Most of my days are spent with folks of all ages and perspectives. It’s energizing. They help me keep one foot in the present and the other poised for the next challenge. However, I seem to have a third foot, firmly anchored in the past. Like a three legged table, there is usually balance. When the call of the past is strong, balance is harder to achieve.
Today my table tilts. I hear hoof beats, voices, stories, songs. See sweat stained shirts and brows, saddle weary bodies. Feel in my gut the exhaustion and satisfaction of their hard work.
From a distance they were under-estimated, counted on, chastised and romanticized. Up close they were cowboys, ranchers, dirt farmers, ropers and rodeo champions. Before fencing and subdivisions, they annually drove herds to grass, across vast sections of the San Joaquin Valley in CA and up into the Sierras. Kept watch, protected. Defended when necessary.
Most, not all, lived full lives. Married, had children, grandchildren and greater. Passed on lessons of hard work, stepping-up, leadership and self-discipline. Each one was honorable, humble, serious, humorous and kind. Maybe that was luck, but I doubt it. They earned the respect of many without seeking it. Shared bonds of family, community, hardship and success. And, they all understood a good horse could save your life.
These men have been gone for a long while now. Those of us remaining that remember them, do so with respect and love. One of their nephews carries their stories on to others through Cowboy Poetry. They left many for re-telling. We each have some.
Who were these men? They were my uncles, family friends, first love and my father-in-law. Shortly before passing away in his twenties, while juggling college and cattle, that first love said to me, “Chris, I love this work. My favorite time each day is watching the sunrise from horse back. After that, the rest is easy.” Seems a good thing to remember on this Labor Day.
The nephew I mentioned earlier sent me a link to a video that I have been saving to accompany this post. (Thanks Dan) I've seen it so many times, it may be worn out: The Vaquero Song. The wonderful photography is done by David Stoecklein and perfect song by singer/songwriter, Dave Stamey. Thank you both for your generosity and the marriage of your work for this piece. The other photos were taken in Eastern, WA along the Palouse.
Okay, I think my table is back in balance now.