Saturday, May 28, 2011

The Man and The Mule, A Lesson in Life

 Early one morning several years ago, I was passing through a small town in the Hill Country of Texas which over the past few decades, has turned into a small craftsman’s village.
   Very few “outsiders” had found their way into town yet that morning, so only the shop owners and a handful of “locals” who made this area part of their normal daily treks were seen or heard there.  They called out to each other by first name and threw to each other open ended questions such as; “how’s the wife?”; “ Hot enough for you?” or,” Seen Joe lately? “  It was obvious these questions were not really important but just a way to let each other know that they each recognized the others presence.
 In the middle of the town shopping area the main street crossed a creek and below the bridge was a small natural park area.  As I crossed the bridge I found myself looking down at a very out of the ordinary sight.
 Twenty yards or so up the creek stood a man, knee deep and about half way across the creek. Wrapped once around his buttocks was one end of a long rope which led to a large haltered mule which was standing at the edge of the creek.  The rope between the two was pulled tight as the man tried to coax the mule into entering the shallow creek.
I couldn’t help but stop to see how this dilemma was going to be resolved.  For several minutes the man continued to adjust his position in the creek, cursing under his breath or at least sending insults toward the animal for its stupidity as he continued to try coaxing the animal into its clear yet shallow water.  Each time, the mule would stand firm, waiting patiently while the man tried to show him who was boss.
Seeing me, he yelled out. “Well, do you have any ideas? I’m trying to train him to crossing the creek for when he’s pulling a wagon I have for Hay rides.” But he’s so dang stubborn.” 
“ Does he know what the water feels like that you are trying to get him into entering?” I asked.  Has he ever stood in water before?
 “No this his first time” came the reply. 
I thought for a second, and then shared with him what I thought may help.

“I think the problem is that he doesn’t know what is ahead of him.  He see’s you out there but without actually knowing what the water feels like for himself, maybe he is afraid of what it will do to him. I would stand beside him and splash water onto his front legs a little at a time so that he can feel comfortable with the feel of the water.  Then, I would try walking him into the water while walking beside him, not out in front of him trying to pull him in. 
“I’m willing to try anything at this point in time.” he said.  I watch as he followed my suggestions and after a few minutes tried to bring the mule into the water with him. 
At first the mule balked, but with a little more coaxing and the man staying calm and reassuring the animal, the mule finally took its first steps into the creek. They worked their way across and out onto the far bank of the creek.
Immediately, the man turned the animal back into the creek for the return trip with the  mule hesitating only slightly before entering the water. The return trip went uneventful and the man finally allowed himself to show a smile as they approached the near bank.
Tying the mule to a fence rail he came over to me and we introduced ourselves.  He asked how I knew what I had offered would work. 
“I’m not one of those Know it All’s, I promise you,  I just remembered that sometimes, you don’t realize that just because something is easy for you to do, it may not be easy for someone else” I said.
 “I can remember when there were times when I was in his place and was lucky enough to have someone show me the way.” 
He smiled then asked me how long I had been watching him working with the mule from the bridge before he had seen me there?
Only a couple of minutes, I replied not wanting to embarrass him. 
Hmmm. Cause if it would have been me.  My question would have surely been “So, which is more stubborn here, the man or the mule?
I hid the smile by turning away to look at the Mule one more time.
 “Naw, I would never have thought that.”  And we walked up the hill to have a nice breakfast, courtesy of my new friend.