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unmoving beast. She was larger than life and her hide smelled like rank sweat. She was not graced with a notion of cleanliness. And she had the amazing ability to stand unyielding in one spot for long periods of time. In the distance you might see her standing next to a fence row, and in an hour or so, when you next glanced her way, she would be standing in the exact same position. During these long spells of repose you might notice a shifting of her cumbersome weight from one hind quarter to the other. No other movement could be discerned from a distance.
This is not to say that there weren’t other important things going on. Venturing closer to the fence row, you would quickly see that Sugar was plagued by a horde of biting flies. Her skin was almost constantly twitching as she tried to shake off the relentless enemy. Or, she would stomp one hoof, which caused a momentous swarm of the winged pests to circle above her heavy torso. Her slender tail would regularly swat at the harassing flies as they moved from shoulder, to flank, to all other locations on her body. Between the mule and the flies there was an unending battle of wills. It was the plight of the mule to be tortured by the unending irritation of the menacing insects, as they swarmed in waves over her dusty hide. It was the plight of the flies that their unending activity and hellish desire would never result in fulfillment, as the desire of flies is beyond redemption.
Her stubbornness is legendary. Sugar had the uncanny ability to become rooted in one spot when you most wanted her to move forward, or otherwise help with some chore. It seemed like she knew exactly what you wanted her to do, and that became the last thing she was going to do, come hell or high water. No amount of tugging on her lead rope or pushing her from side to side would cause her to budge from that one spot, to which she had become so firmly fixed. Sugar remained true to her kin in that regard, her obstinate behavior was enough to make other mules proud.
From childhood, cowboys and cowgirls are trained to avoid the south end of a mule. The consequences of such an error could be severe. As stubborn and unyielding as a mule can be, you should never attempt standing behind a mule to push her forward. Typically, strenuous efforts at pushing a mule from behind gained no traction. It is an exercise in futility. Moreover, for some unlucky souls that had attempted to push a mule from behind, the end result had been the sudden and unexpected lifting of the mule’s tail, followed by a torrent of ripe gas and manure. The shocked expression on the face of that unlucky person is beyond words. Worse yet, when pushing from behind, there have been more than a few misguided souls that have directly experienced how it feels to be kicked by a mule. Some lessons in life are better avoided.
Even more unbelievable was Sugar’s ability to cooperate when you least expected her helpfulness. On a sunny day when Haybaler was doing a few chores around the barn or in the garden, which were not begging the help of a mule, Sugar would walk up to him and lower her head, as if asking for the halter and lead rope to be willingly placed upon her. At that moment most would feel perplexed, as man and mule looked at each other in stunned disbelief. It is the same puzzled feeling that occurs when gazing into the deep heavens on a clear and starry night, save one difference. Unlike the regal heavens above, Sugar would break her spell binding enchantment and walk away if a carrot was not quickly produced as a reward for her politeness.
Many cowboys had an idea to ride Sugar, but it was best to exercise great caution, as she had never been properly broken to the feel of a saddle. Although typically an unmoving beast, she would shift around and act spooky at the sight of a cowboy walking towards her with a saddle. Many a man had become overly confident when Sugar held still for a few moments as she was saddled up to ride. The end result of this folly was predictable. Attempts at riding Sugar had been a perfect failure for many brave cowboys that had owned her. With unfaltering grace, she had thrown each man to the ground, where he lay bruised and cursing. Moreover, she did not learn or change her behavior as a result of the cruel punishments these former riders would heap upon her, for being harshly thrown down to the unyielding Earth. Pain followed pain, but to no avail. Rather, for her stubbornness and lack of respect, Sugar had been traded many times. By the time it came to this end, she was usually traded for about enough moonshine whiskey to make the cowboy’s aches and pains of being thrown to the hard ground go away for one night. As the story goes, Sugar gave her many owners’ two joys. Initially, there was the joy of purchasing her at such a cheap price, followed by the joyous relief of selling her without regret to the next hapless cowboy.
