Flash back to the book The Last Grand Adventure
Women will often approach our covered wagon that my wife Carol and I travel through the desert southwest in, look up to my wife perched on the seat and say to her, “I admire you, that’s a pretty brave way to travel!” My wife, Christmas Carol, always replies, “I couldn’t do it without the constant help of God; He makes it easy for me.” The women usually rejoin, “I’m sure they are a big help. But, I still think it’s pretty brave!”
Sometimes Carol is brave and sometimes she isn’t. I know that no man ever fully understands his wife, and I never did, but I aim to explain what I observe about mine so that right from the beginning of this story you can begin to know my peculiar traveling companion.
First of all, she is tough! Or, so she tells me regularly. My stock reply is a shrug and a grin and “Yeah, you’re as tough as whipped cream!”
She’ll lift her chin, put her arms akimbo, and declare, “I took the spurs off of John Wayne!”
Now, that is an impressive statement and I happen to know that it’s true, but I also knew that particular John Wayne. The John Wayne she de-spurred was a chicken, or more properly, a rooster. No, I’m not referring to the starring role of Rooster Cogburn played by movie actor John Wayne in the movie True Grit. I’m referring to a flesh and blood rooster who lost his spurs because he “messed” with my tough little wife.
Secondly, you should know that the same tough woman who dealt with John Wayne so decisively is also the one who became a weeping, hand-wringing, helpless girl when our female donkey Bean met head-on with a five-strand barbed wire fence in Arizona and, she’s the red-faced woman suffering from heat-stroke that fled from me in the Mohave Desert of California in search of shade, at high noon. Not! the place every woman should run to first her husband. But that is Christmas Carol for you; head strong and independent every time team work would makes the work lighter for both of us.
It’s true that I do all of the maintenance on the wagon and work hard labor to keep us going, and that this enterprise wouldn’t and couldn’t be possible without the help of our loving Heavenly Father who guides me every step of the way. But, what fun could it possibly be without Christmas Carol who can’t keep herself safe in traffic, or carry more than half a bucket of water at one time?
She is a woman who has tramped through eight states without eye glasses or a hearing aid, (even though she needs both) and who rises up in hot indignation against tyranny (if she thinks I am imposing it), yet whimpers over removing a splinter.
Standing in at 5″3″ and weighing just 120 pounds she is always bouncing along in blue jeans and a flannel shirt, with her curly blonde head in the clouds and her blue eyes sparkling in laughter over what she calls our “Grand Adventures!”
Her mama named her “Christmas Carol” because she was born nine months and a day after the Christmas of “1956 but I figure that “Puzzle” might be a better name for this one who fluctuates between being hard as iron when she demands her own way and smooth as oil when thing go her way. I love my wife and I know she’s tough.
Right now, she’s sitting in the shade of a cottonwood tree in Caliente, Nevada nursing a cut thumb and busily writing of our adventure she is the secretary of our little band. She gets away with a good deal, that woman of mine, because she’s tough. Tough as whipped cream! Or is because that I love her?
We’ll leave her sitting comfortably in the shade and I’ll tell you about my other tough Ass-sistances .
They are six little desert burros (also referred to as donkeys, donks, or asses) that work hard for the two of us drawing our wagons in a six-up-hitch (three spans of two) or packing our camp goods into the mountains on their backs.
They stand in at an average height of eleven hands (which is forty-four inches high at the shoulder). Their coats stay shaggy pretty much year round, and their fertile little brains flanked by long furry ears really keep me on my toes.
The oldest donkey, Bean Burrito, is our only jenny. She’s a good riding animal for Carol, who likes to go slow, a good companion to children animal. But like an old maid puts her ears back and stops her foot if the children cry too much, even so, she is a pretty good draft The first time I ever put her in harness and hitched her to the wagon she did well. Within five minutes she was pulling with a will and answering nicely to commands and the touch of the line. She’s still good, most days. I often use her for a leader when we are in town but when I do, we can count on being much slower, especially down hill. She likes to stop for every person she sees and every spot of shade. She starts looking for our campsite at about 4 P.M. every day of travel and if I don’t take the hint and find one, she’ll choose one and stop on her own. When she’s one of the leaders or in swing position (one of the middle pair) and she stops, all the burros stop. When she’s a wheeler (next to the wagon) she works well and we can keep the others going even when she stops. At that point she slides along on her steel shoes a step or two and gets the messages.
