THE WINTER FOAL
I was a child in 1906. My family lived in the gold-mining village of Hale, up in the San Bernardino mountains.
Gold had been mined in that area since the early Spaniards.
Our village was served by horse-drawn stages which took two days to reach us along the rough dirt trails through pine forest and grizzly bear country.
There was a band of wild burros that lived around us. The burros were the descendants of burros that had run-away from the early Spanish gold-miners.
At night during three seasons those wild burros might come one by one into our village to eat from piles of refuse vegetables, grass, and shrubs.
In the cold snowy winters the wild burros would migrate to lower, warmer altitudes.
Late one snowy winter night I heard a burro bray. I got out of my bed and I quietly went outside. I saw a burro with a white foal.
No vegetation showed above the snow along the pathway.
I took our box of vegetable refuse and set it on the road before the burro and her white foal.
When I retreated to our doorway the burro and her white foal were drawn hesitantly to that box of refuse. They both then ate from the box hungrily.
When the box was empty the burro and her white foal plodded away through the snow into the night.
When I told people of what I had seen I then found out that there were others who had seen the burro and her white foal.
Others began to leave boxes of refuse in the road in front of their homes at night.
In daylight I tried to follow the tracks of the burro and her white foal. Their trail vanished into the forested hills. What I did discover were the prints of a mountain lion apparently tracking the burro and her white foal.
My father consoled me by saying that a lone mountain lion would not prevail over a burro’s deadly hind leg kicks.
Christmas was closely upon us and remarkably the burro and her white foal continued to visit our village.
Three hunters rode into our village upon the afternoon of Christmas Eve. They came from the east, three pelt-robed mountain men.
My mother welcomed the three hunters, and then, saying on behalf of us all, “A person’s steps are directed by the Lord, and the Lord delights in his way,” my mother introduced the present men of the village.
My mother had been a school teacher back in the east when she began preaching and praying for the sick in a local Quaker gathering. In our village she had become the unconfirmed pastor.
My father was not inclined to religion.
One of the three hunters expressed, “Truly, obliged. We never seen a righteous man abandoned or begging for food. We bring pelts and we three seek a warm camp.”
The three hunters were shown shelter beside the stable where they could raise their tent. They told me that their tent was a Cree teepee.
From inside their Cree teepee the three hunters shared whiskey, tobacco, and praise in song.
On that Christmas Eve the evening sky was shivering the stars. The tall pine trees shushed the night air.
We villagers and the three hunters all gathered in the clearing. My mother led us in singing a shy and humble Silent Night.
There was a bonfire that made the snow sparkle with gold. Our bonfire illuminated far into the forest.
At the distant edge of that light I saw the burro and her white foal for the last time.
Thanks for the inspiration from THE HISTORY OF BIG BEAR VALLEY