Tuesday I rode a mule for the first time. Her name is Charlene and she’s tall, like Daisy, and calm and friendly and quite definitely Not “a horse with long ears”. We’d gone out looking for a missing calf – dead or alive. The cow had come back to the barn – calfless and bawling. There is a mountain lion known to be hunting in the area, there was a bear seen recently down along the river at the edge of the ranch – and while on the reservation I’d heard that a pair of wolves had come down from the mountains (where they’d been released by the government) and were working the Gila river – two calves and a calving cow had already been killed. After over an hour of searching, for a calf, a carcass or some tracks that might yield a clue, I returned to the barn. Jesse James gave me a Look. I was able to assure him that I had no intention of trading him in on a mule. The “language” was the same (seat, legs, hands and voice gave the same commands) but there was a very real difference – Charlene moved differently than a horse, had different reactions to things, thought differently. Different culture. I’ve got a lot to learn about mules before I even think about adding one to the herd.
I’d run into this concept a few years ago when I had the opportunity to spend the better part of a year in Ireland. Theoretically we all spoke English – but the communication glitches went far beyond accents and idioms – there were basic cultural assumptions that were following a very different pattern and thought process. For instance – they think that the U.S. is barbaric not to provide universal health care, their artists (and writers) live tax free, and a cup of tea is offered almost before “hello”. Not to mention the permeability between what I considered “ordinary reality” and other realms or dimensions that people there seemed to take for granted. Gryph was taking pictures of a small waterfall and when we looked at the images later she’d captured a wee pixie standing on a rock – it was obvious what it was, and nobody even thought it odd.
Last week, crossing the San Carlos Apache Reservation, I had a similar experience. The ponies were badly in need of a rest and on Friday evening we camped down along the Gila River. Saturday afternoon I heard a vehicle pull up and a door open and close. As I finished strapping on my Chacos an Apache man appeared at the top of the wash, looking down towards my tent. I stood up and walked towards him and he said “I was just wondering who was down here. Are those your horses?” I said that they were and explained my situation. He said that they had come to go fishing, “but there are other places to go fishing.” As he turned back to his jeep, where his wife and kids were waiting, I asked him if it was ok that I was there. “I wasn’t sure how to ask for permission. Who owns this land?” He looked at me as if I had grown an extra head. “It’s tribal land. Nobody owns it. You’re fine here.” And I was.
When I was plotting out my route, plenty of people warned me about the Reservation. “You don’t want to go through the Rez” was the basic assumption, for whatever reason. There were warnings about permits and about “those Crazy Apache.” But the most logical route from where I was to where I wanted to go led through the Rez – and so I went. And people were friendly, and helpful, and interested and encouraging (like everywhere else I’ve passed through on this Journey). The Apache warned me about rattlesnakes. (The one I encountered let me know that I shouldn’t ride too close – and the ponies and I passed safely on the other edge of the narrow dirt road.) The Apache also warned me about their neighbors to the East – the Mormons. “The Mormons aren’t friendly. They don’t like transcients. They’ll run you off and won’t let you camp – and they own all the land you’ll be traveling through.”
On Good Friday I left the reservation – and the Mormons I met took me in with amazing hospitality and warmth. Seeing that the ponies were in need of a real break, they offered me a place to stay and rest for as long as was necessary. And here I am, encountering yet another culture with which I share a common language. One of the things that I’ve been thinking about over the past year is how America traditionally places a high value on being “self-sufficient” – which used to mean having the skills, ingenuity and work ethic to feed, clothe and shelter one’s self and family. It seems that the current version of “self-sufficiency” has more to do with being able to afford to shop at Walmart (or at least having a credit card with which to procure the necessities of life.) The people I am staying with are serious about old school self-sufficiency. They have chickens for eggs and cows for milk and cheese and butter. They can and freeze food and put up hay for their livestock. It’s a lot of work! They aren’t Luddites – they use tractors and drive to town, but they think seriously about life without the luxury of readily available fuel (hence the mules).
Speaking of Luddites – please excuse the lack of photographs in this blog entry. I’m not the camera whiz and I have yet to figure out how to wipe a memory card clean so that I can re-use it. I’m working on it – meanwhile I’ll post this as is – and get on with other tasks. Oh – and the calf that Charlene and I were looking for returned! It seems that its mother hid it somewhere while she came back for a drink of water – obviously she did a good job!