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"A Life Less Ordinary"



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See the Art Spur introductory page here

It's been said that a picture is worth a thousand words...we know many that are worthy of a poem or a song. In Art Spur, we invite poets and songwriters to let selections of Western art inspire their poetry and songs.

Our 42nd piece offered to "spur" the imagination is a special Cowboy Poetry Week Art Spur, a painting, "A Life Less Ordinary," by noted cowboy artist, cowboy, and rancher Gary Morton (garymortonart.com).

30" x 44"
@ Gary Morton, garymorton.com "A Life Less Ordinary"
A Life Less Ordinary"

We asked Gary to tell us about the painting's inspiration and he commented, "The cowboy life is never boring. Most of the West is still worked on horseback. Days are long and the weather is sometimes a challenge. These cowpunchers saddled up and rode out when daylight was just a promise on the eastern horizon. They have been in a high trot to get to the back side in order to make a drive. The cowboss is scattering the riders and each will gather cattle back to the roundup. It will require a sure footed horse and a good hand to handle the job. Many spur of the moment decisions will have to be made for a smooth works. Each day is a different experience and truly it is, 'A Life Less Ordinary.'"

He adds that the painting, "... is from the 06 Ranch in the Davis Mountains of far west Texas." One of the pictured riders is popular poet and cowboy Ray Fitzgerald.

Submissions were welcome from all through April 13, 2016. Selected poems are posted below

Poets are invited to be inspired by the art; a literal representation of the art is not expected.



The Fifteenth Annual Cowboy Poetry Week is celebrated April 17-23, 2016. Get involved! Find more in our feature here.



When asked for a brief bio, Gary Morton offered a characteristically humble reply: "Lives in New Mexico, cowboy and artist, Gary Morton, loves the range riding culture and lives it."

We found a more formal bio that gives a deeper look at his life and his impeccable cowboy and cowboy artist credentials:

Gary began cowboying on different ranches as a teen and ultimately became wagon boss on the historic Bell Ranch in New Mexico. The life of cowboying makes Gary more than familiar with his subjects. “I don’t just paint for myself, but to honor the working cowboy.” Gary’s paintings are realistic, accurate and his attention to detail allows him to be honest to himself and the people he paints.

He has served on many boards throughout his career. He is one of the founding directors of the Working Ranch Cowboys Association and served as Vice-President and President. He remains a WRCA Director and chairman of rules and sanctioning.

Gary has served four Governors of New Mexico in various appointments including Chairman of the New Mexico Arts Commission, Director Department of Cultural Affairs and Equestrian Facility Design Task Force.

By 2002 Gary had spent 25 years as a full-time artist when the love of the life brought him back to ranching, taking a position as manager for the CR Ranch near Las Vegas, New Mexico. Then in 2008 he was awarded the grazing lease on the Valles Caldera National Preserve where he and a cowboy crew cared for 2000 yearlings through the summer.

In 2009 he acquired the summer grazing lease on the Mescalero Apache Reservation in southern New Mexico where he and a crew cared for 4700 yearlings. In 2011 Gary has come full circle and returned to the Bell Division of Silver Spur Ranches and the Mesteno Camp country west of the Canadian River. Being able to bring both worlds together once again has proved inspirational.

Over the years he has shown his paintings in many shows, galleries, and museums throughout the country. Gary continues to create authentic paintings of the contemporary working cowboy. He has enjoyed many opportunities to create special commission works for collectors.

Gary has a body of work that reflects a life dedicated to perfecting his God-given talent and portraying the cowboy.

In 2015, Gary Morton received the New Mexico Governor's Rounders Award in recognition of his work that depicts contemporary cowboy life.

Find more at GaryMortonArt.com.



Find more about Gary Morton in our feature here.



If you enjoy features like Art Spur, please support the BAR-D.





