Category Archives: Elko





                           And I ain’t seen the sunshine since I don’t know when
                                – Johnny Cash (“Folsom Prison Blues”)

We’ve essentially been sequestered to the house since returning from Elko, gray and rainy days—water leaking, standing, running around us, creek, once again, too high to cross in the Kubotas, nowhere for a pickup to go without tearing up the roads or getting stuck. But yesterday, the sun illuminated hillsides so green that you had to squint for a while before completely opening them. Glorious, indeed.

While inside, I’ve been trading emails with Andy Wilkinson as we work on publication of the keynote speech that he delivered at the 33rd National Cowboy Poetry Gathering, the entirety of which was his long poem “Storyline”. Perhaps it’s my hearing that tends to settle on a rhyme before the intended word, but I’ve almost always preferred poetry on the page, its presentation without distraction, words you can chew on before moving on. Listening Thursday morning in the Elko Convention Center auditorium, Andy was small and far away at the podium, the rhythm of his delivery was so musically mesmerizing, I knew I was missing words, yet caught up with his multi-faceted approach to ‘story’, the theme at Elko this year, as it related to time, science and us, but I managed to keep up with the keynote.

Downstairs from the offices of the Western Folklife Center, I ran into Andy at the Pioneer Saloon, the setting for his “Muriel Rukeyser and the Story-Time Continuum”, an essay that appeared in the Gathering’s program booklet that I hadn’t read yet. I asked Andy if would send me the text of “Storyline”—we even discussed having Dry Crik publish it.

The poem and the essay arrived Wednesday and I went to work, like a kid eager for sweet reward, on the layout, exchanging emails with Andy in Lubbock, Texas until yesterday about noon, sunshine everywhere green instead of gray. The banter of our communication was truly a dance as we discussed punctuation and space on the page, the poem and its presentation for four and a half days.

Our labor of love in the hands of cyberspace, I could stay inside no longer—grabbed the camera, got in the Kubota, and carefully traveled the pasture adjacent to the house, trying catch the freshness of the remaining spring-like day without getting stuck. Forecast for another week of rain begins Thursday. This is something!






Unfortunately, the iPhone photo doesn’t do this Elko show justice: Brigid Reedy, Kristyn Harris and Johnny ‘Guitar’ Reedy, guaranteeing some youth for the future of the Gathering.


Great Basin Revisited




Robbin and I have been crossing the Great Basin from Tonopah to Carlin in January for twenty years, choosing the longer route to Elko instead of I-99 towards Sacramento congestion and Donner Pass. Once known as the World’s Loneliest Highway, going home we met only a couple of vehicles on Highway 278 towards Eureka, Monday morning February 1st, after Sunday’s storm.

Twenty years ago, everyone waved a passing hello when meeting a vehicle on these back roads, but the habit seems to have waned in the past few years. I never fail to wonder about the first wagon crossings, the weeks it took to overcome this high desert expanse, the people, their courage and endurance, as they made the trek. How many of us today would have done as well, invested the patience and dedication to get to a place, presumably California, that they’d never seen?


February 10, 2016




Temperatures in the single digits, we left blowing snow outside Tonopah a week ago in Nevada’s Great Basin. Since we have gathered our last bunch of cows and calves to brand this morning to a forecast high of 76°. Here the hillsides are green, spattered with early patches of golden poppies and fiddleneck, as white popcorn flowers begin to creep up the lower slopes. The visual and mental contrasts from Elko to Dry Creek are startling, two different worlds either side of the Great Western Divide within a week’s time.






We leave winter’s ice and snow
on the other side of the Sierras,
find spring colors waiting,

poppies and lupine in canyons,
yellow mustard claiming gentle
slopes of green, green grass.

How we worry with the bloom,
feel the leer of summer peeking
already to forget the drought.


Independence, CA





Weekly Photo Challenge (2): “Vibrance”


Yesterday’s Eastern Sierras





Weekly Photo Challenge (1): “Vibrance”






Robbin and I have made the trek to the National Cowboy Poetry Gathering in Elko, Nevada, where we were married twenty years ago, so many times that it seems like Groundhog’s Day. We split the 720 mile trip into two days, laying over in Bishop, stopping at the same places for gas and a snack or a meal, the same motel, right down to virtually the same heavy coats and winter shoes. One almost instant replay after another.

Yet always something new, some detail or happenstance to change the course of events, to make every Gathering a little different, a little richer. This year the weather was a player.








On the wind beyond the window,
snowflakes sideways, the street
streams with white waves, riffles

on gusts colliding with vehicles
to swirl like dust on a black
river of asphalt. I am no snow man

and imagine small covies of quail
before the shotgun, before
the bobcat, before taking flight.

Feathers fly with each collision,
gather and flee downstream
as if running for their lives.


After the Gathering




Though the Gathering has evolved in many ways over the last three decades, its emotional impact on me seems always the same. The music, poetry and camaraderie of friends heightens the senses, sandpapers the synapses, to leave me vulnerable and more fragile than I’m used to. A catharsis, or cleansing that strips away my everyday defenses to become more uncomfortably human, even on stage.

In yesterday’s session with Amy and Gail Steiger, it was like getting hit by a Mack truck as I informed the audience of Amy’s accomplishments as an author of three books, winner of a Willa Cather award for the first, ‘Rightful Place’, when all the pride I felt for her stuck in my throat, leaving me helpless to speak, helpless to read the poem I dedicated to her after I finished reading ‘Winter of Beauty’. Completely surprised, I was swept up and away into a blurry sea I couldn’t navigate until Joel Nelson in the front row said, “It’s OK, John, we got all morning.”

His steady voice righted me, and after much fumbling for alternate poems, I finally read the piece. Just one of many emotional moments, and just part of Elko’s annual rejuvenation for me.

Prior to the Gathering, I was interviewed by a writer for the Smithsonian: where apparently I failed to truly express the impact of the National Cowboy Poetry Gathering on me.