Crouchmas (May 3rd)

Some folks think I’m a lying cowboy when I talk about celebrating Crouchmas. It really did exist as a religious Celebration of the Cross for about 15 centuries. “Crouch” is Old English for “cross” hence the name of the celebration.

When the holiday was dropped by the church in 1969 we adopted it as a secular holiday, sending out a few greeting cards and enjoying an Old English dinner. The Jones family down the way thought that was a great idea and had a vision of celebrating Jonesmas…somehow that just didn’t ring true!

This poem expresses the cowboy’s rationale and the economic reality of continuing the celebration out on the ranch…herd management!

It’s said that St. Helena,
in the Fourth Century A.D.,
found remnants of the true cross
and so Crouchmas came to be.

For near fifteen centuries
each and every May the third
Crouchmas was celebrated
and the Latin Mass was heard.

But in nineteen-sixty-nine
that old holiday was dropped,
no longer celebrated,
and the Latin Mass was stopped.

But in Scandinavia
the Crouchmas is still observed,
although as a holiday,
it’s not really been preserved.

It’s when they let the bull in
to bewitch and woo the cow…
it is an age-old custom,
still observed and practiced now.

It’s a way of controlling
that the calving will occur
in the very early Spring
which the cattlemen prefer.

The logic does make good sense…
the holiday’s worth having…
so we celebrate Crouchmas
to manage our herd’s calving.

From the book, Sun, Sand & Soapweed. © 2005

Arbor Day (1872)

Today, as one born and raised in Nebraska, I celebrate Arbor Day, a day initiated in 1872 by J. Sterling Morton a Nebraska newspaper editor who served as President Grover Cleveland’s Secretary of Agriculture. As a youth in the 1930s, I remember observing the day by helping to plant trees in the ranch lands of the Nebraska Sandhills.

“Proposing for the future”
was J. Sterling Morton’s theme
planting trees on Arbor Day
was J. Sterling Morton’s dream.

The cowboys hooted loudly
when they first learned the news
breaking sod to plant some trees
was contrary to their views.

Next they’ll plant a garden
around the water hole
and where then will cattle drink?
Their thirst will take it’s toll.

Then they’ll want a barb wire fence
surrounding all that grows,
cutting up the prairie
and handing out the hoes.

They’ll take away the horses
and drive the herds away
to save all those blasted trees
planted on Arbor Day.

Cowboys slapped their knees and laughed
at their thought’s absurdity
and, returning to their herds,
thought of Morton’s verity.

From the book, Where Horses Reign, © 2004.

The Gift

The bit of family history revealed here is true. It was documented in a diary kept by my ancestors as they traveled west in their covered wagon in the mid-1800s.

She fed cow chips into the fire;
her breath hung in the air,
her demeanor bright and cheerful
denying of despair.

The prairie dawn broke in the east
to light her morning chores
and sparkled on a skift of snow
in this great out of doors.

Bill joined her there, leading his horse,
ready to ride away,
but here to have some coffee first
at the dawning of this day.

Supplies were needed, that’s for sure;
their journey’d been so long
they were out of most ev’ry thing
needed to move along.

A village, twenty miles ahead,
was where he had to go
while wagons moved a slower pace
through early winter snow.

Bill asked for any special needs…
Maude whispered in his ear.
He smiled and nodded to her then,
“that’s what you’ll get, my dear.”

‘Twas late that night when Bill returned
and gave the gift to Maude.
She held it tightly in her hand
for she was truly awed.

It was something that she needed,
a priceless gift indeed,
a simple spool of linen thread
to satisfy her need.

Christmas Wishes

For the past 58 years we have produced a Christmas letter, some containing a seasonal poem. This year’s poem, Christmas Wishes, is printed below with our best wishes to you for a wonderful holiday and a fabulous new year.

Christmas Wishes

Many years have gone by
since Santa reigned supreme.
Now that the kids are gone
seems almost like a dream.

Yet Christmas lingers still,
the story of Christ’s birth,
the guidance it provides
for peace and love on earth.

We trust that will prevail
to guide us on our way
bringing us together
in all we do and say.

So best wishes to you
as you go on your way
and love and happiness
on each and ev’ry day.

Native American Heritage Month

Bolo TieNovember was designated as Native American Heritage Month by President George H. W. Bush in 1990 and his proclamation has been repeated by each president since that time.

In celebrating the month this year, I wanted to share this image of a bolo tie which was handcrafted for me about 1980 by a friend, a Lakota Sioux Indian lady who was a granddaughter of the great Chief Sitting Bull.

She designed and created the tie in a traditional Sioux beaded pattern. The beads are on a natural buckskin backing and she handcrafted the entire tie (except for the metal tips on the woven leather neckpiece).