30" x 44"
@ Gary Morton, garymorton.com "A Life Less Ordinary"
A Life Less Ordinary"




 A Sunset Earned by Marleen Bussma of Utah
Which Way the Wind is Blowing by Doug Gustafson of Washington
Language of the Land by Tom Swearingen of Oregon
The Yearning by Kay Kelley Nowell of Texas
“Why, I Recollect…”
by Jim Cathey of Texas
Square Dance of a Different Kind by Michelle Turner of Iowa
Range Fever by Glen Enloe of Missouri
The Boss by Lynn Kopelke of Washington
The Colt by Merv Webster of Queensland
The Meetin' of Ray Fitzgerald by Rhonda Sedgwick Stearns of Wyoming
His Own Way
by Jean Mathisen Haugen of Wyoming


A Sunset Earned

The early sky is painted pink and dressed in mare tail clouds.
Small dew drops wink where sprinkled on the prairie grass that shrouds
green rolling hills which wave a morning greeting to the west.
Joe sits his saddle easy as he rides up to a crest.

In forty years of ranching he has never tired of this.
The sky, the land, the cattle, paint a picture he calls Bliss.
A red-tailed hawk glides quietly on morning air that lifts
like unseen waves with arms that bear and carry while he drifts.

The cattle look like roaming ribbons in the spring’s green grass.
Their gait is lazy as they eat, relaxed as pronghorns pass
while migrating on trails not thought about as instinct drives
them to their summer grazing where the herd renews and thrives.

Joe thinks about renewal as he’s getting on in years.
Time slips away like water in a river as it steers
around the rocks of ageing and the gravel of regret
to leave the life he’s carved and built with fortitude and sweat.

A son has spent his young years riding in his father’s dust.
Joe passed along the love of land and soon he will entrust
the ranch he has created to the younger and the strong.
Although he may not be in charge he always will belong.

This life has creeped like vines that laced and looped around his heart.
Long tendrils of affection for his ranch land are a part
of how he grew to be a man and who he is today.
It makes no difference how you grip, some good things slip away.

He listens to the whisper of the breeze that strums the trees
and plays a prairie melody as mem’ries drift with ease.
The years of stories tangle like a mane that needs a comb
to separate the feelings that can make a place a home.

Nostalgia holds the images and shows them frame by frame
while forty years of pictures show he earned his ranching name.
A hard ride stirs his body as it protests and complains,
but nothing fits his hands except a rope and set of reins.

© 2016, Marleen Bussma
This poem may not be reprinted or reposted without the author's  permission.




Which Way the Wind is Blowing

As we go down life’s long trail
So many choices come our way,
A life planned out or left to chance
Circumstances come into play.

Some are happy with confines
Secure and safe with habits cast,
Get a job and buy a house
Before you know it time has past.

Tunes are blasting, changing lanes
The cars ahead are slowing,
Traffic’s bad, you’re unaware
Which way the wind is blowing.

Fascination deep inside
Don’t let them snuff it out,
Pursue that dream that makes you tick
That’s what it’s all about.

It’s not too late to make that change
And leave it all behind,
Chase that dream you’ve buried deep
Afraid what you might find?

Called old Bill, a friend from yore
Who’s not so smart as you,
Been punching cows and riding broncs
And soaking up the view.

Of life’s vast riches he’s half broke,
Is going through your mind,
Yet he’s the one who’s satisfied
Can’t argue with his kind.

I’ve been invited on this drive
The air is crisp and clear,
Half past dark and breakfast done
We’re grabbing all our gear.

The wear and tear my saddle shows
In the still dim light,
It doesn’t add with what they’ve seen
I’m not much in their sight.

A guy from town, a shiny car,
New creases in my jeans,
They’re not so sure of who I am
I live beyond their means.

The horse I’ve got, he’s big and stout
Some taller than the rest,
He’s not a plug, he’s got some spunk
He’ll put me to the test.

I saddle up, he feels my foot
He looks back at my face,
He shies away, I use the spin
To swing me into place.

A steady hand, a little spur
He starts to walk straight out,
This horse is quick to figure
What his rider’s all about.

The gallery of faces ‘round
Are not so sure, it seems,
The jury’s out, there’s still some doubt
More evidence they need.

They pair me up with my old pard
Just like our younger days,
With not a clue the miles I’ve logged
While gathering up the strays.

They send us to the farthest ridge
To start the circle back,
We strike out in the long trot
Along a well worn track.

