“In working with people and trying to help them with something, I find it isn’t easy for me to get them to work in the area where it seems they need work. They keep trying to work at the end result.”
“Mentally, you’re horse should not weigh anything…You’ll find out when you get this accomplished that you’re going to be a horseman. Not that I am one. Someday I hope to be one, but the horse has taught me this. To understand the horse you’ll find that you’re going to be working on yourself. The horse will give you the answers and he will question you to see if you are sure or not…”
The great re-opening of America is underway and it’s almost like I haven’t noticed at all. Not much has changed for me personally in the last four months except my wallet is lighter and my attitude toward all things government has gone from sour to rancid. That’s just the unavoidable result of the veneer peeling off the lie of Big America and exposing in real-time what’s been mostly hypothetical.
Remember back in January, before we sent SWAT Teams into restaurants after diners and before we jailed hairdressers or governors outlawed vegetable seeds? If those things don’t disturb every fiber in your body…well, they just should that’s all.
Meanwhile, the blue-green swallows are back which is the second sure sign of spring here on the Figure 8 Ranch. The first is the red winged blackbirds who winter in Mexico and reclaim the meadow below our place each spring as they probably have for thousands of years. Coming out of a long gray winter the red on their feathers, where they sit on the fenceline singing, is so bright it almost hurts to look at and simply shouts our shared demand for life and sunshine.
The swallows are new to us. They moved in two years ago and took up residence in a cranny above the back porch where they raise chicks each summer. I don’t know where they came from or how they found us. Swallows are often hated because they can cause a damn mess but I leave them alone because life is tough enough and this family aren’t mud daubers and they don’t shit all over my favorite porch chair. I like sitting out there in the evening and watching them come diving in on a furious final approach, their feathers flaring and translucent in the dwindling light – like fish scales flashing beneath the surface a river.
This spring, and I don’t know if it’s C‑19 related or not, I’ve made a commitment to focus intently on the things I really care about. That turns out to be a pretty small list. Each week I have to decide what I’m going to write about on these pages and the farther we ride along the less I care about the collapse of civilizations and the various connivances and intrigues of modernity. I don’t want to write about that anymore. At least not much. Nothing I have to say on those topics is very interesting and probably won’t advance the conversation. I’m not interested in trying to convince anyone of anything. I’d much rather talk about the evolution of the rowels on a pair of ornamental Argentine spurs.
I’m no Cormac McCarthy but I know that in one of his first interviews, for which the poor bastard journalist fought tooth and nail and essentially stalked McCarthy through the back streets of El Paso, all McCarthy wanted to talk about was Mojave rattlesnakes. That makes sense to me, and the giant shitshow we’ve made of our national response to Covid-19 serves as evidence item number one in the great trial of American progress. I’m not sure I’d need much more to convince a jury that our Republic is on its ass.
So I’m done with it. I’m on the downward slope from peak give-a-shit. I’ve stopped tuning in altogether and I am no longer listening. I showed up with good intentions but now I feel something, perhaps, like one of those hapless firefighters at Chernobyl who rolled up in their crappy Soviet turnout gear with shovels and flaccid firehoses and within a few short seconds were made into uranium crisps. They showed up full of honor and code and dignity to perform their duties, as we do, but left in the form of radioactive steam.
The other thing is, I’m just not interested in doing all of the considerable leg-work required to figure out who is actually to blame for any of this. The waters are so muddied it’s hard to know if anyone is, or can be honestly held to account even if we knew – all conclusions remain dubious in an era so blatantly corrupt at every level of government. I just don’t have the time or the energy for all of that because getting involved at all means I have to bed down with liars and thieves and when the shooting starts I’m killing a select few of them if only to reset the bar for acceptable behaviors.
In the meantime I’m not the least bit interested in the sincerity of the politically righteous, or appeals to the call of patriotism, or the certainty among many that they’ve got it all figured out and it’s everybody else that’s an asshole.
I’ve done my bit for God and Country and my bonafides in that regard are unassailable. I often wish I had that time back and had instead spent it chasing sunsets on a great horse in the high desert – out there with Sticker Wiggins and Badger Gomez when I was just a buckaroo everybody called Copas, after the singer, which is the nickname my grandfather gave me as a boy and some people — who knew me in the way-back machine — still call me. Because out there on the big Nevada deserts I was the happiest I’ve ever been in this life.
For whatever it’s worth to you, Sticker Wiggins – and you ain’t no buckaroo if your name isn’t Sticker Wiggins – thinks the whole thing is on its ass also.
So, this spring I’ve made a conscious choice to focus hard on my horses and to that end I’ve been working each day to build something meaningful and lasting in real time. That’s challenging and beautiful and important work because, as Ray Hunt explained, working on a horse is really working on one’s self.
