February 17, 2011

Cowboys in Blue

Here in southern Arizona, we decided to check out the 19th Annual Cochise Cowboy Poetry and Music Gathering in Sierra Vista. We’ve all heard Home on the Range since childhood, but poet cowboys? It was an hour away, too far for the evening performances, so we went to the FREE daylong event, with 56 hour-long multi-artist performances on 8 stages!
We could only guess which to attend. But now I don’t think you could make a mistake! Our eyes were opened! No Home on the Range here, but original songs and poetry that touched your heart or made you laugh! Best is, most of the performers are real cowfolk who work their own ranches or do range work. They’re commonly brought up to it, some for generations. They know long winters. Days spent alone with cattle or sheep. They watch the clouds for rain that doesn’t fall, witness new life, and live with risk and death. No neighbors in sight. Unpredictable weather. And big families! Their poetry and the lyrics let us share moments of a legendary American experience! (This Gathering is held in a Southern AZ military base town, and what do you think was the typical age of the audience? They were all like us and older!! Will this wonderful genre survive?)
The performers were of two sorts – those who live the life of the cowboy family, and a smaller number who are professional folksingers with a wider repertoire and love of the land. All were terrific.
The poems tell of life on the range and homestead, often offering life lessons embodied in a dog that teaches an orphan pup how to keep the fences clear of intruders, or a horse that gives his life for his owner and lives on in his memory. They’ll keep you laughing, too, like when a guy brings home cats to keep the mice from his cabin, yet one after another the coyote gets’em…until he adopts such an ugly cat that the coyote spits him out!

The event title refers to soldiers who saw service in the early west, then turned cowpunchers when their enlistment was up. Some probably became poets – we learned that it’s a long tradition. Yvonne Hollenbeck’s great-grandparents began the family ranching, and poetry, too. She continues the tradition. Read her poems and one by her grandmother, Saga of the Dust, at this site: http://www.cowboypoetry.com/yh2.htm#Blanche. (I can’t reprint the poems here without permission!)
Bud Strom, orphaned at the age of 15, attended a military academy in Minnesota and worked as a ranch hand summers in Montana. After obtaining a masters degree from Boston University he chose an Army career, retiring as Brigadier General. He now dedicates himself to care of land and animals on his Single Star Ranch in Southeast Arizona, along the Mexican Border. What a smile! What poise! What beautiful delivery of his poem, “Montana Angels,” about a couple lost in a snowstorm, based upon a real event: http://www.cowboypoetry.com/budstrom.htm.
We were familiar with one participant, Hank Cramer, a folksinger with an amazing voice who tells stories of cowboys, sailors, soldiers, miners, adventurers, and drifters. He’s had all these experiences himself, too! Well, I don’t know about the drifter, but am sure he’s known some. His site: http://www.hankcramer.com/index.html Here are some songs from his wide repertoire: http://www.sonicbids.com/epk/epk.aspx?epk_id=112116&poll_id=&name=calendar&skin_id=5
We also knew of Kerry Grombacher (http://www.kgrombacher.com/ ) who is often in Louisiana. Here’s a Cajun Cowboy tune: http://ilike.myspacecdn.com/play#Kerry+Grombacher:Cajun+Cowboy:152387208:s71966066.16328047.44595244.0.2.99%2Cstd_acbf6534039c4ecb92e24d919d4c5764
Eli Barsi is a Canadian singer with many awards who was born on a Saskatchewan farm, but evolved into a professional singer who keeps busy traveling. Check out  http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ycM7suup4Ws and http://www.elibarsi.com/. And can Eli yodel!

The camaraderie among the musicians was unmatched. The performers’ connection to the subject matter was personal, and it was original work. The poetry and music performances were clearly from the heart.
From now on, when we plan our trips I will research not only old-time and Celtic music events, but cowboy poets, too.

February 2, 2011

RV Spirit

Today we moved from Bastrop, TX to Fredericksburg. Our campground website name is “RV Spirit”
What is the RV spirit?
We have the RV spirit – or call it the party spirit! We were getting set to head for Arizona.  Though colder weather was due, we stayed extra days at Marc’s to attend a group dinner on Friday, and so that Chuck could make his special spaghetti dinner for Becky, Marc and Kelvin on Sunday. We had a terrific time!
Monday we prepared to go, and as predicted the weather turned bad that evening. It turned out to be the monster 100 year storm front, with nighttime temps into the 20’s, morning rain and wind. But we have the RV spirit! We sat out the windy Tuesday and hooked the trailer up before nightfall so Chuck wouldn’t have to do it in the cold the next morning. It didn’t get above freezing all day!
Today (Wednesday) was clear and fine, but 19 degrees and the water tank was empty. RV life: gauges don’t work. Bad news: We couldn’t fill the water tank because the faucet was frozen. Good news: one faucet on the property was working; we filled a 5 gallon jug and were off! That’s RV spirit!
When we reached Fredericksburg, I got to shop at Stonehill Spinning, Ltd, a wonderful yarn and rug hooker’s store I found online. Dorothy was super helpful. A group of fun women were sitting around a table working, it was warm and cozy. After some time, Chuck had to drag me out before I spent too much! I’m happy, but wonder, was that true RV spirit?