It is a prized possession especially because I was born and raised in Nebraska where the Sioux and other plains tribes lived and hunted for centuries before their land was invaded by Europeans and others. Our contact with members of the tribe was frequent, primarily because the treaty between the Sioux and the government grants them hunting, fishing, and gathering rights on land they had ceded in the treaty.

The first contact I remember occurred in 1931 when I was celebrating my third birthday during the Custer County Nebraska Fair. At an Indian encampment there, I was entertained by a Sioux chief,, John Search the Enemy. Details of that are posted here.

In any event, throughout my life I have been directly and indirectly associated with the Land of the Sioux. This bolo tie brings back great memories of that long-standing relationship and of my friend, the Lakota Sioux lady who created it for me.

A Cowboy Poet Remembers

This poem was written on the recent death of a friend, one I had not seen for sixty-seven years. We were a part of a small informal group of singles, mostly in their late teens or early twenties who were employed directly or indirectly in the secretive nuclear industry managed by the newly formed Atomic Energy Commission. Residing in dormitories or company housing,  we found commonality and friendship in that lonely environment, teaming together for dining and recreation. Each became a special part of my life and I now stand as the only surviving member of the group.

Her life remembered, actions kind,
mem’ries linger and come to mind,
always caring, quick to commend,
a fine lady and faithful friend.

She rides a range that’s new to roam
in a far place she now calls home.
She is at peace, that much I know,
in that place we can hope to go.

I sense that she would wish us well,
and not upon our grief to dwell,
so I’ll remember her and smile
for that true friend I knew a while.

My Fryin’ Pan

Cowboys didn’t carry much in their saddle bags and they felt kind of an attachment to some of their few possessions … even that bent up old fryin’ pan.

Today my fryin’ pan burned up,
it’s loss is evident,
and it shore leaves me a wonderin’
where my pan up and went.

I was just warmin’ up some beans
when it plum disappeared
and I might never get it back,
at least that’s what I feared.

It weren’t worth much as such pans go
but it was like a friend
and I’ll always be a wonderin’
how it’s short life did end.

It’s a mystery, that is true…
a puzzlin’ twist of fate…
just one of many that I’ve known
as time passed by of late.

I’ll worry a bit over it
and spread this sorry tale
to tell every one I know.
In that I will not fail.

I’ll say, “maybe them beans did it,
fulla methane and all,
and that pan just plumb exploded
in answerin’ nature’s call.”

Pitcairn Cowboys

I’ve always had a fancy for Pitcairn…it’s history and the life of its citizens. Although now at 88, I shall never get to visit that island, I frequently tune in to pitcairn.pn to see what’s happening.

Given that, as a one time youthful cowboy and now a published cowboy poet, I was moved to write this poem about cowboy life on the island.

Cowboys do live here on Pitcairn,
this island paradise,
tending their great herds of sea cows
‘neath deep blue tropic skies.

Them sea cows sure are a challenge
for cowboys, that I know,
’cause their pasture’s under water
down where sea grasses grow.

Cowboys, astride their sea horses,
face challenges each day,
dealing with watery pastures
where sea cows graze and play.

It’s a grand life for cowboys here,
as they tend to their herd,
and live this island life of ours…
at least that’s what we’ve heard.

 

On Becoming a Teaist

In reality, cowboys preferred coffee … Arbuckles coffee in the earlier years. But, even then, when alone on the trail it was often quicker and easier to brew a cup of tea than it was to roast green beans in a frying pan over the fire, grind the roasted beans, and finally brew the coffee. So, with that lonely cup of trail-brewed tea in mind, this short essay was written in 2000 and has appeared on a number of web sites over the years since then.

Cup of Tea, what memories that phrase elicits … granddad’s tea when I was five in 1933 … a cup of hot water with sugar and a splash of milk. But that was long ago and with advancing age I have, perhaps, become a teaist now better steeped in the true art of teaism.

The person who would become a teaist must be willing to borrow from others. After all, there are well-developed techniques and strategies in other classes of snobbery and there is no sense in re-inventing them. The secret is to adapt them and apply them to the world of tea.

Thus, the first principle of the learned teaist … to borrow … is itself borrowed, in part, from the historic world of academia. Just think of it. You can borrow, and build upon the strategies developed and honed to perfection by centuries of academic conflict fought in the hallowed halls of Oxford, Harvard, and scores of like and less-like institutions around the world.

To apply these strategies in conversations with the less learned, you must learn to wrinkle up your nose a bit and purse your lips as though you had just tasted a spoiled lemon as you say the most dreaded word of the true teaist — “Lipton.” If you have difficulty with this, go into a locally-owned neighborhood espresso shop and watch and listen to the devotees of latte as they say “Starbucks.” In coffee circles, this is a true art form. It is a wonder that Starbucks has survived that toss of the head, that roll of the eye, and that twist of the lip, as the loyal fans of other roasters cut the competition … Starbucks … into linguistic ribbons. Well done, coffee lovers, we teaists have much to learn.

