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STEVE VAN DYKE
Utah
About Steve Van Dyke

 

 

 

Just Bill

Down on the Southern Wasatch
Where the honeyed moon runs bright
Among the sparkling peaks and cloud
In Autumn's star tossed nights,
A mystery in a graveyard
Lingered on a stone;
And a questioning man with his hat in hand
Stood there all alone.

To know the truth you'd have to know
That decades back they say,
When old Tom Clark was just a boy
Out grandpa Willards' way,
Something mighty happened.
Not many know the facts,
And to tell it true, to paint it right,
I'll have to take you back.

Billie was a collie dog
Who worked the Willards' sheep.
He ran each day through the greening hay
To earn his daily keep.
Now Willards ran a thousand head
For wool and meat to grow;
And Billie helped to make their herd
Get up and on the go.

He moved them in the early Spring,
And ran them in the Fall.
Left, then right, then down the hill
He heard his master's call.
Willards had a grandson
And Tommy was his name.
Only six and not much more,
He played the grownups game.

On his little sorrel pony
With saddle just his size,
Tommy'd sail on down the trail,
His grandpa's blue-eyed prize.
They had to get them down that Fall
To the better Winter range;
While a thunderhead brewed a ridgeline storm
And the herd resisted change.

Bill was working on the left
To keep some rams in line,
And grandpa whistled high and long
To tell Bill how to shine.
The storm had nearly spooked them
And night was coming on.
So it was that no one saw
Where Tommy's sorrel had gone.

A raw young ram had left the group
And disappeared from view;
But Billie'd seen him leave the herd
And ran to head him true.
Tommy followed Billie's course
Up the curving draw
And out of sight in the fading light
This is what he saw.

The ram lay on the bleeding ground
And over him a bear,
With yellow fangs and shining claws
To tell the dog beware.
Billie saw the dying ram
And Tommy's startled fear,
And Tommy's horse in the gory course
Buck away and rear.

The bear would not give up his kill
And charged forth with a bound.
Lightning flared to light the hill,
And Tommy hit the ground.
Billie never broke his stride
But hit the bear full force,
And took the blow for Tommy
And turned the monster's course.

The bear rose on its haunches
A snarl upon its face,
While Tommy lay unconscious
And Billie bought him grace.
The fight was fierce and desperate
But Billie had no chance.
The bear was strong, Its teeth were sharp
Its claws each like a lance.

Grandpa with dad who'd missed their boy
Out along the trail,
Came tracking back in worried search
Before the light should fail.
Up the curving draw they tracked
And out upon the hill
To the bear and dog and dying sheep
And Tommy oh so still.

The bear looked down on Tommy's form,
Its fur was caked with mud,
But Billie stood the ground between,
Dripping wet with blood.
His head was low, his gaze was fixed,
His teeth a glaring threat.
The bear came down with a terrible sound
And the final moment set.

Billie caught him by the throat,
But the bear's swing caught old Bill
And broke his back like a pistol crack
And flung him up the hill.
Grandpa's rifle did the rest;
Twice the bullets sped.
Spitting rage the Grizzly died,
Two bullets in its head.

Tommy rose up off the ground,
A dazed look on his face,
Then relief and disbelief
As he felt his dad's embrace.
They gathered up the little dog,
And Tommy's pony too,
And turned on back down the curving track
To the waiting rams and ewes.

T'was a foreman years thereafter
Was puzzled at the sight
In the family cemetery
Late one moonlit night,
Of the grave of a family member
In honor buried there.
The grave was small and on the stone
Was carved a dying bear.

The disk of moon in the Southern sky
With light from heaven sent,
Shown on the stone the family owned,
A humble monument.
No dates were carved, just a single name
And the stone must rest there still;
And the foreman wondered who it was
The family just called "Bill."

2005, Steve Van Dyke 
This poem may not be reprinted or reposted without the author's written permission.

 

Steve told us: The story of Bill the sheep dog is a combination of several different
stories that were collected while I taught at Southern Utah University (then Southern Utah State College) in Cedar City in the '70s. It is fiction rooted in some real events in the lives of people who made their living on the land, and who had a love and respect for the animals that became a part of their families. There are those who say animals have no soul and lack intelligence. No one who once worked or lived on a farm or ranch ever could believe such nonsense.  The names in the poem have been changed and the characters should be considered fictitious, although some folks may prefer to see themselves in some sense among the players.

 

Reuben's Roosters

Reuben had a rooster,
A big Rhode Island Red
Who got the hens a-layin' eggs,
At least so Reuben said.

Old Red would crow each mornin'
To set the sun T'shine,
And start the hens all layin' eggs,
Which Reuben thought was fine.

But Red was more a strutter,
And spent much of his day
Puffin' out his feathers
Instead of earnin' pay.

So the hens all stopped a-layin' eggs
And Reuben grew distraught.
Oh they layed a few here and there,
But nothin' like they ought.

Then one day another bird,
A Banty rooster came,
And things all started changin'
And nothin' seemed the same.

That Banty never crowed at all,
But eggs graced every nest.
Why when it came to roosterin'
That Banty proved the best!

The eggs instead of large and white
Were small and speckled some,
But they turned the purtiest colors
The week that Banty come.

So Reuben's wife got thinkin'
What they ought to do;
And took a big red onion,
And made Rhode Island stew.

The eggs are pretty speckled still,
And some of them are small,
But they're sellin' just as many,
So they don't miss Red at all.

And the moral to this story,
In case y'haven't guessed,
Is, when it comes t'roosterin'
It's silent work that's best.

2005, Steve Van Dyke 
This poem may not be reprinted or reposted without the author's written permission.

 

Steve told us: There is probably nothing more maddening to a woman in this world than a man who lays around and does little, and manages to brag as if he'd done a lot. In a way this poem is about that. Its also about early immigrants to this country, many of whom turned to agriculture for a living, but without much experience. For instance, some believed that if your hens were to lay lots of eggs, you had to have a rooster in town. The poem is entitled:

 


About Steve Van Dyke:

Stephen A. Van Dyke is a judge in the Second District Juvenile Court for the State of Utah. He and was raised in Utah and Nevada. He holds a B.S. in Public Address Communications from BYU (1965); an M.A. in Communications from BYU (1966); a Ph.D. in Communications from Bowling Green State University in Ohio (1976); and a J.D. from the J. Reuben Clark Law School at BYU (1980). 

He also wears cowboy boots and rides when he can. Steve was the son of a school teacher, and was influenced in his youth by a stepfather who had been raised on a ranch in Idaho; and uncle who farmed in Utah; as well as numerous friends who ranched and farmed in Southern Utah where the poem "Just Billl" was set. 

Steve wrote outdoor articles for various magazines, including Field and Stream, and was a stringer for Outdoor Life in the seventies. He wrote an outdoor column for the Color Country Spectrum in St. George, Utah, and later for an online magazine on fishing the West. He's written professional articles on juvenile law in Utah, and a case note on Reverse Discrimination while on Law Review at BYU. He is currently the presiding judge in a six-judge district covering three Northern Utah counties. He has a minor in history, and a graduate cognate in history, with an interest in Western and Pioneer history.


 

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