Thursday, July 27, 2017

Mule Man

I have been informed many times in my life I’m as stubborn as a mule.  Thank you.  I take that as a complement.

I like mules.  They are extremely intelligent, strong, protective, and gentle.  It’s much easier to ride a mule than a horse, and the mule is always looking to make that ride as enjoyable as possible.  A horse will try to scrape off a rider with a low hanging tree branch, while a mule will make room for you.  A pig or a snake can easily spook a horse, whereas a mule will just acknowledge its presence and continue about its business.

I grew up with mules, and I even rode one to school for most of the third grade.  I was about six or seven years old when I was braiding a bridle for the owner of the farm next to ours, and Curly came into the barn to watch me for a while.  Curly was the smallest of our four plow mules, but at over seventeen hands high, he wasn’t exactly small.  He, and Moe, Larry, and Shemp, were bred from a Mammoth Jack and Percheron crossing, so small is a bit relative.  But Curly was always the most curious of the four.

After looking over my shoulder for a few minutes, Curly walked over to the wall where an ancient McClellan saddle was hanging on a peg, grabbed it with his teeth, and dropped it beside me.  Then he knelt down and nudged the saddle a little closer to me.  I couldn’t believe it.  He was telling me he wanted to go for a ride.  He was a plow mule and had never been ridden in his life. I had him stand back up while I went in search of a saddle blanket, bridle, and anything else I might need to make this work. 

I couldn’t find much of anything I needed to take Curly out for a ride, but I did find an old piece of rug that would serve as a saddle blanket.  Trial and error finally succeeded in saddling Curly, and he knelt back down so I could climb on.  I didn’t have a bridle and reins, but I could grab onto his mane, and he knew all the plowing commands for right, left, go, and stop (Gee, Haw, Giddup, Whoa), so I thought I could make this work.

There was a learning curve for both of us.  The first time I said “Giddup,” Curly lurched forward like he was in the plow harness, and I discovered the barn floor wasn’t very soft.  But we tried again and again until we understood how the process would work for us.  It was a great summer riding Curly around whenever he wasn’t pulling the plow, but when school started, our fun was quickly curtailed and confined to the weekends. 

It took a while for me to find out just how Curly got the idea of being ridden.  After I completed the bridle for farm owner next to ours, Levi (the owner) told me Curly had spent a lot of time watching him ride his horses.  Each time he would saddle up, Curly would come over to the fence to study the process. 

School was a few miles away, and usually I walked both directions, although on occasion someone would take pity on the little kid walking along the dirt road and give him a ride.  But it was a long walk (10 miles uphill both directions and always snowing).  I left home about 5:30 each morning and usually returned about 5:30 in the evening.  Then there was the homework.

I don’t know why I didn’t notice the hitchin’ rails in front of the school until the year was almost over, but the next year, I decided to ride Curly to school one morning.  Curly wasn’t really needed until spring plowing began again, so, Why Not?  When I arrived, I tied him to the rail and went into the classroom. 

My school was a 4-room building.  Grades 1 and 2 were together.  3 and 4, 5 and 6, 7 and 8.  Two grades per room.  This was my first time in the 3rd and 4th grade room, and my first time with this teacher.  About two hours into the morning, she called me aside to ask about my mule.  “Does he have food and water?”  I hadn’t thought about these things.

Mrs. Stephenson (I don’t remember her name, but this one works) brought me out to her truck where she peeled a flake from a bail of hay she had.  We brought it along with Curly to the old barn in back of the school where she placed him in a stall, gave him the hay, and filled a bucket with water for his thirst.

“David, every two hours I want you to check on him.  It doesn’t matter what we are doing in class, just make sure your mule is happy.  I’ll bring a couple of hay bails tomorrow, but after that, you will need to provide something for him to eat.”

Wow.  I thought I was going to be in trouble for riding my mule to school, but it turned out everyone was jealous of me, including the teacher.  I never did need to bring food for him to eat.  Someone, and I never found out who it was, always brought hay and feed for Curly.

When my third grade ended, so did my time with Curly.  We sold the mules and bought a tractor.  My parents moved into the city and I changed schools.  My grandfather still had the farm, and I would visit on weekends and summers, but it was never the same after the mules were sold.

Friday, July 7, 2017

Irvine Lake 2017 Wild Game Feed

The countdown begins to September 15, 2017.  Only 10 more weeks to the 2017 Annual Wild Game Feed at Irvine Lake.  Did you order your ticket when I told you to order it?  Well?  If you did, then I hope you are prepared to have more fun than you can stand.  If you did not, then I hope you are prepared to wait another year.  And I hope you learned a lesson about listening to me when I tell you to order your tickets.  No I am not your mom or wife or girlfriend, but this dance should never be missed.

I know that sounds a bit harsh, but every year I get emails from men who waited a few weeks to order their tickets and didn’t get them.  And already this year I’ve received more than a few emails from panicked men who didn’t heed my warnings.  This little get-together sells out faster every year than the year before.  I know of a number of men who now overnight their order forms the very day they receive them.  Honestly, this is not a bad idea.  In the next few years I expect this to become normal in order to receive tickets.  As I said, every year sells out faster than the year before.

Some 20 years ago a guy where I worked came to me the day before the Feed with tickets to sell.  He was a member of the Feed and was still pushing the tickets at the last minute.  I didn’t buy one, but the company I worked for provided the beer to the Feed, and I was one of the representatives chosen to check up on the activities.  Wow.  Almost 500 men were having the time of their lives, and I was privileged to join in with them.  The next year when the tickets came out, I immediately bought one even though the company planned to send me there again.  My reasoning was this: if the company changed its mind about sending me, I could take a vacation day and still participate.  I wasn’t going to miss the party.  It’s called ‘Insurance.’

Now, some 20 years later, those 500 men have grown to about 1,500 men.  And the tickets that were available the day before the Feed are sold out before July 1st.  In fact, I was told the tickets last year sold out in just about 3 weeks.  If you have a ticket to this year’s Feed, then you have a very valuable ticket to the most desirable party in Orange County.  Congratulations!

If this is your first time to attend, please read my page AWGF FAQ’s.  It will give you some insight to the process.  And even if you have been to the feed many times, it doesn’t hurt to look over this page.  If you have any questions not answered by the AWGF FAQ’s page, you should find some information there about how to contact me.  I may not be able to help you, but I will certainly try.

For those without tickets, I don’t really know how to help you, but here are a few tips.  1) Check out Craig’s list.  I’ve seen them there in the past.  2) Sometimes people post on Facebook about having extra tickets.  3) Sometimes men in line at the Feed have an extra ticket to two.  All of these are a possibility, and some men succeed in obtaining tickets in these ways, but most men do not succeed after the initial order date.  The best bet is to order tickets when the order forms arrive.

Now it’s time for me to go pack my car again.  I do this several times each year just to make certain I can get my things there and, more importantly, back home again.  There is nothing quite like getting everything to the feed, having a great time, and not being able to get it back into the car to go home.  More than once I’ve seen it happen, so I practice loading and unloading.  And it helps me to remember what I’m bringing both directions (I also use a checklist).  Plus it helps me control the anticipation.

See you at the Feed!

Meat and Beer!