Tag Archives: Elko




How I welcome winter now
as the sun slides south
towards Arizona,
towards old friends
that graze red rockpiles
we will meet in Nevada—
too far away to worry,
livestock on its own.

I can hear the harmonies
reverberate, cat gut
atop thin slices of spruce
from Canada—I feel
my heart lift away
from the maladies
our fears and guilt have made

How I welcome winter’s
gathering, branding smoke
on weather-slick roads,
bull-stretched fences
and dear neighbors
gearing up-for one last holler
to all the gods
that have sustained us.


From Benton, CA




Heading into Bishop on our way home from Elko, Monday afternoon, the east side of the Great Western Divide shimmered with luxurious snow while it was storming on the other side, against the western slope of the Sierra Nevada mountains and foothills. By the time we made it home on Tuesday, the rain was finishing up, 1.22″ in the gauge as the creek was gaining momentum from the four-plus inches upstream, from its low-elevation headwaters less than 20 miles away. The foothills are saturated, every crease and crevice now collecting every drop of rain to send downstream. Roads are closed, creeks and streams flooding, dams failing.

Fast-forward to Thursday night, another warm, pineapple express will arrive here, forecast to bring another 1.5″ of rain, and who knows how much precipitation at the higher elevations that may also reduce our existing snowpack. This is not a part of our historic 4-year drought; the pendulum has swung to the other extreme.

“Story” was the story, the theme at Elko this year, kicked off by Andy Wilkinson’s spellbinding, poetic keynote address last Thursday morning entitled “Storyline”. With offerings more diverse than ever before, audio, video and all forms of visual art blended well with the poetry and music. I’ve maintained for years that the keynote address sets the tone for the Gathering, but never more true than this year. Currently sequestered inside with current weather conditions and the near-term wet forecast, Dry Crik Press is working with Andy Wilkinson to reprint “Storyline” in chapbook form.

Meanwhile back at the ranch it’s a warm 72 degrees as we batten down the hatches in preparation for Thursday.


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?






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.








Like scattered birds, they circle back
hovering, fragments of faces, bits
of song fluttering and floating before me,

moments searching for a place to roost
within memory. Some high and bold
on bare branches singing yet, singing

always, while others light behind
a rustling wall of leaves to build nests,
mate and incubate quietly within me.


Ramblin’ Jack



I’ll be thinking of my friend Jack this coming week in Elko, Nevada, one of the first hands I shook at the National Cowboy Poetry Gathering in 1989, as we waited to get our schedule of sessions, poetry and song. I had to introduce myself, having watched him perform at the Ashgrove many times in the late 60s. Our direct link to Woody Guthrie and the pure heart of the working man, he’s been magically expressing himself on stage for over 60 years.



WPC — “Express Yourself”



                                A rattlesnake coils among cold stones,
                                full of mice, waits for evening
                                when he will hunt again.

                                               – Linda M. Hasselstrom (“Morning News
                                                                    on Windbreak Road”)

No feast on Dry Creek, no dance among the trees –
no amount of words rhymed with earth will change
the arrogance of men primping in the light.

We do not breathe by their generosity, nor believe
they may, someday, be gods – saviors of a nation
always at war with what it can’t comprehend.

We have forgotten, perhaps we never heard
the silent mantra of the harvest strum in our heads –
hands busy, bodies bent, genuflecting in the dirt.

Or been of a tribe of men, women and communities
that still rise to raise a glass to that great expanse
that feeds us all we need, sparingly. Riding out

alone, do you remember conversations with living
and dead? Did you mark the granite outcrop,
hang words in an oak tree, or just let them loose

on a hawk’s wing? If only Jeffers’ perch-mates,
power and desire – not greed – might roost in
Washington, we’d dedicate his fountain to humanity.

*               *               *               *               *               *               *               *

As the dust settles, I am reminded of Andy Warhol’s famous ’15 minutes of fame’ quote in 1968 after the hullabaloo of the recent NY Times’ piece,
‘For Cowboy Poets, Unwelcome Spotlight in Battle Over Spending’
Dry Crik Journal received nearly 4,000 visits and 14 assorted comments in the 3 days following. Not unwelcome because that’s what we’ve been about here, sharing, trying to offer glimpses of a grounded way of life that we think consists of a bit more than what’s assumed by the majority. The referenced Robinson Jeffer’s poem: ‘THE EXCESSES OF GOD’ is worth a read, wonderfully applicable. Linda Hasselstrom’s poem is forthcoming from Dry Crik Review.


Robbin and I are finally home from Elko, taking the two-day, long way across the Great Basin to reflect and recuperate from too much fun with old and new friends – the special reunion that the Gathering has become beneath the multifaceted offerings on its many venues. When I first arrived in 1989, it was pretty much traditional recitations with very little contemporary expression – half-dozen books for sale – but there was an amazing ‘lost and found’ camaraderie that inspired us all and sparked similar gatherings all around a disjointed, cowboy West of those days.

Mediums of contemporary expression are as varied as technology will allow today, going well-beyond its poetic beginnings, an explosion of all kinds of art, music and video as Cowboy Poetry has evolved, trying, I think, to offer and reaffirm an ethic common to us all, apart from the uneasy business of media hysterics. Breakfast with the Hungarians Monday morning, before the Gathering got into full swing, confirmed to us that this ethic is not limited to the American West, or to the U.S., as we discussed the details of annual and perennial grasses via Agnes Kemecsei, the translator. Jammed around a table in a corner of the Stockman’s coffee shop, the air was thick – and I was reminded of that camaraderie back in 1989, that shared feeling of finding others whose livelihoods depended on grass, who also took care of livestock. It was a wonderful beginning to the Gathering for us.

The rest is, of course, a blur with too little sleep – serendipitous highlights and diversions – ample inspiration for another year to be sure.


Dear Linda, I think of you driving nights
between snow banks, long distances
between farm house lights and little
towns flickering ahead – I think of resolve
to turn a word to fit the truth, hard facts
that wear the heart smooth and bodies out.
I think of you peering under the corral boards,
the love and fear of it, graphic words
jumping off your tongue on their own.
We could make a movie together, gray
reflections in the middle of nowhere,
turning the barnyard upside down
for another look at the world, another
look at why we’re here, at why a life
without some small purpose beyond ourselves –
a waste of time and flesh – better fertilizer
on the prairie to be blown to another place.
Meet you in Elko to read some poetry –
separated by soothing melodies, the cloak
of the old songs, guitars and accordion
to keep us warm. Looking forward, John.