I’ll keep it brief because a steaming summer thunderstorm has parked over the top of the Figure 8 and I need to spend some serious time on fire watch. I’d meant to ride my colt this afternoon, and continue roping barrels and tires and tree trunks, but I don’t ride in lightning and that’s that. Blevins from All the Pretty Horses has nothing on me when it comes to a fear of lightning. We’ve dodged two fires already this year — one lightning strike on a tree, and a downed power line nearby that charred an acre or so — which has me kindly nervous when it comes to fire. If there is good news it’s that these storms have also come with monsoonal variety drenching, which can only help. Three weeks of nonstop summer wind dried this forest into exactly tinder and kindling, so any moisture is welcome. And the simple facts are these: in a legitimate, fast moving, ember throwing fire the Figure 8, and all the hopes and dreams I’ve tied up in it, are largely defenseless.
Work progresses on The Len Babb Movie Project at a pace. This week Sam, my cinematographer, is chasing caribou in Alaska so I’ve been focused on raising funds and scheduling interviews, which is the only way this movie gets made. To that end we’ve secured another great singer in Adrian Brannan. If you haven’t heard her work, I’ll offer up this song, which is as precise a thematic rendering of the movie as one could even imagine. Adrian is the real buckaroo deal, a lovely human, and has graciously given us the right to use her work in our film. And I’ll tell you something else, this piece featuring Waddie Mitchell just about rips my heart out. When I first cracked out as a cowboy in the ’90s, I had worn Waddie’s tapes down to threads, can recite them still, and to think all these year later he’d be in a movie I was making just breaks my bones with happiness.
Here’s Adrian and Waddie doing their very best:
Also, I’ve made some solo trips down to Paisley and enjoyed the company of some of the finest people walking the earth. I’m presently working on a Range Magazine piece about the Murphy Ranch that should appear in the Winter Issue, and I can only report admiration for the pluck they have shown since the first Murphy, Paddy, arrived in the country in 1900. As I write in the Range piece, it is difficult to imagine that Michael Murphy, a brother who stepped off the RMS Oceanic onto Ellis Island in 1911, would have believed that his descendants are still stewarding a ranching legacy into its 5th Generation. That sort of story, in an era when even two generations of Americans can’t hold together a hot dog bun, and where our institutions are under constant assault from people bereft of any actual ideas at all, sits in my wheelhouse as admirable and amazing.
My hat is off to the Murphys, and I will be forever grateful for their hospitality and friendship.
One of the great things I have rediscovered while embarking on this film project, is genuine kinship with people who want to build and create and maintenance beautiful things. That’s true of the cowboys and also the artists. On that note I was deeply touched when my friend Nancy Becker — a long time supporter of Running Iron — sent me this photograph of her work. Nancy is an astonishing artist and horse woman who works in glass, and she titled this piece “A Meadowlark’s Song” after a piece I wrote on these pages. There is no higher compliment than to have inspired someone else in their own work, and I am deeply grateful for Nancy’s friendship — and in love with the piece that she made. In the words of another friend, it is purely “exquisite.”
And I’ve seen that sort of team-building around the movie happen elsewhere. We’ve been blessed to have so many talents want to participate and help us make this film, and last week Mike Biggers and Running Iron’s Jim Cornelius came here to the Figure 8 for a session in the barn. We called it “The Thunderstorm Session” because it was howling out, and it was an excellent chance to discuss some of the things of the buckaroo life, and to throw ideas against the walls to help make music. This movie aspires to heights of community and togetherness — and keeps proving that’s what it is even before we’ve finished it. I cannot express to you how gratifying that is. To be sure, there is a long way to go before we have this film in the can, and hopefully it won’t suck, but the views while out riding this big circle have been second to none.
Elsewhere, Frank Jensen, another Running Iron supporter, who lives somewhere in the woods of Minnesota, and has worked as a packer and a law enforcement officer and still walks the earth as a kindred spirit, sent us a beautiful handsewn headstall, with lots of pretties on it, to help raise money for the film.
I’m going to leave you here with a picture taken by my friend Brady Murphy, who is poised to take the reins of his family ranch. The photograph is of his father, Martin Murphy, and Brady’s son Everett. They are 70 and 7. In this photo they have just finished roping a bull, and grandfather and grandson are heading back into the timber to trail more cows. This photograph resonates for me at the deepest levels because it reminds me of times with my own grandfather — who, despite his failings, was damn sure enough a buckaroo. And it may have even caused, should Mick Murphy have been around to see it — a man who came into the country as a sponsored sheepherder and took his wages in ewes, who joined the US Army and was naturalized, fought in Europe against the Hun, and returned yet again to build a family ranch with his brothers in the Oregon outback — to quietly ask for another shot of the Irish and dab a tear from his eye. Because isn’t this the long dream precisely imagined? Isn’t this us at our western best? I think so, and I know some Murphys who think so too.
Long live cowboys.