In 2018 I had a chance to work with the amazing photographer Lazlo Gyorsok on a photo book of our farm! What a awe inspiring experience it was to write stories for the beautifully enchanting photos he took of the critters here at RD Farm. Below are a few, click on the cover photo for the link to open the full version online.
People always ask me, "is your donkey friendly?". My first thought is to answer, "depends on how much work you've done on your soul..."; instead I say, "depends".
He has a tendency to rip apart any vessel which contains grain. Several times I've gone into the barn to do chores, only to find him knuckle deep in spilled grain, munching away, peering at me, ornery as a white faced hornet. You see, he's not allowed grain, in ANY form. It reacts badly with his already slightly peevish personality and makes him spiteful and calculating.
But on Donkey's good side... he is the most intelligent and observant creature imaginable if you are able to meet him on his level. Once he decides on the fitness of your character he does not waver and never again questions his loyalty to you. His priorities are steadfast to protect his courtyard. By proximity to his kingdom, small pigs, growing chickens, grazing turkeys are safe from the ever-present wildlife population.
This particular door was built after the old door got torn off its hinges on one of Donkey's bad days. One of those times I walked in on him knuckle deep in layer pellets. "Gawd damn it Donkey!" He does what he likes, though. He responds poorly to argument or punishment. One must outsmart him, calmly. He has no respect for a lost temper.
He used to follow me around during chore time to all the various pens. In my hand would be metal buckets filled with the different feeds for pigs and chickens and such. Invariably I would always need to free up a hand to unplug electric, fill a water bowl etc. I would set a bucket down and turn away for a split second, donkey would be in that bucket. Oh how frustrated I would get! He's smart, you see, very sneaky.
I had to think up something really clever, something that would keep him from stealing the bucket, every time I did chores.
Donkey hates electric. I hate electric too, being shocked enough times myself. My metal buckets are great conductors of electricity. I placed my bucket on a Styrofoam throne and threaded a stray piece of electric fencing through the handle just enough for contact. Donkey looks at the bucket, and he looks at me, disgusted. I leave him the bucket.
Next time chore time came: I fill my metal buckets and invariably I always have to free up a hand to fill a water bowl or move a fence, so I set my bucket down. Donkey is glaring at me from his stall, disgusted. We've never argued about the buckets again.
These are the remnants of past lives, eras finished and the wreckage or treasures put to rest for a while as new eras get built.
Trucking stories abound of Detroit Diesels, and badass cow dogs riding stance legged on the tongues of lowboy trailers delivering hay and big iron into the heart of NYC.
The glory days, maybe, but perhaps the best is yet to come. It’s true; some of the characters are buried now, like RaRa, the good old cow dog mutt, “He’d fight coyotes just for sport”. But Glory days and eras never last forever; new characters and new plots and lulls where the purpose is to build new ones.
Relentless in is vanity and desire to be revered by his females, he would puff and stomp his bad self around the courtyard. He and his harem were known as the flying monkeys. Chore time I would pull up to the barn and let out their call, “TUUUURKEY TROOOOOOOUBLE!” and across the knoll from the mid hay field they would come, soaring and jumping, part running but mostly flying down to the courtyard from their early morning field grazings. Like the flying monkeys in Wizard of Oz they would bounce land and walk a few steps with their enormous wings outstretched before they would fold them back in and resume land bound striding.
I didn’t have the heart to pen them in and free range poultry have short lifespans in the wilds of New England. The reality is the close proximity of civilization to any remaining tidbits of wilds in New England regrettably causes the wildlife to sustain themselves on the livestock of local farms and the fowl of backyard chicken keepers. And so, for sweet freedom, the turkeys paid the ultimate cost and met their maker one night in early spring. But in their day, the turkeys were glorious.
There is something humbling in the connection with a creature like Mama Longhorns. She knows me, and she knows I come bearing food or company and never a rude encounter unless the herd is being moved. But even then greener pastures are on the horizon.She’s never made me feel like she didn’t want me around and I hope the feeling is mutual.
