I sharpened the scissors. I caught mule Polly. Then I trimmed her mane and tail and took a swipe at her toes.
Man, she’s as spiffed up as mule can be for Leatherwood Mule Days. I’m already thinking Coon Jump, pasture camping and starlight dancing.
I hope you can join us and here’s how you can do it.
Leatherwood Mule days is May 4 – 7 in Ferguson, NC. Think four days of all things mule and burro with a healthy dose of Western Carolina spring thrown in. If you don’t have an equine, then just bring the family. If you don’t have a family, well, you get it…
While you’re at it, bring some camping gear or a camper and hang out with us a few days. I’ll be giving some talks and the Lost Sea Expedition wagon from the Rocky Mountain PBS series will be on display. Plus, you can meet Ronald Hudson, my buddy who’s even crazier for mules than I am.
Tidying up for Leatherwood
For me getting ready for an event like Leatherwood is as much fun as actually participating.
This past weekend, I pulled mule Polly out of the pasture and giving her a good trimming from toe to forelock.
I like the hands-on nature of trimming mule manes and feet. I like the precision feeling of my hands around the scissor blades, holding them steady on Polly’s mane, squeezing them closed and watching the severed hair spring off the blades. The shorter the hair, the faster they fly off the steel and the higher they shoot.
I like how I have to speak softly to Polly as I do all this so she doesn’t move her head. It makes my pulse go down and relaxes both of us and shows that calm – not force – is often the way to get things done.
I like all these thing because they are timeless. They are unaffected by algorithms and automation. No one ever downloaded machine learning in to a pair of scissors and turned it loose on a mule. That’ll probably never happen. And that feels good. It makes me feel like I’m connected to something physical and real in an increasingly virtual world.
It’s easy to get jaded in a world where it seems everything is slated for disruption and dehumanization, from self driving cars to robotic surgery to software-base legal advise. I might worry that computers will one day displace much of what we humans do. But trimming a mule mane with a pair of old chrome scissors? That feels like it’s around to stay and I take comfort in that.
Clipping a mule’s mane with scissors is old fashioned. Yes, I’ve had lots of people look at the manes I’ve trimmed by hand say, “you know, it would be a lot faster if you used clippers.” That’s like telling me that traveling across America is slow and now they have these fast things called cars that really speed up the journey.
Yes. True. But I don’t want faster. I want slower. My life is fast enough. I want to slow down. I want to sharpen long old scissors with a flat file. I want to let the skills I’ve spent putting in to my fingers come back out again. I want to visit with my friend Ronald Hudson as trims his mules next to me – by hand.
And so that’s what I did this weekend. After I trimmed Polly’s mane, I trimmed her hooves. Then I tackled 13 more of Ronald’s mules with my hoof knife, nipper and rasp. After I trimmed their feet, he trimmed their manes.
In between, we just caught up on old times, like the time he sent Polly and me off with the vomit bags.
Sure, the job would have been faster with electric clippers. But that wouldn’t have left room for the stories.
At the end of the day, after trimming 56 mule feet, I walked Polly back to her pasture. I scratched her on the withers where I know she likes it. Then I turned her loose.
She raced away from me and made a couple of farting, nostril snorting laps of the pasture. It was like she was a kid again and had just slipped on a pair of new sneakers and suddenly she could run faster than with her old shoes. Now I just have to catch her in time for Leatherwood….
I hope you can join us.
More about mule Polly and my latest project, the Lost Sea Expedition documentary is over here.