Saturday, October 31, 2009

Happy Halloween and other October Happenings in the Outback

Fortunately the month of October is going out like a lamb, after roaring like a lion several times during the month in the Nebraska Outback. The latest blizzard resulted in the closure of Interstate 80 from North Platte to Wyoming, Interstate 76 into Colorado and Highway 30 to Wyoming for much of Thursday and Friday and part of Saturday. As a tourism professional, I will take a 100% occupancy rate in the local hotels and motels no matter what the cause, but I also have to feel sorry for all of the travelers who were stranded away from home and their destinations.

Now here it is Halloween day, and all across the outback, there are still soybeans standing in wet fields. For those non-agricultural readers out there, soybeans should have been out a month or more ago. There are a lot of soybeans molding in their pods, and more that have already fallen to the ground and are un-harvestable.

The corn harvest should also be well underway, but has hardly even begun. The snow that came the 22nd & 23rd was heavy and wet and broke down the tops of the corn. This most recent snow was extremely heavy and wet, and came with high winds. The crop damage is still being assessed.

A friend of ours spent yesterday helping a rancher friend move cattle back to the summer pasture. They had been moved into corrals waiting for corn fields to be harvested so they could be moved onto stalks. Since no harvest happened, they have to go somewhere, so it’s back to pasture. This was no ordinary cattle drive. It was led off with a tractor equipped with a large blade that had to clear the road just so the cattle could make the trip. The tractor was pulling a sled carrying a haystack so the cows were definitely motivated.

The Mister and I have spent the past week in Lincoln, mostly to help our #1 daughter and son-in-law move, but we managed to squeeze in a lot of fun as well, and we missed the entire western Nebraska blizzard! Now we’re heading west on I-80, listening to the Nebraska-Baylor football game on KRVN radio, hoping to get home in time for the Mister to put the chains on the tractor and get the driveway cleared before the day cools off. Right now it’s 50+ degrees, so hopefully the bulk of the snow will be melted into the ground and won’t have to be moved.

The move went great, with plenty of time to move a room and get everything put away before moving the next room. Then by Friday when a large crew was available to help, they were able to get the big stuff and put it all where it belonged. We even managed to get the old house cleaned from top to bottom as we went. Thank goodness for lots of friends and family to lend helping hands.

The week started out last Saturday watching a disappointing Husker game with friends and family, then heading to Omaha and the Sokol Underground to enjoy some incredibly fun Celtic Punk rock music by Chicago’s Flatfoot 56 and Lincoln’s Killigans.

We also got to hear a fun duo, Destroy Nate Allan.

Monday night is Big Band Music by the Lincoln Capital Jazz Society at Brewskys Underground in Lincoln’s Haymarket district. Fortunately this is an 18+ show, so even the #4 son was able to go and listen to some very talented musicians playing a style of music young people don’t necessarily get exposed to very often. We got busy and missed the Jazz night on Wednesday, but on Thursday we enjoyed a variety of bands at the Red 9, including Staggerford, a Lincoln-based Indie band that we really liked.

We managed to have enough energy left on Friday to head back to Brewskys for the Blazin’ Pianos performance. If you ever have a chance to go to a dueling piano show, I highly recommend it. It’s so much fun.

Tomorrow is November 1, and the beginning of NaNoWriMo 2009 – National Novel Writing Month. I have accepted the challenge to write a 50,000 word novel during the month of November. That is 1,677 words a day for the next 30 days. My characters and their antics are already bursting to get out and take off running on paper, but I am following the rules and doing nothing more than making plans until 12:01 a.m. tomorrow morning when the writing can begin.

With NaNoWriMo and getting ready for our first House Concert of the fall, as well as Thanksgiving and holiday preparation should make November a very busy month.

Thanks for stopping by. The coffee is always on.

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Jettison the Generic

One of the perks of being involved in the tourism industry is that I frequently get to travel myself. This time the professionals involved in the Nebraska Travel Industry are gathering in Norfolk Nebraska for the annual Nebraska Travel and Tourism conference put on by the Nebraska Department of Economic Development and the Division of Travel and Tourism.