I’d like to think unspoken modes of communication are stronger than the verbal ones. I’ve heard a few empty promises in my time and a hell of a lot of words that just might have been better not said. Being and doing has always been a more useful way for me to be honest and connect with the world and words just always seemed to fall flat in some of the more meaningful moments of my life.
Mama Longhorns knows this, I’m pretty sure. Her quiet presence, often where I find myself in trying moments, beams louder than a thousand words and makes a lot more sense.
Old Girl Pesky, my best girl, the one who will lead the bunch,but only with the bribery of a grain pail. She’s a good cow,like a beleaguered mom of several, she’s figured out how to just be happy in the midst of the chaos. Disinterested in BS but attentive when needed she just keeps on trucking.
I’ve been told that my great-grandfather raised white faced cattle out in Wyoming the later part of the 20’s until the ranch sold around the time I came into the world. Even then you couldn’t make a living farming, really, not a good living. but the farm kept the family alive during the depression.
My great-grandmother was a teacher, in the quintessential one room school house and made the farm lifestyle a possibility for her family. I suppose raising cattle is in my blood, born of interests and talents that just don’t quite fit in the work force of today. Really all that could work as a profession for me is farming and the supporting roles necessary in the operation.
Like they all say, “farming isn’t easy”, and sometimes the life is downright crushing,but still, despite it all, I’m not disillusioned yet and neither is Pesky.
The raking of hay, an art in its own right, did not come naturally to me. Like in chess, one begins with a blank board, every piece in place, each man adhering to strict rules of movement. The game is plotted from start to finish with the plan of attack known before first pawn is played.
I had to train myself to sit for a moment at the head of a field, looking out over the blank canvas,mowed and tedded, dried grass blanketing the earth. I sit and play my chess game through, basing my moves on the layout of the terrain, the shape of the field; the universal laws of tractor abilities limit my potential movements. I gather my troops, craft a plan and set out on my tractor to rake the hay into rows.
Once the tractor enters the field the rake begins to pick up and move hay to the left. You cannot undo this; it’s not something that can be gone over again. Repeats only bunch up the loose hay and make the bailor’s job infinitely more frustrating. Like in life, chess, and raking hay I have an easier go when I have a plan.
I sense sometimes that donkey, even in his stoic -ness, resents the close ties of a cow herd. Donkeys are solitary creatures by nature. Sometimes I see him on the edge of the herd, observing yet aware of his disconnection. I'd say of all the barnyard creatures, donkey is the most complex. His intelligence is that of a grumpy 6 year old child. He brays and sulks if he thinks I am forgetting his hay flake and is coy when he wants attention. He resents perceived slights and acts out when he feels things are unfair.
I imagine Donkey as a person as he peers at me. His this brow bones give him a suspicious look. I wonder what he would be like as a person, who he would be and what he would do for a living. I imagine him as an IRS tax auditor usually, following set rules just because that's the way it's always been, regardless of usefulness. But then he'll surprise me. I will find him grazing by moonlight; everyone else is asleep and he roams his court basking in the milky night, pensive in the lull and calm in his security detail.
Then sometimes the donkey, as poet: I imagine him like Charles Bukowski, postman by day but a dedicated writer in spirit. He gathers his twisted observations of the human condition and ruminates in the complexity of it all. That must be why we get along. He has his favorites, definitely. Don't we all.
Writer, Roxann Roche
I was born in Palmer Alaska in 1985. My family and I moved to an even more remote part of Alaska in 1994, to pursue dreams of owning and operating a fly fishing lodge. This same dream took us to southern Chile in 2000 for a year where my father ran a small guiding service on the world famous fly fishing streams of Chilean Patagonia. I was always an observant kid and writing enabled me to craft my world into an understandable place where the bad could be omitted and the good could be magnified! I learned that writing was my sanctuary in an unsettled reality. I moved around quite a bit over the years continuing the gypsy spirit of my childhood only settling down in the bucolic country side of Cornwall Bridge CT in 2014. My life now, is rooted, but the adventure lives on in Daniel and I's dreams of a life of farming that bring joy to our souls, comfort and happiness to the lives of our critters and healthful and sustainable food to our community, that's the plan anyhow.