I'm looking at the calendar—June 1st, perhaps the warm days will be starting here in Boulder? Universe? Can we get a warm one? Still, in Boulder I see that the garden season has arrived despite the cold and windy Spring. The gardens are going in. Aunt Renon and Janis have arrived to get their plot ready, Doren will till the ground today, and with the way those two work the garden will be in by tomorrow.
Last night we had a rehearsal at Eric's in Salt Gulch to establish the line-up for the grand opening of the 'roots' music exhibit at The Anazasi Museum. Many of the singer/songwriters are involved in the presentation, sharing our songs about Boulder. The nature of roots music is the music that is indigenous to the area, so it should be very interesting to hear these songs. I'm going to play 'Out Stealing Horses', which is a song that I began writing remembering and incident with one of the local boys, Paul Hansen.
One day Paul and a friend of his (that I didn't know) where sitting up at The Burr Trail Outpost. It was about nine in the morning, and I noticed two things when I arrived. The first was that there was the distinct smell of whiskey in the air, and the second thing I noticed was that Paul's friend looked fairly distressed. So, I saddled up and sat down, as Paul is always good for some wild story, and this morning was no exception. He first asked me if I wanted to go to Calf Creek with them to put in a culvert. Although it sounded appealing to put in a culvert with Paul, I passed on the option, as I had other things I needed to do. Fairly soon after that, Paul pointed out his Cattle Truck down at the government corrals. The truck was full of horses, horses that he had stolen out in Wayne County. Now I knew why his friend looked so distressed, horse stealing used to be a hangin' offense in the west. I'm not sure who exactly Paul had stolen the horses from, but I could imagine the scenario. As a sometime whiskey drinker myself, I can remember those times when fueled up, doing something crazy seemed like a good idea at the time. I could imagine Paul taking this guy (he said he was a pilot) and pulling that truck up to a loading gate late at night and loading up some rancher's horses, and then driving to Boulder with them. I'm not sure what happened after that, I would imagine that in a day or two, Paul turned around and took them back. If you were a rancher with a pasture of horses, it must have been a strange revelation to get up and find that your horses had been stolen in the middle of the night. No one really does that any more except for Paul Hansen. I loved him all the more for it.
Even though whiskey loses its allure when its starts getting you in trouble, I can't help thinking that Paul really didn't think like that at all. And yes, I suppose on the onset it seemed romantic, out drinkin' whiskey in a cattle truck and ending the night with a horse stealing. I started out writing the song to capture the essence of Out Stealin' Horses based on that story. As I began to put it down, it turned into another kind of adventure, and a love story. The line, "Give me a sky—as long as a crow—flyin' on trade winds down to Old Mexico. Give me one reason, and I'll pack my bag, saddle those ponies and never look back…" is a line given to me by this notion of the romance, the allure of just 'taking off'. We all think it at times. I'll repost the song so that you can see the progression of this dream. This is what roots music is, spurred on by the stories, romance, difficult times, love, death, etc… right were you live. There is a film I saw last year by Hal Cannon, one of the organizers of The Elko Cowboy Poets Gathering in Elko, Nevada, called 'Why the Cowboy Sings'. It was some of the most amazing footage of cowboys doing their thing. In America, the cowboy goes through his ups and downs, but there will always be a romance connected to him unsurpassed in American history, and its no less here in Boulder, where I was fortunate enough to grow up at the end of a certain era here, when cowboys who were still cowboys. Cowboys who knew how to do a thousand and one things with a piece of bailing wire. Cowboys who slept in line cabins and rode their horses through the canyons, their clothes deeply smelling of cedar wood fires.
There is another Paul story I distinctly remember. When I was a teenager, and working on Aunt Renon's ranch, I remember riding with the men up on the mountain. We were pushing the cattle to the next part of the summer range and Paul was amongst us. Paul always wore one of those very flat crowned Stetson hats, and of course always had a little whiskey and his thirty-thirty saddle rifle. Although the other cowboys liked Paul, I sensed that they were always a little wary of him, as any thing could happen. Sure enough, as we were riding up into the quakie trees, Paul suddenly pulled out his rifle and shot a buck deer right in front of every one riding. Horses whinnied and started with the crack of that rifle, and of course the men were annoyed that Paul had done this. As for me, (even though I don't hunt anymore) I thought it was the greatest thing in the world. It created a little adventure right there on the mountain, and of course everyone waited around while Paul skinned out the deer, grabbed the two hind quarters, put them in a canvas bag he had and slung them over the back of his saddle. I know it made the day's long ride a lot more interesting, and I certainly watched Paul for the rest of the day.
