Sunday, December 27, 2009

I've been learning more about cowboys lately...

I’ve been learnin’ more about cowboys lately, cowgirls, too, I should add, from cowboy boots to cowboy poetry. There’s a cowboy poetry gathering about to take place: the 26th National Cowboy Poetry Gathering will take place January 23-30, 2010 in Elko, Nevada. Baxter Black is one of the “cowboy poets” who’ll be there. There’ll be plenty of “cowgirl” poets, too. Famous women I’ve never heard of: Yvonne Hollenbeck and Linda Kirkpatrick among others. Dozens of cowpoets will be there celebrating their heritage. According to an on-line encyclopedia, "cowboy" is a term common throughout the west and particularly in the Great Plains and Rocky Mountains, "Buckaroo" is used primarily in the Great Basin and California, and "cowpuncher" mostly in Texas and surrounding states.

There’s plenty of folklore to go around. Pecos Bill and Cowboy Jack and Annie Oakley, and Buffalo Bill and Wyatt Earp and Calamity Jane and Sweet Betsy from Pike. When I played in the Nebraska Wind Symphony, we played the John Williams score for the movie “The Cowboys” at one concert. That was a fun piece to play. Fast moving like river rapids and wild running horses and slow melodic phrases like the meandering streams of the west. What a great piece of music. Playing Aaron Copland hoe downs and rodeos are another piece of my cowboy education. And watching westerns on TV as a kid: The Lone Ranger, Roy Rogers and Dale Evans, Maverick, and Have Gun Will Travel, and Gunsmoke, and Bonanza, and many many more. I teach an essay by Tobias Wolff in my English composition classes of the importance of owning a gun for a kid in the west, “On Being a Real Westerner.” And the movies and literature are marvelous: from “How the West Was Won” to “Little Big Man” and from Mark Twain’s “Roughin’ It” to Larry McMurtry’s “Lonesome Dove.”

In my later professional career as a union organizer, I even attempted to “organize” cowboys, once. Several years ago, a few Brand Inspectors were interested in organizing – it was like trying to herd cats. These guys were mostly ranchers who did brand inspection at cattle sales. Cows are a “herd” animal: cowboys aren’t. There’s a rugged individualism that runs contrary to “collective” action. Don’t fence me in. Go to YouTube and paste in Roy Rogers and The Sons of the Pioneers singing their version of Don’t Fence Me In at The Hollywood Canteen. Pretty cool. Fences were originally anathema to the west: the fence cutter wars between farmers and ranchers come to mind. Eventually, the “fencers” won that war. There’s even a barbed wire museum in La Crosse, Kansas. There were other “wars” too, not even considering the “wars” against the native populations; i.e., the Johnson County Wars in Wyoming that led to the writing of “Shane,” later made into a movie.

I lived Sheridan, Wyoming in the middle to late 1950’s. And cowboys were everywhere. That was before it was such a big coal town. I sold popcorn at summer rodeos in town one year, might have been 1958 and saw a guy break his collar bone riding a bucking bronco. “All American Days” is what I remember it was called.

People ranched around there and of course wore cowboy boots. And there’s a science to cowboy boot design: narrow toes to find the stirrup holes quickly, high heels to stop the boot from sliding through the stirrup endangering the rider, high leather uppers to protect from everything from brush to rattlesnake bites. They’re made of cow leather or more exotic leathers: alligator, snake, ostrich, lizard, eel, elephant, sting ray, elk, buffalo, and the like. I had a pair when I was about 10 or so, but I wore the heel out in an odd way so my foot turned at an awkward angle and my mother vowed never to buy me another pair. Every cowboy I’ve ever seen walks funny from all that riding so the odd angle seems more natural. If “bow-legged” can be more natural, that is.

So with this sparse and meager cowboy background, I’ve painted some “cowboy” boots for my own “cowgirl” who lived on her family’s ranch, Wearin Brothers Cattle Co., for a while, and now rides her Boogy around her family farms in the summertime in Iowa and gets up early in the winter and trudges through the 3 foot high snowdrifts to feed him. I shoveled through those drifts once or twice over the Christmas blizzard, but within 30 minutes, they’d be drifted over again.

Regards, Bud C

Tuesday, December 08, 2009

My View from the Window, Vol. 9, No. 14

It's blizzarding today here. All or most schools are cancelled. Jeremy and his baritone saxophone borrowed from Bellevue East High School are also here and I'll be listening to the sweet sounds of a bari sax sometime today. Right now all I hear in the background are his breaths as he sleeps up in his loft bed while I'm sitting here typing away. And I just heard him chuckle in his sleep -- oh, to be young again! I do enjoy being stranded in front of my keyboard with time on my hands!

I glanced at some of the news today so far: terrible bombing in Iraq kills 118, Afghanistan is about to see more US troops inserted into that huge empty strange country, the US Congress continues to turn health reform into a huge windfall for the insurance industry all the while calling each other Nazis and Communists and Slavers and poised to do what decades of anti-abortion activity has dreamed of -- taking abortion rights away from millions of American poor women. The rich have always been able to have access to abortions -- but not poor women.

President Obama continues to do his best at herding cats. He inherited two losing wars and an economy that nearly crashed into one of those Dante circles of hell. He's like Russel Crowe's Gladiator in the arena while the Glen Beck's, Sean Hannity's, and Sarah Palin's of the lunatic fringes are holding their thumbs down while Nero fiddles and Rome burns........Obama is the responsible one in the Animal House.

And Tiger Woods continues to be the spectacle of the month. The best Tiger Woods joke I've heard is that he's going to change his first name to "Cheetah." He's turning into a combination of John Daly and Michael Jackson before our very eyes. How many more Barbie dolls are there? What strange news will we hear next? Money can buy a lot of sex, but not happiness as he's finding........

So there you go. The Republican National Committee offerred abortion coverage through its health insurance plans until just a few weeks ago. And approximately 2/3 of private health insurance plans offer some abortion coverage according to a National Abortion Rights website. That will likely change in the coming months as this new "reform" takes shape. My own Senator, Ben Nelson, will be responsible for this, the biggest attack on poor women's reproductive rights in decades.

The nut balls of Fox News and the "going rogue" crowd are in the arena cheering the lions. And Tiger "Cheetah" Woods mother-in-law had to be taken to the hospital in the middle of the night. That pretty much sums it up.

I've attached a new painting I did over the weekend after a Saturday morning at Joslyn Museum with Elizabeth. I stood in front of Jackson Pollock's "Galaxy." I can understand why Pollock like flinging paint. Mine is titled "Across the Universe." Jackson Pollock and I have a lot in common: he was born in Cody, Wyo. in 1912 and had four brothers. He lived there for six months. From 1955 til 1961, I lived in Sheridan, Wyo. and have two brothers and two sisters. Pollock and I are, like, tight. I think we both drove Buicks, too.

Later, Bud

ps. Drop by next Sunday, Dec. 13, between 3pm and 6pm. Elizabeth and I are hosting my somewhat annual Open House! Get to 84th Street and head to Papillion. Turn west at the Applebee's Resaurant on Cary Street, curve around to the south and then turn west on Shillaelagh Blvd, go half a block and park in any space. I'm in the 204 bldg, the third breezeway, #13. I'll have some wine and cheese at least.