In this, my second part on donkeys, I'd like to introduce you to a little jenny.
We had her while we lived at and ran our guest house at Lille Maho. I was in my teens. I always thought of her as mine and I named her Yeknod, which you may have noticed is donkey spelled backwards. In temperament, she was the opposite of Erasmus.
Yeknod was docile and friendly. See how she's looking at the person taking this picture? She was rather more like a dog than donkey. She’d bray a greeting to the first person she saw in the morning. She nuzzled and pushed her head against your hands and body looking to be scratched between the ears or searching for a treat. More than once she followed me into the house when I went to fill her water bucket or get her favorite snack of grapefruit rinds.
I had a western pony saddle, but except for long rides, I usually rode her bareback, often without a halter and reins. Yeknod, unlike Erasmus, was born to be ridden. Because she was so personable, I think it was her greatest joy. She seemed to know when I was going to take her out.
I’d wind her tether rope around her neck, (which she didn't chew through) sling my saddle bags across her shoulders, hop up onto her back and off we’d go.
How, you may ask, do you ride a donkey without reins and bridle? All I had to do was tap her neck on the left and she’d go right, tap her on the right and she’d go left. Yeknod was also unique in that she could single foot, which was wonderfully smooth. To get her up to speed I’d tickle her between her shoulder blades. She sort have to work her way into it. The run would start out in that stiff-legged, spine jarring trot, but with a little more tickling she'd pick up speed and then it was smooth sailing.
There were a couple of long flat places where I liked to get her to run; the stretch of road by Big Maho and the stretch by Cinnamon Bay. It seemed to me she knew what I wanted because she’d pick up her pace when we reached those places as if anticipating my fingers between her shoulder blades.
She was such an easy ride that I often rode with one leg hanging down, the other with knee bent resting across her shoulders in a kind of modified side saddle. I could switch legs and ride either side. She didn’t care.
Yeknod and I wandered all over St. John. Sometimes we only went out for a few hours. Sometimes we made a whole day of it. We’d ride along the roads (which were not yet paved) and we explored the old foot trails. Usually on the way home we’d stop at Cinnamon Bay (the National Park Camp Ground), where I’d buy a ginger beer and take a dip in the ocean. I’d unwind her tether rope and tie her up in the shade somewhere. The people there knew me and would loan me a bucket so I could give her water. She always attracted tourists and seemed to enjoy their attentions.
Only once did she behave out of character. I should have known she didn’t want to be ridden when she acted skittish. Foolish me, I got up on her bare back anyway. She took off with me from the main house down the hill to the beach and headed towards a maho tree with low branches. I realized immediately she intended to scrape me off her back. I didn’t have time fling my arms around her neck, and I couldn’t roll off her back as there were some rocks in the way. I only had time to stretch myself across her back, legs wrapped around her neck. As it was the branch she went under was so low it scraped the bottom of my chin. As soon as we were out from under the tree I was free of rocks and rolled from her back. She trotted back up the hill toward the house and brayed at me. It was almost like she was laughing.
Yeknod died of colic only a few months later and was buried at sea. I cried at her loss, feeling I had somehow failed her. I loved that donkey, and I like to think she loved me.
I still miss her.