around in the grass, ba-doop ba-doop ba-doop; she was so-so, but she tolerated my company and even gave me a kiss for a peppermint. But she let me hug Senor! and gaze deeply into his little eyes.

In the evenings Denise, my daughter-in-law, and two of her teens, Stacey and Kenney, would come to the pasture and visit Truffles and me until around 10. We'd sit in front of the Donkey House and talk and Truffles would do adorable things so we would adore her, and we'd give her Skittles and animal cookies and hugs.

Night was the best. The three nights I spent out there were, well, they were pure magic. There's no other way to describe it. Truffles and I sat outside the Donkey House in the creamy light of an almost full moon. We shared a bedtime carrot and then she'd go over beside the straw bales and roll around really good in the dirt and grunt luxuriously while I watched the silver gray dust float slowly off to the east. Then I'd go inside and get into my sleeping bag and while I was getting comfortable, Truffles would come inside too, and look at me all wrapped up and reach down and put her nose on my face and breathe on me. Then she'd find just the right spot in the straw and lie down beside me while we said our prayers. She'd drift off to sleep while I was telling her this is what it must have been like between the burros and the prospectors long ago. Two crickets sang me to sleep while the moonlight filtered through the small spaces between the wall slats, striping the straw and Truffles and me like zebras in the dark.

Coyotes howled off in the distance at two in the morning, and Truffles would stand guard in the doorway, taking her job of protecting me very seriously, I saw. Then she would wander outside eventually and call most mournfully for Valentine, who never answered. I'd call to Truffles and tell her she was my baby, too, and I knew she was sad and that pretty soon things would be happy again; and then she'd walk back inside the Donkey House and find her spot in the straw that was just right and she'd lie down with a sigh and I'd tell her a little story and eventually she'd be fast asleep again and snoring softly. "Truffles," I'd whisper, "You're the best."

She was so good for two nights and then last night she had to be Truffles. After our prayers she went outside and got my barn jacket and brought it inside and spun it around and around in the air, forever. Then she picked up her plastic ice cream bucket she has her oats in and banged it against the wall. Then she tried to tip my chair over, which I'd brought in for a nightstand. Then she walked around to the side of my sleeping bag where there was no room between me and the wall, and MADE room, and rooted straw all over me with her nose and then carved her initials in each corner of the house. "Truffles," I said, "We have just said three Hail Marys for an increase of Faith, Hope and Charity. I am going to alter centuries of tradition here, and add a fourth - for a DECREASE of MISCHIEVOUSNESS!" Truffles being Truffles, she raised her top lip as high as she could and put her nose way in the air before she found her spot in the straw that was just right. "But," I whispered to that black silhouette and those wonderful long ears, "You're still the best."

At four this morning, she got up and woke me out of a sound sleep by nudging my shoulder. "What? What?" I said, thinking it was Dale. I turned over to run smack up against a furry donkey face; and then she took the corner of my unzipped sleeping bag in her teeth and pulled it right off me. We've been up ever since.

She's out in the big pasture now, coming to grips with Valentine and her little bro. I am desolate because she's gone. Tonight, I may be the one running up and down the fenceline, weeping and braying piteously.

Truffles Nods!

And my little girl knows exactly what she's saying when she does it, too. A few months ago I noticed once that she shook her head up and down when I scratched her throat. I immediately clicked and treated. After that, each time I scratched her throat and she did it again, I C/T and made a big fuss. And I always said when I was scratching her and she was nodding, "Truffles, can you be good?" (Truffles can never be good, which is why this makes everyone who knows her, laugh.)

And then this started - on days when she's being a real character, she shakes her head No when I ask her if she can be good. I never taught her this and I swear she knows exactly what she's saying.

All I have to do now is just ask her the question, and by the way she shakes her head, I know what kind of a day I'm in for.


I went out to see Valentine, Truffles & little ¡Señor! again about an hour before sunset tonight. Earlier in the afternoon, a cloudless hot one, I'd sat in the dimly lit barn with them for a long time, sleepily listening to the flies hum their languid close harmony while I watched the sunlight on the old wooden door jamb and cooled off after hauling water out to the donkeys' favorite tub in the pasture. They have two other places for water, but the one I have to haul water to every day with my wheelbarrow and two five gallon pails has, they figure, the best taste. I do, too. It's the one I drink from myself when I'm out there and get itchy and thirsty.

