The tale of a broken heart — and other parts

Essay by Walt Gasson

Livestock – February 2009 – Colorado Central Magazine

SHE WAS TALL and dark and lovely. Athletic, but with curves in all the right places. Solid — not an ounce of extra weight anywhere. Her eyes were a deep brown, and I was infatuated from the first time I saw her.

True, she completely ignored me and her breath smelled like grass hay, not to mention the fact that her ears were bigger than my feet, but I was smitten from the moment Steve Kilpatrick walked her out of the horse trailer. Ah, Silas, mule of my heart, mule of my dreams, why did it have to end so sadly between us?

I first met Silas on a bison hunt in 2006. She was a new hand then, a replacement for a mule that had passed on. She performed like a champion that day. She never blinked an eye when we walked her up to the dead bison. She packed out over 400 pounds of bison meat as if it were the easiest thing in the world. She was a class act from beginning to end.

To be fair, there was that minor rodeo-type incident, when we tried to drag the dead bison and the rope broke and she went berserk and threw Mark Gocke into the sagebrush, breaking his finger. But what is love about, if not forgiveness — and it’s always easier to forgive a mule who breaks someone else’s finger.

I forgave her.

In 2007, Silas enrolled in the Steve Kilpatrick School of Fence Removal. Steve has been involved in many volunteer service projects with public land-management agencies to remove old, unneeded livestock allotment fences. It’s hard work, but some great conservationists in that area have developed a system for getting the job done. Silas was new at the work, but catching on well and showing every sign of learning to pull and drag the old fence posts quickly and efficiently.

That is, until the day she blew up during a training session and broke Steve’s pelvis. True, it was the only pelvis he had, but he wasn’t far from the house, and it wasn’t like she was mean-spirited about it or anything. Again, I forgave her, and my love for her remained unabated.

Last summer, though, there came a change in our relationship. On a perfect evening, with the wild geraniums in bloom and the ridges above Hoback Junction alive with birdsong and the sun just beginning to set over the Tetons, a ruffed grouse flushed noisily from the tall sagebrush and snowberry. Steve was ahead of us on Bugs, and Silas and I stood stock-still to watch the bird as it flew straight — and I do mean straight — towards us.

The last thought I remember thinking was, “Oh my gosh, that bird is going to land on this mule’s head!” I remember feeling her gathering herself to pitch a fit as I was having that thought. My memories get real fuzzy after that.

I ended up with seven broken ribs, a broken collarbone, a cracked vertebra and a punctured lung. Without Steve and Luann Kilpatrick, the good folks from the Teton County Search and Rescue (Faith, the emergency medical technician, you’re a superstar!), the medical pros at St. John’s Hospital in Jackson, Chuck Schneebeck and his amazing dog Buster, my great family and most especially my sweet wife Kim, this could have been double ugly.

But everything seemed to heal well, and I’ll be ready to go again by the next antelope season, for sure. But Silas, my darling Silas, I think we need some time apart.

Walt Gasson is a contributor to Writers on the Range, a service of High Country News. He directs the Wyoming Wildlife Federation in Cheyenne.