Being the driver of a mule-drawn wagon on a quail hunting plantation affords me plenty of time to think. Sometimes my thoughts are directed toward the job at hand—the mules, the horses, the dogs, and the hunters—and sometimes my thoughts are drawn to the conversations behind me on the wagon—conversations that I treat as confidential. And then there are the long periods of quiet that remind me of the quote often attributed to Winnie the Pooh author, A.A. Milne: “Sometimes I sits and thinks, and sometimes I just sits…”.
At the end of every hunt, we have a fifteen or twenty minute ride back to the house. The dogs are back in the wagon and the retriever is lying on the seat beside me as I follow the horse riders. The only sound is the conversation of the guests, the jingle of the mule harnesses, and the occasional bobwhite quail whistling in the tall grass. The pace is slow enough for a person to walk and I have never heard a guest complain about the length of our ride. In fact, people often remark on how peaceful it is and how they can feel their blood pressure going down.
Our wagon is like an old fashioned covered wagon with its heavy wooden body and tall, spoked (albeit rubber-tired) wheels. It is not a stretch to imagine a time when this type of transportation was the norm. My Grandma Porter told me of her grandparent’s trip from the Florida panhandle to Nacogdoches, Texas on a covered wagon in the mid-1800’s—a trip of about six hundred miles. Her grandmother walked the entire trip behind the wagon knitting socks for the men-folk. According to Google Maps, I could drive that trip in just under ten hours. My great, great grandma’s walk, at about three miles an hour, would probably have taken several months.
I wonder what it would be like for me to drive to work in the mornings on my wagon. I would not need to worry about running into deer or hogs. I wouldn’t be checking my speedometer or gas gauge. Of course the drive would last about three hours instead of fifteen minutes. It would be like commuting from Albany to Atlanta—with no ITunes or satellite radio. With all of that time, I could solve a lot of the world’s problems.
The people who hunt with us are busy people. They spend plenty of time on their mobile phones making deals and staying in touch with their offices. I even had one guest suggest that we make the wagon a “mobile hotspot” so he would have better phone reception. But on the ride to the house at the end of the day, all that seems to change. The phones stay in their pockets as their conversations steer away from business and toward family, good times, and the beauty that surrounds them.
In his Zen Habits blog, author Leo Babauta offers us Ten Essential Rules for Slowing Down and Enjoying Life More. The first five are to do less, to be present, to disconnect, to focus on people, and to appreciate nature. That about covers the experience of spending twenty minutes on a mule wagon. It certainly gives me time to think about such things as how the dog handler controls the pointers with a whistle and a “whoa”, why the retriever races out to find a quail with such enthusiasm, and what—if anything—the mules are thinking about as they stand immobile awaiting my command to “gitty-up”. I’ll let you know when I work out some answers. In the meantime, I think I’ll just sits.