From childhood, when I stood at the end of a long dirt road waiting for the school bus to come grinding through the Honey Lake Valley, and where in spring the irrigation sprinklers created a kind of rhythm-section background to the yip of coyote pups on Bald Mountain, I have been a fan of meadowlarks. The meadowlarks then, as now, were thick in that country, and mornings they trilled in the buckbrush, or on the fenceposts, or on some pungent sprig of sage.
In my mind there has always been something resolutely sweet-home about the various songs of the western meadowlark. They have a unique ability to root my feet into the ground, and to pique my powers of observation, and to wrap me in something inexpressibly profound. I can’t explain why that is, precisely, but it is one reason I’ve enjoyed spending so much time in and around Paisley, Oregon, while working on the Len Babb Movie Project. The meadowlarks are abundant in that country, too.
Like my partner Jim Cornelius I’ve been quiet on Running Iron for some time. Some of that is the sheer volume of work I’ve been doing, but there are other reasons. One is that I no longer find much profit in discussing American politics with anyone, and I’ve certainly lost any interest in writing about them.
Post George Floyd, I’ve not been persuaded by any of the rioting, looting, firebombing, CHOPPING and CHAZZING, murdering, and defunding efforts, that I’m comfortable with the overall protest message. Quite the opposite: if all that I’ve seen so far is supposed to represent a better way of doing things, I’ll take a pass and buy more ammo to help defend my increasingly hardened positions. Groupthink, Maoist struggle sessions, a progressive zealotry that sees racists and racism in every corner aren’t my jam. Also, I don’t kneel, I don’t wash feet, and I don’t stop at checkpoints. Twice I’ve stood up and taken an oath to defend something I think is valuable, our constitution, and the assaults on the institutions I believe in don’t make me a friend of the movement.
If you want to stomp around the Lincoln Memorial in a kind of spastic, point and screach orgy of historical and contemporary ignorance, spray-painting homicidal slogans on Abe’s forehead, banging gongs and blowing whistles at imaginary enemies while wearing a t‑shirt that says “Beta Cuck 4 Life” then by all means do so. If you want to defund police departments and usher in the crime spikes we are seeing all over America, be my guest. But if you want anarchy, and force it on my family and me, here’s my end of the bargain: I’m going to shoot you in the face and take your wallet. I’m righteously lethal when poked so you had better cut a wide path around me when you go hunting for someone to enlighten.
It is probably a requirement for me to acknowledge that you have a point of view. It is definitely not a requirement for me to adopt it.
I’m also opting out of watching any kind of professional athletics that isn’t rodeo. Also, I don’t mean PRCA rodeos. My spirit now inclines towards ranch rodeos which have different events and aren’t a marketing blitz. The high end of ranch rodeo marketing tends to be a banner on the bucking chutes for Lloyd’s Feed & Supply – or some such otherwise unheard of family enterprise out on the big empty.
Thing is, I just don’t want to be forced into watching baseball through the lens of social justice zealots. Football has been unwatchable for years and I won’t miss it. I’m worn out absorbing lectures from athletes, actors, and other celebrities — many of whom seem to believe that having large sums of money also comes with an inherent wisdom and moral superiority. It doesn’t, naturally, so why would I sit through that just to watch a bunch of millionaires disrespect things that are deeply important to me?
And anyway, I’ve already purchased a side of rawhide – I don’t have any dead cows laying around or I’d take their hides and flesh them out myself — and begun an inventory of my braiding tools, long stored away, because I intend to spend this fall and winter editing my film, writing stories on topics that interest me and seven or eight other people, and taking up some rawhide braiding projects for which the rewards will be real, personal, and lasting. My first projects will probably be disasters, but they will be my disasters and launching points for getting better at a craft that I can enjoy while listening to Cornelius’ podcasts about Kit Carson. Professional sports? Meh.
The rawhide projects are due to a recent development that I take great pride in. I was contacted and asked if I would be interested in doing some writing for the Traditional Cowboy Arts Association. I was, instantly, and subsequently met most of the officers during my first and only – so far – zoom session. What a thrill it was to be in that meeting with people so very highly accomplished in their art. I encourage readers of this page to go the TCAA website and spend some time looking around. And buy the book Cowboy Rennaissance. It is an absolutely stunning book containing the works of North American master craftsman — functional art pieces without equal anywhere in the world. It’s a coffee table must and the work — silversmithing, bits and spurs, rawhide braiding, and saddles — I’m not over-selling it, is mesmerizing.
I wanted, and was quite surprised and honored to be asked, to work for the TCAA because we don’t have to travel to Mongolia to find imperiled cultures. They exist right here in America, and it would be a tragedy to lose the kind of talent and skill that the TCAA is desperately seeking to promote. Please check them out, read and watch the stories and videos about these amazing craftsman — you will not be disappointed.
Finally, work on the movie continues apace. I’ve received permission to use some music from Tom Hall and Dave Stamey, and Jim Cornelius just recorded his fantastic song Charlie Russell Sky for the film. Mike Biggers is working on his own composition and together they recorded an instrumental piece that is quite fine and will be in the movie.
I can only film as I have the money to film, which is about to run out again, but I was in Paisley last Sunday — and will head down again next week — working on the project and also on assignment for a piece I’ll be writing for Range Magazine. That’s where I was reminded of the power of meadowlarks to sedate and elevate my sometimes turbulent soul. As I pulled into the Murphy Ranch for a sit down interview with members of this 4th generation ranching family, I could hear the meadowlarks along the pasture fences. The songs were sharp and shrill and poured into my truck window — a hard and beautiful reminder that sucked me instantly deeper into the stories I’m trying to tell, deeper into a meaningful way to walk the earth — while the looting and the firebombing and revolutionary tremors shake a world I want almost nothing to do with anymore – and with smoke from those fires now just one mountain range away.