At 30,000 feet Jimmy Ray of Prairie Grove spilled his Wranglers, chip-kickers, and conversation into the aisle. I was reading the July Harper’s magazine. The cover read “Broken Heartland.” Jimmy leaned across the aisle and introduced himself. Was I working on some kind of school project or something, he asked, and was that a liberal rag or a conservative one? I rattled the melting ice in my Delta cup, told him I’d long since quit the schooling business and I couldn’t attest to Harper’s politics, which both surprised and satisfied him.
It’s probably liberal, he said.
Jimmy tore the tin foil package of salted Delta peanuts and said that Harper’s orghta visit an Arkansas cattle farm this year if they wanted to know something about being broke. The drought’s been on, he said, and he with hay is king. Jimmy didn’t have enough hay, so his wife kept reminding him that he was not a king.
Jimmy laughed self-deprecatingly.
Where you coming from, I asked. Portland, Or-eh-gone, he said. I ain’t seen that much rain or that many hippies since Forest Gump; rains every day in up in Or-eh-gone. Then he said he’d kill himself if he had to live near all them Patchouli-wear’n, bicycle commute’n, rain drenched hippies. They just end up smelling like wet dogs. The irony, he said, was that he and his new angus calf would readily kill for a few weeks of rain in Prairie Grove.
Give or take the hippies.
He’d calved too early this year, right in the middle of the drought and the ribs of his youngest heifer were visible. She’s flirting with starvation so they’d been bottle feeding her. If she makes it, Jimmy said they’d have to keep her as a pet. That’ll be a sore loss, indeed. His face broke wide into the smile of a old-timey cattle salesman.
I’m nothing if not a softy at heart, he said.
I looked out the window and every square inch of grass was the color of Carhartt overalls. I thought of that song from Catholic school, the one wherein a singular spark gets a fire going. I imagined an apocalyptic inferno engulfing Arkansas, Missouri, and Oklahoma, then I whispered a prayer for John and his friends in Colorado.
That’s when I saw it.
There was a road stretching northward across the great plains. Its straight spine split into a T, giving the allusion of two outstretched arms. Just above the T was a perfectly round cattle pond. Along the spine of the road were 8 chicken houses, four on either side. The ribs of this industrial skeletal sketching were rudimentary, but from 30,000 feet things seem much more clear.
The citizens of the heartland, we are dry. But we’re still here. God as my witness.
Thanks for joining me in this experiment in dialogue. And, by-the-way, I linked out to John’s place because he’s been crushing it lately. Yes… there are more of us than you think.