The sun comes up, the hills pure gold
Still takes my breath away,
I’ve really missed this kind of work
Looked forward to this day.

We find some pairs and start them back
Then climb the ridge for more,
We catch up on each other’s news
And pranks we’ve pulled before.

I feel the breeze blow on my face
There is some comfort knowing
A slower pace, I am aware
Which way the wind is blowing.

We bring them in, one breaks away
I’m not expecting praise,
I turn her back into the herd
I see an eyebrow raise.

A fair day's work, is what they say
We could use a hand,
It’s awful tempting to say yes
And sign up for the brand.

Although this life is wonderful
The pay’s not half my wage,
The desert high and lonesome,
Tumbleweed and sage,

But there’s my house right on the lake
Where cool breezes blow,
The craziness of city life,
How’s a guy to know.

I’ve seen the best of these two worlds
There’s still no way of knowing,
I’ve searched my soul to try and see
Which way the wind is blowing.

© 2016, Doug Gustafson
This poem may not be reprinted or reposted without the author's  permission.



Language of the Land

There's not a lot that's spoken
As we sit upon our mounts.
The cow boss checking tallies,
Adding up the remnant counts.

He's mighty long on wisdom,
But he’s pretty short on words
When lining out our circles
When we're gathr’n up the herds.

"They're out there boys, go get 'em.
Now you know just what to do."
'Course he's right, and he should know,
'Cause he handpicked all the crew.

He knows there'll be no slacking,
That we'll more than earn our pay.
Since that's what matters to him
He's not got much more to say.

With just some simple pointing
And some nods amongst the boys,
We head in all directions
Taking in the morning noise.

You'd think without much talking
There'd be nothin' much to hear.
But fact is, in the silence
There's a lot to hit your ear.

Like birds awake and singing.
Or cicadas flicking wings.
There’re Aspen leaves a quaking,
And the sound of bubblin' springs.

Muffled hooves on dewdrop grass.
And the crack of sun-parched brush.
Thermals blowing up steep slopes.
Bobwhite's whistle 'fore they flush.

And then the sound we've come for.
Distant, soft, from down below,
The bawling calves and mommas
Tell us just where we should go.

The silence gives direction
Sometimes better than what's planned.
And so we leave the talking
To the language of the land.

© 2016, Tom Swearingen
This poem may not be reprinted or reposted without the author's  permission.



The Yearning

While driving down the highway to get an early start at work
I see a sight that never fails to give my poor heart a jerk.
Five or six trucks and trailers -- out near some pens parked in a line
The cowboys already out of sight as I start to repine.

Wish I was trotting out with that crew—part of the works this spring
Riding my "go to" geldingready to handle anything.
Gaily singin' an old cowboy tunea - whoopee ti yi yea
If I hadn't met my sweetheartI'd be out there still today.

I recognize those rigs from back when I was a loose day hand.
Those carefree days I spent riding, roping calves and helping brand.
How I loved my independence, and exploring new country
Wonder what's up that canyon, bet there's water under that tree.


It seems like plans must be rewritten when your life turns a page
'Cause it was hard to raise a family on a cowboy's wage.
So I up and took this job in town with benefits and such
Never expecting just how I was going to miss it so much.


Oh, but I'll stick by my sweetheart, and just dream of yesterday.

© 2016, Kay Kelley Nowell
This poem may not be reprinted or reposted without the author's  permission.



“Why, I Recollect…”

The old-timer watched ‘em, with a wistful eye,
As they headed to the faraway foothills.
The gather would soon start, an’ that brought a sigh,
Thinkin’ of the wrecks, catches an’ the spills.

The coffee cup in aged hand trembled some,
As thoughts of yesteryear danced through his mind,
Round-ups from long ago, tough times they’d overcome,
Pards through an’ through, with no one left behind.

It was round-up time on the west Texas range,
Couzy, at his chuckwagon, had the coffee hot.
Cowboys gather at dawn, some things just don’t change,
This time honored scene replays a constant plot.

The darkened light of the early mornin’ dawn,
The cook-fires glow with pleasant smell of the smoke,
Ponies neighing, the whirr of the lariat thrown,
Creak of leather, quiet sounds as cowboys spoke.

