Friday, February 21, 2014

Words on the Wind ~ February 2, 2014

Much to our surprise we're able to get the crew together for a farewell breakfast before we all take off for home: Linda, Bob and Jyl back to Idaho and Rod, Carol and me to Northern California. We've spent several days immersed in and celebrating ranch and cowboy culture: from rough beginnings in the Old West to the rough stock realities of modern times. Food for thought, food for the soul. Words have been stampeding around my brain for days, but the herd has finally settled down and quietly grazes at my fingertips. 

Tres Amigos - Three mustang companions, herd communication, 1 1/2" wrapped canvas
Tres Amigos
Words on paper to song 
We're invited to come along
Words on paper to spoken
We're part of a chain unbroken
Words on paper to art
We're taken into the heart 

We've been brought to tears
And learned to face our fears
We've laughed until we couldn't catch our breath
And had our souls warmed to their very depth

Spanish ponies and feral cattle
The art of a handmade saddle
North and South united by a horse's reins
Cowboy songs from Irish refrains 

Charlie Russell was born to wander
And left a legacy of the visual yonder
Called to serve his creative purpose
He'd draw or paint on any surface
His paint brush was his swagger
Perhaps the early American tagger 

Generations have a story to tell
Old and new unite to cast a spell
The journey becomes the guiding muse
Payable in points of view and worn out shoes
Writing new chapters from the old
Spurring new generations into the fold

© 2014, Shelley Macdonald
This poem may be reprinted or reposted with written permission

Western Horse Saddle and Cowboy Hat - a Still Life Photograph
Western Saddle and Hat

Monday, February 17, 2014

The Road to Elko ~ February 01, 2014

Here we go again. We start the day with a feather fall of snow, a real treat for us West Coast Kids. Time to round the posse up for breakfast and see what's on the agenda.

Playtime - fun horse artwork by Kathleen Roeth

Our first show is "Free Range Poetry and Prose" in one of the smaller venues. As we're getting seated a woman walked up to Rod and told him he was a spiting image of Alberta poet Ken Blacklock. We started chatting and found out she was Saskatchewan poet Linda Nadon. We gained another new connection to Elko and bought a copy of her poetry collection to bring home. 

mt Ken Blacklock Alberta CAN 150x150 Montana Cowboy Poetry Gathering by Gwen Peterson Photo by Bob Kisken
Ken Blacklock
The Rodster

I found a great definition of "free range" from Arielle Greenberg: poet, author, editor and a regular columnist for the American Poetry Review.

"One could theorize that some of the most exciting poetry from any part of history or the world manages to walk the line between chaos and control, concision and surprise. A little purposeful sloppiness can be a great way to enliven, embolden and deepen the heart of the well crafted poem." Sounds a bit like life doesn't it?

We finally get a chance to see Amy Hale Auker and were once again delighted by the stories of Vess Quinlan. Best of all we got to see the winner of the first YouTube competition, Expressing the Rural West: Poetry of the Next Generation, sponsored by the Western Folklife Center. Forrest Mackey is a young cowboy from New Mexico. He recited poems about an 1889 blizzard in the high country near where he grew up and the drawback of a speed dial phone. He's lanky, shy, and has a lot of promise. Hope to see him at the next Gathering.

Off to the G3 Theater for two more shows before lunch. The first is "Windows on the West" with Yvonne Hollenbeck, Dianna McCall and Trinity Seely. 

Bannack Montana Historic Old West Ghost Town Rustic Window Reflection 8x10 fine art digital photography image glossy print
Bannack State Park Historical Site
A friend had seen Trinity earlier in the week and told us not to miss the chance to see her. She's a ranch wife, cowboy, mother, and remarkable singer and songwriter. We were treated to a glimpse into her life through her music. Here's "Rides for the Brand" on YouTube. 

Next is "Steering with my Knees" where Paul Zarzyski enlightens and entertains with works from his new book of the same title. He's a feral wordsmith with a huge stage presence and a one of a kind delivery. If ever you get a chance to see him live take the opportunity and run with it. He'll rock your world.

Phew, time for a breather. We're a little "crowded" out and decide to pass on the afternoon performances to check out some of the trade shows around town and get a walk in. Rod is a knife collector and is drawn to one of the tables at the Stockman's show. There is a young cowpoke of about 6, in full cowboy gear, standing at the display case. He tells Rod the pros and cons of some of the knives and which ones he likes. Rod told him he already had a good knife but asked if he could give him a tip for his great sales pitch. The kid was delighted as Rod handed him a buck. I looked over to the owner of the booth and told him his son was a great salesman. His wife walked up behind us and said "He isn't even ours, his mom runs the booth next to us". What a delightful encounter. 

This has been such a whirlwind we wanted to get the six of us together before we head home tomorrow and decided on Machi's Saloon and Grill. We had a very long wait, but it was well worth it. It also afforded us a chance to catch up on the last couple of days. 