We were into the campsite before 5:00. The temperature was 22 and heading down to 10. Good news, Chuck plugged in the truck heater, something I didn’t know we had! Apparently the truck might otherwise not start tomorrow. Bad news, we can’t empty the poop tank with its accumulated three week supply from Marc’s place. It’s frozen shut. No problem, we’ll keep carrying it! That’s RV spirit. And all the pipes in the campground are frozen. We’re on water rationing, emptying jug water into a pitcher for use.
Thursday night, El Paso overnight temperatures will be 7 degrees. It’s 7 hours away, but in Benson, AZ, our ultimate destination, just 4 hours farther, it will be 14!
RV spirit: We’re going to pull a teenager trick: tomorrow we leave at 7:30 am and drive straight through…as far as we can make it! Our fall-back stop is Deming, NM, an hour and a half after El Paso. Start making your bets on how far we’ll get . . . now!

February 1, 2011

Texas Two-Step

We’re officially Texas residents because our mailbox is in Livingston, the Escapees campers’ home base - but we’re really just sightseers as we pass through headed east or west, north or south. We get to visit nephew Marc in Bastrop more often than any other family members. A pleasure! We stopped here for Christmas – and also so that Chuck could see a urologist in Austin. His Louisiana doc was booked into January, and we wanted to move on west.

Passing the time before the appointment, playing Mexican Train with Maggie, Kelvin & Marc!

A biopsy was recommended and taken. Waiting for results, we moved south to Hondo to check out the Escapees Lone Star Corral Co-op (Texans love Texas themes). In winter the area is rather barren, but the history of small towns once accessible only by buggy and the railroad seems starkly real.

TX Hondo St Dom Primitive Stone Heart
TX Hondo St Dom Church & Tree

The closest town to the campground is D’Hanis, founded by twenty-nine families from Alsace, France in the mid 1800s. The San Dominic Church was abandoned in 1914 when the town center relocated closer to the train route. Many graves are early immigrants and children who died during an 1810 diphtheria outbreak.
San Antonio has the largest group of Spanish Colonial missions in the US, and a unique history! The area was home to semi-nomadic Indian populations when it was contested by  Spanish and French explorers. The Spanish built the missions, and taught the Indians to farm and raise cattle. Some Spanish horses escaped or were stolen, and spread north across the plains into Canada. In 1722, San Antonio  was the capitol of Spanish Texas. After Mexico won independence, they governed the land north of the Rio Grande. In battles following the 1836 fall of the Alamo, the independent Republic of Texas was born, which briefly became a US state before seceding in 1861 with other Southern States despite the heated objections of Governor Sam Houston. At the end of the Civil War, Texas rejoined the union.
Here in San Fernando Cathedral lie the remains of Travis, Crockett, Bowie and other defenders of the Alamo. In 1936 they were disinterred and placed on public view for a year before being placed here. You’ve got to wonder, would they do that sort of thing today? Bones?
We’ve visited all five Spanish missions along the San Antonio River. At Mission San Juan, dating prior to 1750, a docent told about his great-grandparents of Mexican heritage, who were married in the San Juan Mission Church, where he attends services each Sunday. Electricity is installed, walls crumbling.


Today San Antonio is a vibrant multicultural city, as we learned at the beautiful San Antonio Museum of Art during a visit with Curator of Contemporary Art David Rubin, who I worked with at the Contemporary Arts Center in New Orleans. 
TX SAMart David Rubin
TX SAMart Gary Sweeny Assemblage

We came back to Marc’s in mid-January. Chuck had his follow-up visit and the biopsy was positive – which or course is NOT good, he has cancer. Fortunately it is small, contained and not aggressive. He’ll have a series of radiation treatments in Austin.
But it’s so COLD here just now! Look closely, that’s ICE on our frozen-solid water hose! Further, we’d planned this trip to see what Arizona and New Mexico were like in winter (whining)! Well, the doc confirmed that treatment is not a rush but should be attended to soon…so we’re heading west and will return at the end of March, when the Texas bluebonnets are in full bloom!  
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More Texas icons:

Yes! Extreme hog hunts! Come & get ‘em.