My First Rouge Mule.

Jake

My first trip into the Grand Canyon was on the back of a real-live-rouge-mule named Jake.

While I was excited to meet and ride a real mule, Jake’s enthusiasm was nonexistent. Mules have always intrigued me, but I got an antisocial one. He grumbled at Fred’s mule, swishing his tailing several times in general irritation, and laid his ears back when I climbed on. Once I was in the saddle, his ears went back up. He resigned himself to task at hand.  

I was disappointed I got a grouchy mule. When I ride my horses, I rub their shoulders, laugh at things they do, and talk to them constantly. Jake let me know right up front that this was a job, not a relationship. I resigned myself to a platonic relationship.  As long as he didn’t try to pitch me over the edge, I would not bother him.

“Don’t steer the mules. Just leave them alone and let them do what they’re trained to do.” Jake already told me that. No micromanaging or annoying him while he worked.

“Remember, they’re trained to walk on the outside of the trail if you meet hikers coming up.” The outside of the trail comment registered, but I had no idea what that meant, so I filed it away for future reference.

Jake fell into line as we headed out. Settling into passenger mode, I held the reins, but loosely, and enjoyed the rock of his gait. He stepped different than a horse. It wasn’t unpleasant, just choppy, like he was short stepping.

The North Rim was much greener than the south. We headed out on our adventure through thick green forest, mule steps cushioned by pine needles. I couldn’t even see the Canyon. 

We rode down a narrow path through the trees on a mild incline. It was almost chilly. The mules all went into a small, dark tunnel and disappeared! I was anxious for a minute there, until my mule went through and did a sharp u-turn to the right. 

Whoa! An amazing view of the Grand Canyon opened up before me. It was a magical passage from one dimension into another. 

What a great start.

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We rode along incredible inclines and a few places of sheer rock, above and below. I was enamored. I hung over Jake’s side and looked, thankful for a tight saddle and his stoutness. It would be terrible to cause a misstep by leaning too far.

The trail guide entertained us with facts about the history, the terrain, and cute mule stories. She said there was a special place called White Mule Falls.

We’d seen a water fall across the tree tops, on an opposite canyon wall. How refreshing to get to ride through one and cool off! The sun was a cooker. I assumed the falls had been discovered by a white mule, one far more personable than Jake … someone like Brighty, of the Grand Canyon. Distracted by the gorgeous scenery, I didn’t notice she didn’t tell us the rest of the story.

Two groups of hikers passed us, going up, while we were going down.  The mule train stopped. Some of the mules stopped on the outside of the trail, some – next to the wall, some planted themselves right in the middle. Watching the backpackers weave in and out of the mules, I wondered how much they knew about livestock. Would I rather be squished into a rock wall, or shoved over the edge … ?

The mules were not in the least perturbed by these strange looking, funny smelling, two legged aliens come at them up the trail. Several of the long eared equines took advantage of the lull and cocked a hind leg, resting; letting the hikers pick their unsuspecting, potential poison. 

All parties survived.

When we got to 1700 feet of sheer rock, up and down, our guide yelled to us over her shoulder. 

“This is White Mule Falls.”

We looked around. It was a sheer, white rock wall with a very narrow trail along the face of it, for rather large animals, with precious cargo, to traipse across. It was amazing, in an overwhelming sort of way, but there was no water. Obviously, the falls had dried up.  Voicing my disappointment, she laughed and told us the story.

Her husband had been training a sassy, white mule. In the colt’s shenanigans, his rear end slipped over the edge. Her husband stepped out of the saddle, ready to let him go. To her husband’s amazement, the little beast managed to scramble back onto the trail. He stepped back into the saddle (as soon as the little guy was back on the trail) and they finished the ride without further ado. That mule became the best guide mule her husband ever had. 

We all chuckled at being fooled by the name of that immortal spot in the trail, but shuddered at her story.

We rode half way into the canyon and stopped for lunch . The North Side of the Canyon only has half day trips, so we ate and headed back. 

FYI: it is easier to ride uphill than down. The ground doesn’t fall away but rises up to meet you.

We changed dimensions passing through the magic tunnel again, and rode the last five or ten minutes in the cool, green forest. It was wonderfully refreshing after that blasting desert sun bouncing off the rocks. 