Our final show is "Anthems Past and Future" with Brenn Hill, Waddie Mitchell and Dave Stamey doing a round robin. The show opened with Waddie reciting Dame Nevada, a poem he wrote to celebrate Nevada's sesquicentennial (150th) birthday this year. When the show started it was clear they each had a set list in mind, but that quickly disintegrated as they started to respond to each other, a little unplanned chaos that delighted the audience and gave us one of the best shows of the Gathering.  Here is the link to YouTube:

Friday, February 14, 2014

The Road to Elko ~ January 31, 2014

Home base for our adventure in Elko has been the Gold Country Inn. It's comfortable, convenient and has a great little restaurant called JR's. Linda, one of our friends from Boise, is staying upstairs. Our travelling partner Carol and Linda's friends Bob and Jyl are staying at a different hotel downtown. Somehow we manage to coordinate rides and the occasional meal. The only thing missing this trip are Boise friends Ken and Betty Rodgers. They had to put Elko aside this year to prepare for the next round of travel related to the screening of their documentary: Bravo! Common Men, Uncommon Valor

You may see the same friendly faces at a number of venues and only cross paths with your friends a couple of times. The beauty is that some of those very strangers become acquaintances and friends. It's just the nature of the Gathering. Someone I sat next to in one of the venues has a sister in Sebastopol. Go figure!

The day kicks off with "Cut 'em Loose" with Joel Nelson, Jerry "Brooksie" Brooks and Paul Zarzyski. As you may have surmised Zarzyski is one of our favorite performers, we never tire of his special kind of poetry and humor. We were first introduced to the inimitable Brooksie in 2012 during one of the shows honoring Charlie Goodnight. We marveled at her ability to recite an epic length poem. She defines the strong, courageous, and artistic woman of the West and is an exceptional reciter of classical and modern cowboy poetry.  

Second event is "30 Years of Wrangling Words" with six poets and reciters. The four gentlemen: Dick, Waddie, Joel and Paul were great but it was the ladies who stole the show.   

2009 photograph by Lori Faith Merritt,
Georgie Sicking
Photo credit Lori Faith Merritt

Georgie Sicking was inducted into the Cowgirl Hall of Fame in 1989. She calls herself a cowboy who just happens to be a woman. Her poetry struck a note for all of us. Be Yourself and Housewife will brighten the dreariest of days. Her biography and more poetry can be found at

Yvonne Hollenbeck is the top award winning cowgirl poet in America. Home is old family ranch in rural South Dakota, the nearest town is 30 miles away. Her poems The Truth About Cowboy Laundry and What Would Martha Do? will have you in stitches - which reminds me, she's also an award winning quilter.  Her biography and a few of her poems can be found at 

It's just now noon, so we grab a bite to eat in the cafeteria and head off to the Members Show #2. Standouts from this show are Vess Quinlan and the Gary Haleamau Family Band from Hawaii. The day just keeps getting better. 

When we purchased tickets last fall the "This is my Prairie" show with Ian Tyson was sold out. On a whim we decide to see if there are any tickets available. Jackpot! We get two tickets in Row E, five rows back from the stage. He's a singer, songwriter, cowboy, and storyteller extraordinaire. In 2011 he received the Charles M. Russell Heritage Award. You may remember one of his earlier incarnations as half the duo of Ian and Sylvia.

There are live podcasts of both the Members Show and Ian Tyson's show on the Western Folklife Center website at

The entertainment and inspiration is not limited to the shows. We hear young hopefuls harmonizing in the halls, see impromptu musical collaborations in lobbies and on the street. We're drawn back in time as budding poets paint word pictures that bring the Old West back to life and also tell the stories of today's real working West as well. That's what good modern cowboy poetry is all about. By the time the day is over we're giddy as kids who've been let in on a big secret. Time for a light dinner and off to rest up for tomorrow. Chance of some snow on the horizon. 

On Valentine's Day ~ February 14, 2014

A shout out to my darling husband Rod
who walks beside me
holds my hand 
and makes me laugh

Being deeply loved by someone gives you strength, 
while loving someone deeply gives you courage. 

Lao Tzu

Monday, February 10, 2014

The Road to Elko ~ Jan 30, 2013

I knew if I didn't take some notes at the events I was going to regret it. Much to my bemusement I'm now sorting through eighteen pages of scratchpad scribbles written in near darkness during the shows. Gonna have to rethink this next time. What would Margo do?

One of the fun parts of the Gathering is bringing all our western gear, the stuff we don't wear in our everyday lives: boots, vests, hats, scarves, special shirts, fringed jackets and jewelry. It's a chance to step into our favorite culture. 

Western Decor-Painting Old West Cowgirl
This year seemed to favor a change: perhaps due to below freezing temperatures and the copious number of layers we all wore or carried around, perhaps out of respect for the real cowboys and their families. It wasn't anything conscious, we just noticed a subtle shift from dressing the part to comfortable layers. I kept the hat and jewelry but traded the fancy gear for a favorite turtleneck and fleece jacket.

