A Parable for Our Time

Patrick Barron, Going Postal
Nick SavchenkoLicence CC BY-SA 2.0

One of my fondest books as a child was Doctor at Timberline, by Charles Fox Gardiner. Gardiner was a doctor early in the settlement of western Colorado in the nineteenth century. Each chapter of the book is a self-contained story of his experiences of tending to the ailments of mostly men in mining towns, ranches, and lonely cabins high in the Rockies. The book was a gift from my father, who spent his teenage years before the war in Mintern, Colorado, where his father owned and ran a saloon. I passed it along to my son, who enjoyed it, too.

The book has been lost for some time. A pity, since I would love to read it out loud to my grandchildren. There is only one story that I remember distinctly. It involved taming a temperamental horse. A good horse was a very valuable property in the that era, as long as it was, shall we say, docile. This horse was not. The doctor needed the horse and, instead of trying to sell it, he decided to break its spirti.

The doctor was not a horse trainer or bronco buster, so he decided upon a plan to teach the horse who was boss. The first thing he did was separate the horse from his other horses into a small coral where the horse could not see others of his kind. He did not allow the horse out of this small coral. Then he cut the horse’s water and feed ration so drastically that the horse almost starved. Eventually the doctor slowly increased the horse’s ration, eventually leading it out of its solitary confinement to graze and to regain the remuda.

Needless to say, the doctor broke the horse’s rebellious spirit, and it became completely willing to do whatever the doctor demanded.

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