Tidewater Traveler - December 2006

My Father is a Donkey

     I really appreciate that George has allowed me this space in the Tidewater Traveler feature to tell my story. My name is Happy. It’s not the name my parents chose for me; the name Happy was conferred upon me by the folks with whom I work. I think they like my work ethic and attitude. I suspect they believe the name Happy would also make our special guests feel more comfortable around me. Whatever the reason, the name stuck and I like it; I like being called Happy.
From the time of my birth my parents treated me like someone unique and when I was just a young foal they constantly encouraged me, told me I would grow up and be very special, and that I would have a very important role in life.
      My family is a little unusual. You see, my father was a donkey and my mother is a tall, stately riding horse. I have some brothers, sisters and cousins who look a lot like me, but none of us look like our dad or mom. I have my mother’s height, speed and elegance. From my dad I inherited strength, determination, endurance and a calm spirit; I’m not easily excitable or jumpy.
      Once I heard someone use the word stubborn to describe me; I prefer instead to use the words wise and determined. As I have grown up, I have learned my limits - I have learned to be alert to danger. I know when to quit! Now, if someone wants to call that being stubborn, well I guess there is not much I can do about it. Oh yes, my ears - I have ears that are shaped like my mother’s, but - wow, if you could see them, you would know that I have dad’s genes for big, tall ears. These ears have become real handy in my job.
      One of the most unique features about me is that I will never be a parent or a grandparent. I will never know the joy of having a foal of my own. I’ve met people who think that is a sad state of affairs, but I don’t think of it that way at all. I am focused upon doing the best job I can. My purpose in life is to faithfully do what is expected of me as I strive to provide one person at a time with some of the most incredible experiences of their lifetime.
      At a very young age I learned to work, and to work hard. My early lessons included hauling heavy loads and walking in a line with others. I learned to be vigilant and alert to what is around me and to always carefully place my hooves when I walk. But I think the most important thing I learned was to carefully follow the instructions of my human co-workers.
      After extensive training on the Tennessee farm where I was born, several of us who had excelled in our classes were selected and set apart from the others. A few days later we were led into a trailer and we started a long ride in the direction of where the sun sets.
      After a couple of days riding - seemed like forever – we arrived at a place that was so different from the farm. Right away I noticed there was not much grass around our new home. And then, at a small distance from where we unloaded, I saw the most incredible sight – beyond anything I could ever have imagined. There was an enormous hole in the ground. It was so deep I could not see the bottom. I was sure this must be the edge of the earth, but as I raised my eyes I could see, miles and miles in the distance, that the flat land continued on the other side. There were colors I didn’t know existed, and stripes and layers. It was amazing!
      The next few months were interesting. I was treated like royalty – given a stall of my very own. I was fed some of the best meals ever! One day I overheard one of the human co-workers discussing the special, nutrient -filled diet prepared daily for each of us. I’m not sure what he was talking about, but I assure you the food was yummy. I was getting the same feeling – that feeling of being special – the I had experienced from my parents.
      Early one morning just a few days after I arrived, one of the humans led me outside and tied a small pack onto my back. I was then guided to join the center of a line of other mules. I knew my job was to follow and carry. I did. I was in line directly behind Ben. I watched Ben’s tail swish. I followed. Ben’s pack swayed side to side as he walked. I followed. I could see the muscles twitch in Ben’s hips as he plodded along. I followed. I was so intent upon following I had not noticed that Ben was leading me down into the huge hole in the ground.
      I dared not look to the side. I kept my eyes on Ben’s tail and with each step I concentrated carefully on placing my hooves on solid ground. It was the most exhilarating thing I had ever done.
      We spent almost the entire day descending, sometimes on pathways so narrow that I could take a quick glance to the side and see down into the deep gorge. At the end of the day my pack was removed; a wonderful co-worker brushed me down; a great meal was prepared for me and I was given a comfortable place to rest. I overheard some of the humans calling this place at the bottom of the canyon Phantom Ranch.
      Next morning, a pack was secured to my back and the train of mules ascended a winding path all day long to reach the place where we had started. That night I dreamed that mom and dad had seen my trip into the great canyon and they were so proud of me.
      Several months passed and I had the opportunity to go with the others into the big hole many more times. Four or five times each week I got to take the trip; each time I went I was given a different place in line and soon I was picked to lead the pack mule train most of the time.
      One morning I was led out to make the trip and, to my surprise, the human leader place a saddle on my back instead of a pack. He guided me to the very front of the line and WE led the parade that day. I had noticed that some of the more experienced mules carried humans instead of packs. I never dreamed that I might be called upon to do this.
      After a few more months of carrying the trail guide, I overheard a conversation between him and one of the other workers in which he said, “I think Happy is ready for a promotion.” I did not know what he meant, because I thought I was already doing the most important job in the world.
      Early the next morning I was saddled and led to a different area to wait. My rein was tied to a fence and I stood side-by-side with a few dozen of my co-workers and friends. Across the fence stood a few dozen humans all dressed somewhat like cowboys. The leader was talking to the people and they all seemed to be listening very carefully.
      After issuing a lot of instructions, advice and warnings, the leader started directing the humans, one by one, to some of my mule co-workers. I had finally figured it out. These people had come here just so they could ride into the big hole on the back of a mule! I was so excited! Today, I would get to share the awesome beauty of the Grand Canyon with someone who may never have seen it.
      My turn came at last! “Happy, this is Charlene. She is a dental assistant from Denton, Maryland, and all of her colleagues from the dental office have come here with her to ride into the Canyon.” Charlene struggled a bit to climb onto my back – I suspect she uses a car or pickup truck back in Maryland instead of a mule. I remember my mom and dad telling me I would have a very important role in life and today I know what it is!
      Mule rides into the Grand Canyon are available daily from late spring through mid-autumn. One version of the ride descends to the floor of the canyon where guest spend the night at Phantom Ranch to return the next day. A shorter version of the ride descends to a plateau, where there is a lunch break, followed by the ride back to the top the same day.
      The mule rides are so popular that they are usually booked up months in advance. Any travel planner can arrange to link you up with a mule as wonderful as Happy, and package the experience with transportation to and from the Grand Canyon, as well as accommodations on or near the Canyon rim for the nights before and after the mule ride.
      May all of your travels be happy and safe!

George Sellers and his wife Priscilla are Certified Travel Counselors and Accredited Cruise Counselors who own Travel Selections by Priscilla and George, Inc. and the popular travel web site www.sellerstravel.com