Its tempting for me to say, "Those were the good ole' days…" however, I don't think it true. I think it's more peoples' reluctance for adventure. We live in a world and a society where the comforts of the consumer is most to be desired. I've often thought this winter imagining Jill and Josh living in that camp trailer down in Deer Creek must have been an adventure. I would think, that must have been a hard winter. But, hey, listen, a hard winter is a character building enterprise. I admire my Aunt Renon, at eighty seven, leaving her comfortable home in Cedar City to risk coming back to Boulder to garden and deal with the still wild place. Or, my mother in her late seventies, making videos and putting them on u-tube, saying and expressing all kinds of wild rhetoric. Or my cousin Cheryl, running for the school board in Garfield County, not knowing what she's in for. I also admire the people here in Boulder who had a winter snow up over the window sills. The bottom line is that our society condones a comfortable lifestyle. You don't have to go out stealing horses, you just have to find your risk and your zone of allowing yourself the pleasure of being a little uncomfortable because it may be an element that you are not used to. Adventure and risk will always yield a result beyond the comfortable restraints we find ourselves in. I've noticed as I get older, many of those around me lose that sense of adventure, because with adventure, there is always risk. I find myself more and more willing to risk as I get older, rather than lament on the wild adventures I had when I was a younger man, because there is finite arc to this life. I do realize that there is a certain adventure that is always inherent in being human, we can't help having some sense of adventure just being alive, no matter what we do to amuse ourselves.
I taught high school for ten years. I taught theatre, film, and for two years taught humanities. Although I taught at an art school, I still had the parents who had to come and talk to me when their child came home and said, "I want to be an actor!" Or, I want to paint, or dance, or become a filmmaker. Although they had sent them voluntarily to an arts school, they certainly didn't want them to 'become' artists. I was one of those teachers who took the job not for security but because I wanted to teach young people what I had learned as an artist. (Yes, I was an ultra liberal, with notions of changing the world, one play, one painting, one book at a time). I didn't want my students, however, to think that art was an easy life, but I wanted them to know it was certainly worth it. Many thought I was a little crazy to quit after ten years to venture out into the unknown world again as an artist and writer. And, I loved teaching. But I felt I had to go out and gather more life material to teach again. And someday, I will probably find myself back into the classroom, but Oh My God! Am I gathering lessons to someday once impart again! People fear art because it is risk, rather, It's manifesting creativity to interpret the process of living. My point is that we must be willing to take some chances to yield a sense of what life is and can be. I can tell you that being in Salt Gulch last night sitting around playing old cowboy songs was an adventure in itself. I sometimes feel the scorn of those who would secretly criticize me for not having what 'I should have in my life by now', however, in my way of thinking, none of what I can amass on earth I can take with me when I die, and even though I have to keep my wits about me, I'm mostly content to do a little suffering without certain comforts so that I can sit in an old trailer and type out a play. It may seem irresponsible to some, but I can take off tomorrow for an adventure, sadly, (and I do mean sadly) I just can't take my whiskey any more. The job of the writer (and the songwriter) is to live a life that is full. To observe the lives of others that are full, and bear a record of it. Could you picture yourself in your wildest imagination saddling up a horse and heading to Mexico to steal horses? I know, I can't even do that, but Paul could do it in his own way, and it was wonderful. I hope that helps with the concept of 'roots' music.
Out Stealin' Horses
Give me a sky—as long as a crow
Flyin' on trade winds down to Old Mexico
Give me one reason—I'll pack my bag
Saddle them ponies and never look back
We'll just pick up and go
Down to Old Mexico.
Five days to ride—a river to cross
We'll camp at the border and maybe got lost,
Maybe get lost…
Out stealin' horses—back on the run
Waitin' for trains, shootin' our guns
Out stealin' horses—ropin' the sun,
Out stealin' horses for fun,
Out stealin' horses for fun.
Crossin' that line—breakin' the trail,
You on the sorrel, me on the pale,
Dust in our boots—wind through the trees
We'll drive em' all night, then do as we please.
Give me some land—rollin' in luck
We'll build us a place—a rancho deluxe
Watchin' the moon fall over our heads
Spend the rest of our days ridin that spread.
We'll just pick up and go, down to Old Mexico…
Copyright 2010 by Raymond King Shurtz