While I had hoped to have some great pictures of the beautiful scenery between North Platte and Norfolk to add to the blog, unfortunately, it was overcast, foggy and rainy the whole way, so pictures wouldn't have done justice to Beautiful Nebraska. Looking out my window right now I see that the parking lot is dry, unlike yesterday when it was awash in driving rain. Checking the weather back home, it is currently snowing lightly.

Here in Norfolk, we are staying at the delightful Norfolk Lodge & Suites, which is attached to the Divot's Conference Center. This is a wonderful facility to be located in a town of about 25,000 people away from the metropolitan centers of Nebraska.

The rooms are wonderfully comfortable! It is a 100% nonsmoking facility which is another plus.
They come equipped with an iPod port in the clock radio, so I'm a happy camper (yes family, I am keeping the tunes to a less-than-window-rattling level).
The giant fireplace that greets guests in the lobby has certainly been a comfortable gathering spot given the cold wet weather of the past couple of days.

Oh yes, what are we really here for? Learning how to do our jobs better and increase the economic activity of Nebraska through tourism. I just about forgot.
Besides many meetings of statewide tourism groups, the Nebraska Association of Bed and Breakfasts, Nebraska and individual Byways, the Nebraska Travel Association and Nebraska Association of Conventions and Visitors Bureaus, there are exciting and informative general sessions and breakouts.
The first general session was presented by Roger Brooks. The title of this post is his signature mantra: Jettison the Generic - discover what you have to offer that people can't get closer to home, then promote that like crazy! If you ever want to get excited about the possibilities tourism has to offer, then make an opportunity to hear Roger.
I won't give away all of Roger's hints and tips, but I will say that he told us that success revolves around marketing ACTIVITIES not locations. Americans will type what they want to do into Google, then find out where to do it. They won't type in a location, unless it's iconic like Disneyland or Las Vegas, then find out what there is to do in that area.

He also pointed out that destinations must separate their primary draw from the secondary or diversionary activities, then market the primary draw. That is difficult in small town Nebraska, where every attraction feels like they're the most important and should be marketed equally. However, only 4-6 hours of a visitors time is spent at the primary draw, while 80% of their money and time is spent on the diversionary activities. So get them to town for the primary draw and everybody wins!!

North Platte is so fortunate in that we have identified hands-down our primary draw - more trains pass through North Platte Nebraska than anywhere on the planet! While that may not rattle your cage, it is music to the ears of rail fans, which are a huge market. Thanks to the Golden Spike Tower and Visitor Center and Rail Fest, we are beginning to capitalize on our unique niche in the tourism industry. Plus we have great diversionary activities such as the North Platte Canteen exhibit at the Lincoln County Historical Museum and Buffalo Bill's ranch among others. A great combination.
Our evening entertainment in Norfolk began with a visit to the Elkhorn Valley Museum. This Museum is a wonderful facility filled with local history and lore,
and memorabilia from the area's past, but what kind of unique niche does a local history museum have to offer?

Well, in Norfolk's case, heeeeeeeeeere's Johnny! Yes, Norfolk Nebraska is the hometown of America's own beloved Johnny Carson. The Elkhorn Valley Museum contains an impressive exhibit of Johnny's life, including his Presidential Medal of Freedom and all six of the Emmy awards he received as host of the Tonight Show. It was great to put on the headphones and see exerpts of some of his most memorable guests, monologues and skits.

Gatherings like this are a wonderful opportunity to network with colleagues, catch up with old friends and talk shop.
To capitalize on it's unique claim to fame, Norfolk has developed the Great American Comedy Festival in honor of it's favorite son, held each year the third week in June. The evening ended with the 2009 winner, Sam Adams performing for a very appreciative audience.
Thanks for stopping by. The hotel lobby serves coffee 6:30am to 9:30am. See you there.

