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Cowboy Poetry Craziness

Another National Cowboy Poetry Gathering has come and gone, taking with it the crowds wearing purple hats, prairie skirts, spurs (??) and obscene amounts of leather fringe.  It is now safe to eat at JR’s in a flat hat and not have tourists wearing bolo ties nod their slouch felt hat in your direction in a tacit “Howdy, pardner.”

  My cowboy compadres, I must report that according to the Poetry People’s attire, you are not fashionable unless you are sporting a silver-engraved scarf slide that could double as a post horn cap.  Poetry People own expensive handmade western jewelry, custom hats, high-top lace-up boots rarely seen outside of 1800s tintypes, hat bands adorned with beads/hitched horsehair/conchos/tassles/all of the above, and riatas.  They display all these items on their persons at all times when walking down Commercial Street hoping to catch a glimpse of Michael Martin Murphy.

I missed MMM, but I was lucky enough to score front row seats to Baxter Black.  That pretty much made my Poetry week!  I have long been a fan of his talented, witty, insightful writing, and was thrilled to discover BB is even funnier in live performance.  The man has a theatrical, dry, genuine manner, timing the pauses in his delivery to perfectly crack up the audience right on cue.  I loved every minute. 

I enjoyed the Milner family’s music and storytelling, even though they’re from Oklahoma.  I visited with Chuck Milner after his show, and it turns out we know several of the same people from Texas.  My favorite CM song lyric: “I went to town and signed another note/The bank’s got plenty of money/It’s been three years since they went broke.”  Great guy, and a Christian to boot.  I highly recommend his down-to-earth, wholesome, hilarious entertainment.

The Midnight Dance played by Corb Lund and the Hurtin’ Albertans was terrific.  I smoked a delicious vanilla cigar (thanks, John!), sipped some gin and tonic, and spun around the hardwood with some skilled leaders.  I narrowly avoided bodily injury when Malachi decided to use my body as a human missle, launching me into unsuspecting fellow dancers, but there may be a small dent in the wall by the Stockmen’s dance floor.

My dad and stepmom stayed with me for several days, so that was fun.  This is the first time I’ve had a really nice house to play hostess in, one that smells nice and doesn’t have mice running across the beds at night.  I think the change was appreciated by all.

I was fortunate enough to hang out with 6 top saddlemakers (Gaylerd Thissell, Doug Krause, Andy Stevens, Bob Park, Steven Mecum and Don Butler) for a few days in pursuit of a story.  That’s the best part of journalism; writing a story gives me free rein to ask interesting people all kinds of nosy questions.  I learned a ton and can’t wait to put my new knowledge into an article and share it!

Sorry if this post is marked by a distinct lack of smooth transitions between topics.  I stayed up until 4 AM and woke up at 7. 

All in all, a good week for visiting family, meeting new people, enjoying some smooth guitar-pickin’, and advancing my freelance writing career.  Now, the pressure’s on: I only have 365 days to find a purple hat.

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The Cow Town Of Elko…

I heart Elko, Nevada.  I work at JM Capriola’s, and hear conversations like this:

Clerk to shopping buckaroos: “How about some speed burners?”
Buckaroo #1: “What do I need those for?  I never catch”
Buckaroo #2: “At least you could see your rope in the fog”

Customers come in and discuss who got bucked off a gentle horse, who got canned at which big outfit, how much snow is piled up on Lamoille Pass, and the cattle market as it applies to one’s ability to buy Christmas presents.  Area ranchers use Cap’s as an exchange point.  We recently held half a dozen pies and a plastic pumpkin full of Halloween decorations behind the counter awaiting pickup. 

A pipe line worker’s wife came into the store at Thanksgiving and marveled that we didn’t have a shopping mall.  She’s right!  By golly, how can a town survive in contemporary times without a regular mall?!  Elko boasts 5 western wear and feed stores, however.  I guess that tells a person where the citizens’ interests lie. 

It seems Elko is 4 hours from anywhere.  It’s a 4-hour drive to Boise, Reno, and Salt Lake City.  But then to others, we ARE the destination.  People drive over from Winnemucca to purchase items stocked at our Wal-Mart that they can’t find at theirs.  To folks in Tuscarora (both of them), Elko is a roaring metropolis.  When I’m at home at night, I look a couple miles down the hill to Elko and see a basin full of twinkling lights.  It’s just the right amount of lights; they have a definite visible boundary, and the hills to the east and west swallow them up.

