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“The schoolteacher who writes about us says he’s going to get a horse to ride to town,” says Mencken.
“What for?” asks Ed Earl.
“Groceries. Brown’s Hardware. Potted flowers like he puts out in spring.”
“I mean why?”
“Save money on gas, I’d guess. Frugality in general.”
I am the schoolteacher Mencken Cody and Ed Earl Williams are talking about. I am not there. It is a meeting of the Committee to Save the World, at the co-op in Bly, Kansas. It only takes two to have a meeting.
It is coming wheat harvest. Most of us don’t have time right now to save the world, so it won’t be long before Mencken and Ed Earl pile into their pickups.
Gas is crawling toward $4 a gallon. Diesel fuel is crawling uphill as well. The high-dollar wheat these men hope to sell could take a bad hit if you count the price of the fuel to bring it in.
But for the moment they are meditating over coffee about what they’ve heard I’m going to do.
“For an idea it sounds a quart low,” says Ed Earl.
“It’s a quart you don’t have to add to your crankcase,” says Mencken. “Besides, it’s turning the clock back to better days.”
“Clocks run straight on,” says Ed Earl. “That’s why you push up daisies sooner or later.”
“I had a horse as a boy,” says Mencken. “Rode it to school a couple of times for the pleasure of it. I had to leave early and come home late. The world goes slower on a horse.”
“Three to four miles an hour,” says Ed Earl. “Slow even for government work. Time’s money.”
“My dad used to say the outside of a horse is good for the inside of the man. It jiggles your innards for exercise. Besides, what’s time to a horse?”
“Does he know about horses?” asks Ed Earl.
“I saw him riding the Holste horse the other day. He bounces off the saddle at a trot, but he doesn’t steer a horse by pulling on one rein then the other like that woman from the East Coast did. He’s got a proper saddle. Not a cut down model. He can ride. Worked cattle near Hays, I think.”
They look into their coffee to study about me riding a horse to town and what kind of talk that will start.
“If he’d get a horse that could pull a wagon,” says Ed Earl, “I’d ask him to pick up a few things and skip a trip to town. He could carry his potted flowers easier as well.”
“It costs me $3 here and back to drive my truck,” says Mencken.
“A horse costs something,” says Ed Earl.
“Figure the farrier bill and the vet like tires and oil,” says Mencken. “Figure feed like gas, though a round bale would feed a horse for a month. But let’s say it’s even. You save insurance.”
“Only if you sell your truck,” says Ed Earl. “Just sitting your pickup costs money every month like you were using it. A man would have to give up the use of his truck to come out ahead.”
“A man loses the use of his pickup in this country and it’s like losing the use of his … .”
“Don’t say it out loud,” says Ed Earl. “He’ll put it in what he writes and that will cause all kinds of trouble for us.”
They are quiet for awhile. Others of the Committee to Save the World would have been here by now if they were coming. The coffee pot is foaming black goo at the bottom. There is sunshine in the work day ahead of us.
I am heading to the Oliva farm to see if they need me to drive their grain truck. As I go by the co-op I notice Ed Earl’s and Mencken’s pickups. But I have promises to keep.
“How’s he going to write about what we said without him being here?” asks Mencken.
“Somebody will let him know,” says Ed Earl.
“I hope by the time he tells on us he’s got his horse,” says Mencken.
“With a wagon,” says Ed Earl, standing up to drive to town.
ROBERT DAY is author of the novel “The Last Cattle Drive.” An adjunct professor at Washington College in Chestertown, Md., he wrote this comment for the Land Institute’s Prairie Writers Circle, Salina, Kan.