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Celebrating Ranch Life of the American West: The Cowboy Poetry Gathering
Cowboy Poetry Gathering
Home on the Range

When you hear the word “cowboy,” what comes to mind? Rugged, strong, no-nonsense individual, right? So, Cowboy Poetry? Yes. The cowboy’s work is often lonely and isolated, a cycle of hard, dirty, dangerous jobs from the spring round-up through the cattle drive, the end of the trail and the return to the ranch. Surprising as it may seem, the cowboy, as with the miner, the logger, the fisherman –has a poetry-seeking tradition, whether it’s reciting the classics or reading their own poetry or prose. I attended this fascinating event a few years ago and the next National Cowboy Poetry Gathering, the 29th, takes place in Elko, Nevada on January28-February 2, 2013. Elko is located in the northeastern corner of the state, 230 miles from Salt Lake City and 295 miles from Reno. The Western Folklife Center, host to the Poetry Gathering, is based in town, and is dedicated to preserving the traditional culture of the American West. The Lure of Cowboy Life When I visited Elko I stayed at the 71 Ranch, a guest ranch for the Working Cowboy Experience. The “71” is a real cattle ranch right in the middle of cowboy country and during my stay there I had the chance to be a part of day-to-day ranch life for a truly authentic experience. I rode horseback over a small part of the ranch’s 38,000 acres, right alongside some of the 2,500 head of cattle belonging to the ranch. Being new to sitting atop a horse, I elicited a promise from my cowboy guide that my slow-poke horse would not, under any circumstances, take it into his head to run. He didn’t and I stayed astride and very happy. That evening, we had a typical cowboy dinner of ribs, baked beans, potatoes and pie. A group of us then gathered around a campfire to ward off the chill which crept in at dusk. We sang along with a cowboy who entertained us with well-known Western songs, and, feeling warm and toasty, we were very happy campers! The next day we visited the Western Folklife Center where they explained the National Cowboy Poetry Gathering. This is a week-long celebration of life in the rural west, featuring the contemporary and traditional arts of western ranching culture. Poetry, music, dance, stories, film, photography, food – all contribute to an event that has become an annual ritual and a place of personal meaning for thousands of people. And lest you think the performers are only the “boys,” I’m happy to tell you there are a lot of authentic cowgirls who recite their poetry as well. Among performers at January’s event will be National Public Radio commentator Baxter Black, the renowned “wacko” poet whose verse has been heard by millions. During my stay in Elko, I was lucky enough to see Baxter at the Elko Convention Center, filled to capacity, and everyone enjoying his raucous performance. The organizers of the upcoming Poetry Gathering promise that “we’ll dance all night, talk all day at the Pioneer Saloon, and enjoy all the artists being celebrated!” For tickets to the January 2013 National Cowboy Poetry Gathering, go to the website: www.westernfolklife.org or order by phone: 888-880-5885. Elko and the surrounding area has much to offer, from the beauty of the land, the Ruby Mountains called the “alps of Nevada,” to the endless prairies covered with sage brush, bright yellow rabbit grass, juniper forests and dotted with grazing Black Angus wherever you look. The sky is always bright blue, the clouds big and billowy, and the mountain goats, big horn sheep, and elk are never far away. Among some of Elko’s fun activities: watch a saddle being made at the famed J.M. Capriola Company, see pottery done the old-fashioned way at Tuscarora Pottery School, visit one of the many casinos, check out the handicrafts of Native Americans, visit the Northeastern Nevada Museum for an in-depth exploration of Nevada’s early years with exhibits of mining, ranching, native culture and Old West history, and end the day with a delicious dinner at a Basque restaurant. There’s a lovely little poem that I read at the Folklife Center, aptly called “A Cowboy’s Prayer:” I thank you, Lord, that I am placed so well, That You have made my freedom so complete That I’m no slave of whistle, clock or bell, Nor weak-eyed prisoner of wall and street. Just let me live my life as I’ve begun And give me work that’s open to the sky; Make me a pardner of the wind and sun, And I won’t ask a life that’s soft or high. At the National Cowboy Poetry Gathering, you’ll hear many poems just as heartfelt and profound as this and your experience will be a happy one. If You Go: Western Folklife Center Tel: 435-657-3086 www.westernfolklife.org 71 Ranch Tel: 1-866-717-7171 www.71-ranch.com Red Lion Hotel & Casino 1065 Idaho St., Elko Tel: 800-447-4136 www.HotelReservations.com Star Hotel Basque Family-Style Restaurant 246 Silver St, Elko Tel: 775-738-9925