How I welcome winter now
as the sun slides south
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,
and dear neighbors
gearing up-for one last holler
to all the gods
that have sustained us.
This iPhone photo inexplicably popped-up on my computer this morning, reminding me of how much fun we had in Elko for the National Cowboy Poetry Gathering.
It’s been 6 days since any rain and the ground is drying out in places. We crossed the creek yesterday in the Kubota, 175 cfs, water in the floorboards. It’s time to go to work.
Familiar faces gather,
make camp where it’s warm
in the middle of Nowhere,
Nevada for a song
before the winter sun sets
and the lights come on.
It’s been years since we’ve seen much snow in the Great Basin, and despite its potential hazards and inconvenience, it’s a heartening sign of better health. January is a time of daily feeding for cattle ranchers in Nevada with temperatures hovering around zero — a pretty tough breed of man and beast!
Following fifty tons
through light showers
big alfalfa bales
towards our dry
we focus on raindrops
after a week of poetry
and song, to feel
our poor possibilities
grow by the truckload—
heavy with an endless
emptiness in our bellies
beneath the straps
of seat belts
before another wreck.
We hang on.
With a leisurely, late start from Elko, we encountered a few midday showers Monday, crossing Nevada’s Great Basin between Carlin and Tonopah, making for some interesting high-speed photos with the point and shoot.
Under a dark cloud outside Eureka, a blurry foreground beneath a crisp Lone Mountain on the ‘Lonliest Road in America’ (US 50).
Hay headed to dry California.
We stopped for a bowl of soup at the refurbished and reopened Mizpah in Tonopah,
then headed into to the sunset towards Bishop.
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.
Not wind through willow limbs that sing of rooted past,
but our first tunes, drummed upon catgut strings, cast
beyond early stirrings searching words to fit a melody
of earthly work, we find a moment’s worth of immortality.
I was so happy to see Ramblin’ Jack Elliott last night after the full house, Baja California show concluded that I rather rudely interrupted his conversation with a young lady to shake his hand for a quick hello. I caught up with her later to apologize, only to learn that she was a reporter for Reuters looking for a real cowboy poet.
The Poetry Gathering won’t officially begin until Thursday, and few of us are here yet, but Robbin and I come early to acclimate and set up camp in our motel room. Looking at my Giants hat, she didn’t believe me when I told her I was one.
Try as I might to break free of the urban stereotype, the ensuing interview and conversation confirmed so many misconceptions about our livestock culture that I was somewhat dismayed, even frustrated at times trying to explain that we’re not all Republicans, not all isolated from the rest of the world in a mythical West — that there is a difference between dairy and beef cattle.
The interview concluded where it should have begun, that we, just like the livestock culture of the Baja Californians, are land based, our physical and mental health dependent upon the health of the land and our cattle. We are not looking to blame the current drought in the American Southwest on Global Warming or the tsunami in Japan, nor are we looking to US politics for drought relief. As a self-reliant bunch, we try to solve problems, working with the current drought the best we can.
I probably didn’t change her mind much, but that’s what the National Cowboy Poetry Gathering is all about, offering varied perspectives to help bridge the gap between the range livestock culture and the urban majority — it’s not all in a hat.
It was good to see the historic Mizpah Hotel open for business again in Tonopah, Nevada when we passed through Sunday on our way to Elko. Traffic was light across the Great Basin, as we only met 74 cars between Tonopah and Carlin, some 250 miles.