The walls of my wagon world are canvas thin. Lit by an oil soaked wick raised with a tiny lantern gear. Nights, when darkness falls, I put a match to the wick and write in my journal by lamp light. The scribble of pen and hiss of wick fill the oak and drop cloth enclosure I call home on the road.
There’s no keyboard clack on my wagon. Here on the road with my mule, the pen is mightier than the laptop.
Sleep approaches. Journal pages filled, I crawl into my berth. Flick close the wood stove door. Pull the covers to my chin. The wagon springs shriek their last cry of the day.
Life goes quiet. My ears adjust to the sound of darkness.
Then “crunch, crunch, chew, chew” comes through the wagon walls and I know my day is done.
That chewing is Polly standing outside my wagon. Feeding on what grass she can muster. Occasionally, there’s a metallic rattle. The clank of the chain as she stretches her picket to reach another patch of fodder.
Wagon nights are chewing and silence. Doesn’t matter what part of the world I’m in. Polly eating buffalo grass in Saskatchewan sounds like Polly eating clover in Newfoundland.
Before the world became so mechanized, it’s the last sound many travelers heard. Well, if they got around by wagon.
Inside me, it triggers a roller coaster of emotion. Loneliness. Of how, night after night, Polly the mule passes her nights alone in the night. Standing watch over my bowtop canvas home. Companionship. How, when I poke my head from my wagon door, Polly will perk up. Come over for a scratch. Fear. What if Polly gets tangled in her tether overnight? Freedom. With a largely grass-fed vehicle, I can travel almost without cease.
Then there’s the wind.
Many nights, if the weather’s changing, wind noise envelope’s Polly’s night time browsing. It’s hard to separate the two. The rumble and howl, especially on blustery nights, reinforces the exposed nature of wagon life.
Here’s what it sounds like when I’m wrapped up in my sleeping bag on a blowy wintery Newfoundland night and Polly’s eating outside the wagon walls. Just by my head. Ready for a listen? Click on the player.
Map shows where recording was made outside Eliston, Newfoundland.
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