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JIM CROTTS
Oregon
About Jim Crotts

 

 

The Homestead

Sometimes I get lost in the desert,
No, not like I'll never be found,
Just lost in the way that I wander,
When I follow my footsteps around.

I remember one salty gray morning,
And a canyon, etched out of the sands,
With a washout that riddled the bottom,
Like lines on weathered old hands,

Where I came across gray faded bottles,
Their labels scoured off by the dust,
And pieces of iron in the sagebrush,
And tin cans all covered with rust,

And I knew what these relics remembered,
As I followed my gaze up the slope,
Knowin' I'd find when I followed,
The remnants of broken-down hope.

Some sandstone that formed an old footing,
Boards that was rough-sawed and worn,
Aged by the wind and the weather,
And scattered about by the storm.

A piece of a broken-out window,
The twisted remains of a frame,
The glass that was precious as diamonds,
When the darkness of winter came,

The vine that the young wife had planted,
Out where the water was thrown,
That blossomed just once in a season,
The only bouquet that she'd known.

The line that once was the fence row,
The hole that once was the well,
The trampled down dirt at the feed trough,
That marked the place where it fell,

And the two-track that reached the horizon,
That brought them—and took them away,
A testament to the hardships,
In a land that was harder than they.

This place had offered no respite,
No mercy, no quarter, no friend,
Just hot, dry days in the summer,
And cold in the winter—and wind.

And maybe the wind was the reason,
That made me think something was there,
Disturbing the hush of the sagebrush,
And moving a voice through the air,

I felt the breath of a woman,
Cry for her children in vain,
I heard the prayers of a husband,
Beseeching his God for the rain,

I felt their sweat on my temples,
I felt the pang of their fears,
I sifted their dreams through my fingers,
And my cheeks felt the path of their tears.

I stopped... and was suddenly weary,
And knew it was time to go,
For the wind was makin' me hear things,
And my water was runnin' low.

I remember one salty gray evening,
As I made my way down the draw,
Back to my shelter and comfort,
But not to forget what I saw.

Someday I'll get lost in the desert,
Lost, and never be found,
To join the old ghosts at the homesteads,
And follow the wind around.

© 2011, Jim Crotts
This poem may not be reprinted or reposted without the author's permission.

 

Jim told us:

I think the simple appeal of the poem is that so many of us have been there... In our wanderings we have stumbled across the broken boards and the tin cans and the old fence rows, and we've wondered why anyone thought they could make it there, in that place, and how many hardships and heartaches they endured before they called it quits and moved on. Mostly they were brave and strong and hopeful—and that's about all any of us can aspire to. I just didn't want them to be forgotten.




Buckeroo Chew

The call went out at calvin' time,
From the rancher down the road,
His herd, out on the easement,
Had borne a heavy load,
So he thought it best to gather 'em
And tag 'em, two by two,
And he needed men with horses,
Who were willing to buckeroo.

Now a call like that can stir the soul,
And light a fire inside,
And make a man to grab his kit,
And volunteer to ride,
It conjures up a thousand scenes,
That only cowboys know,
Of olden days and draws and sage,
And...where a cow might go,
So as you might imagine,
The crew was filled out fast,
With men who lived by day-work,
And dreamed about the past.

Some of them had teamed before,
And some of them were new,
But all of them were willin',
To see the gather through,
And each man did his duty,
Ridin' sweep or eatin' dust,
Bonded by the cowboys' creed,
Of fortitude and trust.

At least that's how it started...
Until that fateful dawn,
When the saddle's only comfort,
Got all used up and gone,
When Skoal ring after Skoal ring,
Gave way to empty tins,
And the last lone pinch was taken,
Leaving silence among friends,
Leaving silence in the sagebrush,
And silence in the crew...
'Cause the range gets purty quiet,
When the boys run out of chew.

Now all of them got headaches,
And some, their vision blurred,
One shook so bad he spooked his horse,
Which jumped, and spooked the herd,
And when they got 'em settled down,
And mothered-up again,
Someone else would break and run,
As surely as there's sin.
I'll tell you, there was malice
In every sideways look...
Why, one man got so crazy,
That he durn near cussed the cook!

Finally Slim could take no more,
And he slammed his grubplate down,
You boys is got to cover me,
I'll make the run fer town.
It's just five hours back to the truck
And half a day to town,
Five minutes in the jingle-store,
And then the turn-around,
The ride, the drive ain't no big deal,
My horse can run at night,
And I can have jaw-candy,
To pass around, first light.

Well the fire got kinda quiet,
As they looked from man to man,
And no one saw a single flaw
In Slim's life-savin' plan.
The herd was restin' quiet-like,
It seemed the thing to do,
To cover fer a brother,
That would make the run fer chew.

Now a feller don't need money
When he's ridin' on the range,
But they dug down deep fer foldin'
And they ponied up their change,
And solemn-like they formed a line
And gave it to the cook
Who marked it down, amount and name
And put it in his book.
Not that it really mattered none,
'Cause when the ride was through,
Each man would get an equal share,
'Cause that's what cowboys do.

Oh I could tell about the ride,
And how the night was black,
And speak of all the demons
That rode on Old Slim's back,
But one lone observation,
Will tell about the man;
...Until he made it back to camp,
He never touched a can.

The boys was up and waitin',
They'd been there all night long,
With nothing but the coyotes,
A-stirring up their song,
And makin' 'em feel lonesome,
Like coyotes sometimes do,
And leavin' 'em lamenting,
Why they ever started chew.

Then Slim was there, the fire blazed up,
The day began to break,
A couple of 'em even smiled,
And took his hand to shake,
But he was on a mission,
To give to every man,
Salvation in a cylinder,
And comfort in a can.

The fire got quiet once again,
As daylight took its place,
The cook served up his biscuits,
And the herd began to pace,
The rango got the horses fed,
And put the chuck away,
While the riders gathered riggin',
And got ready for the day,

So with their cheeks and gums packed tight,
This tale comes to an end,
...'Cause they was on the boss's nickel,
And there was cows to tend.

© 2011, Jim Crotts
This poem may not be reprinted or reposted without the author's permission.

 

Jim told us:

This actually happened to a pal of mine on a gather out of Diamond, Oregon, not far from Pete French's Round Barn. They were up on the north end of Steens Mountain, and were out of chew for about four days. He said they started out by joking about it as being a way to quit, but after a couple of days things got pretty uncomfortable. They managed to pull through, but I'll bet none of
those guys have run out since then.

 



  About Jim Crotts:
                                       
provided 2011

I'm not an old-time, long-time cowboy, but I've learned a few things along the way. Things like "team penning is more fun than preg testing." "That cute little calf can run right through you to get away from the fire." And "The gal driving by in the car with the windows rolled up thinks it's pretty romantic to see you out there riding in the
sleet." But if I had a heart (and that's still open to conjecture) I'd always want it to be a cowboy's heart.

 


 

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