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My rouge mule and I were both glad to be back. Neither of us bothered with goodbye … well, maybe I looked back. His nose was buried in the hay.

The Rouge Mule

The Rouge Mule

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Fred and I bought a maroon Equinox on the first day of fall, last year. It was supposed to be my car, but Fred picked the style, the size, and the color. It is pretty and I’m thankful we bought on it on a date that helps me remember its model name. 

It is not the car I would have chosen, but it does have four wheel drive and better ground clearance than the KIA. I wanted something smaller for better gas mileage, and with more ground clearance – to get me higher into the mountains. I also wanted a backseat that folded flat so Beau could ride closer to me, without being in the front.

When I am fond of my vehicles, I name them. If I hate them, I also name them. The Lil Red Taco was my all-time-favorite, POS911 speaks for itself. 

My Equinox remained nameless until last Sunday.

When I go hiking,  driving to the trailhead cuts off unnecessary elevation hiking and rough terrain. Last Sunday, we tried a new trailhead. I would have parked where the road was still good and hiked, but I wanted to get as close as possible for Fred.

OMG! I have never driven such a mess! The ruts were deep enough to hang us up. Sharp rocks would have flattened lesser tires (and we were in no-phone-zone). If I had stopped, I would have had to back down to a place where I could get a run for the next incredible incline. The tires spun several times, in spite of the fact that I didn’t stop, shooting rocks out like missiles, behind us. I went over several projectiles that I cringed and lifted my butt for, but there were no big scrapes or loud bangs.

That critter went right where I aimed it, without a falter or a hiccup. Once we made it to the trailhead, we had an excellent hike.

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Coming down the mountain, it was just as surefooted as when we went up. We were happy campers.

My car has earned her name: The Rouge Mule. 

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Who among you names your vehicles? What are some of the names you have called your pets (& enemies)?

Write on, 

Ani

Father’s Day on the Lake

(or: Confessions of a Bonafide Landlubber)

Green Pueblo Lake

   I went fishing on Father’s Day in a fancy lake boat. I have ridden around in bass boats, canoes, & row boats, but I am not an experienced boater by any stretch of the imagination, and this fine boat stretched my imagination.

   The vocabulary informed me, right up front, that my ignorance was beyond pretending. Everything said had to be translated to Landlubber-ese. Throw me the line means throw me the darn rope (and that not just shoes have cleats.) 

   Our intro ride around the lake was lovely. The jade green water reminded me of Superior’s cool depth and white caps. The sky was blue. Birds were swooping across the water. Kids were diving off rocks. (The children did not have life jackets, but dogs did!) Paddle boards were used as a floatation devices, complete with pups. There was a family of canoers, and their adolescents in kayaks, rowing alongside. 

Dogs & Girls, paddle boarding

   It was a great family day on the lake. 

   We chose our fishing spot and settled down to fish. Looking forward to a picture of myself with a trophy catch, I figured to “free Willy,” and go home to a nice vegan dinner.

   My first significant maneuver was to pitch a favorite lure into the lake because, well, how many ways can you tie something on? Apparently, swivels (more new vocabulary) and heavy lures require a doubled-special knot. Who knew?

   After an hour or so of fishing, I remembered that my fishing license was still in my purse, back in the truck. I envisioned a Park Nazi swinging by, hoping to net some unsuspecting law-breaker.  Since my fishing attention is only an hour (or two, at the most) I put away my gear and enjoyed splashing my feet off the back of the boat (which, I’m sure has its own special name.) For a minute there, I envisioned reruns from JAWS, but I managed to rein in my imagination and enjoy the lovely cool on my tootsies. That sun was hot.

   Suddenly, the Capt’n Himself yelped and jerked a lovely walleye out of the drink. To my amaze, the bugger retaliated, and with a flip, buried a hook in The Captain’s left pinky, right by the nail.  

   I realized, watching him work that hook. that he wasn’t pulling it out, he was pushing it through. I thought I was going to puke. Of course, our nice sterile first aide kit, loaded lidocaine, was hindsight (until now.)

   He worked that hook through the meat of his finger himself, because Nowhere in my job description is First Responder. I am not a blood, muscle & guts kind of girl. My initial reaction was to hide under the steering housing and until the horror passed. (My true colors show up at the most embarrassing and horrible times.)