Tonight in the corral I brushed my dears while I sang to them. Each one has her and his own song. ¡Señor!'s is The Streets of Laredo, Truffles' is Cumby'ya, Lord, and Valentine's is O My Darlin' Clementine. They each stand very, very still for their own song, and walk around entirely disinterested during the others' songs, looking for things here and there on the ground that might come in handy someday.

¡Señor! adores being brushed with a wire slicker brush and came up behind me and leaned on the back of my legs while I was singing to Valentine, hoping I'd do him again. I did.

When we were done and all spiffied up, we walked Indian-file around to the little pasture and I sat in my chair in front of the Donkey House and watched the blue and peach sky gradually deepen into night and the stars come out of hiding, shyly, two by two.

In the light of a three-quarter moon, my three donkeys wandered in and out of the little pasture and the corral and then, leaning up against the huge line of round straw bales, walked along them at an angle, a little like drunken sailors, scratching their sides against the straw. Next, and one by one, they rolled in the smooth rolling place with luxurious, satisfied grunts - except, of course, for little ¡Señor!, who rolled in the smooth rolling place with luxurious, satisfied squeaks. Cloudy with just the right amount of dust, they all drifted over to the calf shelter, their night spot.

Finished working for the day, Dale came out of the little shop and followed his flashlight beam over to where I was and sat with me for awhile. Truffles was a short distance off, and we could hear her chewing. Dale finally went home around nine, when it was fully dark.

I walked over to the shelter and sat down on the wood that runs along the bottom front edge. Truffles, who was already inside, came up behind me and put her head over my shoulder. We stayed like that, cheek pressed to cheek, and each time she exhaled she fogged up my glasses. ¡Señor! was a few feet away, lying down between Valentine and me. Finally Valentine lay down with a great heave. Truffles moved around to my front and lay down and put her head on my knees and sighed, half closing her eyes. The donkeys dozed while I stared into the night, watching the stars and distant farm lights for a very long time. A meteor silently crossed the sky. The moon rose a little higher. Everyone's breathing was quiet and steady, slow and even.

Suddenly Valentine gave one of her great submarine snorts - a loud inhale and exhale, like two blasts of a tuba. Something was out there in the dark. I hoped it wasn't big. We've had cougars in the neighborhood from time to time. I watched Valentine's ears and from them, I could tell where the animal was, but I couldn't see it. Valentine was facing east, and the animal would arc from north to south and back to the north again in wide sweeps. And then I saw it. It moved quick and quiet and all I could see of it in the moonlight was a pale shape, low to the ground. At first I thought it might be a large jack rabbit, but then the filmy, wavering body flitted closer and I saw that it was bigger and had a long tail with a white tip, so it was either a fox or a small coyote.

Valentine nudged ¡Señor! to his feet and stood between the animal and him. Truffles got to her feet and stood very still, watching it run back and forth, back and forth, ever closer. And then she went toward it at a fast trot, her head down. She meant business. Deliberately, and with resolute bravery, she herded the animal around the tombstone cattle feeder, out into the pasture and back, and eventually chased it through the fence. Valentine watched intently while ¡Señor! Velcro'd himself to his mother's thigh.

The animal came back through the fence and Truffles herded it in front of her nose nearer to where we were, this time with her ears perked forward. It was a fox. It circled the calf shelter in the moonlight and I could hear the pitty pat of its paws in the dirt as it passed not three feet in front of me. A little fox. I was utterly enchanted. I'd never been this close to one before and I thought, Everything happens if you just sit still long enough.

All the donkeys followed the fox around the calf shelter three times, heads down, ears forward - except for little ¡Señor! who, last in the parade and delighted with the entire commotion, had his head up and was waving his fuzzy tail in corkscrews while his tiny feet danced along the ground.

After awhile the fox ran off, came back once, and then left for good. Truffles lay down at my feet again and I got down and snuggled up against her, with my head on her warm shoulder, where I listened to her heart beat a slow and stately rhythm. I put my arm on her foreleg and she put her nose in my warm Berber fleece pullover.

I looked up at the sky and saw that Valentine's great black silhouette stood exactly underneath the moon, and it appeared as if the tips of her ears were all that held the moon up above the earth. ¡Señor! lay flat out on the ground and snored softly.

Valentine kept watch over us like that for a very long while before she solemnly decided All Was Well and that the world was safe for democracy. With a satisfied sigh, she nudged little brown ¡Señor! and gave the night over to Saint Francis, and reached for sleep.