Yesterday, Allie came home and asked if I’d noticed the smell of propane wafting around the county.  I guess there’s been a gas leak for a few days now, and no one knows what’s causing it.  I wasn’t concerned, though.  This is Elko – it’s just a little rough.  The miners and cowboys who frequent this town boldly look a woman up and down in broad daylight, you can play the slot machines at any grocery store, the smell of cigarette smoke in the casinos will make you sick the next day, and washing clothes at the laundromat takes courage. 

I read in the Elko Daily Free Press today that Elko county reported no new murder cases for 2010.  See?  It’s a friendly place.  A person might be scared half to death at times, but you won’t be all the way dead 🙂

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Cowboy Cadillac

I put Brenn Hill’s CD on repeat today at work, and thoroughly enjoyed his “Cowboy Cadillac” song about an old rusty flatbed with four bald tires and new spark plug wires.  I really dig his voice!  It’s smoother than a brand-new pair of Bill McDonald chinks.

My absolute favorite pickup EVER is a late 90s Ford F-250 extended cab long bed, with running boards and a manual transmission.  A cracked windshield is optional, but I prefer uncracked.  This might be my fave pickup because it’s my dad’s and the one I learned to drive in, or maybe it’s because those things are dang tough and virtually indestructible.  (Unless Oliver drives it….then it’s guaranteed totaled within 36 hours)

I have always been attracted to men in old beater pickups.  When I get in a rig and he has to move aside a holey Carhartt, fencin’ pliers, electrical tape, an empty engine oil jug and a piggin’ string, I feel right at home.  Reminds me of driving to the Shasta Valley sale yard with my dad when I was six years old in our old rickety cattle truck. 

The smell of grease, leather, dirt and unidentified vaccine makes me want to close my eyes and inhale.  It smells like workin’ men!  I don’t get the craze over vanilla air fresheners and leather seats.  Leather is cold in the winter, hot in the summer, and expensive.  Great.  An air freshener in the vehicle of the people I run around with would be a conversation piece, if anyone could find it amongst the junk – I mean tools – in the cab. 

All those tools are usually necessary at some point in a rural driving adventure.  Setting out on a Nevada dirt road without a tire iron and jack would be like saying, “Hey, guys, let’s go bear hunting with a sling shot.”  You know you’re going to get a flat at some point; better be prepared.

After he bought me dinner with the tip he got for trimming a horse (yeah, farriers get tips???  who knew?), an Oregon cowboy asked me to slide over to the driver’s seat and turn the key when he hollered from underneath the hood, where he was performing some feat of amateur mechanickin’.  I smiled and happily obliged.

I’m making it sound like the less able a man is to buy a running vehicle, the more I like him.  Not quite true.  I appreciate reliable wheels, I just think too many guys buy big fancy rigs on credit and then say, “Oh, I can’t go cowboy, I have too many bills.”  I admire a man who works the job he loves and drives a vehicle he can afford.  The smell of exhaust in the cab is just a bonus 🙂

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Cowboy Church

Since it’s Sunday and all, I decided to post my notes from Corey Ross’ cowboy church service the first Sunday of the NFR, held in the arena at Mandalay Bay.  He is a talented singer/preacher from Texas, and delivered a sermon to a sizeable crowd including the deMoss brothers of saddle bronc riding notoriety.

-it’s ok to get called names (goody two shoes, holier-than-thou, etc.) for living your faith
         -if you truly think you’re holier than thou, check your motives, but if your heart is for God, ignore the insults

-takes boldness and heart to proclaim God is Lord and that we love Jesus to others, esp. in un-godly locales (like Vegas)
         -takes boldness to change and say “parties don’t move me anymore; I’m moved by Bible”

-we better guard our ears against words that can enter and tear us down if we take them to heart

-in the Old Testament times, common folk couldn’t approach throne of God; Jesus died so we can

-going to take boldness to say no to sin
        -if it’s difficult, means I’m on the right track
        -can’t live one way sometimes and another way other time (Matthew 6:33)

-joy of the Lord produces strength

-there are people that want us to not serve the Lord
       -just being realistic: the devil is always out to get us
       -enemy comes for us when we are give-out tired (haha, good Texas phrase!) and weak for the fight

-Jesus didn’t back down or relent when under attack for God

-takes boldness to live by the Bible and not let the world tell us how to live

4 ways to do this:

1)  Speak the Word
      -be imitators of Jesus

2)   Find some agreement
       -watch out for friends who try to draw you the other way

3)   Get out of fear
       -Hebrews 11:1
       -opposite of faith is fear
      -we live in economy of God, not world; financial troubles shouldn’t scare us

