Ice Bergs and Blankets

Polly lies down in the tall grass of L’Ans aux Meadows, Newfoundland. It’s as much for rest as it is for warmth On a clear day such as this, the coast of Labrador -and the occasional iceberg – can be spotted on the horizon. The upturned boats are relics of a major downturn in the Newfoundland fishery.

Four days before the official start of summer and there are icebergs floating by my wagon’s front door. No, they’re not going to crash into my rolling abode. Chances are they’ll stay far out to sea, running aground long before they enter the bay I’m visiting in L’Anse aux Meadows, Newfoundland. Or maybe they’ll just melt. Still, to open your front door and see a hunk of ice floating by does add a certain chill – real and imagined – to your day.

It was a different scene two weeks ago. When mule Polly left North Carolina the first week of June, she was sporting her summer coat. Temperatures had crossed the 90 degree mark. The plan was to head north and duck the fetid southern summer heat.

Fast forward to L’Anse aux Meadows, Newfoundland. I have carried Polly over 2000 miles north and east from her regular home. From where Polly and I stand now, you can see snow covered peaks in Labrador, Canada. The leaves on the alder trees are just starting to unfold. The daffodils are poking out there yellow heads. Two nights ago, one week before the official start of summer, it frosted.

For mule Polly, this change in temperature comes as a shock. It’s like the tourist that steps on the plane in Miami dressed in a t-shirt and flies to Anchorage. Steps off the flight and gasps at the brisk air.

In Polly’s case, the rapid shift from warm to cold climate is compounded by the shortage of browse. To keep warm, she needs to eat a lot. Staying warm burns lots of calories. To keep warm and pull a half ton wagon, she needs to eat a whole lot. Trouble is, there’s just not much grass to eat yet. Yes, the grass blades are stretching daily higher cloudward. Yes, she finds the dandy lions – which are also known as bumble bee weeds in these parts – tasty. So do I.

But grass browse is relatively low in caloric energy.

So what about carrying grain? Not much wiggle room there. We’re pretty much maxed out on weight. The most feed I can haul on the wagon is about 100 pounds. Remember, Polly has to haul every pound we carry. Even if I walk beside the wagon, that only cuts the load by 170 or so pounds.

So yes, it was a pretty sorry sight when I unloaded Polly on Newfoundland’s northern-most tip – and she shivered.

Ice on the brain. An iceberg floats past mule Polly in L’Anse aux Meadows.

Enter the blanket.

On the advice of buddy and wagon sage Ronald Hudson, before leaving North Carolina, I tucked a light horse blanket into my trailer. For Polly. In case it got cold. Shortly after Polly’s shivering incident, I grubbed the sun bleached blanket out of my trailer and slung it across Polly’s back. I swear she smiled. Snuggled into that sucker and hunkered down for the night behind a stack of wood. I retired to wood stove, merlot and moose meat aboard my wagon.

Polly resting in the lee of a wood pile. The wind blows almost without cease in this northern part of Newfoundland.

The next morning, I slid my hand under the blanket. There was frost on the grass but under that old rug Polly was snug as.

Those ice bergs floating past my front door don’t seem as cold any more.

Polly investigates a dead seal washed up on a L’Anse aux Meadows beach. No, she’s not trying to eat it.

All is not woe and starvation for mule Polly. Lest you think she’s wasting away in the Great White North, she’s not. To augment her caloric shortfall, she’s added some non-standard items to her diet. She scored a bucket of carrot peels from a nearby restaurant. And apples beyond count. Her emotional needs are being catered too as well.. Here, a Norstead admirer lavishes Polly with some loving of the human kind.

Bob Skelding
2012-06-18 08:47:38

Hey Bernie,

Great place to start! You’re two months past the 100 year aniversity of the sinking of the Titanic and your name is not Captain Smith so you should be able safe from the errant berg. Good luck and safe travels,


Susan Crouch
2012-06-18 19:41:41

Sending warm wishes to you and mule Polly, and so glad you had the blanket on hand for her! I’m really enjoying your updates, Bernie. Thanks for keeping us in the loop!

butterbean carpenter
2012-06-19 17:00:56

Howdy Bernie,
Ol’ WT Bob didn’t offer you another blanket did he…. Noooo, he’s agonna keep all of his for himself; he don’t even share with his boys,
they have to stand out in the rain and snow while he rides in that warm contraption(RV) of his.. Polly looks like she’s a happy mule, now, with her ‘pajamas’ on!! Enjoying the trip so far; oh, by the way, it’s 94* today in W Texas with 24mph breeze!!! Thanx, for the ride-along!!!

2012-06-26 17:49:37

Hello Bernie,
Enjoying the newest journey. Glad to see Bob checking in as well. Beautiful country up there. Mule Polly does seem to be the sport for your sojourns through the where-a-bouts. Every time I work with my young mule I think of you and Polly. Looking forward to the trip updates.


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