Wednesday, July 1, 2020

Happy Independence Day!


No, my calendar is not out of whack. Today, July 2, is the day in 1776 the Continental Congress declared independence from Great Britain. John Adams, a leader of the revolution who would become the second president of the new nation, said this in a letter to his wife, Abigail:

The Second Day of July 1776, will be the most memorable Epocha, in the History of America. I am apt to believe that it will be celebrated, by succeeding generations, as the great anniversary Festival. It ought to be commemorated, as the Day of Deliverance by solemn Acts of Devotion to God Almighty. It ought to be solemnized with Pomp and Parade, with Shews, Games, Sports, Guns, Bells, Bonfires and Illuminations from one End of this Continent to the other from this Time forward forever more.

But, alas, despite Adams’s prediction, the official celebration is on July 4, the day the congress ratified the language of the Declaration of Independence. They did not get around to signing it until August 2, so an argument can be made that we should be popping off fireworks and holding parades on that day.
Me, I’m sticking with July 2 and am flying the flag today.


Friday, June 26, 2020

Sad passing.


Twenty years ago and then some, CowboyPoetry.com showed up online. Established under a veil of mystery, the site started out sort of campy. But the brains behind it soon learned that cowboy poetry, even the funny kind, is a serious art.
The brains behind it turned out to belong to the remarkable Margo Metegrano, who rode herd on the site, driving it to grow and develop into an institution. It became the world’s largest archive of cowboy poetry, both contemporary and classic. It promoted and reported on cowboy poetry events across the country. It featured relevant essays and commentary. And it spun off a blog and a Facebook page.
It established Cowboy Poetry Week, and saw it ratified in the US Congress and by the governors of several states. It formed the Center for Western and Cowboy Poetry, which, among other things, produced a series of annual CDs featuring thematic collections of poems recited by folks from across the country, and distributed them to libraries everywhere.
It was all a labor of love for Margo, who worked tirelessly to promote an art she had grown to love, becoming, perhaps, the most important and influential person in the cowboy poetry community—all the while content to stay in the shadows, all but invisible, save to the poets who came to know, love, appreciate, and respect her.
Tireless finally turned to just plain tired, and Margo recently decided to hang it up. No one can, should, or does blame her. She deserves the rest. She earned it.
But that doesn’t mean the cowboy poetry community isn’t mourning the passing. And its unlikely we will soon recover, for there will never, ever again, be anything quite like CowboyPoetry.com.



Tuesday, June 16, 2020

Anticipation.


Having something to look forward to makes life more interesting. At least I have always thought so. It can be something big or small, important or trivial, consequential or just for fun. But having something, anything, on the horizon helps spur us on in the direction of life.
At this writing, I have three new books on the shelf next to my bed that I cannot wait to get to. As soon as I finish the book I am enjoying now, I will open one of them—and I cannot decide which will come first. The books bear little resemblance to one another, but each is written by a writer I admire.
There’s The King of Taos by Max Evans. If it’s anywhere near as good as his Hi-Lo Country or The Rounders, it will be well worth the wait. I once had the privilege of having lunch with Ol’ Max Evans and a few other writers. He said something I will never forget; in fact, I used the line as the basis for a poem. He was telling us a story—something, he said, that happened a long time ago. He paused, then said, “Hell, when you get to be my age, everything was a long time ago.”
My friend Marc Cameron has a new novel, Stone Cross, featuring Arliss Cutter, a Deputy US Marshal stationed in Alaska—an assignment Marc knows all about, and his Arliss Cutter novels demonstrate that. Marc also knows about writing, and his political espionage thrillers featuring Jericho Quinn can keep you up nights.
Finally (for now), I have a new collection of short stories by Wendell Berry, Stand By Me. I have read many, probably most, of the stories elsewhere, but Berry is such a remarkable writer I can’t wait to read them again.
But I will have to wait.
I will wait shivering with anticipation.


Sunday, June 7, 2020

Really stupid words, Chapter 12.