The wondrous part of the Gathering is that there are free shows and workshops every day. They're in small venues and often more entertaining than the large ticketed shows. The hard part is making a choice, as there are usually 4-6 events going on at any one time at several venues. 

The morning starts off with "A Couple of Rebels" featuring Vess Quinlan and Paul Zarzyski; both accomplished poets, reciters and storytellers. Whether free verse or rhyme their work will get you to thinking and haul out your emotions, running the gamut from tears to hysterical laughter. 

Our second show was "Verses for Nature's Adversities" with Doris Daley, Carolyn Dufurrena and Gail Steiger. A couple of lines in Doris Daley's poem "100 Years From Now" really stuck with me. 

We lived beneath the arch with a mix of grit and grace,
Just ordinary folk in an extraordinary place. 

These words still hold true. We may live in different places and times, but challenges remain for every one of us. The grit and gumption of our ranchers and cowboys make us realize we can dare to be brave and face whatever is thrown in our path. 

The first Members' Show at the Convention Center Auditorium was a round robin featuring Don Edwards, Joel Nelson and Randy Rieman ~ one and all credentialed and steeped in living the American West. Rather than try to put words to the experience, I'll send you to the link for the Western Folklife Center Members' Show #1 on Thursday, January 30th. 

The theme of the Gathering was "Expressing the Rural West ~ into the Future". Planners worked hard to attract younger generations by taking advantage of social media and creating youth programs like the Teen Poetry Slam and Young Buckaroo Open Mic. We took notice, there were more young people attending, participating and performing at the Gathering that we'd seen in previous events. A new generation, old souls at heart, has stepped up to carry on the traditions of the West. 

Performance from Teen Poetry Slam
Photo credit Jessica Brandi Lifland

Glenn Ohrlin and Bridget Reedy 
Photo credit Jessica Brandi Lifland at

We need to remember across generations 
That there is as much to learn as there is to teach. 
 Gloria Steinem

Look up any of the performers cited above on YouTube and you'll find some great examples of their work. If you go to Cowboy you'll find an incredible resource for research, poetry and all things cowboy. The link is

We checked out a few of the trade shows in the afternoon, had an early dinner and called it a day. Time for a little dose of Louis L'Amour and dreamland.

Thursday, February 6, 2014

The Road to Elko ~ Jan 28-29, 2014

Off to Elko, Nevada for the 30th Annual National Cowboy Poetry Gathering. We missed 2013 due to severe weather (Wimpy Coastal California Kids) and this time next year I should be recovering from a liver transplant (Not Allowed in Crowds). Our friend Carol came with us and nothing was going to keep the posse away from this celebration of living history, horses and cowboys. It is also Nevada's sesquicentennial (150th) birthday. Although I'm a California girl, I have family ties to Nevada and proud to have some history there. 

We took off about 10:30 and got to Reno in the late afternoon. After tossing the luggage into our rooms the three of us took off for a walkabout (a daily ritual). Coincidentally, the distance from the Silver Legacy to Labels, our favorite consignment store, is a two mile round trip. Walking Justifies Shopping! We had a delightful dinner with our friends Steve and Barbara and then called it a night. The Biggest Little City in the World is a good halfway point in the journey.

Some find the high desert a featureless bore, but I am always stunned by it's vast beauty, subtle colors, vitality and adaptive genius. The drive to Elko was cloudy and cool with a promise of rain and snow as we climbed each pass to the next great wide open. Nevada is also experiencing drought conditions so if moisture gets this far east there is hope we're getting rain at home. 



We arrived in the late afternoon, unpacked and headed out to our first show at the Elko Convention Center: the premier of the Trails End Ranch Radio Show from the mind of Stephanie Davis. We were lucky enough to see the first, post workshop, performance at a San Francisco gallery last year. 

Trails End Ranch Radio
Fred Newman, D.W. Groethe, Stephanie Davis, 
Jerry Brooks, Henry Real Bird
Photo Gib Myers ~ Elko Daily Free Press

We became a live in studio audience for the show (My dad took me to the Red Blanchard Show in San Francisco in the 50's so this was a delightful step back in time for me). The ensemble is made up of six actors and five poets who write all their skits and advertisements (my favorite was for Western Brew ~ Lose Your Need to be Right) and a seven musician band. The show has grown and evolved since our first viewing so we were thoroughly entertained. 

After the performance Rod, Carol and I met up with our friend Tam for dinner at the Star Hotel and then headed back to the Gold Country Inn to catch a few winks before our first full day of entertainment kicked into gear. Note to self: no more large dinners at 9pm.

Note to my readers: Many of the event performances are well worth checking out and are available as live podcasts from the Western Folklife Center at the following link: