by John Routledge
Text ©2009 John Routledge; illustration ©2009 TaniDaReal

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   One day, a rabbit was walking beside a river when he saw an ass on the shoreline, gingerly dipping a hoof into the water, and taking it out again. Being a curious fellow, the rabbit asked the ass what he was doing, whereupon the ass explained that he wished to cross to the other side, but the water was very cold.
   The rabbit nodded. He knew the water was cold because it was spring time, and the river had been cooled by melt-water from glaciers further up the mountain. Though the rabbit had never crossed the river himself, he knew there was a bridge half a mile downstream. To be sure, using the bridge would be a longer trip, and require more effort, but the ass would be able to cross the river without getting cold and wet. The ass agreed that this was a sensible idea, so he walked with the rabbit to the bridge, where they parted company.

   A week later the rabbit saw the ass again; this time he was lying next to a cart. Remembering the ass, and seeing that he was in poor spirits, the rabbit stopped to say hello and to ask what was the matter. The ass explained he had just been hired to transport goods from one village to another. But pushing the cart was hard work, and his neck hurt, so he had decided to take a rest.
   The rabbit felt sorry for the ass, and offered him some water to quench his thirst. But once again his curiosity overcame him, so he asked: Did this job require that the ass push the cart? The ass thought for a moment, before saying it did not—but how else was he to move the cart?
   Now, just as he had never crossed the river, the rabbit had, unsurprisingly, never moved a cart. But he had seen others do it and had read about it, and suggested that the ass might have better luck if he tried to pull the cart, rather than pushing it. When the ass asked how, the rabbit hopped up to the driver’s seat, and pushed the tackle down with his nose. The ass was surprised by this; because of the way the seat had been built, he hadn’t been able to see it clearly from his perspective.
   With some trial and error the two managed to get the ass into the tackle. After pulling the cart a few yards down the road, the ass admitted that this was much easier, and asked if the rabbit would care to accompany him to the next town. The rabbit had to decline though, as he had business elsewhere. But just before he left, he remembered something important that he had once heard one cart puller say to another. He turned and cautioned the ass, that if he was ever to go down a steep hill, he should turn around, and let the cart go down first, otherwise he could be crushed.
   “Thank you,” the ass said with a gentle smile, “but I think I know how to pull a cart.”
   The rabbit thought of correcting him, but declined, as he didn’t want to be rude.

   Later that evening the rabbit told his friends about the ass and the cart, and many of them laughed, not unkindly, at what the ass had done. After all, they had all done silly things in the past, and all knew not to laugh too hard at another’s mistakes. But later that evening, a wise old fox took the rabbit aside, and asked a few questions. Was this the same ass at the river? Had he said thank you? How was the rabbit’s alfalfa patch? Confused, the rabbit answered the first two questions, and said his alfalfa patch still wasn’t growing, despite all he had tried. Hearing this, the fox sighed and nodded sagely, before cautioning the rabbit that some people are like that alfalfa patch; they are so stuck in their ways that they will not grow, or learn, no matter what you tell them. The rabbit listened to the elder, but defended the ass; he said he was sure the ass wasn’t like that. Knowing that the rabbit would soon find out the truth, one way or the other, the fox simply agreed, and wished the rabbit good night.

   It was another week before the rabbit saw the ass again, and was surprised to see the ass picking up apples in an orchard. Allowing his curiosity to overcome him once again, the rabbit asked: Why was the ass doing this? Sadly, the ass was in a poor mood. He said that he had been sacked, because he lost control of a cart while pulling it down hill. What is worse, the ass barely escaped being crushed in the accident! He looked bitterly at the rabbit and asked why the rabbit hadn’t warned him about that. The rabbit protested that he had, but the ass denied it, declaring that if the rabbit had warned him, he would surely remember it.
   Seeking to change the subject, and avoid an argument, the rabbit noticed that the ass’ nose was all red and swollen, and asked why. The ass complained that he had to pick up all the apples, even the ones that fall into a patch of stinging nettles. Glancing down at the ass’ legs, the rabbit remembered something he had read once, and asked the ass if his legs were immune to stinging nettles. When the ass confirmed that this is so, the rabbit suggested that, perhaps, if the ass were to use his legs to move the apples out of the stinging nettles… The rabbit stopped abruptly as the ass stamped a hoof down right next to the rabbit, who startled and backed off several yards. For rabbits are small creatures, after all, and a mule’s kick can do them great damage.
   “Be quiet!” the ass demanded. “You’re always giving me advice, and I’m sick of it! I never asked for your help in the first place. Now go away and leave me alone.”

   It was a whole month later that the rabbit next saw the ass. This time, the ass was not trying to cross a cold stream, or push a cart along with his head, or pick up apples in a patch of stinging nettles. Instead, the ass was in the middle of a tar pit. The rabbit sat on the bank for a moment, where it was safe, and simply watched the ass struggle. It was a while before the ass noticed him.

Illustration by TaniDaReal

   “What?” the ass demanded. “I suppose you’re going to tell me that crossing this tar pit is foolish, aren’t you?” The rabbit paused for a moment, considering, before he nodded. Even if the ass didn’t like it, the rabbit was quite safe from the ass’s hooves now. “Well, I don’t care! That’s just your opinion, not some kind of ‘indisputable’ fact! In my opinion, it’s a perfectly sensible idea! And all opinions are equally valid!”
   The rabbit said nothing, and departed to continue his errand. When he had completed his task, he passed by the tar pit again; he saw that the ass was now sunk in the tar up to his neck, and was having difficulty breathing. When the ass demanded to know what the rabbit was looking at, the rabbit said he was simply remembering what the ass had said earlier, that every opinion was equally valid.
   “Ha!” the ass snorted, perking up suddenly. “Yes! That’s right—they are! So my opinion is just as valid as yours is! And don’t you forget it!”
   The rabbit nodded and went home, intending to apologise to the fox, and admit that the elder had been right all along.

   The next day, curiosity once again overcame the rabbit, so he visited the tar pit to see what had become of the ass. The rabbit looked carefully, but could not see him. At first he couldn’t even see where the ass had been, or where he had sat on the bank. It wasn’t until he sat still and simply watched the tar pit that he found what he was looking for. He watched some more, just to be sure, but there was no other trace: Just an ass-shaped area in the tar where no bubbles rose to the surface.
   The rabbit walked away from the tar pit, and thought of the ass no more.

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