This Friday, Sept. 22, is the autumnal equinox -- the first official day of autumn.
Autumn in the Ozarks includes:
• Football -- Blackhawks and Razorbacks;
• Gathering and selling black walnuts;
• Getting the last hay crop in the barn;
• Cutting and stacking firewood; and, last but not least
• Jumping mules -- the annual Pea Ridge Mule Jump!
Growing up in northwest Louisiana, I was far more familiar with the evergreen pines, live oaks and cypress trees that dotted our gently rolling landscape, with bayous and lakes.
As a family, sometimes on weekends we would drive north into Arkansas to see the fall foliage.
Little did I realize then that more than four decades later I would have lived in northwest Arkansas far longer than I did in Louisiana. Here hillsides will soon be replete with brilliant reds, oranges and yellows of the oaks, hickories, walnuts and sassafras trees in the fall.
Autumn in Pea Ridge country just wouldn't be the same without the annual Pea Ridge Mule Jump.
I fondly remember my first mule jump, although it doesn't exactly "count" in the enumeration of the 33rd annual event being held Saturday, Oct. 8, 2022.
The first event I attended was in 1985. It was the fall festival and was held on the school grounds on the downtown corner of North Curtis Avenue and Pickens Street. (Then, that was the ONLY school campus.) The fall festival and mule jump were an incredible amount of fun.
Being a city girl, I'd not seen mules jump nor coon dogs tree a raccoon. It was engaging to watch the farmers coax (or curse) their mules over the jump. Each man, each mule, had his own style.
Denim overall-clad gents would quietly, unhurriedly walk their mule to the wooden structure built for a jump. Sometimes they would quietly whisper in the mule's ear and he'd just leap over the barrier. Other times, the mule would balk and the farmer would get frustrated. He'd back up, and start again, speaking more demandingly to the mule.
Today isn't much different, except it's in front of a crowd of thousands of people, many of whom are not known to the "locals."
This event, now held for the amusement of those attending, has deep roots among the Ozark farmers, who used their mules to farm as well as to hunt. In all of life, the old is beautifully wrapped up in the new. So, too, with the mule jump.
Third- and fourth-generation family members participate in a tradition wrapped up in the old ways. Family names repeat themselves again and again in the list of winners. As some grow older and retire from jumping, they pass their wisdom on to the younger generation and take a back seat to their grandchildren who continue to lead their mules to the jump.
People attending the mule jump see old friends and make new friends.
The mules -- small and large, light colored and dark -- continue to bray and balk and jump to the delight of the crowds.
The Pea Ridge Mule Jump has become entwined in the color of Pea Ridge.
It, like the story of the pea vine and the Battle of Pea Ridge, help form the fabric of this community so rich with character and caring people.
Editor's note: Annette Beard is the managing editor of The Times of Northeast Benton County, chosen the best small weekly newspaper in Arkansas for five years. The opinions expressed are those of the author. She can be reached at [email protected].