On our way home from the National Cowboy Poetry Gathering in Elko, Nevada, Robbin and I replay a collage of meaningful moments, fragments of conversations, poetry and music as we cross the Great Basin. Avoiding I-80 and Donner, taking the longer, southern route over Tehachapi instead, it has become like Groundhog Day, both coming and going over the years as we cross the pastel sagebrush expanse of the high desert.
Since 1989, I’ve watched the Gathering evolve from strictly traditional recitations to more contemporary expression rooted in a hands-on, rural ethic of the livestock culture where a man’s word is still his bond, where neighbors trade labor and the land offers a living for those tough enough to endure the whims of the weather. With more hugs than handshakes, it has become a reunion where respect remains high, but we’ve lost a few of the best along the way.
With many new faces, an obvious effort to inject some youth into the offering, it was invigorating and inspirational. Included in a great session with poets Forest VonTuyl from Oregon, Jonathon Odermann from North Dakota and singer-songwriter Tracy Morrison from Idaho, I was assured that the National Cowboy Poetry Gathering will survive with renewed energy and originality. My kudos to the staff for locating so much young talent residing in the West.
I always look forward to visiting and reading with one of my favorites, Patricia Frolander, past-Poet Laureate of Wyoming, pictured above. Robbin and I will continue to replay the moments as we get down to the business of branding calves. It’s good to be home.