She could be stubborn and unyielding for months on end. However, Sugar would do almost anything for food. This point of knowledge was to Haybaler’s great advantage. With a feed bag of sweet grain strapped to her head, he had just enough time to get the full harness around her sturdy frame, followed by hitching her to the rusty farm cart. This was no small task, as Haybaler had a limited amount of time to secure the mule with all her riggings to the makeshift wagon. Sugar remained patient, as she had grown accustomed to this request. Food was a fair trade for pulling a cart.
Once the leather harness and cart where firmly set upon Sugar’s frame, Haybaler walked step by step in front of her, lead rope in hand, moving slowly forward into the oak covered woods. With Sugar’s notoriety in mind, he had no trouble leading her by a rope, rather than trying to ride her. Sugar followed cordially, and seemed unmindful of the cart which now followed her every step. Her lumbering body swayed with a graceful rhythm only known to horses and mules. If she became stubborn and stopped walking, she would be offered a carrot. You see, Haybaler kept a pocket full of carrots as he led Sugar deeper into the woods. It wasn’t so much that Sugar was being a good mule by following Haybaler as he held the lead rope, she followed dutifully because she could smell the carrots in his pocket.
In short measure, it was only a few yards to where a newly cut tree lay strewn upon the ground in a frenzy of wood chips and limbs. The sharp smell of the freshly cut timber filled the autumn air. With an hour or so of hard work, most of the wood had been thrown upon the old cart. Sugar paid little attention to any of Haybaler’s activities. She stood motionless and appeared to be waiting for the moment when she would be lead back to the barn, frequently turning her head in that direction. There is little doubt that she pined away for the freshly thrown hay that was waiting in her stall. In fact, you will never see Sugar move faster than when she is returning to her beloved stall and the treasure trove of hay that awaits her return.
Time passes quickly when doing work in the woods. Haybaler noticed that the sun had moved a good ways across the autumn sky. After a short, but satisfying break, the wood was ready to be hauled away in the heavy laden cart. The broad tree stump would be left in the silence of the woods, to remain as a quiet reminder of a life that had once stood tall.
The cart was a phenomenon of back woods ingenuity. It was the bed of a GMC pickup truck, with the supporting metal frame protruding forward in a crude fashion. Sugar’s heavy leather harness was lashed about her from front to rear, and cinched tightly under her belly. Then, the harness was securely strapped and buckled to the protruding metal frame of the cart. It was a poor man’s contraption to be sure, but a splendid sight to behold. It was a marvel of backwoods ingenuity and function. As man and mule began their journey back to the barn, the cart’s creaking axel complained about the heaviness of the load.
Haybaler was walking ahead of Sugar holding the lead rope and feeling quite gratified with a good day’s work. As he turned the final bend of the short journey, the barn came into view, about 50 yards ahead from where he stood. Two steps farther and Sugar caught sight of the barn. Jerking her head up suddenly and making a loud whinny, she bolted forward in a full run, making a beeline for the barn door. The lead rope was violently torn from Haybaler’s hand, but he leapt to safety just as the heavy laden cart was accelerating past him. Startled into action, Haybaler ran after Sugar in a vain attempt to halt her progress. “Stop! Stop!” Habaler screamed at the top of his lungs, but no amount of yelling and cursing had any effect. S
ugar was running in a dead heat for the barn and her beloved hay. Over the years, she had been broken of some bad habits, but running towards the barn at the end of the day was still Sugar’s claim to infamy. Haybaler ran after her as best he could, but he was no match for her speed. Logs and limbs were knocked about and hurled from the cart. The cart itself seemed to be in flight as it bounced along behind Sugar. Haybaler’s heart has beating out of his chest as he ran and yelled repeatedly at Sugar to stop.
As Sugar approached the barn door, her momentum slowed just enough that she could make a slight hop over the threshold of the door, as she was accustomed to doing. Sugar had successfully accomplished this maneuver hundreds of times, save for this instance, because there was one crucial difference. She was still pulling the cart, which retained most of its heavy burden of firewood, jostled and a bit dangerous looking throughout this high speed calamity. Sugar cleared the threshold with aplomb, followed by a great crashing sound as the cart struck both sides of the barn door at full speed. Unfortunately, the cart