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Editorial: Of Men and Manure

We who attempt to steer public discourse are often humbled as the public resists our lead. Try as we might to suggest edifying topics to reflect upon, at times the response is: oh, horse poop.

What brings this to mind is a recent lively airing of views on the Thetford listserv about the etiquette of horse manure, following a May 24 Valley News story about Chris Butler, a Thetford resident who trains wild mustangs removed from grazing lands in the West.

Butler spends considerable time bonding with the horses and rides regularly. He often, according to staff writer Aimee Caruso’s account, takes a jaunt to the grocery store. Butler has made long trips, too, once traveling 58 miles to his mother’s house in Lempster, N.H., alternating between riding and walking. He enjoys the view from a horse, and walking beside one, he said. “I like to meet people organically.”

An organic encounter of another sort prompted the listserv discussion. One poster, reacting to the Valley News story, said she appreciated the article, but wished that Butler would “pick up the large pile of horse droppings at the end of our driveway. ... Thank you in advance from the children and others who frequently walk down that side of the road.”

Then, you might say, the horse droppings hit the fan.

There followed letters applauding the poster, and quite a few defending not only the horses (they mean no disrespect, said one writer), but the droppings. “I think a fresh pile at the end of the driveway is so easy to collect and add to the compost. It’s like a gift,’’ wrote one who might be termed a poop apologist. Said another, “I have grown up with horses, and, to be blunt, I’ve never had a horse ask me for a bathroom break, nor have I ever seen anyone riding with a pooper scooper on board.”

The other side objected. “What one person finds to be a gift is for another just a big, gooey pile,’’ said one observer. Another poster held that anyone who treasured manure could obtain a horse of their own.

The discussion trotted on into familiar territory: city vs. country, a topic of continuing interest in the Upper Valley, as newcomers are blamed for bringing city ways to rural towns. It is said that they want roads paved, schools expanded and manure spread on cropland only when breezes won’t carry the smell their way. This stereotype is an exaggeration, of course, since most newcomers try to fit in and remain quiet at Town Meeting for a decent interval until they get the drift of things. In a couple of generations, the newcomers’ descendants will complain about city folk and their flying cars or whatever miracles Google unleashes.

Readers might think we are sidestepping the real matter at hand, the debate over unsolicited droppings. Well, yes, we are. This is a matter for local sensibilities, and we are not going to step in it.