I knew him, Horatio

John Henry, the mule named after the steel-driving man, has died. Horses, dogs, people have died on our property. John Henry was old. He was small, but in his day he could pull a cart with more than a couple of people in it. I only knew him old.

Mules are strong and sure-footed. They're also supposed to be stubborn but I know nothing about that. Mostly I know about human stubbornness, beginning with mine. Because they come from different size horses, they can be big or they can be small, like John Henry. I've seen great big ones at shows and they're handsome animals. Ours, if I can claim ownership of what was basically my sister and brother-in-law's mule, was a small one, with the same palomino coloring -- gold skin, white mane and tail, as the big Halflinger horses in the next field.

John Henry shared a field with two other retired equines, Red, a mustang my sister used to ride, and Jacko, a donkey. Then in the past years a handful of goats were purchased and placed in their field. A social dynamic set. The mustang and the mule kept to themselves, and the donkey joined the goats' company. Donkeys and goats are a good match, the former serving as guards and protectors of the latter -- a donkey can kick any predators. Indeed, Jacko became the goats' friend, and in the case of two young ones, their nanny. I observed the same relationship I'd seen between my first grandson and the two Labs at my son's house. The donkey patiently let the young goats do with him whatever they wanted, like climbing a platform and playing with Jacko's big ears. 

John Henry and Red did not play with the goats, but didn't bother them either. And now the mule is gone. You bury a big animal on the spot. Dig a big hole with machinery, push the body in, and cover it. And I wonder if it's wise to indulge in magical thinking. In our land some of us are closer to death than others, as well as some who are connected to us by bonds of affection. Old age, sickness, they haunt us and our loved ones. 

Can John Henry's departure signify a temporary lease for someone among us and ours who is edging toward the end? Reason says no. An old mule died. That's all. Men die and are not happy, as a character in a play by an author who was fashionable when I was very young but no one remembers any more said. What if the reason no one remembers him is that such philosophy is outdated? A facile existentialism, the philosophical vogue of the day when those words were written and spoken by a character in a play. What if, as a character in a play by an author everyone remembers says, there are more things in heaven and earth than are dreamt of in your philosophy?

I don't know. I'll just have to wait and see who dies next. Or doesn't.