4)   Don’t quit
      -don’t quit no matter what anyone else might say
      -when I continue on in faith, there is no devil that can stop me from succeeding in God
      -be a doer, not just a hearer of God’s Word
      -don’t let anyone, including self, tell me I am done
                  -do my part and press on
       -boldly start over as many times as necessary

-if I lack wisdom, ask God and He will give it liberally

Hope these deliver a little faith uplift to someone!   Sure was a good service.  On the back of one guy’s shirt were the words “I Am Second.”  Pretty cool for an NFR-qualifier to sport that, don’t ya think?  Good to know God is cool for rodeo cowboys, too.  Keep the faith! 🙂

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Stickmanship

I was just watching an RFDTV horse training show.  I just love comedies!  This fellow had a packed auditorium and a shiny sorrel mare on the end of an expensive piece of boat rope.  He seemed to thoroughly enjoy vigorously tapping that stick against the ground, the horse, the ground, the horse, etc. 

He said “My number one goal in horse training is to not get killed.”  Really?  Have we set the bar that low?  Has ‘making my horse’s feet become my feet’ been replaced by mere survival?  I realize his remark was partly in jest, but the entire crowd loudly applauded when his horse cocked one hind foot and relaxed.  I actually laughed out loud.  Horses also cock a hind leg when they’re bored or tired.  You know how everyone in the natural horsemanship movement makes such a big deal out of a horse’s licking and chewing?  Well, if you kick your horse in the belly repeatedly and then stop, chances are you’ll achieve the same effect.  Just sayin’.

I would have been more impressed if this chap had been working with a rank horse.  The shiny sorrel mare was wearing splint boots and her flanks were brushed clean.  It was like cheating.  Anyone can hit a gentle horse in the butt with a stick until it moves its hindquarters!  Let’s see him catch a four-year-old Spanish Ranch colt on a brisk fall morning, eh?  His number one goal might be more applicable then.

When did sticks become so in vogue for horse people?  If this information took root, it could devastate the fiberglass industry, so shhhhh, don’t tell: sticks aren’t really necessary.  The Comanches of nineteenth-century horsemanship fame managed to hunt buffalo hanging off one side of their ponies and shooting arrows under their necks without even Ariat boots, much less the proper color of savvy string.  Ranch kids have been getting pretty far with a hand-me-down saddle and a nylon web halter. 

People seem ready to write checks to acquire the “proper tools” such as instructional DVD’s, halters, round pens, treeless saddles, and of course lots of sticks.  To the detriment of their horsemanship, they overlook the most basic element: what’s between their own ears.  Seek knowledge and experience, folks, and save your money.  Trust me, you’ll have plenty of opportunities to spend it.  Even the most stick-broke horses colic, get tangled up in wire fences, and need shoes.  Do yourself and your horse a favor and spend time observing what happens when you do such-and-such.  Was it the intended result?  Okay, now do something different.  What happened then?

Horsemanship is a thinkin’ man’s game.  A great quote from the late great Bill Dorrance.  Now, which level of which clinician’s horsemanship classificiation system did he make it?  I just can’t remember….

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Far From Town

How far away from town do I want to live?  1876.  Okay, I guess that’s not possible, so I’ll settle for an hour and a half.  Or, in Eastern Oregon driving directions “Three beers and turn left.”

I always get to thinkin’ that the 1800s would have been the ideal time period.  No cell phones (I have a current fantasy of throwing mine into a creek), no fences (I want to be able to ride as far as I can see), no zoning restrictions or building codes (I’m not much with a hammer and nails, but it just seems nice to be able to build things at will), and no Wal-Mart.  There is the flip side, of course: people died of the flu, women had no pain meds during childbirth, fresh fruit in the off season just didn’t exist for the common person, and a ripe old age was 42.

I guess people in the 1800s didn’t spend all their time sitting around campfires playing the fiddle and scraping together $2.50 to buy Ma a new bolt of fabric for Christmas.  She probably then had to make the entire family a year’s worth of clothing from the fabric.  I secretly like the thought that it took all day to make the twenty-mile journey to town to buy the fabric, though.  Ahorseback is my favorite mode of transporation.  Trotting away from the barn in the morning is the best part of the day, with trotting back to the barn in the afternoon a close second.  All the trotting that occurs in between is pretty sweet, too.