For some reason I have never been able to discern, certain words and phrases spread like viruses and, seemingly overnight, become buzzwords, banalities, clichés, trite, and hackneyed.
As so much of our discussion of late has turned to the spread of another kind of virus and the associated illness, there are a couple of phrases that are so overused they are making me sick.
“New normal.”
Was there an “old normal”? Is there even a “normal”? We live—as has humankind as far back as history can teach us—a fluid, ever-changing existence, where expectations are seldom realized and the unexpected is ever-present. “Normal,” whether new, old, or otherwise, seems meaningless in any concrete way. Now, perhaps, more than ever.
Then there’s “game changer.” What started out as a sports cliché is now used to describe almost anything that might affect something. Or everything. The “things” involved don’t seem to matter. Nor does it matter that there is no game involved. If “game changer” was ever an apt metaphor, it has long since lost its power.
Why not just say or write what you mean? Why not describe the behavior or activities that are changing, rather than tossing out meaningless twaddle like “new normal”? Why not explain the effect something will have rather than just calling it a “game changer” and leaving it at that?
The answer is simple. Tossing around clichés is easier than thinking. The inability to think clearly, then speak or write clearly, seems to be the new normal. And that could be a game changer.




Tuesday, May 26, 2020

A Thousand Dead Horses, Hobbled.


With most everything having been shut down over the past few months, Five Star, the publisher of my Western novels, has reined up the release of books, putting the whoa on them for six months. Which means they will not take the hobbles off A Thousand Dead Horses, scheduled for release this August, until February 2021.
And, of course, the other books they have from me, And the River Ran Red, All My Sins Remembered, and This Thy Brother will likewise be delayed.
Another of my publishers, Oghma Creative Media, where Saddlebag Dispatches magazine comes to life, and who will be releasing paperback, e-book, and audio editions of my earlier novels as well as an original “Rawhide Robinson” tale, and likely some other books, is also ground-tying their saddle stock while they figure out how to negotiate the trail ahead.
The coronavirus mess has likely reached us all in some way. I learned recently a man from my hometown, who I grew up with, died of it. He’s the first personal acquaintance to do so—that I know of—and I hope he will be the last.
Stay safe. And spend some of this down time in the pages of good book about the American West. It will be time well spent.


Sunday, May 17, 2020

Going walkabout.


My home state is big, ranking thirteenth in land area of the 50 states. But when it comes to population, Utah ranks thirtieth. So, you might think we’re spread pretty thin here. However, we rank seventh in the nation in the percentage of our people who live in urban areas. Then again, only four of our 29 counties qualify as “urban.” 
Which means we are pretty tightly packed in a fairly small area.
Eighty percent of our 3.2 million people live in a band some 25 miles wide and just over 100 miles long. The county I live in is home to more than a million people, on a land area that, if square, would measure just over 27 miles on a side. I can stand on my roof and see most of it.
What’s the point?
The point is, that despite it all, it’s easy to get away from it all in Utah. You can drive tens, scores, even hundreds of miles on mostly empty roads. Get off the road, and there are vast areas where you find little, if any, trace of mankind.
A few days ago, we went hiking. My oldest daughter took the photograph above. You would be hard-pressed, I think, to find a more beautiful picture or place anywhere. It’s calm, it’s quiet, it’s restful, it’s serene.
As the crow flies, it’s about three-and-a-half miles from my house.
Three-and-a-half miles.


Friday, May 8, 2020

Where I’m going, Part One.

A few days ago while watching a movie I heard a snippet of “Never Been to Spain” by Three Dog Night. It was written by the late, great, Hoyt Axton and was a big hit back around 1971.
The song, as they sometimes will, got stuck in my head. And it set me to thinking about all the places I’d like to go but have yet to see.
As the song says, I’ve never been to Spain. And although I would not object to seeing Barcelona play at Camp Nou, a trip there isn’t really on my list. The fact is, most of the places I long to visit are much closer to home.
For example, there’s Death Valley.
I have visited places north, south, east, and west of there, but have never seen Death Valley. I fully intend to go there one day. Judging from photographs and reading, it’s a stark, harsh, barren place. Some people don’t appreciate such beauty, but I have come to. One can never imagine that dirt and rocks come in so many colors until you see the deserts of the American West.
And, to imagine the suffering and hardships—and the joy—experienced by the Indians, the explorers, and the travelers who visited there in days gone by is inspiring. Especially when you realize they looked upon the same scenery you see today, and it is relatively unchanged.
Death Valley, here I come.
One of these days.