|On the Edge of Common Sense|
|The Last Burro|
He was the last burro left in the dusty corral.
His two companions had been sold by the man. They were younger, stronger and finer looking even by burro standards, which are quite high. They were worth more and brought more money which was what the man needed.
Pickin’s were slim. Every evening the man would stake the last burro out down below the spring to graze. During the day, he went with the man and packed mud, water, rocks or wood.
One morning the man fed him a small bowl of grain. This continued for several days until the morning the man brushed him down, bobbed his tail and trimmed his long whiskers. Next thing he knew, the burro was blanketed and fit with a pack saddle. Two panyards were hung over the frame and a thick pad was laid between the forks.
The burro watched with his wise burro eyes as the man led the woman out to the hitch rail and gently lifted her up on his pack saddle. The man shouldered his own pack, picked up his walkin’ stick and clucked to the burro.
The burro was old, but he carried the load as easily as an old man milks a goat. From memory... automatic. As he walked down the road he passed his two younger, stronger companions. They were hitched to a water wheel and strained in their harness as they walked round and round. ‘Better this than that,’ thought the last burro.
They walked all day. It was the cool season, his hooves were hard as iron. The woman balanced well.
The second day the woman got off and walked a while. The man tied his pack on the saddle and they walked on. As the days went by, the woman got off more often and they’d stop to rest for a while.
They arrived in a town late one night. The man went in a house. The woman waited. Momentarily the man returned and led the burro around back to the stable. The burro was glad to get the saddle off. He was watered, tied in a far corner and fed some grass hay.
The burro watched as the man put a blanket in one of the stalls and laid the woman down. Time passed. Later in the night the woman walked out carrying a man-child and laid him in a hay manger.
The burro slept, as old men do, with one ear cocked. He saw the sheepmen come, he heard the singing. He’d heard it before. The burro had worked the sheep camps long ago.
Next morning the man fed and watered the burro and left. While he was gone, the woman picked up the man-child and brought him to the burro. She raised one of his tiny hands and stroked the burro’s soft nose. She, herself, patted the burro’s neck.
On the trip back home, the woman and man-child rode on the burro’s back.
As the years went by, the woman would bring the growing man-child out to the corral and hold him up or set him on the burro’s back. She would talk man-talk to the child. And when the burro got too old to work, the man-child would come, stroke his nose and give him a handful of grain.
One day the burro could no longer get up. He became frightened. The woman and the grown young man came to the corral and held his head in their laps. They patted his rough coat and stroked his soft nose. Eventually the burro closed his eyes. He felt a teardrop on his face. It was the last thing he ever felt.
Baxter Black is a former large animal veterinarian who can be followed nationwide through this column, National Public Radio, public appearances, television and also through his books, cds, videos and website, www.baxterblack.com.