The blizzards an’ the sandstorms that blot out the sun,
Fightin’ broncs on a frosty starlit break o day,
As the savvy cowboss caught ‘em on the run,
To herd them cows, in chokin’ dust along the way.

Cranky Couzy an’ his constant coffee pot,
An’ hot chuck that kept cowhands on the job.
Squeeze box music or Windy’s tales, like as not,
But no John Barley Corn ‘cuz that always played hob.

Bolts of lightnin’ flashin’ thru thunderclouded sky,
An’ the constant fear of stompedes wild melee.
The whoop of cowboys with ponies at the fly,
Sighs of relief as the herd would end their runaway.

Daybreak finds the herd scattered here an’ there,
An’ punchers roust them strays back to the millin’ herd,
Pokin’ fun at Pards, to relieve one another’s scare,
An’ the constant strain an’ doubts that were stirred.

But times weren’t always so very rough an’ hard,
With thoughts of sweethearts, Mom, an’ apple pie,
Twirlin’ gals at dances, quiet times with their Lord,
Or mendin’ tack watchin’ clouds float crost the sky.

Clear mornin’s with cattle grazin’ oe’r the plains,
The bawl of a Mama to reassure her new calf,
The sudden thunderstorm that brought spring rains,
A joke played on a new hand, causin’ boys to laugh.

To hear the coyotes yippin’ on a distant hill,
Wind blowin’ through the leafy cottonwood tree.
A gentle stream where critters drink their fill,
The satisfied feelin’ of the cowboy bein’ free.

A tinge of pale pink painted the crest of yonder slope,
As hands urged their ponies into the quiet dark morn.
Daylight would find them all kicked into a lope,
These hands, to the saddle bred an’ born.

To feel God’s presence at an early mornin’ sunrise
The neighin’ of the hosses while cowboys sing,
Sunsets, the full moon, lonesome whippoorwill cries.
Yep! That’s Texas, when they round-up in the spring.

© 2016, Ol' Jim Cathey
This poem may not be reprinted or reposted without the author's permission.



Square Dance of a Different Kind

Saddle up your horses; grab every hand you find
We’re gonna have a square dance… of a different kind
The boss will be the caller, directing all our moves
We’re pushing out the cattle, and dancing round their hooves

Using all our cowboy skills, well-honed at rodeo
Chase a calf and turn it back; a bovine do-sa-do
Horse and riders promenade, perfect fitted pairs
Some head out and some hang back, to form the basic square

Keep the herd a’ moving, this ain’t no Highland fling
One misstep on circle left, you’ll make them split the ring!
The Boss calls out an allemande, a doggie’s gone to roam
Leave your corner, wheel about; it’s time to guide him home

Up ahead the pens appear; lead riders roll-away
Partners change from quadrille form, side-stepping by sashay
Single file to the chute, the cattle drive is done
Cowboys take a final bow; their hard work sure seems fun!

© 2016, Michelle Turner
This poem may not be reprinted or reposted without the author's permission.


Range Fever

Oh, I must ride out to the range again,
before I can't recall
How things were pure and we were sure
before our world became too small;
When we still clung to our old ways
and saw a truth that was not gray;
When men were men inside and you could ride
and always know your way.

They say that we are few and can't be seen
off road or in the town;
We're a fading breed but we pay no heed—
in hearts are where we're found.
We'll laugh like kids once more and shout out loud,
not shy to show our age;
It's blush of youth that once was truth
that moves us on to one last sage.

I'll re-live times when land was new
and we measured our life in days;
Yes, I'll go out and ride about
those far chalk mountains in the haze.
It's the squall of saddle and spark of spur
that makes the crossing right
Oh, my fever's high but before I die,
I'll see that golden range of light.

© 2016, Glen Enloe
This poem may not be reprinted or reposted without the author's permission.



The Boss

Tall shadows came with the rising sun. The boss was layin’ down the law.
Tellin’ us what needed done like this’uz the first spring we ever saw.
Hell, we’d cowboy’d with his dad, back when he first started out.
Through the good times and the bad. All the seasons lean to stout.
His poppa left him big boots to fill. Just a kid fresh outta ag school.
That’s been more’n a decade ago but still he’s yet to prove he ain’t just any fool.

