There’s something funny about a mule that nobody tries to explain. Mules are not outlandish, hide-slapping, hee-haw hilarious—although that kind of humor attends Mule Days more often than would be expected in dire economic times.
Mules provide the kind of mild amusement that curls one side of the mouth, an absorbing sort of sparkle that has demanded 43 annual repetitions of Mule Days, and expanded the celebration to an entire week of demonstrations (Mule Shoeing…), competitions (Log Skidding…), and that old western standby, a Saturday night dance.
From Long Beach, Calif., Ed and Linda Carlson have attended Mule Days for two decades. Linda said, “We love it because now [mules are] the only non-mechanized transportation. It’s all natural, [you’re] not going to get gas fumes.”
Well, not the gas fumes from vehicles that is.
Perhaps mules seem funny because of their big brown eyes fringed with flirtatiously long lashes. Hundreds of mules paraded down Main Street in Bishop last Saturday. Their soulful eyes seemed an independent mile away as they bore their burdens, demonstrating endurance and dutifulness. Their bodies obeyed.
But their eyes strayed.
Or maybe it’s their long-enough-already ears, topped with feathery hair extensions … like old men’s ears.
Perhaps they simply remind us of ourselves.
Cathy Yribarren would agree. For seven years owner of Cobwebs Antiques & Collectibles on South Main Street, she has two mules of her own.
“Our mules don’t know about Mule Days,” she said, explaining that her mules “are more like people.” Nevertheless, she appreciates the work of the other mules.
“We look forward to Mule Days—we get repeat and new customers and this [crowd] is probably the biggest of the year.”
In front of, alongside, atop, and behind the parading mules came clowns, carriages, pistol-packing lawmen, and high school bands. Then beauty queens and fire fighters. And then donkeys, horses, and politicians. The crowd cheered, waved, and laughed.
Near the end of the parade, through the family crowd, in broad daylight, the Wild Ass Women sashayed down Main Street. Parents quickly explained to their children that “ass” means “a wild form of donkey,” before the announcer said the group, from California and Nevada, came “to show off their loveable furry ass-ets. If you show them some good cheering, they might even let you pet their asses,” which were adopted from the BLM’s Wild Horse and Burro Program.
The mules lured Michael and Arnetta Beer from Hurricane, Utah, for a second visit. They sat at the Arts & Crafts show hosted by the Inyo Council for the Arts, in Bishop City Park, finishing off a heap of après-parade funnel cake with whipped cream and strawberries. Nearby, a guitarist played and sang to the small audience.
“There’s a lot of original stuff,” Michael said. He especially liked the leather hats, but there were plenty of original creations to choose from. Some of the artists will display their work at the Labor Day Festival of the Arts in Mammoth this fall, including Antonio Mendoza with his hand-woven, naturally dyed rugs; David Pollock and his metal sculptures; and photographers Georgia and John Bockoven.
Meanwhile, back at the Tri-County Fairgrounds, mules lolled about in their pens after the hard work of parading or before the hard work of performing in competitions. Tame mules offered a neck or a nose for a nuzzling. Others sang out to one another. After all, it’s spring and love is in the air.
First comes love, then comes marriage, then comes momma with a baby carriage … unless you are a mule. As noted on a sign at the fairgrounds mule barn, the non-phenomenon of mule parenthood was recognized as far back as Roman times with the figure of speech, “cum mula peperit,” or “when a mule foals,” equivalent to the expression, “once in a blue moon.”
Which means it almost never happens. And when it does, no one can explain it. That’s because a mule’s father, a jack donkey, has 62 chromosomes; its mare horse mother has 64. A mule ends up with 63 chromosomes, with a different structure and a number that impedes pairing up in an embryo.
Which kind of explains the story about the mare that wanted a baby mule. She wandered into a bar and asked the bartender, “What’s your name?”
“Daniel,” said the bartender. “What can I get for you?”
The horse nodded politely and said, “I’d like a Jack, Daniel.”
If that mare had wandered around the Tri-County Fairgrounds during Mule Days this year, she could have met a handsome 25-year-old, managed by the UC Davis Department of Animal Science. His name?
There’s just something funny about mules and no one can explain it.