Living far from town where trotting lots of miles is a necessity and not a weekend trail ride, a person sure learns to be independent.  What do you do with no cell service?  You learn to think and solve your own dang problems.  You get good, clear directions before you are dropped off on your circle.  You sit and think a spell, a rare and antiquated pasttime in today’s info-in-an-instant world of high-speed Internet, OnStar roadside assistance, and GPS systems that tell you where to turn.  Just to be a rebel, I tape a map to my dashboard and figure out my own route.  I’m frequently lost, but that’s okay.  I have plenty of Ian Tyson CD’s and I’m not afraid to put ’em on repeat.

Yeesh, I keep sitting down to write something quiet and contemplative, reflect on the rural ranching lifestyle, then find myself on a tirade against technology.  Yet here I am, typing my thoughts to the world wide web, hoping people will read and relate and thus advance my writing career.  Maybe that’s why I’m out of sorts: I like being isolated and far from town, but to survive in today’s world, we have to be connected and up-to-speed with technology.  Okay, I’ll go with it for a while, but as soon as I get established for a while someplace and have a landline, that cell phone is going into the creek.

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Jingle Bobs

Dashing through the sage,
On a full-mouthed snaffle bitter,
His mouth is gaping wide,
He rides just like a shitter!
Hooves on rock piles clack,
Making sparks so bright.
What fun it is to doctor
Cut-up horse legs late at night!

Oh, jingle bobs, jingle bobs,
Jingle all the way!
Oh, what fun it is to ride
A jug-headed horse all day!

 

A day or two ago
I thought I’d take a ride
And soon a handsome cowboy
Was ridin’ by my side.
His horse was tough and rank,
Mine was lean and quick,
I looked over at his headstall,
Feelin’ pretty slick.

I reined my pony closer,
Batted lashes ‘neath my brim,
Reached up and pulled that bridle off,
Then spurred away from him.
But first I warmed his horse’s rump
With the tail end of my McCarty,
Then I rode off and watched the show,
And clapped my hands with glee!

Oh, jingle bobs, jingle bobs,
Jingle all the way!
Oh, what fun it is to ride
A jug-headed horse all day!

I guess I can file lyrics like this under “Reasons Why I Will Be Single Forever” lol.  I’m pickin’ on the boys here, but only ’cause they’re always pickin’ on me!  Merry Christmas 🙂

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Texas Truce

I’m not a big shopper, since I habitually squander my paycheck on rent and groceries, so I contented myself with people watching at the trade show.  It seemed like cowboys, who are traditionally divided by region and differing methods, called a truce at the NFR and everyone got along.  There wasn’t so much “You rope tied on?  Loser!” and “Who can wear a flat hat and take themselves seriously?”  Guys with cutter creases in their lids said “ya’ll” and partied with buckaroos who looked uncomfortable in crowds. 

The girls in my usual crowd wear Cruel Girl jeans, t-shirts and moccasins to go out on the town.  At first, I was a little taken aback by the Texas girls who wore dangly silver earrings, necklaces that weighed more than a monel stirrup and heels to take out the trash.  But you know what?  They smiled and held the door open for me when I had hands full with merchandise from the booth.  They asked me, “How is y’all’s booth doin’ this year?”  and loaned us Windex and paper towels to clean the jewlery case. 

Most of the people I met were from Texas, which I suppose is statistically inevitable, since it is a huge state and all.  I met a guy named Casey who knew my boss and roommate from when I rode cutters near Abilene.  The horse world isn’t so big. 

I really enjoyed Teskey’s enormous booth.  They’re like the cowboy superstore of Texas, and we somehow always found a reason to stop in whenever we were anywhere in the vicinity of Weatherford.  Whether we took a horse to the vet, picked him up four hours later, drove to Fort Worth to show a horse to a buyer, went to McDonald’s for lunch or Allsup’s for fuel, we always stopped in to see what Michael Teskey had for sale.  I was pretty homesick one day and spotted the only slick fork saddle in the state among the hundreds of kacks at Teskey’s, so I traded for it and still ride it today. 

I crack a lot of jokes about Texas, but I really do miss the state.  I enjoyed riding around with Ben in his flatbed, checking hog traps on the border of the mesquite trees by the oat field.  I’d cross my legs underneath myself in the passenger seat, roll down the window to let in the late afternoon sunshine and we’d listen to Reckless Kelly (“My first love was a wicked twisted road/I hit the million mile mark at seventeen years old….”).

