Hey everyone!  My friend Michelle O asked for a story that would make scooping out the barn more exciting.  Well for those of you that don’t know, Michelle and her husband Craig raise donkeys on a ranch near San Antonio.  On her blog, Stamps, Paper, Scissors and Donkey Smiles, she has pictures of her cute furry creatures.  So Michelle, this story is for you!

The Donkey Spotter  by Rebecca Peck

 Michelle winced as the wagon hit a bump in the long, dusty road.  She and her husband Craig had already been riding in the buckboard for two hours, and they were still only halfway into town.  The recent drought had left the trail dry and dusty, and the hot southerly wind was pushing the dust into every crack and crevice it could find.  Michelle slowly scanned the horizon, hoping that a hint of green or a sign of life would magically pop up from the drab brown and tan landscape.  She knew that when she made the decision to go out West with her husband that it would be quite different from the life they had led back in the east, but some days found her wishing for the crowded, raucous streets of Boston.  She would fondly recall her beautiful silk dresses and expensive hats, the leisurely afternoon teas with her aunt, and the wonderful smells and sounds of the harbor on a Friday afternoon.   But then, as she daydreamed, she realized that if moving back east meant leaving behind her wonderful husband, the lovable, furry donkeys they raised, and their homey ranch along the San Antonio River, she knew she would still make the same choice.

As Michelle steeled herself for a particularly bumpy stretch in the trail, she noticed some movement off to the left.   As she peered through the dust, she thought she could make out a gray object shifting from side to side.

“Stop!  Stop the wagon!”  she yelled as she grabbed Craig’s arm.  “There’s something moving over there!”

“Whoa!” Craig shouted as he pulled on the reins and forced the horses to a stop.  “Honey, are you sure it’s not just some tumbleweeds?” he asked.

“No, I swear I just saw a donkey over there,“ she replied.

“Michelle, we’re the only folks within 100 miles that have donkeys, and none of ours were unaccounted for when we left the ranch.”

Michelle shot him a look and said, “I know a donkey when I see one, just wait till the dust clears.”

Sure enough, as the dust settled, there it was – a gray donkey,  pacing back and forth next to a large bundle lying on the ground.  She immediately hopped off the wagon, hitched up her skirts and slowly walked toward the animal.

“Michelle, would you please wait?  You don’t know how friendly that donkey is!”  Craig yelled as he hopped off the wagon and tried to tie up the horses.  As Michelle got closer, she could see that the donkey appeared to be a little agitated, and she realized the bundle on the ground was moving.  Michelle broke into a run as she recognized what the bundle was – an old man.  By the time Craig caught up to her, Michelle was kneeling down beside the old gentleman, trying desperately to understand what he was whispering.  As Craig stooped down beside her, the old man took one long last breath and passed away. 

“Oh no!” Michelle gasped as she realized he was gone.  “I don’t know what he was trying to tell me!” 

“What did he say?” asked Craig.

“He just kept pointing at the donkey and whispering ‘Take care – Treasure’.  He repeated it three times.”

Michelle and Craig looked at each other and realized that their trip into town was going to have to wait.  As Craig gently lifted the old man’s body to carry it back to the wagon, Michelle calmly walked over to the small brown and white donkey.  It was a female, and she appeared to be well-fed and gentle. 

“Shhhh,“ Michelle said as reached out to grab the donkey’s bridle, “I’m going to take care of you now.”  As Michelle looked more closely at her, she noticed that the donkey appeared to be a little swollen around the mid-section.  ‘Could she be pregnant?’ she thought to herself as she led the female back to the wagon.  Craig looked up as Michelle approached with the donkey, and asked her what she was planning on doing. 

“Why, I’m going to take care of Treasure, just like the old man asked me to,” she announced as she tied the donkey to the back of the buckboard.  “She’s very gentle and friendly, and I think she may be pregnant.”

“Well, since you’ve named her, I guess that means you’re going to keep her.  Great, two more mouths to feed,” said Craig as he helped Michelle back into the wagon.  “What am I going to do with you, woman?”

Michelle just laughed and said “Listen mister, I know a good donkey when I see one, and I know an ass when I see one too, so you’d better just watch that tongue of yours.”  Craig just chuckled, turned the wagon around, and they headed for home.

That night, after they had said a few words over the grave that Craig had dug for the old man, they sat on their porch and quietly talked about the day’s events.  The two of them speculated as to what the old man may have been doing out there alone, and wondered how long it would be before the donkey had her foal.

“I’m going to check on Treasure before I turn in,” said Michelle as she got up from the rocking chair.  “I just want to make sure she’s comfortable in the barn.”