Saturday, October 17, 2009

It's been a long time since I featured a post written by my friend One Foot In the Grave. This one came in, and it got me to thinking about how much our world has changed from the basically subsistence lifestyle that was common in Nebraska only a generation ago.

So here it is... One Foot In The Grave

The memories we collect and give brighten our lives as long as we live.

Life's heaviest burden is to have nothing to carry.

It is possible that I am so busy doing that I no longer have time to enjoy being.

Stay is a charming word in a friend's vocabulary.

It is that time of year when we pull our cucumbers, and tomatoes vines. A few years ago I thought I would surprise our family and serve tomatoes that I had grown for Thanksgiving dinner.

Thanksgiving came and the tomatoes were perfect. We sat down to eat and to my surprise no one paid any attention to the tomatoes. So I asked if they were surprised to have tomatoes?

They all looked at me like I was crazy. Then the oldest Granddaughter said, Grandma we have tomatoes in our school lunch all the time. Then some one else said, they are on the salad bar of most caf├ęs year around. What's the big deal?

OH MY. Then I explained that when I was growing up we only had tomatoes from the garden. Our Mothers canned tomatoes and made catsup and juice, and when those were ate up in the winter time we had to wait until they grew in the garden again. Grocery stores did not sell fresh vegetables. They always had canned vegetable in my time. My Mom never bought vegetables, she canned her own.

So they were really special. I never raised a real garden or canned. I was 10 years old when we moved and we didn't have a garden after that. So I never learned to can. So I played baseball and went swimming with the children.

Now I am wondering when we got our first gas powered lawn mower? I'm guess some time in the 80's. I put on my swim suit and pushed that old lawn mower it was kind of fun. We didn't have all that much grass, the back yard was a baseball diamond. For a birthday several years ago Jan gave me what looked like a brand new push mower. It hangs in the garage with some of our other memories.

Do you have a canning story or lawn story to tell someone?

We like the gas powered mower.


Why do the they report power outages on TV?

Why is it called tourist season if we can't shoot them?

Shouldn't there be a shorter word for monosyllabic?

Thanks for stopping by. I hope you enjoy One Foot In The Grave's writing as much as I do. The coffee is always on.

Thursday, October 15, 2009

Bering Sea King Crab Season (The Deadliest Catch) Opens Today

The Bering Sea King Crab season officially opens today, October 15, 2009. All of the boats made famous on the Discovery Channel's show Deadliest Catch will be heading out of Dutch Harbor on Unalaska Island to start their season in one of the deadliest fisheries on the planet.

My friends and family think I'm insane to be such an avid fan of a show that depicts a life that bears no resemblance to my own, but I think there are a lot of similarities between Bering Sea crab fishing and life in the Nebraska Sandhills. So, in honor of the opening day of the 2009 King Crab season, I am going to repost an original blog from Theorypedia:

AyshaSchurman AyshaSchurman on September 2, 2009
Why We Love 'Deadliest Catch'
Discovery Networks
Hauling crab pots is a direct route to everyone's inner hunter gatherer.
The Basics
Discovery's 'Deadliest Catch' is so appealing because our brains are hardwired to like it. Its themes and narratives tap directly into pre-cortal, biological urges we all possess: the need for food, man vs. unpredictable nature, banding together and the Alpha male. It is a clear example of entertainment that favors our primitive brain -- the amygdala -- over the more nuanced neo-cortex.
Agree 90% / Disagree 10%
The Full Theory

Here's my theory for the appeal of 'Deadliest Catch:' biologically, we are the Flintstones living in the Jetson's world. The producers behind Discovery's 'Deadliest Catch' know this. The program is a great example of Claude Levi Strauss' "The Raw and the Cooked," an anthropological piece examining man's effort to balance natural and cultural forces.

Specifically, these forces are the instinctual urges for food, survival in nature, banding together for physical protection and advantage and, lastly, the survival and success of the alpha male.

We're hardwired at an instinctual level to identify with the lives of these crabbers.

Below is the "Deadliest Catch" formula and how it taps into our inner caveman.

