Sunday, June 12, 2011

Buckles and Beauty in Atlanta

"Wow!  What is that on your belt buckle?" she exclaimed as she peered over her reading glasses from behind the cash register.  I was in Atlanta, connecting to Nashville, with a 3 hour layover.  Its a mule, Ma'am.  "A mule!?  What's a mule?"  A mule is a cross between a donkey and a horse.  I raise them and train them.  "Really!...  I never heard of that!  Now what you go and do that for?  I mean, why you do that?  Is it that girls?  He raises MULES!"  By this time, the line behind me has started to get impatient.  Airports aren't places to hold up traffic.  So I stepped aside and said, go ahead and take care of the line and I'll answer your questions when there is a break.  "OK.  But don't you go anywhere, til you tell me what you do with those mules now, ya hear?"

For the next half hour, I watched Kim take care of customers, one at a time.  She found one special thing about each person to whom she served refreshement--their hair, their dress, where they were headed, and then she paid them a sincere complement, usually getting a surprised look.  Several times we tried to catch a moment to resume our conversation, but the line kept coming.  I marveled at the smiles she pulled out of each customer inside one of the most impersonal places of American Life--an international airport.  Finally, I just ordered my smoothie and explained that the mules were partly for raising my kids, and partly a way for me to explore the wilderness that surrounds my home in the West.  But that answer seemed to provoke even more curiosity.  Since the line of customers behind me was never going to allow us to fill in the details, I left her with a handwritten note and directions to see "Longears and Sourdough" for its pictures and stories.

As I walked away, I thought about how beautiful it is to see someone who conducts their job, whatever it is, with such grace, that you feel like you have been in the presence of greatness upon the observance of their expertise.  Kim, I watched you bring a moment of happiness to everyone you served--strangers all, but friends when they left your deli in concourse C, grinning.  For me, it was a mule on a buckle and your curiosity that sparked my smile.  But it was the milk of human kindness you showed for the masses of strange faces who you will never see again, that made my smile last far after I boarded my flight to Nashville.

Wednesday, June 8, 2011

Green Energy and Mule Fuel

In the Wilderness Economy, there is only one way to transport goods and services.  By law, transportation in the wilderness must use technology that pre-dates the wheel.  That means all internal combustion engines must burn hay, mitochondrial style; and all locomotion must be ambulatory.  So by logical extension, railroads, stagecoaches and semi trucks are illegal in the back country, leaving the mule train as the only real option.  Turns out the mule train is environmentally friendly.  They eat green fuel and have the greenest emissions my eye-meter has ever seen. The carbon foot print of a mule train can't be bigger than a mule's hoof.

Over the past couple of months, I took a job hauling a little over 2000 lbs of water, food and gear into the new Red Mountain Wilderness area for some archaeologists who are surveying for antiquities.

Mule Train work is good honest work if you can get it, really.  Not that it pays well.  I can make better pay while bending light in an Optometric sweat shop.  But it makes for a pleasant day.  Mules are smart, and they have a love language all their own--profanity, which makes for an artful conversation that one would never hear in an eye doctors office.  It sounds like, "Molly, you leather-headed jackhorse, get back in line," or, "Minnie Pearl!  You half-brained, half-assed horse--stop kicking Maggie!" or "Calamity, you long-eared sumbeeeech, GIT along and quit pulling back on your ROPE!"  It may sound rude to your ears, but to the MULE, these are terms of endearment.

Now I got myself thinking about the mess our world is in today while I was locomoting that mule train through the woods.  My friends Patty and Jackson (not their real names) are always trying to help me save the world from too much freedom and too much heat.  I want to do my level best to help out, so, as I was thinking,  I realized something quite profound, right out of the green.  Profanity has some useful thermal properties that could be used as a type of refrigerant.  I've known it since I was a small child, too.  I'll never forget the icy stare that froze my mother the day I said in a commanding 8 year-old voice to my 3 year-old brother, Mike, "Com'ere you little Bastard!"  And the fact that she used Tabasco sauce to unfreeze my tongue, like a university physics experiment, taught me some tangible thermodynamic principles that you could never learn from a book--like Don't ever say what ain't true! and Never insult your Parents. So today, while Patty and Jackson sat in climate controlled comfort somewhere, googling a bunch of CO2 into the atmosphere, I was gently burning hay instead of coal or oil, and cooling the atmosphere with my artfully profane mule talk.

Who gets paid to camp?  Sweet!
Frank Parish leads Maggie

Kissin Kate Barlow,  Sulphur Mustang Extraordinaire

Molly and Kate

Unable to find another load for the return leg, the mule-train comes home empty
Mule Fuel

Filling the barn

Happiness is refueling