“Fine,” said Craig.  “I’m going to bed.  I’ve got to get an early start in the morning, because I still have to head into town for supplies.   I’ll make sure to wake you just before I head out.”

Michelle kissed her husband goodnight, grabbed a lantern, and headed off to the barn.  She took a deep breath as she stepped inside, and held the lantern high.  She loved the smell of the animals; even though Craig had told her many times that she was crazy.  She listened to the soft breathing of the donkeys as she made her way towards Treasure’s stall.  As she got closer, it was apparent that the animal was in distress.  She was pacing back and forth, making low grunting sounds.  She appeared to be straining, and kept lifting her tail. Michelle approached her slowly, and reached out to rub her muzzle.  “It’s ok Treasure, it’s ok,” she repeated softly as she stroked her nose.  Treasure seemed to like this and gently nuzzled Michelle’s hand.  Treasure’s mid-section didn’t look big enough for her to be ready to deliver, so Michelle began to worry that the donkey might be losing her foal.  Rather than leave the poor animal alone, she decided to bed down in the barn for the night.

Michelle awoke the next morning to find her husband standing over her, chuckling.  With a start, she jumped to her feet.  “Treasure, how’s Treasure?”  she asked worriedly as she tried to brush the hay off of her dress. “She seemed like she was going into labor last night.”

This set Craig to chuckling even more.  “Well,” said Craig, “you’ll be happy to hear that she safely delivered a healthy, 100 lb pile of donkey manure!”

“What?” said Michelle as she looked around the stall.  Sure enough, there was Treasure,  happily chewing on a few strands of hay, standing amidst ten large mounds of fresh donkey excrement. 

“Well honey, I’d love to stay and help you with your new “foal”, but I’ve really got to get to town,” laughed Craig.

“Oooo, you’d better get out of here before I get my hands on a shovel!”  Michelle huffed as she stomped out of the stall.  She grabbed her shovel and turned to the task at hand.   ‘No wonder the poor thing was straining,’ Michelle thought to herself as she started to shovel out the mess.  ‘She must not have gone for days!’  As she stuck her shovel into the first pile, she heard a thunk.  She stuck the shovel in a little farther, and could feel it hit something hard.  She hurriedly scooped up a huge pile, and ran outside to the water pump.  She tossed the pile of donkey dung onto the stone at the base of the pump, and began to push the handle of the pump up and down.  After a few moments, the water gushed out of the spout and onto the pile below.  As the water washed away the dung, Michelle could see what had made the clang – huge, glistening nuggets.  Shiny, sparkly gold nuggets.  Michelle gasped with amazement and ran back into the barn to shovel up another pile.   She came out and dumped the next pile onto the stone, and watched in awe as the rushing water revealed more of the shiny stones.  She continued mucking out the stall, and as the piles of manure dwindled, the piles of gold nuggets grew.   

Once Michelle was sure there were no “special” piles left in Treasure’s stall, she went about the normal daily routine of caring for the rest of their donkey herd.  She laughed softly to herself every time she passed Treasure’s stall, or the stack of nuggets that she had carefully piled in a corner of the barn.

Later that night, Craig finally made it back from town.  “Hey, I’ve got some information on the old man,” he said as he hopped off the wagon.   “Some of the folks think he was Crazy Pete, an old prospector who always boasted that he had found huge gold nuggets in the river.  Of course, no one ever believed him, because he never had a penny to his name.  I told the sheriff that we had buried him and kept the donkey, and he said it was just as well, because the old coot had no family.  Hey, did you have fun playing with your new “foal” today?”  Craig could tell from the sparkle in his wife’s eyes that she was up to a little teasing, and he waited for a witty remark. 

“Well honey, once I washed that foal up, she was as shiny as a new penny,” laughed Michelle.   Craig looked at her as if she were crazy.  “Come on into the barn and I’ll show you,” she said.  Craig grabbed a lantern and followed his wife down to the barn.  As she swung open the door, she told him to hold the lantern aloft.  The soft glow of the lantern winked back at him from a corner of the barn.  Craig stepped closer and blinked, because he couldn’t believe his eyes. 

“Is that what I think it is?” he asked incredulously. 

“Yup,” giggled Michelle. “You’ve heard of the goose that laid the golden egg?  Well, we’re now the proud owners of the donkey that pooped the golden nuggets!”  They looked at each other and started to laugh.  They laughed until the tears rolled down their cheeks.  Once they got themselves calmed down, they speculated that Crazy Pete had sensed the end was near, and had fed his treasure to the donkey in order to keep it safe. 

“Well Michelle, you’re right,” said Craig.  “You do know a good donkey when you see one!”