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HATCH GRAHAM
Somerset, California
About Hatch Graham 

 

 

Blaze Wins the Race

You speak of horses great and fast
while reading of the derby last
and tell of Man-O-War and Seattle Slew,
But when it comes to packing
you'll soon find they are lacking
and you'll bet your paycheck on only very few.
It started in the summer,
and I thought the horse a bummer,
bought by our local trail crew foreman.
He was flighty and a craze
and we had to call him Blaze,
He was tall and lanky and his nose was roman.
      It was Blaze! Blaze! Blaze!
  You lanky bag of mule-bones, skinny Blaze!
      Here's oats, you simple dummy!
      Come fill your goddam tummy,
  you cross-bred sway-back sorrel, bony Blaze.

The season did progress
and he weighed less and less;
the vet came up at last and wormed him:
the hose went down his throat,
the juice would fill a boat,
but by the fall Ol' Blaze was fit and trim.
We were riding hours on the range,
and it didn't seem too strange
to see that he could really cover ground.
He'd come now to my shout
from where'er he was about
and you could depend for sure that you'd be found.
        It was Blaze! Blaze! Blaze!
    You ugly maverick, you only want to graze.
        It's time to saddle up.
        C'mon now, hup-hup-hup!
    We've got miles to make it to the river, Blaze!

His long legs would really cover ground--
often after dark before a camp was found,
an' he'd stand by as I unsaddled him.
As I unpacked our mule and fed them oats,
cooked dinner, finished off my notes,
he'd graze unhobbled 'cause I trusted him.
Morning when I shook the sack
and whistled, he was back,
an' he'd puff up when we cinched the girth.
Though he'd often try to squash my boot,
he was a gentle old recruit,
though many years well past his birth.
        It was Blaze, Blaze, Blaze!
  When I couldn't see just where he'd gone to graze
      and thought our hobbled mule
      had played us for the fool.
  Here coming from the willows is faithful Blaze.

I'll not forget the night
when I'd ridden from first light
with seven rented horses to haul the fence crew in.
The snow had started falling,
the weather  was appalling,
and we had strange horses where they'd never been.
I hobbled them and grained them late,
huddled in the tent, we could only wait;
as morning dawned, no horses could be seen.
With the trail covered by a foot of snow
And a fourteen-mile way to go,
I set out with tie ropes and thoughts obscene.
    It was Blaze! Blaze! Blaze!
  You traitor, where are you in this maze?
    With no tracks upon the ground
    How can you e'er be found?
  I thought that I could trust you. Damn you, Blaze!

The day and I were cold and gray,
when from a thicket came a neigh
and my white-faced sorrel trotted into sight.
He snuffled up his grain,
I mounted bareback, with a strain,
an' headed down the trail to catch the ones in flight.
Soon rounded up and fed,
back to the camp we led,
greeted by the crew with heartfelt praise.
They'd had a serious fright
of another  freezing night,
and were glad I'd put my trust in Good Ol' Blaze.
        Yes, Blaze! Blaze! Blaze!
    You roman-nosed old lanky sorrel, Blaze!
            Gone now, but we all know the answer:
                you weren't no Native Dancer,
    but with me you win the race, my Good Ol' Blaze.

2005, Hatch Graham 
This poem may not be reprinted or reposted without the author's written permission.

 


Hatch told us that this is: A true story from the Sierra National Forest, late September, 1959. 

In 1957, I was sent to the Kings River District of the Sierra National Forest as Assistant District Ranger and put in charge of range management. I rode the high country doing range surveys in the summer and the lower foothill ranges in the winter.  In the summer of 1959, we got money to put in a drift fence on the Post Corral cattle allotment. It was a figure-4
rockjack take-down fence in the pass at the head of Post Corral Creek just under Mt Shinn which is over 10,700 feet.

 The drift fence was to keep the cattle from driftin' out of the allotment in the Kings River watershed and droppin' over into the headwaters of the San Joaquin River. By late September, the high country can be pretty tricky. After the first snowfall, you've got to get out because the second snowfall may not quit till it's more than belly-deep to a horse. 

The poem is a pretty true account of what happened when I went in to pull the fence crew out before the next storm would've had us trapped. A lot of people know what happened to the Donner Party and that was not near so high nor near as risky.

Happens my wife is a widely published poet; has been in literally hundreds of magazines with thousands of published poems. She's in the recently published anthology California Poetry: From the Gold Rush to the Present, edited by Gioia, Yost, and Hicks, Santa Clara University (which by the way, includes Bret Harte, Joaquin Miller, and few other classical cowboy poets).

My wife, Taylor Graham, runs a little poetry workshop and I'm in it.  One of our assignments was to write a poem in the style of a poet you admire. Well, I always liked Rudyard Kipling and his "Gunga Din" is one of my favorites. Only problem is I had to have a story to tell. Well, Blaze is my story. And that's the story of how I came to write it. 



About Hatch Graham:

I grew up wanting to be a cowboy but my folks thought I ought to go to college, so I majored in the next best thing - forestry and wildlife management. Graduated from UC Berkeley in 1951. 

Got my first job as a fire prevention patrolman on horseback in Big Santa Anita Canyon above Sierra Madre on the Angeles National Forest in Southern California. Worked 37 years for the Forest Service in California, Alaska, and Washington DC. 

 


 

 

 

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