The Last Thing I Hear In My Wagon World

Day’s end. Polly seeks shelter on a wintry night in the lee of my wagon. From the cozy confines of my wood and canvas home, I can hear her grazing. You’ll have a chance to hear in a sec.

The walls of my wagon world are canvas thin. Lit by an oil soaked wick raised with a tiny lantern gear. Nights, when darkness falls, I put a match to the wick and write in my journal by lamp light. The scribble of pen and hiss of wick fill the oak and drop cloth enclosure I call home on the road.

The wagon lantern. It’s one of those cheap $5 jobs that spills kerosene all over my wagon when it’s not perfectly level. But it works.

There’s no keyboard clack on my wagon. Here on the road with my mule, the pen is mightier than the laptop.

Sleep approaches. Journal pages filled, I crawl into my berth. Flick close the wood stove door. Pull the covers to my chin. The wagon springs shriek their last cry of the day.

My wagon berth. You’re looking aft at the rear window. Here, my bed is in the stowed position. It’s just a series of wide boards. When it’s time to hit the hay, I just lay the planks out. Roll out my mattress and sleeping bag. And sack out.

Life goes quiet. My ears adjust to the sound of darkness.

Then “crunch, crunch, chew, chew” comes through the wagon walls and I know my day is done.

That chewing is Polly standing outside my wagon. Feeding on what grass she can muster. Occasionally, there’s a metallic rattle. The clank of the chain as she stretches her picket to reach another patch of fodder.

Wagon nights are chewing and silence. Doesn’t matter what part of the world I’m in. Polly eating buffalo grass in Saskatchewan sounds like Polly eating clover in Newfoundland.

Before the world became so mechanized, it’s the last sound many travelers heard. Well, if they got around by wagon.

Inside me, it triggers a roller coaster of emotion. Loneliness. Of how, night after night, Polly the mule passes her nights alone in the night. Standing watch over my bowtop canvas home. Companionship. How, when I poke my head from my wagon door, Polly will perk up. Come over for a scratch. Fear. What if Polly gets tangled in her tether overnight? Freedom. With a largely grass-fed vehicle, I can travel almost without cease.

Then there’s the wind.

Many nights, if the weather’s changing, wind noise envelope’s Polly’s night time browsing. It’s hard to separate the two. The rumble and howl, especially on blustery nights, reinforces the exposed nature of wagon life.

Here’s what it sounds like when I’m wrapped up in my sleeping bag on a blowy wintery Newfoundland night and Polly’s eating outside the wagon walls. Just by my head. Ready for a listen? Click on the player.

Good night.

The daytime view. Polly munching on some late winter clover outside my rolling home. This photo was taken on a recent tour of Pamlico County, North Carolina. Joining us was a film crew from UNCTV and “Our State” magazine. Coverage of the winter voyage will air some time this summer. (Aurora, NC)

Map shows where recording was made outside Eliston, Newfoundland.

Bob Skelding
2013-04-07 11:00:42

Those sounds are like music to my ears. I sleep blissfully to the sounds of chomping grass and the howl of the wind, but I always have an ear cocked for a horse in distress. When traveling through mountain lion or grizzly country, I tend to sleep light enough that I don’t feel well rested in the morning. To allow my subconcioius to assume a more restful state under those circumstances, I have to put up another security barrier at night. Building an additional portable electric fence around the wagon and horses acts as a good deterarnt. So far, this device has worked well to keep at least one bear and two overly curious humans at bay. As a side benefit, this has expanded my knowledge of the english volcabulary. After an overly curious Native American contacted the security fence in the middle of the night, I developed a greater appreciation for the number of four letter words in the english language!

W and M
2013-04-10 07:33:17

Wow! Paints quite an image in one’s head. Lone man, lone mule out there together, dependent on one another. Goodnight…sweet dreams…sleep tight to both man and mule.

sally van natta
2013-04-12 21:10:47

Are you back in Newfoundland again? I went to Ellison after I saw you in Bishop’s Falls — great puffin watching and root cellar rooting. Great writing and sense of adventure and place.

2013-04-19 11:05:41

We love reading them but sure do miss hearing your adventures. I reckon y’all are back in New Foundland, any chance we’ll see you at Hoffman next month? God bless you, Bernie.

Betsi McKay
2013-04-21 07:59:11

Old timey solution to any recurring soreness (like from getting hit by a car): Tell your body you didn’t mean for it to have been hurt and apologize that it was. Seems that there’s some sort of communication within that helps
With your book order I sent a comment about the cavalry saddle I see in your photo. I learned to ride with one and greatly prefer them too. ‘Preferred’ I mean, as it’s been a few decades ago.

2013-04-24 21:11:36

Great hearing from everyone. Polly and I are spending the spring hanging out in North Carolina sleeping in conventional places. She in a pasture in and I in a bed (though I admit to sneaking off and sleeping in my wagon now and again). Bob, you mentioned the lingual universality of four letter words uttered by humans touching hot wire. Same happens when you hear the sound of – what you thought was a securely picketed mule – clopping off in the distance. Cheers! Bernie

Heather Quilty
2013-06-08 22:23:33

Hi Bernie, not sure if you remember me, I was the vet tech that got your paperwork processed in Clarenville for your trip back home in the fall. My little boy, Liam, still talks about giving Polly an apple when I dropped the papers out to you. Anyway, I just wanted to let you know I saw this NL tourism clip of you today and wanted to pass it along. I’m sure you’ve seen it, it made my day to see you and Polly and your journey be captured so nicely. Hope all is well down there, hope you plan on returning to finish your journey at some point. All the best. Heather

2013-06-15 14:28:02

Great hearing from you. Sure enjoyed the clip from Eliston. I’ll be sure to show it to Polly. Then SHE’LL be the one behind the wheel of my truck and I’ll be the one in the mule trailer – headin’ back to the Rock of course! A hearty howdy to Liam from me.
Cheers, Berni


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