This past weekend poets and pickers — after sayin’ their poems and pickin’ their songs in the 29th Montana Cowboy Poetry Gathering and Western Music Rendezvous — rode off into the sunset. Not to worry. Most of ’em — plus newcomer poets — will hit the trail to Lewistown next August. Gathering organizers are riding at full gallop to create an out-of-the-chutes rodeo of cowpoets and cowpickers to mark the Gathering’s 30th birthday! Red Steagall — the cowboy’s cowboy — will be the headliner on the night show.
This year, due to assorted conflicts, I was able to participate only one day and evening. Next year I’m clearing the decks and saddling up to be there all three days. Besides the satisfaction of reciting poetry to appreciative audiences, I do believe visiting with folks you haven’t seen in a year is a huge reason for wanting to return every August. The stories you hear! Cowboy yarns are like no others in the entire universe. What other profession’s everyday labor involves horses, dogs, cows, pigs, chickens, sheep, varmints, fencing, irrigating, haying, roundups, branding, shipping, driving temperamental machinery, going to town for parts, cooking for crews — to name a few of a rancher’s daily tasks. Add to that raising kids who will participate in 4-H and FFA and the circus never stops!
The yarns I heard while eating popcorn and sipping adult beverages with a cowpoet group in the Yogo Inn lounge flew back and forth like badminton birdies across a net. Such as the one told by Jake about his wife, Jane. (Not their true names — but the story is true!) It seems that Jake went off to town to meet some hunters and direct them back to the ranch to hunt wild turkeys.
Meanwhile, Jane went outside intending to install some fence posts. She dug a hole, set a post. Eyeing her handiwork, she decided the darned thing was too tall, so she resolved to set it deeper. Which meant she first had to dig the beast up again. And that’s when the trouble started.
The post was a wooden corner support, thick and heavy as a fresh log. What Jane needed was another pair of hands to steady Mr. Too Tall as she spaded up the earth holding it upright. Why, another pair of hands you ask? Answer: That was a cranky post. It became irritated. As Jane scooped earth from around its base, it teetered, then deliberately attacked. That column of lumber whacked her, bounced off her head, and slammed her across the face.
It’s amazing what an aggravated chunk of wood can do to a human body. Jane staggered to the house and assessed the damage. Her mirror showed an egg-shaped welt on her forehead, a black eye, a bloody cheek, a split lip, a bloody nose and a torn shirt sleeve. The torn sleeve didn’t hurt but the arm inside it sure did.
She had just finished tenderly sponging off the worst of the blood and dirt and had applied a couple of Band-Aids when Jake arrived home. He took one glance at his soul mate and almost leaped backwards. “What” he asked, “happened to you!!?”
Now, Jake is an empathetic and sympathetic guy but when Jane finished her report, he stated, “Well by golly, ya sure are a mess. Ya look like you’ve been in a fight with Mike Tyson ... and lost.” Then he grinned. Although Jane is a good sport, at that moment she wasn’t exactly in the mood for witty repartee.
About then the carload of hunters pulled into the yard and Jake went out to greet them. Jane waited until the hunters had debarked and stood clustered around her hubby. Then she opened the screen door and emerged into full sunlight. “Jake?” she called in a weak pleading voice. Jake turned to face her. So did the hunters. “Jake,” repeated Jane, “Jake, is it allright ... a ... is it OK if I ... If I ... can ... can I come out of the house now? I’m being good.” Then she retreated indoors leaving him to explain that he wasn’t a wife beater even on Tuesdays. (Must’ve been a challenge! But hey, he’s a cowboy, he’d a thunk up somethin’).
See you at the 2015 Gathering, third weekend in August. If you spot a group of tall-hat revelers in the Yogo Inn lounge, feel free to join the bunch. Bring a story of your own! ❖