1. The hunt for food.
'Deadliest Catch' is first and foremost about the most primitive form of homo sapiens' most primary need: finding food in the wild.

It's the cunning hunter outwitting his prey. It's the danger of the chase and the satisfaction of the kill. Vicariously, viewers experience the thrill of pursuit, the excitement of the kill and the pain of the periodic loss without any risk. That's a survival of the fittest double whammy: the hunt and kill without risk.

2. Survival in a hostile, unpredictable, natural world. 'Deadliest Catch' takes place in the wild waters off Alaska. Anything can happen at any time in those turbulent waves, and that message is brought home by the show. People die.

Those storms are some of the world's worst. They confound weather forecasters. They represent real risk. You will literally die if you're in the Bering Sea for more than 5 minutes. Moreover, this is foreign nature -- wind, water and weather.

3. Safety in numbers.
One man can't catch enough crab to feed himself, much less his offspring. Stick with that plan and there goes the species. 'Deadliest Catch' also enforces the primitive concept of humans banding together. The nature of crabbing means you have to work together to survive and prosper. Men put their lives in each others hands everyday. This displays the basic need humans have for each other, which is another message the show drives home.

Think about it for a second. Our medications have safety packages, our recreational sports have safety equipment and even our cars are practically idiot proof. Even cup of coffee is expected to have a warning that states if you spill the hot liquid, it may burn you.

Humanity has reached a point were we avoid even the slightest little scratch, much less actual danger, in our typical day to day lives.

Through this safety extravaganza, we have lost the excitement involved in being alive. When we watch salty workers battling the sea to harvest its bounty, we become intimately reminded of what humans are truly capable of surviving. In the end, survival is the most primitive instinct of all. 'Deadliest Catch' knows this.

4. Survival and success of the Alpha male.
There is no clearer expression of the Alpha Male than the skipper of an Alaskan crab boat. The captain is the guy who has spent the most time on deck, hauled the most traps, put up with the most deadly weather and survived more nights in port at the 'Elbow Room' than anyone else on the boat.

In return, he is rewarded with the biggest piece of the kill: the largest crew share of the sale. Nepotism and patronage are virtually non-existent. The sons of captains start where everyone else starts -- making bait and stacking pots.

Scientists estimate we're about 150 thousand years from mitochondrial Eve -- genetically the most complete 'mother' of homo sapiens. It has taken 150 thousand years to evolve from upright humans with opposable thumbs to the technologically-advanced society we are today.

In terms of technology, the evolution we've experienced in the last 100 years bests everything from the previous 1000. So, as humans we currently occupy a space where technology has superseded, negated and obviated our sustaining myths and primary biologicalimpulses.

In terms of brain function, the 'Deadliest Catch' taps more directly into our primitive brain -- the amygdala (instinctual responses, etc...) than our Neo-Cortex (home of higher cognition, psychological self and nuanced social identity.)

It will take more than a 100 years for humans to evolve beyond the -- "find food," "battle nature," and "security through strength" impulses for which we're currently wired.

More than any other television program, the 'Deadliest Catch' understands this. And that's why it's so damn hard to turn off the tube when it's on: the amygdala has the clicker.

Thanks for stopping by. The coffee is always on.

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

A Great Outback Road Trip

So here's the section of map that we traveled over on our backroad road trip to the Cowboy Poetry Gathering in Valentine. No, the route isn't the solid black line marked Highway 97. The road that we took is the thin black line that quickly fades to a dashed line going directly north out of Sutherland. The route takes us through the Sandhills, past Diamond Bar Lake, a short trek on Highway 92, then north again through the Dismal River Valley, coming out just south of Mullen on Highway 97. From there, it was the more standard trip on up to Valentine, but still through some amazing country.
Just north of Sutherland, almost to the Birdwood Creek valley, we spotted our favorite herd of Antelope. Earlier, I had mused whether or not Antelope actually rut this time of year, but after watching this herd for awhile, I don't think there is any doubt. This proud buck is the head of an eight-doe harem, and he doesn't let them make a single move without his approval.

He guides their every move, and nudges them this way and that according to his whim.
He even stopped and made a few false charges toward the pickup as we were stopped taking pictures. He should be pleased that we weren't armed with anything more lethal than a camera.

We did see several smaller herds on this drive, but they were all a lot further away from the road, and didn't lend themselves to any drive-by photography.
The beautiful Diamond Bar Lake is approximately 30 miles north of Sutherland. It is one of the natural, shallow lakes resulting from the Ogallala Aquifer that sits under the Sandhills. The landowner has an agreement with the Nebraska Game and Parks Commission that allows public access although it is privately owned.

When I was growing up in the '60's not too far west of here, we would make infrequent fishing trips to the lake, catching Bullheads. From what I understand, that is still mostly what is caught out of this lake.
While I was researching a recent blog post in the Sutherland history book, I found that in the 1930's, Diamond Bar boasted a resort with numerous cabins to rent. The resort was complete with fishing boats, bait and other fishing to supplies.

The Mister and I camped over Memorial Weekend here a couple of years ago, and it was quiet and peaceful, right up until about an hour before sunrise. In the false dawn, the blackbirds that nest in the rushes surrounding the lake began singing, and the cacophony was deafening. No more sleep that night.

Just past Diamond Bar, the road takes on a quality that is unique to the Sandhills. It changes from a dirt track, to a single lane oil road. It worked out well for us today, as we met only a couple of other travelers on the entire 90 miles of back roads, but I wouldn't want to meet a cattle or grain truck on it!
During this trip, there was still a little green to be seen in the hills. Here is a field of small square bales ready to be picked up and stored for the winter. Tossing small square bales around is one of the ways young men from the Sandhills develop their muscles.
This is another section of single lane oil road that is just north of Highway 92, leaving McPherson County and entering Hooker County.
The beautiful Dismal River valley. Did you know that Nebraska has more miles of shoreline than any other state? This includes our neighbors from the coasts, Hawaii, Alaska and the Great Lakes States. I'll post a picture showing all of Nebraska's rivers one day soon so you can see that it's the truth.
The headwaters of the Dismal River. It doesn't look like much here, but further to the east it develops into one of the most scenic rivers in Nebraska. It is possible to canoe and tank down it, but not recommended. Lots of twists and turns, and numerous deadfalls make the trip less than enjoyable.
Between Mullen and Valentine lies the Merritt Reservoir along the Snake River. This 3,000 acre lake is home to amazing Sandhills views and great fishing. 
Remember, the day we made this drive, the wind was directly out of the north at about 50. Just imagine it on a sunny summer day and it will look a little more inviting to you.And now for one of my favorite stops on the journey. The beautiful Snake River Falls. The Falls are located on private property, but there is a drop box for the fee charged for the privilege of hiking down to them.
The trail is quite a hike - not very long, but a little strenuous. The highly eroded limestone/sandstone trail requires paying close attention.
The hike is well worth it, though. During the spring irrigation season, the water will be roaring off these falls, filling the valley.
Because of the overhang, it is possible to climb right underneath the Falls, where you're in a world of your own. If this day had been warm and sunny, we would have spent a much longer time here, but wet combined with wind and cold wasn't too attractive on this day.
I hope you've enjoyed this trip through the backroads of the Nebraska Sandhills.

Thanks for stopping by. The coffee is always on.

Saturday, October 10, 2009

Snow Day!

The sun rose and the snow just kept coming! It finally quit around 11:00, and the snowfall amounts are in the 12 - 16" range. The NWS isn't posting the local October records yet, but I'll bet this one makes it into the books.
I thought so - here is info from the National Weather Service:
...Snowfall Records Shattered With The First Snowstorm Of The Season…

A new snowfall record was set for the month of October, when 13.8 inches
was observed at the National Weather Service Office at North Platte
Regional Airport. The old record occurred way back on October 29th and
30th 1896, when 13.0 inches was observed.

Snow depths of over a foot and a half were reported in and around the
North Platte area. Snow fell continuously from 8 pm CDT Friday evening
until 10 am CDT Saturday morning.

An unusually strong Arctic cold front ushered in temperatures from the
upper teens to middle 20s by mid evening Friday. As a strong Polar
jetstream acted to bring persistent lift to the area Friday night, moderate
snow fell continuously across the Nebraska Panhandle into west central
and central Nebraska.

Because the airmass was unusually cold, this caused the snow to be rather
light and fluffy, thus the high snowfall totals. Below is a list of snowfall
totals across western and north central Nebraska Saturday morning.

And it is such a beautiful snow - light and fluffy, didn't do much damage to the trees. There wasn't any wind, so it all just came straight down without drifting.
What do guys in the Nebraska Outback do when it snows? They get out their tractors and play. Before the Mister could get out and about, our neighbor had his blade hooked up to his four wheeler and started clearing our driveway.

Not satisfied to let him play alone, the Mister hooked up the heavy equipment to finish the job. This snow came early enough that he actually wasn't jonesing too bad to play in the snow. You'll notice he doesn't even have the tire chains on the tractor. I'm sure he'll remedy that just as soon as the weather turns nice again.
Kind of an odd way to measure snow, don't you think? And not very accurate either.
I'll be willing to bet that it won't be long until I'm tired of the view of snow covered landscapes, but the first one of the season is kind of exciting. This is off of the North Platte River bridge looking east. While we didn't go tanking down this particular stretch of water, it wasn't so long ago that we were floating down this river enjoying the summer sun.
The hills are covered as far as the eye can see.
Looking back at Sutherland from the first Sand Hill north of the river. You can see the Gerald Gentleman Power Plant in the background, steam rising from the twin stacks.
I've shown you what the Nebraska Outback men do when the snow flies. What do the women do? Or at least this particular woman? Yes, here it is. Parked in front of the fire or sitting in the hot tub are two of my favorite spots in the winter.
What else do I do? How about a delicious pot of seafood soup? That'll warm a body right up.

Thanks for stopping by. I'm going to forgo the coffee this afternoon and move right on to the hot chocolate flavored with Peppermint Schnapps. Mmmm.

October Blizzard in the Nebraska Outback

When we went to bed last night, the snow predictions were anywhere from 1-3" to 2-4". This is what we woke up to! There's 6-8" on the ground right now, and it's still snowing as I write this, which is about 6:30 a.m. Central time.
We're under a Winter Storm Warning, which the National Weather Service says may drop another 3" on us before it moves out of the area at around 10:00 a.m.
Yeah - see, it's still snowing! We were scheduled to head out to deliver Seifer Farms chickens at 7:30, but I already called the farm and said we should postpone the delivery until tomorrow afternoon. The NWS is recommending emergency travel only, and I don't think a chicken delivery counts. Unless, of course, someone was counting on some Farm Fresh chicken for their Sunday dinner - in that case, they'll have to make other plans.
This one is a little blurry, but after all, it was taken at about 6:00 a.m., so still dark. The slow shutter speed and shivering resulted in some operator error.
See all those tracks in the snow? Our dog hadn't been out yet when these picts were taken. Wonder what it is? See all the green leaves still on the trees? Contrasts rather nicely with the white snow, don't you think?

The good news to come out of this is that the snow is really light and fluffy instead of wet and heavy, so there won't be much damage to the trees. That and hopefully there is still some Indian Summer ahead of us so it will melt quickly. The Mister and our neighbor put the last screws into his new roof at about 6:00 last night - perfect timing.

Thanks for stopping by. The coffee is always on, and I think I'll make some hot chocolate too. Check back for more pictures throughout the day.

Thursday, October 8, 2009

You Call These Guys Amateurs?

Nebraska Cowboy Poetry Gathering Part 2...

