Tuesday, March 23, 2010


The time with my equine friends was a good one, though short, in retrospect. The three of them started off in a little 30’ corral made of saplings. It was a simple fence, made from trees fresh cut and hammered together with 60 penny spikes. It looked right out of the pages of “Little House on the Prairie”, and I liked that. The three of them were not terribly fond of the tight quarters but they got along for the most part. On occasion the little mule would get excited and try to steal food from Nicodemous. He was patient with her right up until he got hungry and would then just push her aside, as he was about twice her bulk. This would inevitably spark a righteous fury from her in which she would turn around and start kicking the living daylights out of him. She learned quickly to keep to the side when engaging in such behavior after the first time old Nick connected back. It was like an anvil on a freight train flung out from that mule I thought he was going to knock her clean into the next county. He was close to fifteen hundred pounds and thus could pack a whollop!

While these two were discussing their differences of opinion on feed bucket ownership, Gandalf the little donkey quickly learned to stroll between all the feed buckets and eat his fill from each. It was like watching a Stooges episode. The fussing over food provided hours of entertainment. The little one, Henney, would prove an avid stealer of everyone’s food and complete grouch right till the end. All things considered, she had a pretty good excuse. Her feet were in horrible shape and there was not anything that could be done for them.

One day, I was walking around in the corral, gathering feed buckets that were spread all over hell and back. It seems half the fun of eating is carrying the bucket around and hitting the others with it. One day I looked out the window to find the wind had blown an empty feed bag into the corral and Gandalf and Nicodemous were having a lively game of tug-of-war with it. Until I lived around these guys I never knew how smart mules and donkeys are. I had horses as a kid and they were alright, but these guys were scheming, devious, plotting goofballs. As I am gathering the buckets, Gandalf, as he often did, followed me around. He plodded right behind me and would nod his head vigorously any time I reached over and scratched his nose and head. At some point I must have failed to live up to his expectations because the next time I turned around he reached up and bit me! That little bastard turned his head, opened up and grabbed the back of my arm, the fleshy part of the triceps, to be exact, and just clamped down.

I let out a yell and produced a stream of profanities in three or four languages. Of course, he knew perfectly well what he had done and I could almost see the snicker in his devious little face as he started to turn and scurry away. On instinct I swung the only thing I had. The feed bucket. It was a black rubberized bucket and in a wind whistling, ager induced fury I swung it with all the umph I could muster. Across the woods could be heard a hollow “THUNK”. Gandalf was rather put out, though less than injured. He scampered across the paddock and stood glowering next to the fence, the look on his face giving subtle clues to the insidious plots he was concocting in his little donkey head.

Needless to say, we were on less than good terms for a while.

As has been said, they were a vocal bunch. Each morning I would be up at about 2:30 so I could be at work by 4:00 (it was an hour drive) and around about 3:00, they would all spy me through the windows and start a commotion that could be heard in the next town. It typically went on for ten minutes or so. Interestingly, the start of this job was when I bought my Jeep. I pulled it home on a trailer on Thursday after starting work on Monday. For anyone who has criticized me for not filing bankruptcy or foreclosing, a credit rating that gave me the ability to walk into a dealer and buy a vehicle with no money down and three days on the job made it quite worth it. The following week we had a nasty storm. The wind blew like a banshee and it felt like the whole forest would be swept away. Next morning, I pulled out around 3:00 and was met with a problem. No less than three large trees had blown down on the road. I had to drop it into 4lo and head cross country onto an old logging road in order to get to work. It was a good morning.

The time with the mules was shorter than I would have liked. The two big ones hooves were worsening. Little Henney was regularly cracking and bleeding. On an increasing number of days she was unable to walk from the lower part of the small pasture area to the barn to eat. She would slowly hobble over and, after some fifteen to twenty minutes of agonizing labor would eat what the others had left. Nic wasn’t faring much better but he didn’t stray far from the barn on those days.

Now it is a difficult thing to find someone to take on two downer mules. Since the bad accident on Missouri Hwy 44 involving a trailer load of horses bound for slaughter the rendering outfits and such had all but went underground because of all the bad press. It didn’t matter anyway. I had no money to pay to have them picked up. I contacted a local big cat sanctuary to see if he could use them for food but it seems the PETA crowd was pressuring him so heavy he couldn’t risk the bad press either. (I ended up helping him do some work around the place later on, an experience I will write about later).

The day came when the difficult decision had to be made. Once more, there are those who see it as barbaric and some who will claim it is illegal (it’s not, the zoning of my land allows the burial of a certain amount of livestock per acre), but one does what one must. The kids were relegated to their room upstairs for a while.

The old .22 rifle, my companion through squirrel hunting, plinking at cans and putting down dogs was brought down again. .22 long hollow points. The walk from the house to the little lean to barn was like a 5k marathon. The cool steel of the fence wire felt wet in the overcast morning. Dew dripped down the toes of my boots as I strolled with mocked leisure, a silent wolf in sheep’s clothing to the benign and gentle giants standing in the pasture. Nic’s eyes were large, black voids, deep as all of life as I stroked his nose looked down at the cracked and inflamed hooves. The words of a close friend of the family and horseman rolled through my mind.
“They won’t bring anything at auction. They are downer animals. They will have no quality of life left without spending a lot of money on their hooves and even then it may not help.”

I didn’t feel any better about it though. This brute had stood by and nuzzled Roxy as she died, he was the sweetest, most intelligent animal I had been acquainted with, and now I was tasked with putting him down. I did not weep, but I felt like I had a coconut in my throat as I raised the rifle.

Life is a miracle, you know. Somewhere a couple of animals, human or otherwise, couple up and submit to the primal drive and pleasure of intercourse and an egg is fertilized. It splits, splits a few more times, gestates and grows, each little group of cells following the encoded instructions written in their unique dna until, in a gush of blood and contractions, they burst forth into the world. Then they take in protein and carbs and vitamins and over the course of a life this organism grows and develops in ways we are only beginning to understand and cannot hope to replicate. Then, for the price of a 2 cent .22 shell, it is done.

It was so fast, so effortless. One moment he was standing there, looking at me with that questioning gaze and the next minute he had collapsed in a lifeless heap, all precipitated by the slightest twitch of a muscle fiber on this human bone. The ease with which the life was taken scared the holy shit out of me. I have hunted and never flinched but this was different. Fifteen hundred pounds of mule had been extinguished in an instant. Mule that I had known, I had leaned against while pulling my boots on. It was sobering. Henney was a bit more crotchety and aggravating so she didn’t affect me as much but Nic, he was a friend. Of all the memories of my life, the memory of his eyes looking at me in those last moments will be burned in my waking mind until I die. It used to make me sad. Now it just feels…deep down. It was a lesson in life, I suppose. I buried the mules on the edge of a hill and placed a large rock in the spot in memorial. The door to that part of my life was beginning to close, though even today, my spirit walks under the white oaks.

1 comment:

  1. Love your story, man. On a primal level, I envy your journey--life lived in all of it's raw, unfiltered glory. Thanks for sharing.

    jeff (zombieCat from JF)