Her name is Poppy. I only know that because she's not dead, although she made a couple of brazen attempts to meet her maker. Here's the story:
It's about 8:30 in the morning, and we've had our breakfast after walking two miles with our dogs. I'm cleaning up over the sink and looking out at a Steller Jay swipe peanuts from my favorite squirrel. I see a hummingbird at the feeder, a tangerine spotted grosbeak on the ground, a donkey in the street. A what?
She's a hefty, shaggy grey beast and not part of my morning menagerie. I go out to the road thinking it might be a gentle, friendly donkey – like the one lowing in the stable with the Christchild. He or she (at this point, I am unsure) will have nothing to do with me. My presence makes it dart down a private road. I hope it's returning home – I know a few folks down that elite road have horses – why not a donkey?
I go back to the kitchen sink, and my phone rings. It's my neighbor, Cara, telling me there's a donkey in the street in front of her house. This time I'm getting prepared. I grab my dog's leash to use on the visitor. Cut it up a Fuji apple and put it in a paper bag. I meet another neighbor, Mary, in front of my house, and we start the slow pursuit of Poppy. This time I approach slowly from behind. She is shy, puzzled, and determined. She stays at least 10 feet away from Mary and me, moving further with every step we take. We try to entice her with soft words and my apple. Neither approach works, although I'm encouraged because she seems to like the crackling sound of the bag – just not enough to come eat an apple.
Poppy strays from the road and heads deep into yards built on the ridge of a forested little canyon that's thick with pine duff and tree limbs. Neighbors notice; some try to help. The donkey goes deeper into the woods. A woman joins us. She has special skills and an actual lariat, which she knows how to use. She also shows Mary and me how to properly herd – arms outstretched to block and guide it in a chosen direction. We all give it a try, and Poppy is briefly within reach of the rope. But one very impressive attempt at lassoing Poppy fails, sending her deeper into the woods and down the canyon. I want to keep track of where she's going, so I follow. I tell myself I'm a fit, agile 40-year-old (though 40 is actually a distant memory), and scamper down the slope and through tangles of fallen limbs.
I can see Poppy's generous hindquarters crashing through the brush, lumbering up and down hills. We're clambering below the backs of homes where a few people have come out on their decks to see what's disturbing their peace. A couple shake their fists at me and shout – probably something about calling the sheriff's department. I shout back – "Call Animal Control!" Dogs start barking at the gentle, giant beast near their homes and at the wild woman scrambling after it like a monkey. I get hold of my senses and call county animal services myself – actually quite a feat when tracking a donkey, climbing over fallen logs, and fighting with bushes.
Poppy has no destination in mind - and perhaps no actual mind. But as a human, I'm aware that the main road up and down our mountain is not far from this neighborhood. I can hear the sound of cars racing on the blacktop. I run up the slope to a trail that leads to the busy road and march against the traffic on the narrow verge. And there, about 200 feet away, is the Poppy girl and a phalanx of approaching cars and trucks. They're seeing her and slowing down. Traffic stops in both directions, and a few folks get out to help. I show them how to make herding arms. We form a brigade and give our girl no choice but to flee back down the hill and into the brush.
I'm right behind her – and again calling Animal Services as I question my sanity. I want to report her location and also keep an eye on her. She briefly wanders through some yards and lands back on the pavement - on the road that skirts my house. I remember, then, occasionally hearing the braying of a donkey from my kitchen window. A family who owns real country animals (beyond dogs and cats) lives there – (my husband won't even let me have chickens).
More neighbors come out to help. But it's a mom and her young son who stick with the chase, and together, we open our arms and urge the lost little Poppy down the winding driveway that leads to her home. I've never been down the drive before and always wanted a peek. The home’s large entrance gate is wide open. I trot behind Poppy to keep her focused on home, but it's not necessary. She knew it when she smelled it and freely headed through the gate and into the barnyard. The mom and boy drive their truck in and join me. We see the metal gate to her pen is also open, and we form a brigade of waving humans and urge her inside. I wrap the chain back around the gate and secure it. I toss her some apple. Poppy sniffs and eats it. Home is where the hay is.
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