   I managed to swallow my gut level reaction and retrieve all the equipment he called for. Incredulously, he had me push the skin down over the hook, so it could pop through. I was reluctant but, at the same time, relieved to be able to help in some small way. 

   When he called for the dykes (I forget their nautical name), I knew we were getting close to the end. They broke, without cutting the barb off the hook. He was incredulous, I was flummoxed. Would this saga ever end?

   Good news, we had another cutter somewhere onboard. While I was busy rummaging through the tackle boxes, looking for it, Fred asked if there was something he could do.

Negative.

   Nudging the walleye with his toe, Fred asked The Capt’n if he wanted to keep it. Not looking at what his dad was talking about, he said, “No.” 

   Before I could speak up, Fred picked up our only “keeper” so far, and launched it back into the deep, green waters.

   As soon as The Capt’n realized that his dad was heaving the the sole ‘keeper’ over, he wailed,”NO!” 

   Too late.

   OMG! I am still laughing and leaking tears. The stress of the buried hook and working it through the meat of that tender pinky skin really heightened the relief of “freeing Willy.” I found and tossed the dykes at Himself, scuttling to the back of the boat as fast as I could, holding my breath and stiffling my intense need to laugh. Such travesty would surely warrant The Capt’n entertaining the idea of throwing me in after the fish! 

   Even back there, I could barely keep down the giggles. I hid the tears of mirth by keeping my face averted.

   When the drama was over, both men returned to their fishing. I kept myself on the back of the boat; enjoying the soaring herons, the sweet-cooling breeze, and laughing periodically at how the wee drama had unraveled itself. What a surprise ending.

   The adventure was not quite over. The white caps enhanced jade coloring, but made for a jarring ride on our way back to the harbor. I refrained from taking pictures, not wanting the phone to get jounced out of my hand. There were times I felt the boat sail out of the water and bang down, with surprising hardness.

   The wind was bullying everyone at the harbor, pushing them into each other and the docks. No one loaded at the first go-round. Finally, The Capt’n got his loaded on the trailer – with little help from his assistant  landlubbers. 

   His patience really was amazing.

   I’m still not sure how you pull the plug, because by the time we were ashore, I think the Captain of the Ship was exhausted. He recognized that blank look, I’m so proficient at, and just jumped down to do it himself. 

   I had a great day. It had all the elements of a wonderful adventure: landlubber anxiety, beauty of the elements, watching people and their pets play, drama, and finally humor. Oh, and a lovely, vegan dinner to cap it all off.

It was a great Father’s Day.

Rain coming in

How was yours?

Write on,

Ani

Mutton Busting

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    I love Mutton Busting. If we would have had sheep when I was a kid, my bros and I would have ridden the poor buggers to death. We rode anything we could wrap our legs around.  Sheep have so many kid-friendly attributes. They are short, accessible, perfect for latching on to, and the fall is much closer to the ground. If they step on you, it’s a bruise versus a broken bone.

I love animals, so when the chance presented itself, I invested in a small herd of montedale sheep. Fred and I wrestled, sheared, doctored, and lambed the wooly darlings for several years in Upper Michigan.    

Sheep are adorable. Their idiocy has a certain, commonsense-defying charm to it. For example: mending fence one day, I parked the pick-up close to my work-site. Their curiosity soon had them grazing around me and the truck. The dog and Isaac, goofing around, startled them. They began to run. Being sheep, they followed each other … around and around and around the truck. The three of us stopped what we were doing and watched them in amazement. It was a sheep-carousel.

It was hilarious, until their eyes were bulging and their tongues were hanging out. Amazed that they didn’t stop, I let them run a few unnecessary laps before sending Isaac and the dog to break the loop. They ran off (together of course) and huddled in a hot, little, wool-covered corner; panting like they were going to die. 

Isaac did not share my affection for our little, white woolies. The poor kid got dragged around the corral for nine months one year, trying to train “Lanolin” for 4-H. It pretty much clinched his conviction that he was not a sheep man. He did make good money on her, in the end, however. His inspired, pitiful plea had potential buyers digging deep in their pocket books to rescue the poor lad.

Sale letter

I love mutton busting, and the memories it brings back. 

Do you have a yearly event that you enjoy simply because it brings back precious memories?

If so, please share them. 

