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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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Ever Wonder Why So Many Cowboys Are Poets?

That was a quote I once read in a magazine.  I think I have come up with an answer: they have nothing else to do. 

When a person trots to work in the dark of morning, spends 4 hours gathering cattle and then trails them at a slow walk 4 hours back home, he has plenty of time to think.  He can consider nature’s many wonders, his partner’s methods of handling stock, his horse’s habit of spooking at his chink fringe, the stain on the inside of the front brim of his hat, the smell of sage, why knock-knock jokes are funnier at 4:30 AM at Stockmen’s, and why the boss waited until the heat of an Indian summer day to push yearlings off the mountain.

Poetry and cowboying do not harmoniously go together.  Much has been written about the mystique of the cowboy culture; the romanticism of a life untainted by cell phones and time clocks.  In reality, cowboying is a dangerous and violent occupation.  Calves get branded and wattles cut into their necks, cowboys misjudge majestic broncs get helicopter rides off the desert, the heat dehydrates and the cold frost bites. 

I cannot argue with the poetry and beauty of fancy roping, a minimal number of people handling a large number of cattle, or a pair of square-bottom chinks with long fringe keepin’ time with a horse’s stride.  But, it still seems like every part of ranch work involves a foul smell, blood, physically demanding labor, or obscene words.  Don’t get me wrong; I enjoy every bit of it. 

The unpleasantries make the lifestyle real.  None of us make it out of this world alive, and I suppose cowboys are just a little more aware of that than other folks.  Maybe that’s the poetry in it: beauty in the face of danger.

Happy Thanksgiving!

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