I lay in my sleeping bag, unable to sleep. Outside the tent, the heavy winds that had complicated our overnight fishing trip had died down. Maybe they’d be back. I could feel a thin layer of sand and fine dust covering my face. The winds had blown it into the tent through the open canopy. It cracked my lips and the dryness caused my eyes to water uncomfortably. I checked the time on my cell phone.

“4:16 a.m.” it read.

I’d been lying in bed as if in a trance, stuck somewhere in limbo between semi-consciousness and sleep. I heard Sam, my camping companion, breathing peacefully beside me. We were camping at Lake Pleasant, north of Phoenix, Arizona. We’d spent the night fishing for catfish and bass but hadn’t had any luck. I relaxed and waited for sleep to take me.

A sudden sound outside the tent caused a syringe-full of adrenaline to course through me. Still, I remained in my sleeping bag, reasoning that those were someone’s footsteps moving to their campground.

Only who shuffles around a campsite at four in the morning?

There was another step, marked by the crunching of gravel and stones. By now, I was fully awake. One step, two step, and then another. It came at regular intervals; slowly, cautiously, although it did nothing to conceal its movement. I tracked the mysterious figure’s movements from the inside of the tent, listening for the sound of the heavy footsteps.

Fishing the waters of Lake Pleasant.

I then heard a rustling sound and I realized that whatever was outside had gotten into the bag we’d been using as a container for the day’s garbage. We’d tethered it to a nail on one of the roof posts that sheltered the picnic table near our tent from sun and rain. Maybe it was a hobo scrounging for food?

Chomp, chomp, crunch, crunch. A shiver ran down my spine. Even from four or five meters away, I could hear the creature munching through plastic and god knows what else.

“Who’s there?!” I blurted out. The only answer was that of heavy chewing. Crunch, chomp, crunch. As far as I knew, hobos don’t eat plastic. Whatever it was, it wasn’t human. It had to be big, as the bag was at the level of my eyes, at least a meter and a half high.

Oh my f#$&@ God! It’s a bear! I realized as my heart jumped up into my throat in panic. It’s a motherf#$&@ bear!

What were we going to do? I tried to relax and make myself think. There was little inside the tent I could use as a weapon to defend us in case the creature should attack us in the tent, as we were in a vulnerable position.

I remembered we had a claw hammer, which we’d used for driving the tent stakes into the ground. I then cursed at myself when I remembered we’d left it on the outside of the tent. Out of reach unless I were to climb out of the tent, in which case I’d be exposed to an attack. A bear mauling wasn’t something I wanted to risk.

As silently as I could, I slipped my boots on over my naked feet, as it was too dark to find my socks in the tent. I reasoned that I could always kick whatever poked its face through the tent flap, and if I was going to kick a fricking bear in the face, I sure as hell wasn’t going to do it barefoot.

I got on my knees and poked my head up to see through the mosquito net that covered the tent’s canopy, trying to discern through the pitch dark what the thing was now doing. I saw movement near the picnic table, a large barrel-shaped figure held up by four long legs.

Wait a second… bears don’t have long legs. This had to be something else, maybe a werewolf or some other dark creature of the night.

I grabbed my headlamp, opened the tent flap and clicked on the button. The bright light pierced the darkness and blinded me for a second, then I saw─

A donkey? I blinked a couple of times, but the image of the donkey remained there. Looking at that animal in the middle of the night felt surreal, sort of like waking up from a dream to find yourself in a cheesy western. There was also a comic element to our situation since, to top it all off, the son-of-a-bitch had its muzzle in a pot of country beans we’d covered up. There went our breakfast.

lake pleasant phoenix arizona united states

The mix of water and desert is rarely seen but always beautiful!

“Go away, donkey,” I shouted. “Go away.” Apparently, the donkey didn’t speak any English, for it stayed and polished off the rest of the beans in our pot before it left, swishing its tail with sassy satisfaction as it disappeared into the night. I looked at it go and shook my head.

Pinche burro,” I cursed. This was ridiculous. Who the hell would leave a donkey loose on a campground in the middle of the desert? I’d never expected our fishing camp by the banks of this lake in the middle of the Sonoran desert to be subject to wild donkey night raids.

I’d later find out, after telling my friends and laughing over the strange incident, that either miners in the area used to release donkeys or they’d escape into the wilderness, where they’d go feral. For some reason, local Arizonans call them burros, the Spanish word for donkey.

I crawled back into my sleeping bag, plunked my head against my pillow and yawned. I never thought that I’d become the unfortunate victim of a wild burro attack.

Well, I thought as I tried to go back to sleep, at least it wasn’t a f#$&@ bear.