• Gretel Enck

Hike #8: Get Behind the Mule

Tom Waits admonishes us to get behind the mule in his macabre tale:

Shovel of dirt upon a coffin lid / And I know they'll come lookin' for me boys.

Never let the weeds get higher than the garden / Always keep a diamond in your mind

You got to get behind the mule / In the morning and plow


My mule today was the Mule Ears in Big Bend National Park. And get behind her I did—geographically and in the diligence of hard work.

The Kingfisher, current messaging, in foreground. Mule Ears just over the hill.


Last time I was out that way was April 2014 when I hiked to the Mule Ears Spring. It was so blessed hot that I exceeded the water I carried and had to decide between risking heat exhaustion and risking giardia. I chose giardia, filled my water bottle from the spring, and escaped with neither. No more April hiking in Big Bend, yet I did enjoy many cactus in bloom that day.


Today’s hike was past the spring, up and down small hills to the backside of the mule. Intense sun made for a hot hike even just passing 80, though on the tops of hills a breeze carried my sweat and made me comfortable. And blooms? Today’s hike seemed to be all about the flowers about to blooms. And flirting. But first the blooms.

From top, a few belly flowers and various cactus in bud, in the very center a lechuguilla agave with its blossom stalk, yucca in bloom, and a leafing ocatillo.


My podcast on the drive down today was Brene Brown with Dr. Edith Eger, a Holocaust survivor, psychologist, and author. Her latest book is a recipe for breaking out of our personal prisons to find freedom. One of my takeaways was her invitation to pay attention to what we pay attention to, think about what we think about. This reminded me of Buddhist teacher Larry Ward asking how we experience our experience. Which is all another way of looking behind, beyond, and underneath.


On arriving home I pulled my old Loren Eiseley book from the shelf. My favorite story of his is The Innocent Fox in which the anthropologist, the bone hunter, was searching out a connection to a deeper realm. He feared that man could never “get around to the front of the universe,” but only know nature in retreat. After false starts and dark imaginings, he found himself surprised by a fox pup on a dawn beach—a fox pup in the mood to play with this strange quiet giant. He wrote, “The universe was swinging in some fantastic fashion around to present its face, and the face was so small that the universe itself was laughing.” In that fleeting and ecstatic moment, when the anthropologist threw dignity away and played with the fox, he saw his miracle.


I have long been moved by this story of such a simple experience holding the secret of the universe. I have had such moments, always in nature. Always in unspeakable beauty. Always in a time of great change or psychic pain. When there is a crack, or a ripple, in the order of time, and I think: never forget this moment, that everything is perfect just the way it is.


My shade break today was more pedestrian, yet lovely in the way any shade break can be with a snack and a quenching of thirst, a few notes and snapshots. And time to remind myself of all I have mentioned: Pay attention to the fat cactus buds and know that I am paying attention to the fat cactus buds. Think about the sun on skin and know I am thinking about the sun on my skin. Experience the experience of my feet fitting my boots and my boots fitting the ground, and thank my yoga practice for strong legs that can pause mid-step going down steep rock to choose the surest landing.


My rock at the back (ish? side?) of the mule.


Oh yes, the flirting? I was serenaded by a canyon wren passing by the slit in the rock of the Mule Ears Spring. And on the walk back, I saw a few little lizards—I think the first lizards I’ve seen out and about this year. One even stopped to give my some push-ups. Oh spring, here we are!



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