In my 29th trip around the sun, I found myself in Elko, Nevada in a weekend swirl of poetry and cowboys. Conflicted and confused, I naturally vowed to do it again.What on earth brought me back for the 30th Annual National Cowboy Poetry Gathering I can’t really say. But whatever it was, I’m glad it did.
I landed in Elko on the most beautiful day. Sunshine spilled into a town nestled betwixt pristine sagebrush range and the alpine ridges of the Ruby Mountains as far as the eye can see.
In precious daylight on arrival, my aunt and I ventured to Lamoille Canyon. In a few short hours, our Nation’s Commander-in-Chief was slated to give the State of the Union address. The snow, the rocks, and the trees of the canyon in the waning sunlight seemed eons away from the DC-beltway buzz. Even still, we felt steeped in true Americana.
The following morning, we set off from the Western Folklife Center to tour the Maggie Creek Ranch. I don’t believe any of us knew what we were in for. Our bus came to a stop at the Red House at the end of a long and well-maintained road spanning a massive gold-mining operation. The foreman Kevin greeted us and began to harness a lovely draft horse with a kind eye that immediately reminded me of my mare. Once his team “Peaches” and “Cream” were hitched, off we went to feed the cows.
I was thrilled to ride the hay-wagon into the pasture with the herd. Kevin exudes the quiet confidence that garners respect among large animals (humans included). He graciously answered our questions without so much as a sideways glance, got the work done, and treated the animals -equine and bovine- with appropriate reverence. All with a sparkle in his eye.
We struck up a conversation at lunch. Kevin suggested that I could return to the Red House the following morning. I don’t think he believed I would show. But his endearing wife Leslie knew better. Maybe she saw the bracelet with my horses’ names etched in the leather. Maybe she just sensed a kindred spirit.
Wednesday morning, we fed cows. We petted cats. We gorged ourselves on a homemade feast. And we learned why the Cowboy Poets come here to share their craft. The inspiration is unavoidable: the range, the animals, the landscape, the weather, the people. Returning to the Gathering, the poems came alive. And returning to DC, their messages stay with me. There is an innate fellowship among horse folk. We spend so much time in the quiet with enormous four-legged creatures that we sometimes wonder how we’ll relate to the two-legged kind. But then we do and it’s just like riding a horse: a pairing of souls and a baring of souls. It comes naturally somehow.