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Early autumn mornings in the Ozarks include falling leaves, acorns, walnuts and hickory nuts, crisp temperatures,

The sound of the train whistle echos across the valley alternating with the rumbling of the wheels along the track five miles from where I sit enjoying the relative quiet of an autumn morn. Until this year, autumn in the Ozarks has meant:

• 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!

This year -- 2020 -- with the government restrictions imposed in response to the covid-19 pandemic, gatherings have ceased and many events canceled.

Just recently, members of the Pea Ridge High School Blackhawk football team was quarantined due to a positive test for covid-19 on someone involved with the team. Games were canceled for two weeks. The current plan is to resume games the week of Oct. 26.

The Mule Jump was initially going to be held, but as city officials tried to work with state officials, it became clear it could not be held within the parameters being required. So, the 32nd annual Pea Ridge Mule Jump was canceled. Traditionally held on the second Saturday of October, it would have been this past weekend.

I remember my first mule jump, although it doesn't exactly "count" in the enumeration. 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.

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. And, hopefully, will again.

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.

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