J.C. Mattingly: Socratic Rancher | TheFencePost.com

J.C. Mattingly: Socratic Rancher

J.C. Mattingly
Moffat, Colo.

“Jackasses are very communicative,” Irv told me.

It was a hot day, and we were draped over the top rail of his corral, in which three jackasses were lying down, their heads crammed under the bed of a ground-driven manure spreader that apparently had been parked in the corral for the purpose of providing shade. The spreader sported a hand-painted sign on the sideboard that read Poop Hearse.

“I might’ve guessed that jacks were Great Communicators,” I said, with a twist.

“You think I’m blowin smoke up your pantleg?” Irv jabbed. “Just listen.” He whistled. The jacks reluctantly stood, and commenced a chorus of the most dolorous brays I’d ever heard. You could almost hear, “No way, no way!” in the body of the bray. “I called ’em to go up to the trail,” Irv smiled. “And you hear what they have to say: In this heat, ain’t no way.”

I had to admit it, the jacks were communicating.

“Jacks make a great variety of sounds,” Irv explained. “You have their bray, also known as Gabriel’s Trumpet before Judgment Day, or some call it the music of a Rocky Mountain Canary. Take, for example, when jacks are hungry or thirsty, there’s a high-pitched squeak at the end of their bray. Or when they see an intruder, they put out a brassy bray. When honking for the heck of it, they really draw it out to virtuoso length. Of course, if they’re just jacking around with each other, it’s a Goldilocks bray – not too long, not too fast, not too squeaky.”

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“How about when they see a jenny?”

“Now we’re talking about a bray with romantic resonance, a bray straight from the heart, a bray that would twist the ears of the most reluctant jenny.”

“You know your jacks,” I said.

“They make other sounds,” Irv went on. “They grunt, snort, wuffle, and even growl. That jack there, literally growls whenever a dog comes near.”

“Seems like every time I get around someone who’s been around jackasses, I learn something new.”

“Let me tell you something you probably don’t know,” Irv said, seeing he had my ear. “Have you ever noticed how, as a human grows old, their ears get bigger?”

“You sure about that?”

“Here, take a look at this picture of me when I was about 30.” Irv pulled a picture from his wallet.

I studied the photo, then his head. “Based on this, you’re sure right,” I said. “Your ears are about an inch bigger now than when this picture was taken – what, 35 years ago?”

“At least. So … do me a favor, and look at pictures of yourself, family and friends, and you’ll see it, and once you do, you’ll see it from now on: People’s ears keep on growing, even after their body has reached physiological maturity.”

“So what does it mean?” I asked.

Irv smiled, and I felt my leg being pulled a bit as he said, “It basically means, my friend, that there’s a possibility – only a possibility – that, instead of our nearest biological relatives being apes, they’re actually jackasses.”