Thursday, February 14, 2019

These Honored Dead.

A few weeks ago, on January 29, I once again had the opportunity to attend ceremonies commemorating the Massacre at Bear River. As always, it was a moving occasion.
Brenn Hill opened the program with the song “And the River Ran Red,” moving the audience to stunned, reverent silence.
Utah’s Attorney General spoke. And, for the first time ever, officials from the State of Idaho attended, with the governor, Brad Little, finally getting his state involved in remembering the tragedy and honoring the Northwestern Band of the Shoshone Nation.
Tribal chairman Darren Parry also spoke, briefly outlining plans for the Band’s ambitious improvements at the site, including restoration of the landscape and construction of an interpretive center. The project has finally become possible, 156 years after the massacre, owing to the efforts of Parry and other tribal leaders to acquire significant acreage at the site. A campaign is now underway to raise funds.
While I don’t ask readers to do much, I hope you will find it in your heart to contribute. Large or small, every donation will help the world recognize and remember this overlooked chapter in the history of the West.
And thank you.

Tuesday, February 5, 2019

Lies They Tell Writers, Part 48: The only way to learn to write is to write.

If you want to be a writer, you have to write. It’s pretty hard to argue with that. But how do you learn to write? Or to write better?
I’ve heard tell the only way to do it is to write. And write some more.
It certainly can’t hurt. But there’s that old saying that says if you find yourself in a hole, stop digging. In other words, if you just keep writing, you could keep making the same mistakes over and over again. That won’t help.
You could take a course. Go to a writers conference. Enroll in a writing program. All of which will most likely do you some good.
But there’s an easier way: read.
You can learn to be a better writer by reading good writing. At least it seems to have helped me, as I have never learned anything about creative writing (which my journalism degree did not cover) anywhere but in books. I love to read. I do a lot of it. And when I find a writer or a book that I especially like, I will read it again, and sometimes again and again. Once you’ve read a book enough that you don’t get caught up in the story, you start noticing how the author does things—how he chooses words, how she builds phrases, how he makes sentences, how she moves the story along, or pauses to let you catch your breath.
All those things, and many more, get embedded in your mind and when you sit down to write, they affect how—and how well—you do it.
And when it comes right down to it, reading is a lot more enjoyable way to spend time than sitting around in a classroom talking about writing.

Sunday, January 27, 2019

CPU Pioneer Heritage Award.

A little over a week ago, at the Cowboy Poets of Utah annual Symposium, the group honored me with the Pioneer Heritage Award “For living the life, dreaming the dream, and telling the stories of Utah’s Cowboy Heritage.”
I have been involved with CPU since the inaugural meeting back in 2002, and I suppose the fact that there aren’t many other originals still on the grazing side of the grass may have something to do with my selection.
The organization focuses on public performance of poetry, which, as many of you may know, has never been of much interest to me except as an enthusiastic audience member. But I am a writer, and writing poems about cowboys and the West is some of what I do, so we have always shared a common interest.
In any case, I am both surprised at and flattered with the recognition. Thank you, CPU.

Saturday, January 19, 2019

Really Stupid Words, Chapter Five

American English is a rich language. It’s always changing and evolving. New words and usages come and go. Many that come along are helpful. They clarify, they improve, they enhance and enrich.
But some are just plain stupid.
They obfuscate, they complicate, they confuse. They reveal a lack of understanding.
“Skill set” has become about as ubiquitous as water.
One must ask why.
What does “skill set” offer our language that isn’t covered by “skills” other than the fact that it adds a syllable? And we all know how some people will never use one syllable when two—or three—or four—will do. All those syllables make you sound smarter, don’t they?
That question is easily answered with a simple, one-syllable, two-letter word: no.
 If you can think of a reason to use “skill set” rather than “skills” let me know. The ability to change my mind is among my skills—or is it within my skill set?

Wednesday, January 9, 2019

My Favorite Book, Part 18

A “biographical novel” is a tricky undertaking. The author must hold to the facts while, at the same time, delve into the deeper truths of the inner workings of the subject. Over-reliance on one or the other can tip the scales too much and render the work lopsided and useless as either history or literature.
Win Blevins strikes a perfect balance in Stone Song: A Novel of the Life of Crazy Horse. Extensive research into the history and culture of the Lakota is evident throughout the book, as is his plumbing the depths of the recorded facts about and passed-down memories of Crazy Horse. It all comes together in a striking and engaging portrait of a great man. His strengths and shortcomings play out in a life torn between his duty toward his people, and obedience to the spirit that guides him.
While the well-known events of Crazy Horse’s life are included, such as his leadership at the battle at the Little Bighorn and other fights, Blevins does not hang his story on the extravagant or waste the reader’s time rehashing history. Instead, he concentrates on how those incidents interplay with the more profound and mystical moments in the man’s life that, taken together, reveal his character.
In the end, we see Crazy Horse as a human being much like, and very different from, ourselves. And we come away reminded that, as Blevins renders it in the Lakota language, mitakuye oyasin—we are all related.

Monday, December 31, 2018

Back in the Saddle(bag).

The latest issue of Saddlebag Dispatches is now available. Dedicated to rodeo, this issue of the magazine includes three contributions from me.
First is a cover story, “The Man Who Invented Rodeo.” It’s all about Earl Bascom, whose inventions and improvements and developments back when make modern rodeo what it is today. Bascom is enshrined in numerous rodeo-related halls of fame recognizing his achievements. He was also an accomplished artist.
My regular “Best of the West” column features Larry Mahan, record-setting rough-stock rider and hero of my rodeo youth. Also included is a poem about the struggles of rodeo wives left at home while their cowboys struggle on the circuit. It’s titled “Nowhere Rodeo.”
Go online and take a look at Saddlebag Dispatches, or order a printed copy of the big magazine. If you’re a rodeo fan, you’ll be a fan of this issue.

Wednesday, December 19, 2018

A song in my heart.

Brenn Hill, cowboy songster extraordinaire, just released his fourteenth album, Rocky Mountain Drifter.
There are sixteen songs to enjoy and, as with all things remarkable, it’s hard to pick a favorite. “Old Black Joe” and “Buffalo Beard” appeal to me for their originality. And I like “My Angel Wings.” It’s a sort of old-timey, touching kind of tune. You can’t listen to “Muddy Creek” without tapping your toes. Brenn does a fine job with one of my favorite Guy Clark classics (there are two tunes on the album written by someone other than Brenn), “Desperados Waitin’ for a Train.” I could go on and on, because everything on the album is good listening.
I confess I am drawn to one song in particular: “And the River Ran Red.” It’s a haunting, reverent song about the Massacre at Bear River, a tragedy I have written widely about. One reason I really like this song is that I had a hand in writing the words. Brenn makes those words sound better than they are.
It’s unlikely any more of my words will ever be set to music. But when it’s this good, once is enough.