As I mentioned in the first post, the Gathering is divided into two parts - the Sessions and the Performances. I guess I really can't tell you the difference between the poets in either of these groupings - even the Professionals, with a few exceptions, usually still make their actual livings from some aspect of life in the west. Maybe the delivery of the professionals is a little more polished, and they have a bit more stage presence, but don't let the distinction between a Professional cowboy poet and an Amateur keep you from watching either of them - you're in for a treat either way.

The guys in the Sessions we were able to attend could maybe be better described as Locals, not amateurs.  This post features some of the performers in the Sessions.

Bruce Messersmith is a third-generation rancher from Sheridan County Nebraska, on the edge of the Nebraska Sandhills in the Pine Ridge country. His poetry comes from his real-life experiences and stories he's heard over the years. His wife, Lyn Messersmith is also an accomplished Cowboy Poet, although we didn't have the privilege of hearing her on this trip.
Ken Morland and Marty Blocker are both working ranchers from the northern Nebraska Sandhill country. 

The next three performers are definitely NOT what comes to mind when you hear the word amateurs. Chris and Charity Gudgel and Paul Siebert - The Double D Wranglers - are accomplished musicians, and put on a fantastic show. And to clinch the deal, Chris is an amazing yodeler.
Since a still picture doesn't really do their performance justice, I have added a youtube video for your viewing pleasure.  If you're interested, the Double D Wranglers have just confirmed that they will be performing at the Nebraska Outback House Concert (That's me!) on November 19.

Dan Stehlik is a teacher from Kansas, I believe an Industrial Arts or Ag instructor. I wonder if his students get the insight into the wise and thoughtful man that we got to see up on stage.
Teresa Kay's bio reads "The rolling hills and winding roads were the landscape in which she worked y her father's side (as daddy's boy) rounding up the cattle on horseback and becoming a steward of the land. Teresa has always had a love of music with a deep understanding of hard work within the midwestern culture.
Marci Broyhill, who also happens to be Teresa's sister, enjoys researching the people and cultures involved in the Western movement. Her subject matter is serious, bittersweet, humorous, and reflective.
Phillip Crawford performed a tried-and-true standard of Western music, and one of my favorites "Little Joe The Wrangler".
Thanks for stopping by. The coffee is always on.

Sunday, October 4, 2009

So Many Wranglers, So Little Time

Wranglers is a euphemism for cowboys and cowgirls - you know, horse wranglers, cattle wranglers... What did you think I meant?

The Nebraska Cowboy Poetry Gathering and Old West Days is held annually in Valentine Nebraska the first weekend in October. This year it was October 1 through 4. As I write this, many of the wranglers in attendance will be gearing up for the Trail Ride that closes out the event. 

As I check the weather in Valentine, I find it is overcast and 34 degrees, making me glad that I'm snug in my dining room riding herd on my blog rather than trying to convince stiff bones and muscles to climb up on a horse.  On the National Weather Service site, I find that the peak wind gust in Valentine on Friday was 55 mph. That's the kind of wind that cuts through you like a knife, coming as it did straight from the north. We fought that wind the entire way north, driving through some of the most beautiful country on earth, but that's another blog post.

The Nebraska Cowboy Poetry Gathering is divided into two main parts, the Sessions, made up of mostly amateur poets and musicians, and the Performances featuring the "professionals".  Since we heard some great performers during each type, I'm going to divide my blog up post likewise.

The host for the Saturday afternoon Performance was R.P. Smith, one of my favorite Nebraska poets. I was fortunate enough to be one of the first to purchase and have him autograph his first recording and book back in about 1993.  Now he's performed in about fourteen states and Canada, and it was a privilege to hear him once again.

He opened with his poem "The Song that Has No Tune", describing the incredible sounds that fill the ears of ranchers fortunate enough to live in the Nebraska Sandhills.

The coyotes sing without refrain
A haunting chorus of pleasure and pain
The damsels whistle, their suitors fight
And the voices rise into the night
With neither bass nor treble cleft
I praise my Lord that I’m not deaf
Beneath star filled sky and crescent moon
They sing the chorus of the song that has no tune...