Bean is the glue that keeps our geldings together as a family. Her light gray hide is visible to them even at night and she’s their pole star and bell-mare. Her brand is a navy anchor on the left side of her neck. That tells us she was a wild donkey taken off the China Lake Navy Base of California. Because the other donkeys all love her, the brand is fitting. She’s their anchor. In fact, when we are away from roads we often picket her and our other leader, Chaps on a single leg hobble and a long line and let the other geldings all run free. They won’t leave Bean.
Bean’s closest friend in the herd is Beef Burrito. Beef is our shortest donkey and he wears a dark gray coat without any visible brand. I reckon that if we shaved him we’d find a freeze brand mark. Who would ever want to shave furry, little, lovable Beef? Small he may be; but Beef is one of the strongest burros I have. He’ll pack 120 pounds uphill at a run, will willingly carry me, (weighing in at 170 pounds) for short distances and has the thickest legs and shortest back of them all. He’s stout.
Also stout, and taller by three inches is Rags, our largest donkey. Rags moves position from left to right in the hitch but is always a wheeler. He’s got brawn, but (don’t tell him I told you) he’s not real bright.
Most older men look at Rags’ size and impressive muscles and declare, “Now, there’s the best looking donkey I’ve ever seen!” His black coat slicks down maybe once a year but he’s usually a “curly” with long, thick, black ringlets of hair topping his white underbelly, those men are right about his looks but like I said, this one just isn’t a smart-ass. He does his share, has a fast walk, and is good most of the time but now and then he wakes up and takes a fright over absolutely nothing or takes a notion all of a sudden to make unexpected and extreme right or left hand turns. Lovable he is – intelligent he is not.
Our smartest ass, on the other hand, is Chaps (short for Woolly Chaparajos the leggings that cowboys were). He’s fun for Christmas Carol to ride and makes a good leader because he works without much encouragement, shows spunk and spirit (which is unusual for a burro) and loves to go. But, on the subject of looks, he really hasn’t any! His black coat usually isn’t, he bleaches out to a dismal red brown, and though his coat is silky it hangs in unbecoming tatters under his belly and forms long chin hairs that make him look like an old man. We often keep him on a single leg hobble near Bean when we’ve turned the other donkeys loose to browse, because he loves to lead the other “boys” off on a merry chase or take them thundering up and down at full speed through the camp kitchen! Don’t tell the other burros but he is a tattle tale if the others fine a break in the fence he comes running to me braying that the others are running away from home and that I should go get them.
Disney (or Diz I call him because he is kind mixed up most of the time) and Dean are the remaining pair of burros in our six-up-hitch. They are both black with gray bellies and were born at the same time in the same place. I often tell folk, “These burros came from the wildest environment there is… ‘Los Angeles!’ ” Their wild mothers dropped them at the adoption corrals that used to be a part of Disneyland.
Disney is inbred, his front knees knock, and he does a strange two-step walk, like a tightrope walker. He was foundered as a baby (over-fed almost to the point of death) so that his neck crest leans to one side and he has a flat-shelf back, but, he’s perky, walks with his head up alertly, and works hard to please us. Most of the time.
Dean, on the other hand, carries his head really low and does only as much work as we insist on when he is in the hitch. He’d rather be ridden or packed!
Like I said, these six animals really keep me on my toes – six fertile little brains (excepting Rags’ maybe) working hard to outsmart me all the time.
The eight of us make up an interesting mix and just lately we completed a trek through eight western states. It took a couple of years to do it. If you’ll settle back into that easy chair you’re sitting in, I’ll tell you the story of our remarkable journey