5/29/12 - Late for Not Believing

Some years ago I went to something called Mule Days in a little town west of Athens, GA.  It was an event given over to the old way of doing things.  People came out and showed they could still blacksmith, blow glass, plow with a mule, fire a blackpowder rifle, play mountain music (bluegrass) and buck dance.  A couple days given over to things that have mostly been passed by or forgotten.

Last night, I finished a fine little novel called Far Bright Star by Robert Olmstead.  It's about a pair of old cowboys in 1916, down in Mexico chasing Pancho Villa, aware their time as the last of the horse soldiers is coming to an end but knowing no other life.  The story is violent and swift and sad, and the central character ultimately makes the choice to leave Mexico and his brother for a chance to see his father one more time, going as he does by automobile rather than horse. 

But he makes the drive through farms and fields, never on paved or even graded roads, getting stuck and then stuck again, making time so slowly he has the opportunity to imagine his brother will appear all at once on a horse, explaining they have been called to fight in the war in Europe, no sooner than he will make it home.  That's how the novel ends, unevenly and without certainty, as the old cowboy considers his life to date and what little remains.  He doesn't know exactly where he's going, in the end, but he discovers that where he's been is not enough.

At Mule Days, there was a saddling contest, where men of all ages competed on how quickly they could saddle a horse.  An old man stepped up to a horse and prepared to saddle it, and a young man in the front of the crowd hollered out that the old man was cinching the back band wrong.  The old man never looked up.  He just quickly worked through the process of saddling the horse, and as he did he said, "Well that may be but let me show you how we did it 50 years ago before the sun had even come up."

Near the end of Far Bright Star, the central character Napoleon is trying to drive home when he happens across a farmer.  They sit around a camp fire and share a meal.

"They say the rain follows the plow," the farmer says after a time.  "But I don't believe it."

"Kind of late for not believing," Napoleon answers.

If you wait long enough, time passes everyone and everything by, unless you count knowing what you believe in.

Posted by Jack Williams at 06:00


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