The cold night air it stings my face
Cold tries to stop time in its place
And then I wonder if I know
Is it now or a hundred years ago
This song sung as its been sung for centuries before
I listen as I walk once more
Reappearing like the land of Brigadoon
This ancient song that has no tune
He performed later Saturday night at the final Performance, but by that time, we were headed back south.

We got to listen to Bob Petermann both during the Friday evening and Saturday afternoon Performances.  Bob was raised on a ranch in Montana that didn't get electricity until 1966 or telephone service until 1973. After wandering throughout the U.S., he and his wife Kay are now back on the ranch.  He specializes in the classics as well as performing original material that can make you picture the Montana Badlands in your mind, and feel his love of the land and lifestyle in your heart.
The Carr Family Cowboy Band hail from a ranch south of Whitman Nebraska, in the heart of the Sandhills, and you can hear their love of the ranching lifestyle in their music.

One of their signature songs is "The Broomstick Waltz". In it, you can experience the strength and loneliness of the women who helped settle the remote Sandhills.
Long ago my thoughts strayed
when a stick horse cowboy would be out on the plains
Through the screen door way across the room
My hard working mother would dance with her broom.
Go one two three one two three slide
One two three one two three sweep & glide
One two three one two three clear across the room
One two three one two three the arms of a broom...

Through hard times and lost dreams I'd see her smile
And the belle of the ball she’d be for awhile
With a scarf in her hair an apron in her hand
The fairest of ladies in this hardscrabble land...

She said you’re about as happy or sad as you want to be
Down through the years, I agree
When the riding is rough and I’m in a state of gloom
I go to the closet and get out a broom
"You're about as happy or sad as you want to be"... What great words of wisdom to live by.

It would be hard for words to describe the incredible baritone voice of Paul Larson. I encourage you to visit his website and order a CD - you'll be very glad you did. Whether he's singing one of the classic standards or an original composition, his voice  and talent shine. In perusing his website, it seems he can be found regularly performing at the Dakota Badland Outfitters. If you're in the area, it would be worth a visit.
Jon Chandler certainly doesn't need me to add to the accolades he's received - he was named 2009's "Best Living Western Musician" by True West Magazine, and his recordings have received the 2009 Western Writers of America's Spur Award for Best Song, Telly Awards, the Dalton Pen Award, Best of NAMA Merit Award and his "Westerns" was named "best Western CD". In addition, his fiction and non-fiction writings have received numerous awards and raving reviews.

He shared with us several songs inspired by his participation in the modern-day Hole In The Wall Gang", a group of adventurers who regularly ride the red rock and hole in the wall country of Wyoming.
The host of the Friday evening Performance and a performer Saturday afternoon, Eli Barsi is a native of Saskatchewan Canada, who now divides her time between Canada and Branson, Mo. Eli has ten recordings, three CMT videos and 11 charting radio singles. She is joined on stage by her husband who backs her up on bass, singing harmony and yodeling.
Doris Daley is traveling with Eli on this current tour. She has to be one of the most amazing wordsmiths I've ever heard. She says on her website:
For me, cowboy poetry is about passion, pride and privilege. Passion to write and recite well, pride in my western roots and a way of life that endures despite great odds, and a privilege to be out on the road meeting wonderful people all over the United States and Canada.
She certainly made lots of friends in Valentine, where I believe she said she appeared about five years ago. I'm very glad she came back this year to Perform Friday evening.
Jess Howard was the Mister's favorite poet of our trip to Valentine this year. He is a rancher, rodeoer, horseshoer and of course, poet. His poems definitely bring with them an air of authenticity. While I googled Jess and could find numerous references to his performances at festivals throughout the country, I couldn't find a link to a site with comprehensive information about him. I will refer you to R.P. Smith's website that features downloadable episodes of his radio show "Home Grown".  Scroll down to listing #208 for Jess Howard performing "Ducking the Law".

Thanks for stopping by and listening to my ramblings. The coffee is always on.