Yes, we can learn from them, borrow from them. And don’t worry, you’ll soon get the hang of it.

For many, “Bigelow” is a greater challenge than “Lipton” what with its three syllables and the incorporation of popular herbal blends into the company’s line. But a word of caution — under no circumstances should the teaist open up a second battlefront by challenging the herb lovers of the world. Better to leave that war to others and stick to the products of the Camellia Sinensis. After all, we teaists know that it is only from that one herb that true tea can be brewed!

A warning: Americans should also be rather careful about any obvious depreciation of English teas when communicating with their British friends. Some of these otherwise friends of America are still a bit stiff lipped and sensitive about the departure of the colonies from the Realm and may be somewhat miffed that they were not invited to the Boston Tea Party. Not that they would have liked it. After all, the tea was steeped in salty water  …  more in the Tibetan or Mongolian style than in the “splash of milk” tradition of the Empire.

The world does enjoy the teas of Britain, the land where tea is an institution. Even there, however, great mysteries surround the origin and blend of English Breakfast Tea — is the true tea a pure Assam, a pure Keemun, or a blend of Indian or Chinese teas? The teaist will fix upon one of these and defend it against all argument. A great defense is a slight shake of the head, a deep sigh, and a roll of the eyes to the heavens as some less-learned individual puts forward a different version. The teaist knows but must forever suffer the ignorance of the unlearned masses!

An equally plaguing mystery concerns the origin and blend of Earl Grey Tea. Each of two companies claims to have the “original” version. The knowledgeable teaist will steer clear of the argument. After all, why argue about a tea which is said to be so ordinary that it must be smothered in bergamots and citrons in order to be palatable? And how about that version from the colonies  …  that Earl Greyer Tea? Look again to the heavens.

To become a true teaist (a word which, incidentally, I borrowed from The Book of Tea written in 1906 by Kakuzo Okakura), you must learn the language of the tea aficionado. You must never, for example, brew “a cup of tea.” No, today you must brew a “cuppa!” To add the word “tea” to “cuppa” is a redundant redundancy in the mind of the modern teaist. And, once it is brewed, you must not pour it into a cup and sip it, you must “cup” it. To the true teaist, it doesn’t matter if these words jar the ear, irritate the mind, and defy understanding by non-teaists. “Cuppa” and “cup” will undoubtedly go down in history with such other monumental linguistic achievements as “veggie” and “oleo.”

With some 3,000 teas in the world — all, incidentally, from the same genetic line — an entire language has developed to communicate among teaists. Every nuance of producing, testing, packaging, marketing, brewing, drinking, enjoying, and mystifying tea is covered, discovered, uncovered, and recovered.

Having its own language doesn’t necessarily mean that the subject is boring or stuffy. Quite the contrary. To know and use the words puts the teaist far ahead of the uninformed who’ll never know the words, let alone whether they are being used correctly. But their use can prove that you truly know that the true tea, Camellia Sinensis, can be bright, bold, brassy, full bodied — even pointy and chesty — standing immediately and fully revealed in full bloom, and not at all coarse or dull. So is the language of tea.

In conclusion, the would-be teaist must do as other would-bes have done in other fields — make a science of a simple subject, depreciate the opposition, cloak the topic in undefinable terms, and write quasi-technical dissertations for delivery to their peers. When you can do these things as you “cup a cuppa,” you are well on your way to becoming one of a select few  …  a true teaist!

John Search The Enemy

It was a hot day in August 1931 when a Sioux Indian Chief (John Search The Enemy) invited me to sit with him on a blanket in front of his tipi at the Custer County Nebraska Fair.

Of course, I was only three years old so I didn’t know his name. However, a few years ago in 2009, I got curious and inquired of the fair officials by email as to what chiefs were present at the fair that year. At first they replied that they didn’t have such information…it was too many years ago. About half a day later, another email arrived, this one from the fair manager. He said he was curious so he checked some old records and had found a daily paper, The Daily Fair Edition for August 18, 1931, which contained a list of all the Sioux in attendance at the fair and he had mailed me a copy of that page. What a wonderful gift!

There were two chiefs present, Iron Shell and John Search The Enemy. From their descriptions in the article, I knew that the one who spoke to me was the latter one because he was slightly younger than the other.

The chief must have entertained me for close to an hour, telling me stories of The People and how they came to be as well as tales of The Coyote, a joker who could lead a person astray! He told me I would remember him and I certainly do! As I left he reached into his pocket and pulled out a buffalo nickle which he gave to me. The coin has  an image of a buffalo on one side and the head of a chief on the reverse.

Somewhere around here I must still have that nickle given to me nearly 85 years ago by John Search The Enemy, a Sioux Indian Chief.