Sticker Wiggins was a top hand and is featured in one of the obscure films I stumbled across recently. Gathering Remnants is a decent movie with obligatory guest spots from Red Steagall and Baxter Black who are meant to give the film some credibility. For my taste Steagall is wound too tight but he’d probably be handy in a barroom fight. Baxter looks good for a man pushing the envelope the way he is. I like the film because it most closely resembles the life I lived as a buckaroo on ranches that were bigger than some eastern states. It isn’t a great movie but the filmmakers get the desert feel right — which isn’t easy to do — and because they aren’t out to glamorize what’s really just a tough job performed by artists and lunatics from the hard bottom of the social ladder. Everything on those ranches is falling apart all the time and if your mental image is an outfit that looks like the Hollywood getup on the series Yellowstone you aren’t getting it. It’s hardscrabble and hardpan and everything held together with twine and wire and stitches made from a horse’s tail. The people who work on those outfits come to the life from all points but when you are a buckaroo in the Great Basin you are suddenly and simultaneously at the top and the bottom which is the sound of one hand clapping.
To buckaroo is to commit to a life in the sage and the dust, the big and beautiful empty, to trotting hundreds upon hundreds of miles horseback for terrible pay in all weathers, to tiny bars 60 miles away that carry one brand of beer, a pool table missing three balls, and a broken jukebox. A life without women. It’s a dedication to wrecks in the rimrock, and to finding terrific pleasure in food with dirt on it and virga on a distant butte and the smell of dust rising from the sagebrush in the rain. It is to worship God in the form of birds and the cant of light on an endless stretch of spring desert, when the purple flowers are blooming, or in a lion track in the willowy mud, or in the smell of sweaty horses at the end of a long day in the saddle and the laughter of the characters who rode them echoing in a mud and wattle horse barn as in a dream.
I sometimes tell people about the life when they ask and they roll their eyes because it’s hard to imagine unless you’ve been out there horseback and seen the country that way and realize that if anything, the stories and the miles and the beauty can only ever be understated.
Sticker Wiggins finally rolled his bed for town and became a biker, but the movie is worth it, if for no other reason than to watch him play his guitar – he’s quite accomplished — in the ruins of an old honyocker’s shack.
Tom Dorrance, who was talking about idiot horse owners, could have been talking about how we’ve decided to approach every last one of the myriad large-style problems in our nation. We just keep saddling our horses backwards and I don’t see a way out of it. I see us growing more comfortable than ever with a decrepit, thoroughly corrupted colossus of government.
If you see some legitimate offramp up ahead please write in and let me know about it.
My wife and I were laughing this morning – because, really, what is left to do – that at least the information coming from America’s leading authorities throughout this episode has been accurate, concise, inspiring, unifying, confident, and consistent.
One of my least favorite calls for service as a police officer was the ubiquitous “Refusing to Leave” plea for help. There are many and multiple variations on this theme but the underlying issue is always the same – somebody isn’t wanted where they are, but they insist on staying. There are various levels of legal standing to remove someone from a contested space, but what’s universally true in these calls is that the aggravating person or persons has rejected any and all entreaties to pack up.
There are also professional Refusers who go around refusing in an attempt to bait people into damaging civil lawsuits. There are those who just refuse to leave because they are crazy, as in the case of a woman I encountered who claimed to have a radio implanted in her vagina that was sending her signals from Richard Nixon. That case leads to a different branch of the crazy tree requiring study in identifying “receivers” versus “jammers” — which is one way to differentiate between types of street crazy. Receivers typically invite the signals by way of various apparatus, real or imagined, either attached to their body or vehicle or wheelchair or house or car – or sometimes pets. Receivers typically feel anointed to spread the received messages. Jammers typically don’t want the signals and so can be found bedecked in layers of plastic trash bag armor, aluminum foil underwear or head adornments, hiding in “cones of silence”, or arguing with the NO PARKING sign in front of the bank from whence a burst of frictive signals recently emanated.
I don’t know why I felt compelled to mention any of that except that I’m certain that for the foreseeable future we are in for a long-running, Olympic style event full of jammers and receivers and more people than ever who are refusing to leave. There is another aspect of zen philosophy buried in there somewhere but I can’t suss it all out. I can only share what I know and at least some of the work is going to have to be your own.
The bottom line is I’m tired of my own republic and each morning I walk down to the barn feeling used up a little, ornery a little, and maybe a little like that old buckaroo from the IL. I’m out of the cow business which is another story I’ll save for later but I remain heart-deep in horseflesh and that feels just about natural and right. So let me shoot my dirty cuffs and knock some dust out of my hat and maybe straighten up my shirt, because I’m settled way down in the ranks of the highly exalted — and I like it here quite a bit.