If I'd thought to bring my coat, I'd be out there still, cradled in Truffles' arms, helping Valentine to hold up the moon.


We've had two snowstorms in Southern Alberta already, but just this past week the weather has returned to the 70's. To me, these warm fall days coming after having lifted slabs of morning ice out of the water troughs were like finding a thousand dollars in an old coat pocket. I was unexpectedly rich beyond measure, standing in the corral in the warm golden sunlight with Valentine, Truffles and little brown ¡Señor!.

I'd come outside to haul water out to the tub in their little pasture at the Donkey House, and to give them a Hello Gift. Valentine impressed on me the importance of this particular gesture when I brought a girlfriend out to meet my little donkey family and I'd come with empty pockets. As Valentine said to me later in a confidential whisper, "As for a little Hello Gift, I cannot Impress upon you Enough the Importance of this Particular Gesture, when it comes to Donkey etiquette. (And a certain Donkey's happiness.)"

As Bev and I neared the donkeys that day, Valentine and ¡Señor! hung back while I walked up to Truffles and scratched her sleek black/brown neck. Valentine waited for Truffles to crunch a peppermint between her teeth. The peppermint crunch is a signal to Valentine that all is well in the world and one may proceed in an open-hearted manner to see what's up. When no crunching ensued, she raised her gray and white head a little higher and looked at me, frowning slightly. She had the same look as my fifth grade teacher, Mrs. Tollman. Mrs. Tollman dealt swiftly with slackers of any kind.

I could feel Valentine thinking. "Excuse me?" she said. "Am I to Understand that there is a Serious Lack of Peppermints going on here? Am I to further understand that you have brought a Stranger with you (who might Very Well be a Farrier, for all I know) onto my private grass, with No Warning and, as I believe I've mentioned, with No Peppermints? Is there to be no Offering to celebrate our First Meeting of the day? No small Greeting Gift? I am incredulous at the scope of your Social Blunder. I reel. Truffles, get away from that woman This Instant. ¡Señor!, follow me." And with one more withering glance, Mrs. Tollman returned from whence she came, this being to her desk in the thistle patch.

"No, really," I said to Bev, "She's not usually like this. I don't know what to say. I'm so embarrassed..."

Bev said, "Boy, that Mrs. Tollman's a strict one, isn't she?

I never fail, now, to have a little something in my pockets to mark our first encounter of the day, as a showing of good manners. I believe it's called a pasture-warming gift.

And it hasn't hurt my grades any, either.


Valentine has little ¡Señor! to teach and instruct, and Truffles has me and the rest of the Western Hemisphere. This is the way things are and there is no need for further discourse, according to The Center of The Universe, which would be your basic Truffles.

The C. of the U. gives me wonderful lessons in human and donkey nature. Today's class consisted of a short playlet entitled "How To Control Everyone All The Time In Every Situation" by Truffles (McTrouble) Morrison, directed by Valentine Beatrice Morrison, stage design and sundries by ¡Señor! Milton Burro Morrison.

Scene 1. The donkeys are in the corral. Karen slips through the rails and Valentine & Truffles converge upon her, having heard peppermints rattle in her jacket pocket. This leaves ¡Señor! suddenly sucking air, as he'd been bellied up to Valentine's dairy bar, having lunch.

KAREN (reaches out to touch Valentine's neck): Hello, Valenti - ooof!

TRUFFLES: 'S'cuse me. Didn't mean to bump you that hard. I'll just sidle right in between you and Mom here. After all, you're my property and I come first and there's no point in dealing with anyone else as long as I'm here. You'll want to be giving me most of the peppermints anyway, so it doesn't matter if you can't reach Mom and ¡Señor!. There. Everything's under my control now, and I'm not budging. Just try and make me.

VALENTINE (quickly positioning herself at right angles to Truffles, which leaves ¡Señor! again sucking air, as he'd re-bellied himself up to the local dairy bar. Truffles' back now becomes sort of a TV tray, and Valentine looks across it at Karen) : Would you Ever So Kindly pass me a peppermint, my Dear, and I'll offer you a Kiss in return.

KAREN: Why certainly, my darling. Have two!

VALENTINE: Don't mind if I do. ¡Señor!, reach around Truffles' behind while she's standing there controlling the universe so nicely, and Karen will give you a Frosted Mini Wheat. That's a good boy.

TRUFFLES: It just takes drive and willpower, but if you're determined enough, you can get people to do exactly what you want them to do, when you want them to do it, and you can even hog all the snacks for yourself.

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