Texas music is pretty much amazing.  You can’t buy albums by Stoney LaRue (“Tell me that you love me/If it’s true/I don’t want no one babe/If I can’t have you”) Cross Canadian Ragweed, the Bart Crow Band (“Yeah I waste my time/And I waste my money/On a broken dream/’Cause you wouldn’t wear my ring/Baby give me back my ring”) and Jason Boland and the Stragglers (“Cheap bourbon whiskey and pearl snap shirts/Are two things that stay the same/So when the world is spinnin’ and your head hurts……”) outside of the Lone Star state.  Their radio stations beat the Levi’s off ours, I’ll tell ya that much.

Here I am, gettin’ all misty-eyed about a state I left and said I’ll never return, but there were plenty of positive aspects about Texas.  I learned to be more open-minded (I just hide it well) and that good people live all over this huge country.  I made a good friend who hugged me when a boy bruised my heart and went hog ropin’.  I like the Texas philosphy for bronk ridin’ and life: Git behind your swells and hope for the best.  Yeahhhh……

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Dancing At The Finals

Good bands were absolutely everywhere during the Finals! With no cover charges, some high-quality boot stompin’ could be enjoyed for free. After the third go-round buckle presentation on Saturday night at South Point, we danced until 3 AM.

As Christa and I made our way to the packed dance floor I said, “Let’s dance one song together, and I bet we’ll have partners by the next one.”

I was wrong. We didn’t last half a song before we were snatched up by a dark-haired guy with a mustache and a guy in a straw hat named Clarence. I adhere to a personal rule of never turning down an invitation to dance, unless he is 1) old and sleazy, or 2) way past drunk and possibly a danger to my health if he misjudges a dip. Whenever a guy approached our table of girls and asked a general, “Would any of you ladies like to dance?” I gave my friends approximately three seconds to respond before I jumped up and said “Yes!”

Dancing with new partners improves my horsemanship. Both require timing, feel and balance. Learning to adjust to the cues of a brand-new leader sensitizes my ability to feel and respond to my horse. It’s communicating without speaking. The occasional “Ouch, you ninny, that was my foot,” is a sentiment applicable to both activities.

I took a break and observed the other dancers at South Point. Texas two-steppers took the outside circle of the dance floor, his hand on her shoulder and her arm around his waist. West coast-style swing dancers occupied the middle, doing the pretzel and lots of spins. Big, strong guys flipped girls in boots over their arms, pretty much carving out a spot wherever they were. There’s something about a pair of nipped toe Luccheses coming at a person that makes ’em show some respect and yield.

The dancing reminded me of the good ole days in Chico, when we’d hear a lively song on the radio at house parties and suddenly the couch and kitchen chairs were empty. Good to know there are enthusiastic, skilled dancers all across the country.

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Checking Out Cowboys

Some girls look for a man with a warm smile, nice eyes, buff biceps or trendy clothes.  I size a man up by the shape of his hat.  Is the brim taco-ed like a Texan?  Does he look Amish?  Does his hat say “Hi, I’m a bull rider” or “This is fresh from a Stetson box and I have no idea how to shape the brim”? 

Bound edge or plain, it doesn’t matter.  A custom hat can either tell the world “I have way too much money,” “I take pride in my working gear,” or “What the hell, it’s only half a month’s paycheck.  I’m buyin’ the next round!”  Hat color doesn’t really say too much about a person.  Well, I guess a purple lid might be a little too colorful for me, but black, brown or silverbelly….it’s sixes.

I don’t look too much at the rest of a guy’s outfit.  Okay, I suppose I look at his jeans…and shirt, belt and boots.  Oh, and does he have a little piece of leather ran through his belt loop and holding his pocketknife?  Cuffed Levi’s are kind of neat and old-timey looking.  Wild rags are a total wild card, because I’ve learned there is no pattern, rhyme or reason to which type of guy wears which kind of scarf.  It’s not as simple as “Oh, paisley – he must be a good one” or “Polka dots?  Forget him.” 

A feller’s driver’s license is a telltale sign of what he’s all about.  If he’s a Californian in Jordan Valley for one weekend in May and slips his arm around your waist after the dance, he’s probably got something else on his mind besides horse roping.  If he’s a Texan and asks you to dance, prepare to two-step.  If he’s an Elko County-an, anything goes….he might buy you dinner at The Star and not even kiss you good-night, search his pockets for a diamond ring when you say you can shoe a horse, or invite you to his brother’s wedding, where you will wear a pink leather miniskirt and arrive on a motorcycle.  You just can’t know.

This was kind of fun.  I feel like Taylor Swift, except not so blond and cat-like.  Plus, I’m not rich and famous, a trend that is likely to continue as long as I remain in the cowboy world.  I’ll settle for impoverished and in good company, checking out hat shapes 🙂

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