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Saturday, May 16, 2009

Stories from the Farm - The Adventures of Kate and Annie among the English

Or an impromptu tour of our neighborhood through the eyes of Kate and Annie ...

Monday evening around 7 pm, Benny was finishing up a fence expansion for the mules, and I, accompanied by my cat, had just plunked down on the white adirondack chair on our infrequently sunny back porch of late. With a glass of blackberry wine in one hand and my laptop in the other, I was ready to relax after a rugged day of landscaping, cleaning the carpets, and preparing for a flight to Dulles the next morning for my brother's surgery. I had barely taken the first sip from the glass when our neighbors Mike and Jacci pulled into our driveway. They climbed out of their Suburban to inspect the latest additions to our family, Kate and Annie - a team of Belgian mules who used to work for the Amish.

Benny, Bonnie, and I were getting accustomed to this recent attention from the neighbors, especially after Benny started hitching the mules to the antique wagon last week and driving it down the road to exercise them. We live on a highly visible corner of the county, and for the last month Benny has been sawing posts, stringing wire, putting up fence, and building stalls in preparation for Kate and Annie's arrival. So Mike and Jacci are not the first among the curious to stop and check things out.

Mike and Jacci live just down the road from us in a 150 year old farm house called Bren Bella that was part of the underground railroad, and they throw the best 4th of July neighborhood party ever. Last year Benny and I took the wagon and tractor to the party to provide free hayrides around the neighborhood. This particular evening, Mike and Jacci had a few hours to kill (they work third shift at the post office), and they happily accepted our offer to hitch up Kate and Annie for a ride. Benny proceeded to try to catch the mules who were peacefully grazing the pasture. They can be elusive, so Mike, Jacci, and I followed him across the somewhat soggy ground to help corral them. Tonight the mules walked into the barn where the wagon and riggings reside with no problem. Normally a good thing. But then they walked on THROUGH the barn, and out into the front yard. And then they trotted across the road into Charlie Gustafson’s field. As the four of us ran frantically after, they crossed 700 S into Greg Boesch’s yard – leaving big mule tracks in the bottoms because this spring has been so rainy. We followed them, coaxing and pleading, through the trees on the corner of Greg’s property into the huge field behind his house. With Jacci traipsing behind me in her sandals over the stubble and ruts of the unplanted field, asking a million questions about the best way to catch them, I responded lamely that this had never happened to us before - but that I was reasonably sure that if we caught one, the other would follow, because they didn't like to be separated. Although I wasn't certain if we caught one, which mule would follow which. After all, how do you get a Belgian Draft Mule to come to you? And how do you get him/her to stay? Up to this point in my life, "Here, kitty, kitty," or "Here, girl/boy," were about the only resources I had in my repertoire. I sighed. Kate and Annie were as new to us as we were to them and none of us were making a very good first impression on the neighbors this evening.

At that point Benny yelled at me to go get the truck and bring the other halter. The truck? Actually I had been thinking about getting THE BIKE. I wasn’t sure what good the truck would do unless these mules decided to stay on the roads – a prospect that didn’t seem promising. And the truck would mire down in the fields. But Jacci and I obediently circled back to get the truck and halter. By the time we caught up with everyone, Annie and Kate had almost reached 500 east - just north of the corner where we used to live. Penny Tarbox was standing out in the yard, her husband Mike had headed into the field, and their young son Christopher stood in the doorway as we drove by. I reflected that Benny had taken them on a wagon ride just the night before.

They went thataway.

As we climbed out of the truck, we saw that a couple of passers by had also stopped to join the chase.

We tried circling the animals holding out an oatmeal pie and some bread we'd scrounged up, but they pretty much ignored us, nibbling on the tasty green grass and clover instead. Time after time they would let us get almost within reach, only to deftly side-step us and scamper off. In fact they were downright crafty. They would see openings in fences that we didn't see. One of the passers by got close enough to pet Kate, but with no harness to hold her, she was free with one toss of her giant head. At that point Jacci pronounced both mules big teases and I agreed with her.

Mike and Jacci’s son Titus came sailing down 500 east on his bike about the time the mules crossed the road into the field behind Ray Wise’s property. By then we had gotten so close and lost them so many times I thought we were going to wind up chasing them all night. I wondered if Benny would be in any shape to drive me to the airport in the morning. Eventually the passers by who had been helping us had to get on to their destination and Titus left his bike laying in the field to continue the chase. So Jacci and I decided to wheel the bike back to the truck which was now sitting empty on 500 about a half a mile back. Once we got in the truck we decided to drive back home to retrieve a cell phone to call the Lumleys, Annie and Kate’s previous owners (one or two families after the Amish). Because as best I could tell, Annie and Kate were headed back to their old digs.

But before we could even make the call, Dale Jackson and Mike Tarbox pulled into our driveway in Dale’s suburban and said the mules had been caught at the Knowles’s by Crane Station where they’d turned in to visit Ron’s horses. So instead, I poured Jacci a glass of blackberry wine and we settled back to wait as the guys walked the mules all the way back from Crane Station on the halters and the leads. Eventually we drove the truck out to meet them. Benny was getting very tired (he did have open heart surgery three years ago) and thought he could sit on the truck bed and walk Annie behind the truck. She would have none of that. They told us that earlier when Mike tried to lead Annie so Benny could ride on Kate (Annie doesn't ride), Annie got skittish and dragged Benny about 25 feet on his belly. Benny refused to let go - that's my Ben. :)

So at that point they all decided to let him continue to walk Annie while Titus walked Kate. Huffing and puffing in Benny’s case. Well, he is the one who insisted on big draft mules. I wanted finches (yeah, like those would be any easier to catch).

We finally did get the mules home and safely stored away in their stalls for the night with their feed and water - by then it was going on 10 pm. Mike and Jacci were able to get on to work. As yet Benny and I haven't decided whose fault it is the mules got out in the first place. He blames me for leaving the gate open. I blame him for leaving the barn door open. Next day, when I told my brother Bert the story, he suggested that since there are two mules, that we share the blame. Fine. I’ll take Annie and Benny can have Kate. Or vice versa.

But we do know one thing for sure. Annie and Kate may be 17/18 years old, but they have plenty of spunk, spit, and life left in them.

Annie and Kate on another ride

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