Human Pack Mule

Written the winter of 1981

We moved from the city in August of that year to a five acre farm with a stream, woods and pasture. This was all new to me. I was just a city folk.

      Through all the troubles of moving and fixing up our home, the only source of heat, wood, was not completely gathered for the long winters cold.  Darrell was able to stock in two cords before the two feet of crystallized white had blanketed our sleeping forest.  By the end of December only a fourth of a cord of wood remained. The cold entered our walls, the floors and then my slender bones.  For a few weeks we pulled out small trees on the edge of the forest, just off the road.  Our Dodge truck made it easier to bring the wood to the house.  Most of the large downed wood was deep in the woods where only animals ventured.  

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     Until now, the white had offered us beauty but soon it would be our rival.  It would not be easy to find the wood. My hands and feet gophered through the snow drifts as the white powder swallowed my legs. Often the only reward were Bull Thistle burrs from the summerís past.  My husband cut the trees into six and eight foot lengths and dragged them from their entombed wintery sleep out into the open field four hundred yards from the house.

     Because there was a stream separating the house from the field and woods we would have to drag the wood down to a service road that crossed the stream below the house and then up through the meadow to the wood shed.  To ease the job I shoveled a crooked path down through the meadow and over to the cut trees. The side walks in town offered an evenness and a job well done in twenty minutes. My eagerness and energy dissolved, over the hour, into weariness and a yearning to quit. Finally the path was cleared. 

     My hundred and fifteen pound body and mind had more spirit and creative planning than physical energy.  I took my awkward gloves and embraced the heavy log. I hoisted the log to my shoulders and attempted to walk normally.  Branches slapped my face in protest.  Downed limbs snagged my pants and untied my winter shoes. My eager spirit soon realized this was no game.  For every step my husband took I accomplished the same in two.  He was the hare and I was the tortoise.  The cold air entered my lungs and formed ice crystals in my nose.  The snow clung to my legs and added more weight. I was a small person with debatable muscle power, imitating a strong man, in a world that writes it's own rules.

     After two hauling trips from the woods to the house the charm and excitement of the new adventure faded.  It was not a chore that offered instant results to feed the ego or to show accomplishment.  I was draped in three layers of clothing, ten pounds of hiking boots, snow, and gloves to large for my hands. While backpacking I used to count to keep my mind busy when my body yearned to stop walking.  One hundred and one, one hundred and two: I wish this wood hauling was over.  One hundred and three, one hundred and four: how many logs are there left? One hundred and five, one hundred and six, I'm almost halfway there.  One hundred and seven, one hundred and eight, whose idea was this anyway?

     My wet pants limited my movements and my knees threatened to give into the unevenness of the path.  The heavy cargo has numbed my shoulders. The last log was the largest of them all.  A deep rut and the merciless snow swallowed my legs.  I heaved the log away and performed the well known snow dance of falling human.  Only seconds before I was walking with the knowledge that it would soon be over.  Now I was a snowshoe rabbit whose fur had changed for the winter. Darrell stood with a puzzled look on his face.  He didnít know whether to laugh or to call the doctor.  But I filled the silence with laughter.  Once the laughter sets in nothing works.  After several attempts I conquered the beast that had succeeded in making a fool of me.

      It was time to think of new and easier way to bring the wood from the forest.  We acquired a eight foot aluminum toboggan and Darrell and I turned into pack mules. To solve the problem of walking into the deep snow, we purchased one pair of snowshoes.       

White Slumber.jpg (85240 bytes)The Dictionaryís definition of snowshoes is a large wooden frame, strung with cord, warn under ordinary shoes to prevent a person from sinking into the snow. Nothing was said about control, co-ordination or acrobatic maneuvers necessary to stay upon the shoes.  Half of the battle was just tying them onto my feet.  I had not been able to touch my toes for years.  To stand properly on the snowshoes the body weight must be centered over the shoes.  The difficulty lies in the maneuvers needed to position the body from the ground and center it in a upright stance over the snowshoes.  After many comical attempts, I stood on top of the snow drifts.  I was super woman, walking on the snow, climbing snow drifts and taking on the wild.  My confidence faded as I put one snowshoe on top of the other and fell into the snow. Again laughter made it difficult to right myself.  The child in me wanted to play.  My husband sank and waded in and out of the snow drifts.  I laughed at him and remarked about my great control.

     The time for play was over. Darrell loaded the toboggan with three logs. It was decided to pull the toboggan up through the meadow to the road where the truck was waiting instead of going the slow way around over the stream. The meadow has just enough incline to make a hard chore even more difficult.  I leaned forward to equalize the weight and to move the toboggan at my tortoise speed. It seemed hours before I reached the road where the truck was parked.  I felt that I had used the same amount of energy as before, when I had carried the logs up on my shoulder.  

     When I returned, I volunteered Darrell to play the pack mule in this icy world. By giving up the snow shoes, I was Cinderella at midnight. I strapped them on Darrell, helped him get to his feet and loaded the toboggan.  It was Darrellís turn to make fun of me getting stuck in the snow.  Instantly my magic of walking on thee snow was gone. His strength pulled the toboggan in the grace and manner that I had lacked.

     My first glimpse of Darrellís returning down the sloping path, was the rounded shinny front of the toboggan.  Why pull the sled when he could ride it. His red plastic snowshoes were wedged straight up in the front of the sled. The shoes waved and swayed as he took the uneven path.  Over the rim of the snowshoes was the Cheshire Cat.  Darrell brought cheerfulness into a tedious day.  When ever the job seems to reach that point of quitting before itís done,  Darrell would do something to boost everyoneís spirits. From then on I loaded him and watched him return to me in style.  While going up he was a strong man burdened with a heavy load and coming down he was a child at play.

     Miscalculation.jpg (29141 bytes) On the last run down, he took his throne position on the snow ship, locked in his snowshoes and grabbed onto the rope.  His run was shortly lived and he disappeared from my view.  I listened for him to tell me if he was alright.  The fingers of the snow had grabbed the child traveler and introduced him to an old wrecked car off to the left of the trail. He told me to keep my thoughts to myself but I couldnít hold in the laughter. Darrell was not to be beaten and he returned to the top of the path.  

The sun was leaving the sky and the ground and fur trees were dusted in red.  Again he took his position and shoved off.  Sometimes fate rules all. This time the snow took him to the tree on the right. I lost complete control and fell into the snow laughing. The long tiring day melted into laughter. He finished his run by bouncing off the bank and then a bush. He smiled at me and then loaded up the toboggan for the last time.

       We brought the wood in several more times before the meadow lost itís white blanket. I was use to the city, itís easy ways and so unprepared for the chores of survival here.  But I learned I was stronger.  I learned that we are only limited by what we think we can do.  And sometimes life shows us we are able to do more, like providing for our heat.

     In the following years, the fear of being without wood, has filled the shed with six cords of wood for the coming winter.  The worries of keeping warm have dissolved, but, the challenge, excitement and tobogganing in snowshoes will be missed.  After the snow has crystallized my fertile forest I will invite Darrell over to the meadow and dare him to maneuver around the old car and the many trees.  And knowing him, he will miss them all just to get the best of me.


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