In the menagerie that usually crowds my dreams—lions and tigers starving in the basement, neglected goats and chickens multiplying in filthy outbuildings, a German Shepherd whom no one’s remembered to feed—mules had never appeared. But the other night, as the first serious snow of the year fell outside my window, there she was, my first dream mule.
I spent my childhood summers around mules. In the Catalan countryside, before the arrival of tractors, people worked the land with horses, mules, and plows that were almost identical to the ones introduced by the Romans two millennia ago. Since my grandfather was a vet, mules were often brought to him for injections and minor surgeries, which I was allowed to watch from the safety of the dining room window. Mules were popular with the local peasants, who found them to be sturdier than horses, less flighty, and better able to navigate difficult terrain. According to my grandmother, in past centuries the pope himself rode around Vatican City on a white mule—the first pope-mobile.
But I didn’t much like mules. I preferred the little gray donkeys, with their velvety faces and enormous eyes, that trotted daintily on the dusty roads, carrying a load of grass for the rabbits and, often, a black-clad peasant grandmother as well. And even the humblest cart horse was more elegantly proportioned than a mule, whose skinny tail and long ears seemed all wrong for its big, sleek body.
Not having thought about mules for years, I was surprised when one showed up in my dream. She was brought to me by an old Vermonter who announced that he was going to plow the lawn in front of my cottage so I could make a vegetable garden. The plow to which he had hitched the mule was like the ones I remembered from my childhood. It had wooden handles, and the share—the part that digs into the earth—had a sharp metal point and flaring sides.
I could barely contain my glee. Not only was I going to have a garden again, but one made by a mule! I didn’t care that she was a dull brown, run-of-the-mill mule. I found her charming, and the archaic plow she dragged connected me to the generations of peasants lurking in my DNA. I was going to grow kale and chard and garlic and those slender Japanese eggplants, and cook and eat them the way God intended. And who knew–once I had a garden, could chickens and goats be far behind?
That was obviously the wish-fulfillment aspect of the dream, in which I got to have my old close-to-the-earth life back. But if, according to Jung, both the old Vermonter and the mule represent parts of me, the meaning becomes less clear. I can easily see myself as an old Vermonter wanting to make a garden, but as a mule? Mules are neither dashing nor adorable. They are strong, hard-working, reliable and mostly boring.
The dream mule, however, had come not only on a delightful mission, but a subversive one: tearing up the sterile expanse of grass in front of my cottage and replacing it with something nourishing and meaningful. In real life, of course, this would not be allowed in the retirement community in which I live, even if it is a Vermont retirement community. But the dream mule and the old Vermonter clearly believed that it’s easier to get forgiveness than permission. (That is totally not the waking me, who tends to get permission and then ask forgiveness just in case.)
If I am both the old Vermonter and the mule, though, am I also the lawn? I ask because the mule’s job is to plow under all that boring conventional grass and make possible the growth of vitamin-rich, life-enhancing veggies. Did I mention that the Roman plow has a sharp point and flaring sides, not unlike the nib of a pen? Not that I actually write with a pen….