October 01, 2007

Where Sagebrush Still Ain't Plowed

This last weekend Kathie and I attended the National Cowboy Poetry Rodeo held in Hot Springs, South Dakota. We enjoyed the event, I participated and felt satisfied with my effort, and learned a lot from the experience. I managed to move into the qualifying rounds and placed in one event. The competition was tough and spirited with poets coming in from Minnestoa, Texas, Wyoming, Colorado, Utah, South Dakota, Missouri, Arkansas, California and probably some other places I missed. The winners were all well deserving. You can read about it on http://cowboypoetry.com/ in a few days when Margo Metegrano, the editor has a chance to update her website. She was at the rodeo and was unable to connect to the web to do the updates as she wanted.

And then it came time for us to hit the road. Kathie and I are afficionados of the old Oregon, Mormon, and California trails. On the way home to Utah, we followed the trail system from Casper, Wyoming back to Utah, stopping along the way at landmarks and places that I have have grown to love. We spent the night in Lander and went up to the Wind River Reservation to visit the graves of Sacagewea and her family members. I have been spending some time recently with the Shoshone tribe both in Fort Hall, Idaho and Fort Washakie, Wyoming and wanted to show Kathie around the reservation a little. We then headed for the old immigrant trail south of Lander, stopping at several spots along the way including Independence Rock, Rock Creek, one the the many Sweetwater river crossings, South Pass, Pacific Springs, Big Sandy, Simpson's Hollow and the Green River ferry. It had rained and snowed the night before so the Wind River Range was high, wild and white - ever present in the background as we traveled west. A most remarkable thing happened as we crossed the Sweetwater at South Pass, near the Lander cutoff - we met up with a band of wild horses.

This band of wild horses (mustangs to most of us) consists of eight head. The horses range an immense area of the high plains of Wyoming between the Red Desert and South Pass along the old Oregon Trail. The stud has been referred to as the Salmon Stud probably due to his coloring. There are several sorrel mares, a black and white paint, a couple of strapping two year olds and and older mare that is stoved up in the stifle joints and trails behind but manages to keep up somehow. We were able to come within 50 yards of the herd and got a very good look at all of them. After they scampered off, we trailed their tracks for a bit. Mustang hooves have a typical square toed shape - different and distinct from domestic horses. The tracks indicated that this mustang hoof "squareness" was more pronounced in this herd than I had previously thought - especially in the older horses. The view of these wild horses silhouetted against Pacific Butte at South Pass - a most historic location, where all of the old wagon trails converged - is something that I will never forget. It made me think of a couple of poems - Where the Ponies Come to Drink by Henry Herbert Knibbs (Out they fling across the mesa . . . blacks and sorrels, bays and pintos . . . forelocks dancing . . . ) and a poem I wrote some time ago extolling the wild places that renew the soul - Where Sagebrush Still Ain't Plowed. So - here are a couple of shots of the mustangs as well as my poem . Odd - some of the things you take away from a cowboy poetry rodeo . . .

Where Sagebrush Still Ain’t Plowed
by Paul Kern

Miles from lonesome, where sagebrush’s all been plowed,

It’s been for me and perhaps for you right lonely in a crowd,
Where some crawl on top and set themselves up proud.
It’s they who’ve not known lonesome - the lonely crowd and all,
Where folks are freely merchandized, based on the markets call.

It’s more’n just solitary alone – bein’ part of the lonely crowd,
Where they take and don’t put back and egos go unbowed.
It’s the lonely crowd that’ll never know the softly rushin’ willows,
Where griz’ leave tracks and coyotes call, and a distant bull elk bellows.

Where the wind blows hard and the sun burns long and fierce and hot,
It’s there I prefer to spend my time, where most would rather not.
Where it’s just your horse and you and maybe a few trees,
It’s lonesome where sagebrush grows, in places wild like these.

Where nights are starry cold and daylight meanders slowly by,
It’s way too far for a man to walk, and the trails are dusty dry.
Where places off the beaten track still raise that lonesome feel,
It’s lonesome – but hardly lonely - it’s where you find what’s real.

Miles from the lonely crowd, where sagebrush still ain’t plowed.

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