Starts pairin’ us up for the day and I can feel my hackles rise.
Pity the hand comes my way. Mood I’ze in I weren’t no prize.
No real reason to it nor rhyme, just ridin’ an ornery streak.
Needin’ some on my own time to sorta re-civilize, so to speak.

Come down to just Steve and me. Looks like he drawed the short straw.
But then the boss says that he would ride with Steve down towards Frazier’s Draw.
“Red,” he says, “go back to the ranch and put together a pack string.
Take some supplies up past the north branch to the line shack at Medicine Ring.
Set ‘er up right for you and three more. They’ll be along in a couple of weeks
With a few hundred head that’s going to pour over that grass just below the Peaks.”
As I turn Goldie around back down the trail I can’t believe my luck.

Seems my respite I’ve just found. Two weeks with no other voices to buck.
Might he have heard? Nah, just luck, I’ll bet. I ain’t the kind to cry into my beer.
Still, that kid may make a cow boss, yet…
… in another ten or twenty years.

© 2016, Lynn Kopelke
This poem may not be reprinted or reposted without the author's permission.



The Colt

The colt was out of Firefly and sired by Mystic Morn
and everybody sensed that from the morning it was born
it’s pedigree would stamp it as a real outstanding horse
and obviously an asset to the JJ of course.

The boss had paid a tidy sum and wanted a return
and made it clear those two years back he’d made it my concern
to be the youngster's carer and from his set point of view
he had himself a racehorse that would make his dream come true.

That week out from the colt’s first race proved memorable I know
as panic hit the JJ and I was struck a blow
when early, just on sunup, I had found the stable door
wide open and my protégé … skedaddled that’s for sure.

I won’t repeat the sentiments the boss sprayed out that morn
but all the men were saddled and were riding out at dawn
and when we reached the ranges well he spat out some decree
that by the way he pointed it was truly aimed at me.

“We’ll search and find this youngster … if you plan to stay around,
and pray to God in good health when he hopefully is found,
so spread out every one of you and keep your eyes about!”
I sensed he meant the words he said, of that there was no doubt.

The thing that kind of bothered me and had me feeling sore
was, who had left the latch unlocked upon the stable door?
I’m certain that I locked it after feeding him that night
and when I left his stable everything had seemed alright.

I sensed he may seek company and in my mind I knew
The Boss ran some rough horses for a local buckjump crew
and usually they stayed well hid, well back and out of sight
and in my mind I hoped like mad that somehow I was right.

By dusk I’d found no trace of them and stopped to have a spell;
no signal showed the other boys had not found him was well.
The option to go back was out so lit a fire and ate
some jerky that I had with me and pondered on my fate.

At first light I had noticed dust rise not so far away
which raised my hopes considerably and headed off that way
to find beside a waterhole the mob I had in mind
and standing in amongst them was the colt I’d hoped to find.

My presence spooked the touchy mob and fled without delay
and sure enough the youngster had no mind to simply stay.
He proved he was fleet footed too and bred for speed by heck
but finally the flying noose pulled tight around his neck..

The boss was sure elated when I found him round midday
and as the horse was in good health he held his scorn at bay.
Then four days later on the track the young colt scored a win
which changed the mood around the place and surely saved my skin.

That night the boss gave me a beer and said “You’re in the clear
and I’ve a small confession that you probably should hear.
It’s left me feeling foolish like and can’t say I feel good
in blaming you for what took place and want this understood.

I checked in on the colt that night but then I got a call
and foolishly I walked away and didn’t think at all
to lock the stable door that night; it simply slipped my mind.
So sorry lad for blaming you; I know it was unkind.”

That colt brought home returns alright for many years come
and yes, in time, he soon amassed a truly tidy sum.
Today that horse and I’ve retired out on the JJ
The boss made sure of that alright before he passed away.

© 2016, Merv Webster
This poem may not be reprinted or reposted without the author's permission.



The Meetin' of Ray Fitzgerald

I first saw Roy in Lubbock, dancin' with his wife,
Floatin' 'round that ballroom was pure joy to his life!
Boots that came 'most to his knee, with spur marks on both heels,
Light as feathers, an' true to the beat; whether music was waltzes or reels.

