When Dalie and I left to go on our little piligriminage, we had to lock up her companion Rosie in the barn because they are very close companions and Rosie doesn’t like Dalie going off without her. One of the intriguing things I have found while walking with the donkey is the communication between Dalie and other donkeys. The first donkey stranger that we met, as we approached a farm on the second day, was in a paddock alone. He looked very much like Dalie but quite a lot younger: a light grey donkey who came running across the field in great excitement. “Look Dalie!” I called: “It’s another donkey!”
I imagined some sarcastic unspoken thought (e.g “Well done, you get your I-Spy prize for recognising a donkey…”) as Dalie ignored me and kept plodding on ahead, refusing to make eye contact with the strange donkey.
The mortified young donkey chap stood and watched Dalie disappear. His owner came out of the farm to say hello to Dalie, who now looked somewhat sheepish as we discussed the similarity between the two donkeys. I had now entered the new world of donkey talk.
“How old is your donkey?” asked the farmer.
I hesitated, groping for a likely number… I had simply never bothered to ask, oddly enough.
“Seven!” I said. The farmer looked unimpressed but didn’t trouble to question this, and said nothing. (I decided that next time I was asked I would say twelve.)
The second donkey encounter was over very quickly too. A pair of donkeys, one black and one white, were feeding on the far side of a field as we passed by in a shady lane. The donkeys ran across the field to say hello to Dalie, who had been slowly plodding along for several kilometres, doing her tragic donkey act: “Look at me, struggling under this load, panting and yawning in the heat. I’ll probably die if you don’t stop and let me eat the flowers…” (etc. etc.) But now, she became quickly aware of the donkleys running over to see her, so she sudden;y changed to a quick trot and left the scene without even looking at them.
After passing Lusac le Chateau – a place with a remarkably invisible chateau and nothing to recommend it on a Saturday afternoon in late August apart from a cheap bar with cold beer – we met a little troop of matching brown donkeys, all with white eye markings which made them look like bandits at the roadside, about to waylay us and steal our carrots.
They were greatly excited by the arrival of Dalie and ran up and down the fence, lining up several times to get Dalie’s attention. She would have none of it. I deliberately made her stop and trid to get her to face the donkeys. I tried to turn her head to face them but she resisted me with all the strength she could bring to the resistance. There was no way for me to match that kind of strength. So she simply did not look at the donkeys.
Curiously, the next day as we walked along a voie verte along a shady disused railway track, Dalie showed a great deal of interest in some recent donkey droppings. In the distance there was a braying sound – about a quarter of a mile away – as a donkey picked up Dalie’s scent. She was clearly aware of the sound but feigned disinterest.
I began to wonder if all this odd donkey behaviour was due to Dalie only thinking of one donkey she wanted to see: poor old Rosie who we had left behind in the barn. This was the only donkey encounter that she was patiently waiting for: the return to life as normal with Rosie, inseperable companion of barn and field.
Loading up the donkey.