Write on, 

Ani

Bull Run

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I grew up in the Dairy State. Holsteins are the milk cow of choice for that area. They are big boned, meaty bovines, that produce massive  amounts of milk. Years of breeding has brought up the butterfat, making them even more valuable. The black and white cow is part of the Wisconsin culture.

Loving farming and working with livestock, I worked at different dairies over the years. I appreciated that most farmers treated their animals well.

The downside, in those days, was the hazard of handling bulls, but as the years passed more and more farmers switched to artificial insemination. A few farmers still ran their own bulls, but they were few and far between. Every family in the area had a story where a bull killed someone they knew, or knew of.

The female of the bovine species is usually gentle. Many come home to be milked when you call them. Buckets of grain are reward enough to bring them in for milking time; unless they are out on new pasture. Then, you have to go get them.

This was one of those times. The day before we had run a single, electric wire, on step-in fence posts, around a new field. The “girls” were  oblivious to my calls, so the dog and I headed out to bring them home for the evening milking.

The bull and I noticed each other about the same time.

This farmer had a bull, but he seldom let him run with the cows, unless he noticed one was in heat. Protocol was: he’d tell me if the bull was out and I would use the old, blue tractor to get the cows.

This was the day it had slipped his mind.

That bull and I looked at each other for a long minute. When he started to trot towards me, I lit out. That electric wire wouldn’t even slow him down. The five-strand, barb-wire, line fence might … slow him down.

Now let me tell you, I come from a long line of fine fence builders. You haven’t seen anal until you’ve seen a Wisconsin farmer building a line fence. They are straight and tight; so tight that farmers brag about bulls bouncing off of them.

This was not one of those line fences, but I was hoping the old boy might get tangled up in the barb-wire, cut a tendon or something, anything to get his mind off of me.

I doubted I’d make it to the line fence, but y’know, in a pinch you gotta do what you gotta do. I’m not fast and that line fence was pretty far away. I gave it all I had, expecting to feel the earth shake as that two-ton devil closed in on me. His breath on my heels lit a fire under my feet.

Time ceased to exist. What seemed like an eternity later, I found myself standing on the other side of that poor excuse for a line fence, no idea how I got there. I whipped around to see where the bull was.

My knees were like water.  I bent over, putting my hands on them to steady them, trying to catch my breath. If that fence didn’t hold him or turn him, I was toast.

The field was empty.  My heart hammered in my chest. What the hell?

Where was that bull? I looked near, first, then expanded my horizons;  saw the cows. Looking past them, I saw the bull disappearing into the woods, chasing the dog. (God, I love dogs.)

I melted against an old, wobbly post with relief. I had never run so fast in my life. After a long while, I recovered. I looked around to see if anyone had seen me fleeing my own imagination.

With a huge sigh of relief, I walked up to get the old, blue tractor.

P.S. Don’t worry, the dog was home in time for supper.

 

 

Close Encounters

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I walked up to Madison’s City Square, to meet a friend. It was early spring, early Sunday. I’d been under the weather lately, but couldn’t put my finger on why.  I sighed, resigning myself to the cold mundaneness of day to day life.

Walking with my head down, I sensed a large person coming toward me. Out of my peripheral vision, I could see he was huge. I avoided looking directly at him, but glanced around to see if there were any people outside who could come to my aid, if I needed it.

The streets were empty.  Early Sunday mornings are not known for their pedestrian traffic or outside activities. It was one of the reasons I was out walking. Regret wormed its way through my gut. I could cross the street. How rude would that be? Besides, there was no way I would outrun such a big guy.

I pursed my lips and pressed on, not making eye contact. When I was within a few feet from him, I glanced up. He was big, but beautiful. My two second glimpse of him captured a smile that shot through me, casting light into all my dark places!

Dazed, I dropped my eyes. His smile, erasing any memory I had of what he looked like, carried a message of hope to my heart that warmed every element of my being. Though at the time, I could not have put that into words.

As soon as he was past me, I turned my head to try and recapture his image. I wanted to remember.

There was no one there.

I stopped and turned around, searching everywhere. The only movement was the gentle breeze, moving new leaves.

Forty years later, I can finally put my experience into words. When I feel the cold mundaneness of life closing in, that smile still warms me.

Have you ever had a brief, but close encounter that is unforgettable?

Write on,

Ani