In which I post a chapter from my NaNoWriMo novel for y'all

September 10th, 2010 Skookum Tribune

Meet Miss Birdie Mae Rouse: distance rider

By Annabeth Spencer

Birdie Mae Rouse came to the town of Skookum at the age of “forty and some” in 1970, at the invitation of the man she intended—at the time—to marry. “He was a skunk,” she says now. “A lowdown, double-crossing, no-good rat of a skunk.”

(He was a number of other things as well, according to Birdie Mae, and she is happy to describe in detail all of the things the man was and possibly still is, but this paper declines to publish descriptions of anyone that requires the use of such strong language. Let it suffice to say that the man was a skunk.)

Fortunately for Birdie Mae and unfortunately for the man who was a skunk, his undesirable qualities were made clear before a legal wedding took place and before legal documents were signed. What happened to the man, the other three women, the spray paint, the fifteen live flamingos brought especially from Florida, the crate of butter spray, the athletic sock and the bicycle has never been officially documented, but Birdie Mae says that she is well rid of the entire lot of them.

Without the man who was a skunk, however, Birdie Mae never would have come to Skookum, and thus never would have found Gator, her first mule. “Gator was actually the neighbor’s mule, originally,” she says. “I offered to buy him the first week I was in town, because I liked the feisty look in his eye, but the neighbor wouldn’t sell. After the mule kicked seven holes in the door of the neighbor’s wife’s brand-new Mustang convertible—which she, like an idiot, had left parked right next to the pasture fence with the engine running and the radio blasting—well, then, they gave me old Gator, right then, except they said I had to get him off the property by the next morning.

“Edsel Rabin, he was in jail at the time after that little incident with the newspaper picture of his pumpkin patch, so he had some land outside of town that wasn’t being used. I moved Gator out there that night, and set up camp next to him in the pasture so he wouldn’t be lonely. Ha! Gator was never lonely. He was a singer, Gator was, and he’d hee-haw and carry on to entertain himself for hours. I maintain that it’s the reason he kicked the stuffing* out of that darn* car: he figured that radio was singing off-key and he was trying to set it right.

(*some of Miss Rouse’s vocabulary has been edited for publication, with her reluctant permission)

“After I got Gator, I discovered endurance riding. You ever hear of that? Most folks haven’t, around here, unless they talk to me, and most folks around here don’t talk to me unless they’ve got a lot of time. That’s one thing about endurance riding: it takes a lot of time, so you gotta get used to that. I started out riding 50’s, that’s fifty-mile rides. But those went by too quick, pretty soon you were back in camp with a bunch of other yabbos who just want to talk about their horses and their farriers, and their saddles and their trucks. Nothin’ interesting there. So then I started riding hundreds, and that was better, because you could mostly be gone all day and all night. Gator was a darn* good hundred-mile mule. Only problem with Gator was that he’d never do a willing trot-out. That’s part of the check that the veterinarians do a couple times during the ride to make sure your mule or your horse isn’t going to keel over and die. Gator figured, ‘why should he trot away from somebody who just wants him to trot back.’ Didn’t make any sense to him, and I could never find a two-by-four big enough to show him the reason for doing it. So we never once got a BC, that’s a “best-condition” award, because that dang* mule didn’t believe in trotting for no reason.

“Hundred-milers started getting boring after a while, because you pretty much have to come back to where you started, unless you’re doing one of those point-to-point rides like the Tevis. Folks like to tell you how tough the Tevis is, they like to show off their Tevis buckles to prove they’ve survived something difficult. Ha. Tevis is for sissies, I say. I’ve done that ride three times to see what all the fuss was about, and traded all my buckles away a year later for a bottle of good whiskey. That’s not so hard. Now, if they wanted you to cover that trail in January, that might be a challenge. But not the way they do it these days, with people at the vet checks feeding you watermelon and offering to do your trot-out for you. Do I look like I need help trotting? I should think not. Well, these days I might need help trotting just so I could see where I was going, but I can move out just the same as always, is what I’m saying.

“After doing about ten years of hundred-milers, I decided it was time for a real challenge, and also a good time to take a break from this one-horse, no-mule town. It was going to be Gator’s last season, bless his ugly old heart, he was starting to slow down and get tired, and getting so he’d only try to kick the vet once or twice in a day. Must have been about 1982 or 1983, I guess, that I decided to tour the country with Gator. Not with a truck and trailer and all that fancy rig that folks take with now, you understand. It was Gator and me, and what we could carry. In Wyoming someplace there was a fellow who gave me Stella, that was my second mule. Gator liked Stella just fine, and they’d lick each others’ ears as a greeting, and they’d hee-haw up the morning together, every day. That was a good year. Took me most of that year to get across the country that first time. We started off the first of March, it was an early spring, and we headed south first, down to California and then over a bit into Texas, and then up to Massachusetts. Stopped for a couple of weeks there, that trip, to visit my sister and her daughter. I think they thought I might be interesting and tell some good stories, and I did tell some fine stories by then, you bet.

“Then I came home, and put old Gator in the pasture and let him rest out his days. He was a good old mule, and I still miss him. Stella and I would leave him behind in the pasture and go off to look around, sometimes west to Montana, sometimes north to Canada. One time we went almost all the way to Alaska but then we got a little homesick and came home just in time for Gator to lick Stella’s ears a hundred more times before he lay down and died. Buried that mule myself, of course. Borrowed Edsel Rabin’s tractor to do it, but I moved every last bit of dirt to make the hole and put that old mule in it and covered it back up. Probably should’ve buried a red Mustang convertible car in the hole with him, just so he’d have something to kick around once he got to heaven, but I didn’t think of it at the time. He’ll probably forgive me. He was a good old mule.”

According to records kept by the American Endurance Rides Conference (AERC), Miss Birdie Mae Rouse and her mules have accumulated more than 65,000 miles of competition, in addition to her five well-documented “long rides” across North and Central America. She was inducted into the AERC Hall of Fame for lifetime achievement in 1997. Miss Rouse’s driver’s license was suspended by the Washington State Department of Licensing in 2001 after she failed the vision test three times, but she says it doesn’t slow her down much: her young mule Elvis knows the way home from town and he always gets her there safely.


  1. Smiles :)

    Just so you know, Birdie (Nell)Rouse was my great grandmother, a school teacher from Boone County Kentucky. She was six feet tall and so thin that she "swayed in the breeze." She also had a good sense of humor and a parlor where she kept plastic spiders pinned to the lace curtains. Alas, no mule, but she probably never heard of distance riding. ~E.G.

  2. Um. I hate to break it to you, but this isn't a NaNoWriMo novel chapter. This is your book, and I want to buy it, so get busy missy.

    Hilarious! More, more!!

  3. EG: your great-gran was an inspiration to me (mixed heavily with portions of the lives of other people, obviously)!

    Rebecca: Good!

    Jane: each chapter is an "article" for the Skookum Tribune, about a person or event in the town. Coming Soon: William Roberts, aka Stinky Jack O'Malley

  4. What Jane said!

    I always love your stories, whether they're ones you wrote or just put your own spin on! I would love to see the entire thing when you're finished. :)


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