Elbows brushed as Mom and Dad swirled 'round that same floor,
Won'drin' WHY those Texans went CLOCKWISE o'er and o'er?
Ray an' Dad , close in height, big grins upon their faces,
Full of pride in their beautiful ladies, sure could put em' thru their paces!

Close, when the music stopped, they “Howdie'd” an' shook hands,
“Where ya' from?” was next; an' then they compared their lands—
“Oh yeah, real dry! We're wond'rin if it will ever rain!”
“'Here in Texas there's not much ice an' snow
guess we really ought not complain.”

That last, from Ray Fitzgerald, Davis Mountain hand;
Whose stance an' look an' way said, “He rides for The Brand.”
Next day we hit his session, eager to hear him talk
Of men an' horses . . . 'bout land an' cows . . . an' the way we should ALL walk The Walk.

At the Civic Center, in Alvin Davis' show,
Ray's work proved our hunches
truly a man to know!
“Progress” was perfection, I asked him “Could I use it?

I'll always say you're the 'author'; to share your words is a privilege, an' I won't abuse it .”

Lookin' me in the eye, he blessed me with a smile,
Welcomed me to quote him . . . he “kind'a liked my style.”
He could see I understood, really agreed in full

Respected his experienced opinions, an' the way he “spoke no bull.”

Ray heard, in my rhymes, some mentions of Christ my Lord
And blessed me with a gift I sure could not afford!
Each time I share it
whereverit just blows my mind,
Hard copy of
Horseback Religionhand printed, illustrated and signed!

I cherish that gift, come straight from the Master's pen,
Richer reward than any a poet could win!
I've shared it 'crost the West for more than two decades now;
Then, just last August I met a lad whose talent made me want to yell “WOW!”

It was young Thatch Elmer
“Bear River Buckaroo”
On stage at Wyoming State Fair. Next thing I knew
He's givin' credit to “Ray Fitzgerald, a cowboy”
Who wrote the poem he's fixin to share . . . an' my heart leaps up in pure joy!

'Cause he's up there tellin' of 'Horseback Religion'
With real style an' tone, in the best of tradition!
My mind kicked in gear, “Hey, there's an office right next door....”
If the plan I had would only work out, Thatch's jaw might just hit the floor!

The show was done an' I waited in his fan line,
They really love that lad, but soon the turn was mine

I said I had somethin' I figured he might savor,
When I handed Thatch the photocopy, there was no doubt I'd found favor!

His grin was like a Wyoming sunrise in spring,
Stretchin' plumb to Texas . . . this was the greatest thing!
That's the cowboy tradition
full circles in our life,
Joyful ... like twenty-some years ago in Lubbock ... Roy dancin' with his wife!

© 2016, Rhonda Sedgwick Stearns
This poem may not be reprinted or reposted without the author's permission.


His Own Way

Ah, he rides the hills and valleys.
An iPad is "Greek" to him.
He communicates by talking
and technology doesn't mean much to Jim.

A saddle is his prize possession,
one that his grandpa built,
it is worn a bit 'round the edges,
plainly made with not much trim or gilt.

He could have been in the stock market.
But he's made his life on his own terms.
He had always loved the ranch life
and his mind was made up firm.

Jim started as a greenhorn
some twenty years ago,
driving the chuck wagon,
and working in rain and snow.

Now he is the foreman,
for he worked long and hard.
He never has married up,
never pined much for a yard.

Some might think he's a loner,
but he likes folks well enough,
especially those he works with,
for they are made of sterner stuff.

He can do most anything
from horse shoeing
to doing the irrigating.
Though, mostly, he likes to work cattle
and building fence is irritating.

Oh, it's not to say he doesn't have stress,
but he seldom hears the phone ring.
He could care less about Facebook,
and would rather hear a meadowlark sing.

He has built up a life of wonder.
He wakes up happy most every day.
Jim's life is far from ordinary
and he surely likes it that way!

© 2016, Jean Mathisen Haugen
This poem may not be reprinted or reposted without the author's permission.





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