Fascinated this morning by an article in the Feb 15 & 22 edition of The New Yorker about mules. I’ve never given any thought to mules before and my knowledge of them is limited to two facts:
1) They’re like donkeys
2) I can be as stubborn as one at times
After reading the 6 pages and 14 columns of the article I now realise that mules deserved better from me. I really should have made an effort to get to know them better. I think you should too. So here are the best bits from “Riding High. Mules in the Military. By Susan Orlean”
- A mule will carry up to 136 kg, seven hours a day, twenty days straight, without complaint.
- Mules have an inviolable commitment to self preservation, which is often misinterpreted as stubbornness. In truth, it is probably a form of genius. A horse will eat until it founders and dies; a mule will only snack, even if it happens upon an open bin of oats.
- Mules are the hybrid result of mating a male donkey with a female horse. They have an uneven number of chromosomes and are therefore sterile. Every mule is sui generis; it leaves no legacy beyond itself, no radiating gene pool to mark its visit to this world.
- Once upon a time in America, a young man without mule handling experience would have been the exception.
- George Washington had a herd of mules – one of the first in the US. They were sired by an Andalusian donkey named Royal Gift, which he had received as a gift from the King of Spain.
- The mule population of the USA has been on a roller coaster ride since the highs of over 5 million in 1930. The Amish population explosion between 1982 and 2008 saw a big increase in demand for mules.
- A 2008 study of mule cognition at the University of Sussex fond that mules, over all, not only understood things better than either horses or donkeys but were also better at following instructions.
That’s the great thing about the New Yorker. You just never know what you’re going to learn from it, and when those little tidbits of information might come in handy. I know that next time some says I’m stubborn as a mule, I can say that, actually, it’s a form of genius.