5 Lessons: Conclusion

Thelma and me portraitI don’t want to go back to the good old days. I like my automobile, my air-conditioned house, and my indoor plumbing. But I have learned from driving the wagon how beneficial it has been for me to slow down, seize the day, and enjoy the kindness of strangers. I have been blessed by moments of Zen-like solitude. I have been connected to the natural world and been alone with my thoughts while I talked to a dog and swore at my mules.

But these are lessons for my own life. What are your life lessons? Perhaps you should ponder this bonus lesson—something I learned from Thelma the wayward mule.


There’s one in every crowd—even a crowd of mules. I’m talking about that individual who marches to her own drummer. The one who heeds the advice of poet Ralph Waldo Emerson: “Do not go where the path may lead, go instead where there is no path, and leave a trail.”

I witnessed such an individual one weekend when we hosted the annual meeting of the Georgia chapter of a prominent women’s club. The event was a historic preservation tour that brought them to view the plantation home designed by a world-famous architect.

It is worth noting that when quail hunting season ends at the end of February, the animals take the summer off while the property managers are hard at work burning fields, clearing brush, and maintaining equipment. Since it is a private residence and a members-only facility, nobody comes on the property unless they have business there. When I arrived on the property that day, the horses and mules were grazing peacefully in their fifty acre pasture, peacefully that is, until three large white tour buses followed by a small caravan of cars trundled down the dirt road in front of their pasture

I can only imagine what was going through their minds as the vehicles disgorged a hundred or so passengers. Maybe they thought all of these people had come to see them—perhaps bringing food. It was quite a sight to see six mules and a dozen horses sprinting across the pasture to gather along the white wooden fence. It reminded me of when I was a kid and we heard the bells of the ice cream truck jingling through the neighborhood.

The guests, of course, ambled over to the pasture fence but I paid little notice, assuming they would lose interest in a bunch of animals in favor of the historic house they had come to see. Imagine my surprise when I looked back and discovered that the guests had gathered around a mule that was grazing peacefully outside the pasture in the middle of the lawn. How had that happened? Had she jumped the fence? Not likely. Had someone left the gate open? Not according to a quick survey of the fence line.

The mule turned out to be my dependable pulling mule, Thelma. She gave me little trouble as I herded her back up the lane and through a gate that led back to the pasture. She even seemed—if I care to be anthropomorphic—glad to see me.

So, how did she get out? Well, that’s the interesting bit. According to several guests who witnessed it, when the other animals were trotting to the fence, Thelma separated herself and turned ninety degrees from the herd. She proceeded with purpose down the fence line away from the action and entered a grove of trees where the sturdy wooden fence becomes a tangle of metal posts and barbed wire—a section of fence that is apparently less than secure. Guests reported that she when she emerged from the trees she was no longer in the pasture. She had decided to join the party.

How, I wonder, did she figure that out? How did she have the presence of mind to zig when the rest of the herd zagged? I can’t say, but it sure did make for some good theater. I wonder what made the greater impression on our guests from around the state, the majestic architecture of a stately mansion or the ingenuity of Thelma the wayward mule who reminds us of the words of Albert Einstein:


“The one who follows the crowd will usually get no further than the crowd. The one who walks alone is likely to find themselves in places no one has ever been before.”

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