Sunday, July 1, 2012


Man enough to lead a green pack mule.  Boy enough to tie a random stick behind his saddle.

She stopped and leaned back on the rope instead of hopping over the log behind Preston's young mule, Senator.  She is quite young herself.  At two years old, Midnight Storm is a bit mustangy.   Her mother is a Sulpher herd mustang with a little bit of a mean streak and an unforgiving buck.  Midnight inherited an uncanny wariness and an extra dose of fight or flight to compliment her mulish intelligence.  And she has never forgiven me for roaching her mane against her will when she was a baby .  

Preston had done a magnificent job leading Midnight from Mill Flat to North Valley, and she had complied with her pack job sans complaint until she stopped at that log on the edge of the meadow.  We were just a few hundred yards from camp.  This was her second pack trip, the first being a year ago--just a few light things to try and give her some experience.  When we left the trail head the day before, Preston led a two-up train consisting of Calamity Jane and Minnie Pearl, tied nose to tail.  But the first time leading two-up made him slightly nervous and he requested to lead the very green Midnight for the rest of the trip.  We didn't dare tie her to anybody or anything.

After a couple of futile tries to get Midnight over the log, she laid down to roll.  She carried a lot of supplies, canvas, sawbuck, and rope on her topside.  After a while, the urge to scratch the itch under the pack blanket must have been unbearable.  Getting all that gear on Midnight in the first place was its own rodeo.  Every item was suspect.   Like a sweaty piece of dynamite that could explode at the slightest provocation, she inspected each piece of gear with muscles taught.  So we loaded her with care, hoping to avoid an accidental discharge.  Once the load was set, the danger passed, and she was happy to follow along as part of the mule train.

She stood back up, still on the wrong side of the log, and at Preston's urging, Midnight finally made the jump.  Her well balanced load had shifted to the right after laying down, and slipped even more when she landed on the other side.  But sweaty dynamite is never safe.  With all the percussion and earth-shattering shock of a stick of TNT, Midnight blew up.  She didn't finish blowing up until the only thing left was the sawbuck hanging from her belly.  Epic train-wreck! 

After the dust settled I tied Midnight to a stout tree, and one of the nearby Boy Scouts that we were packing into Scout Camp helped me resaddle and repack the load.   Preston ran after my mule train that had decided to trot on ahead.  Gear was scattered all over the meadow.  The manty that held the load was shredded.   But we gathered it up and repacked the very skittish young mule--we didn't have far to go.  By the time it was over, we had experienced other train-wrecks on the trip, but this blowup was the biggest in terms of affect.  Preston finally returned with my three mules after catching up to them half a mile away.  It was then that I noticed that something was different with my 9 year old boy.  After all the trauma that usually goes with run-away mules and violent mule tantrums, Preston just smiled, retook Midnight's cotton rope and finished leading our train to camp.   "Dad?" he said.  "Should we give Midnight a new nickname?" He was referring to Leon's pet name for one of Brother Mike's horses, dubbed affectionately Superglue.  "Sure Bud.  How about 'Trainwreck'?"  

It is the stuff of nicknames, and boys, growing up.

Leading out with a two-up, nose-to-tail train.

Leon in man-pain after his packhorse rears back into Kevin's truck and caves the rear panel...kneeing him in the groin in the process.

Preston leans down to pick up her lead, just moments before the train wreck 

Headed back off the mountain with a different load--this time?  No wrecks.

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