Tuesday, September 22, 2015

A Gaited Hinny

Cooksie had a gaited hinny named Dan that was easy to catch and unusually cooperative. That animal would do anything asked of him if he knew it would not hurt him or his rider. When neighbor Cooksie said I could ride him, I don’t think he knew just how much and how often I would do so. I liked him and I had the sense that he liked me. He showed it by acting glad to see me and readily accepting the bit. I would catch him in the pasture and ride him bareback up to the tack shed for saddling. It seemed to me he was careful with me when I was mounted bareback.
I was not an easily offended lad, but I have to confess I was offended when, on one our jaunts, an older bully-type boy said, “Where did you get that broken down mule.” Since I was mounted, I was bold enough to respond, “He ain’t a mule, he’s a hinny, and he ain’t broken down.” I think the other Dan knew he was being derided, for I saw his floppy ears stiffen and go back to his neck. When bully boy started towards us, Dan took a step in his direction and the dude stopped still. There was a look in Dan’s eye that told him to back off, which he eventually did. We trotted away, both feeling triumphant.
As you probably know, a mule is the offspring of a male donkey, known as a jack and a mare horse. They can be of either gender, but are sterile because the chromosomes do not line up for reproduction. In appearance, a mule is the perfect blend of both parents. A hinny is the offspring of a stallion horse, known as a stud, and a female donkey, known as a jenny. They can be of either gender, but are sterile for the same reason a mule is sterile. A hinny is seldom a blend of both parents, but looks very much like a large donkey or sometimes like a long-eared horse, as Dan did. Both the mule and the hinny inherit the cautious nature of the donkey and the strength of the horse. That is not to say donkeys are not strong. They definitely are. Those old mining donkeys could carry half their weight all day long like it was nothing.
The donkey probably got that cautious nature from having developed in the mountains of northern Africa, where they could not flee if predators approached. Instead, they had to figure out a strategy of escape or a strategy for fighting. When we think a donkey is balking, he is simply pausing to figure out what to do to get out of a situation that seems threatening. Horses, on the other hoof, developed in the plains. Their only strategy for dealing with danger was to run away.

Old Dan had enough donkey in him to figure things out and enough horse to be able to split the wind. And he did so comfortably. It is a rare thing to have a gaited hinny, but if you do, it is a treasure. I mean, you could hold a full cup of coffee without spilling a drop when Dan got into that fast four-footed walk. He bounced his head just like a Tennessee walker and went forward at a slight angle, favoring his right front. The only thing that kept him from looking downright elegant was floppy ears. And boy did they flop! Cooksie did not know what a wonderful gift he gave to my childhood. If he were still alive, I would call him to say thanks.

Monday, September 14, 2015

Lovely on a Bicycle

I bought a lightweight bicycle when I was in my mid-thirties to help control my weight. While out on an early morning ride, I came upon another fellow about my age on a bicycle, clad helmet to toe like a pro biker on the cover of Bicycling Magazine. He stopped so I stopped. Through the dawn’s early light, I discovered that I knew him, an archeology professor at my college. We talked about the cycling sport a bit as we rode on together and discovered that we had a lot in common. It was as if Tom Sawyer had discovered his Huckleberry Finn.
He was a veteran as I was and we had been reading some of the same books and articles. Before our conversation was over, we had ridden about 12 miles and agreed to meet the next morning for another ride. He brought me some copies of Bicycling and American Wheelman and we were off on what became our customary route, a large rural loop of around 15 miles. I started looking a little more trim in no time and, surprisingly, my appetite was under control. I bought a helmet and all the other bright garb of a bicyclist, joined the Arkansas Bicycle Club with my new friend and accompanied him to some of their rides.
Two of these were most interesting. They were late summer or fall rides that required participants to condition beforehand to endure the events. One was the century ride, a 100-mile loop starting at Brinkley, you know, the flat farm country. On this ride, the only enemy was the wind, as there were no hills whatsoever. The other interesting ride was the Rich Mountain tour, an 80-plus mile loop that started at the Mena School and went up the mountain and circled over through eastern Oklahoma. We did this ride in the fall of the year when the colors were vibrantly beautiful. Biologists tell us that those colors are there all year, but that the green of chlorophyll breaks down in the autumn, revealing the true colors underneath. That ride certainly showed the riders’ true colors. It was hard pumping going up the hills and a little scary going down them, especially when the brake pads smoked and spit little bits of rubber. The first time I ever cycled around a speeding car was on this ride.

My bicycle companion retired and moved to New York, where he still rides the upstate backroads. I, of course, make my home in Southwest Arkansas, where I meander around on a mountain bike. Although I don’t have the energy and drive to ride long distances, I still enjoy experiencing the countryside from my bike. You can see so much more on a bike ride than you can from a car. Here is a list of some of the things I recently saw on the backroads out towards Grandview Prairie: big snake skeleton, several sail armadillos (flat enough to sail away), a perfectly good, new-looking radio aerial, a sign that said “Far Would,” (a joke, I think), an althea bush in full bloom that gave a new meaning to the word violet, skid marks that told me someone tried to stop before driving into the woods, but went on in there anyway. Huckleberry Finn said, “It’s lovely on a raft.” I say, “On a bike, too, Huck.”

Sunday, September 6, 2015

I, Political Columnist

I do not talk on our home telephone very much because of a worsening hearing problem. The VA furnished me with some nice and often quite effective hearing aids, but I seldom put them in if I am just puttering around the house. So, without my ear pieces in, for example, when someone calls to ask if I live in a brick home, I respond that it is plenty big for the two of us, having mistaken the word “brick” for “big.” Similarly, if someone calls to tell me I have won a share in a condo, I might respond that I don’t want to go to the Congo. You know, the telephone distorts what the caller says. So, I wait for my wife to answer the device. But she was out shopping yesterday and I was in the back yard when the thing rang, so I hustled to grab it before the answering machine could start its robotic spiel. It was the wise old man, calling from Mexico City.
“Dan, I read your column on the way down here to the largest plarp in the plarp. If you don’t stop writing about conversations with a female Sasquatch concerning the latest plarp-plarp scientific theories, your sparse readership is going to plarp your elevator does not go all the way plarp. I, myself, wondered whether your cheese may have slipped off your cracker a little bit. Why don’t you write about current plarp? That is what columnists do. As it is, you are a few plarp short of a plarpy meal.”
I understood almost every word the wise old man said, except for the distortions I reported above as “plarps.” Mostly, his highly articulate presentation came through loud and clear. I promised him I would take his comments under advisement, so here goes.
The grand and longstanding dichotomy in American life between capitalism and socialism is currently played out with “you know who” as the capitalist and the brother of the Kentucky Colonel (isn’t he?) as the socialist. The one is trumping the other candidates on his side of the equation and Colonel’s brother is rising fast as someone special disappoints on the other side. The capitalist is interesting because he is perceived as an outsider, at least politically speaking. On the other hand, the brother is noted as a socialist who does not hide his proclivities but celebrates them.
The “throw-the-bums-out” sentiment on the one side is balanced by the “double-down-on-government-control” side. Because of these extremes, other candidates will emerge, and I predict that a misspeaker will be the Democrat nominee and that a plain-spoken Rino (Republican in name only) from the Midwest will be the Republican one. The Buckeye’s running mate will be a former communications executive and the misspeaker’s will be a Pino (Pugilistic in name only).

I called the wise old man and read that just previous paragraph to him and he replied, “Dan, perhaps you should get plarp plarp plarp out of the newspaper business altogether plarp plarp plarp.”