In recent weeks, mule Polly and I have been following an abandoned rail bed across Newfoundland. In the quarter century since the rails have been taken up, Mother Nature, Father Time and four-wheelers have taken their toll. For the most part, the gravel path is clear.
There are obstructions, though. Like the dam Polly and I ran across last week. The dam itself was gated off. So you couldn’t walk across it to reach the other side. Rather, we had to descend a steep trail, ford the tail water, then make our way up a washed-out path to regain the rail bed.
Here, in a pen and paper letter to a friend, is how that traverse went. To set things up, I’ve included a few photos.
Here goes, straight from the written page.
“ … so I get to the sketchy grade below the dam. Polly saw the washed out bit. Stopped to marvel at the exposed culvert, its corrugations sticking out like the ribs on a giant, half buried snake skeleton. She looked at me. Gave me the, “you don’t think I’m pulling your cart up this washout” look.
I took out my pipe. Packed it slowly with fresh tobacco. Thinking of a response.
She had a point. In Deer Lake, I’d given in to temptation. There were only so many ways to augment my rice, tea, oats and oil diet with dandelions. Bumble bee flowers they call them in these parts. The menu rotation was winding down. Dandelion flowers, dandelion leaves – raw, boiled, steamed in salad and in pasta. There was Dandelion à la Mule for forging solidarity with Polly . Dandelion à la Screech for when I was feeling jumpy. Dandelion à la Oil for when I was feeling constipated. I’d all but smoked the damn things trying to add some variety to my diet.
Lucky thing I wasn’t low on tobacco….
So in Deer Lake I’d gone a bit overboard with provisioning. If that’s what you call 5 pounds of oats, 2 pounds of peanuts, 6 heads of broccoli, 2 cabbages and a sixer of Black Horse beer. Hauled all, of course, by mule Polly. Despite my best attempt, she saw me add the load to her cart. Doing the silent air match calculation of by how much her load had just increased. What to charge me when her shipping charge came due.
Now we were at the base of this steep washed out grade. It looked like she was going to hand me the freight bill. It’s why I smoke a pipe. Lets me buy precious time as I match wits with my mule – a simpleton trying to outsmart a simple animal.
I put a match to my pipe. Said, “ Why, Polly. Just last week, a Newfoundland pony passed through this stretch. Pony half your size. Pulling a load twice as heavy as yours. Driven by an ungrateful fat bastard who insisted on riding in the cart while sipping from his bottle of Lamb’s. Not walking beside it like me. And that little punk island pony snatched her load up that stretch in front of you like it was just a wallet in her back pocket.”
It worked. Polly pulled that grade like her arse was on fire and her tail was catching (to borrow the Charlie Daniels phrase).
That evening, I fessed up to her. Of the evil white lie I’d used to motivate her. She took it like a team player. Take one for Team Mule.
Later that night, I woke to mysterious crunching sounds. Followed by drier scrunching tones. Hmmm….. I rolled over in my tipi and let it pass. A fellow at my level of management doesn’t micromanage. You don’t climb the mule travel corporate ladder by doing the control freak thing. After all, with faithful employees like mule Polly on security detail, upper management could rest easy.
The next morning, I woke to find all my precious groceries looted. All the rolled oats were gone. Five damn pounds! Same for the cabbage, apples and carrots.
Hanging back in the scenery was Polly. Carbohydrate induced gleam in her eye. Slobbery green chewed to hell plastic bag hanging out of her mouth. Where she’d mouthed the bagged broccoli to pulp and sucked the contents out like a lamprey sucking the guts out of a salmon.
Worse yet, she’d invited one of those red head, bat house crazy squirrels to join the fray. Little Red tore into my 32 ounce trove of peanuts. The ones I’d rationed out for the next month. Ounce a day. Cleaned out the whole lot and, because squirrels don’t carry business cards but like to leave their mark, left squirrel droppings all over my cart seat.
I twisted the head off a Black Horse beer for breakfast. Lit my pipe.
That should teach a fellow. Never lie to your mule.
Hope all’s well.
Where this story happened:
ROFLMAO!!!!!!!! cough sputter
Polly doesn’t like beer?
Good thing Butch mule wasn’t reading… lesson noted…
— katie c · Thursday August 2, 2012 · #
Hello Bernie & Polly,
We were fortunate to meet and greet you two along the road Hwy 430, nearby Rocky Harbor,in mid July. It was so amazing to see you traveling along the roadside with Polly. We just had to stop and find out what this was all about! This led to quite the discussion as we returned to our car, and I have to say, that I was happy to find that you are indeed a writer, as that was my guess!~ we have some lovely pix that we’d taken of the two of you! Happy travels to you both, if you are traveling back thru to Maine, please stop in my hometown, Eastport, off rte 1, in Washington County. You’ll receive a warm welsome by all for sure!
p.s. I googled “Polly the mule” to find your site!! Sweet!
sincerely a fun time meeting you both!
The Wagners, Louise & Fred
— Louise W. · Friday August 3, 2012 · #
It was a real pleasure to meet and talk with you in Bishop’s Falls. You have a great voice on this blog and I downloaded a copy of your book tonight. Hope your travels are going well. Got home this morning. Did seven flights this trip with seven delays — could have done better with a mule but Polly wasn’t around. Say hi to Polly and remember broccoli is good for man and beast.
— Sally Van Natta · Saturday August 11, 2012 · #
Great to hear all’s going so well
great writing. Made me laugh yo have such a way with words.
Now in Washington DC.
— peta · Thursday August 16, 2012 · #