The winter is here and the old year is passing,
The sun in its circle winds far in the south.
It's time to bring cheer to a cold, snowbound cow camp,
It's Christmas tree time of the year for the house.
Go ride to the cedar break rim of a canyon,
Down by where the river takes creek water clear,
And saddle-sleigh home us a fine shapely evergreen
Picked out while prowling the pasture this year.
While Fair strings the berries and popcorn and whatnots
And Ty braids the wreaths out of leather and vines,
Old Dunder, he whittles and whistles old carols
And fills them with stories of fine olden times.
He talks of a baby boy born in a cow shed,
All swaddled in tatters and laid in a trough,
Who, growing up, gave away all he could gather
And taught us that what is not given is lost.
It's morning of Christmas and long before dawning
The camp hands are risen to ready the feast.
But with the fires glowing they don warm apparel
And go out to gaze on the Star of the East.
They cobbler the plums they put up back in summer,
They bake a wild turkey and roast backstrap deer,
They dollop the sourdough for rising and baking,
And pass each to each now the brown jug of cheer.
The dinner is done and they pass out the presents,
Their three each they open with handshakes and hugs,
Then Ty gets his guitar and Fred gets his fiddle
While Dunder and Fair laugh and roll back the rugs.
The tunes that they play melt the chill from the winter
As Dunder and Fair waltz and two-step along.
They play, sing and dance till the next morning's dawning
Then all of the their slumbers are filled with this song.
© 1996, Buck Ramsey, All Rights Reserved
See our feature about Buck Ramsey here.
"Christmas Waltz" was printed in a small gift edition by Gibbs-Smith Publishers in 1996. It is out of print but copies are available from the Western Folklife Center.
A recording of Buck Ramsey singing "Christmas Waltz" was made in 1995. Buck Ramsey tells about his family's shape-note singing and talks about the setting for his piece, which can be found on the award-winning Voices of the West's "A Cowboy Christmas" tape produced by Hal Cannon and Mary Beth Kirchner. The tape is available from the Western Folklife Center.
Bette Ramsey comments about the recording: "Buck grew up in a singing family, and his sisters were well known for their gospel singing. We get a sense of what the Ramsey family sounded like as Buck is joined on this beautiful recording by his sisters Wanda, Ellen and Sylvia, and his younger brother Charles."
The recording is also on the 2-CD set, Buck Ramsey, Hittin' the Trail, released by Smithsonian Folkways Records in 2003.
The Perfect Gift
Not everyone's Christmas is merry,
not everyone's heart's filled with cheer;
perhaps it's because they are missing
a loved one not with them this year.
It might be a soldier in service,
or death might have darkened their door;
there's reasons why some folks are lonely
and something we should not ignore.
It must be real hard to be lonely,
while others are happy and gay;
while we see the blue skies and sunshine,
their skies are cloudy and gray.
And it's easy with our lives so busy
to not take the time to be there
to help lift a burden for others
and let them know somebody cares.
If you want to do something this Christmas
to help those who might be alone,
take time from your parties and shopping
and give them a call on the phone.
Better yet, pay 'em a visit
to let 'em know somebody cares;
for none of us know of tomorrow
when we may have crosses to bear.
So this year when you go out shopping
be sure that you add to your list
a name of someone that's lonely
and give them the best kind of gift.
You won't have to spend any money,
for we know that the best gifts are free.
Take time for the lonely this Christmas,
it's just how God meant it to be.
© November 4, 2002, Yvonne Hollenbeck
Read more of Honored Guest Yvonne Hollenbeck's poetry here.
Desert Cowboy's Christmas
The bells this cowboy's hearin',
aren't off of any sleigh.
They're 'round the necks of the old milk cows
comin' in for their mornin' hay.
There've been other times and places,
where there weren't snowflakes fallin',
But he can't remember a Christmas,
when there weren't cattle bawlin'.
The desert air is chilled,
as daylight tints the sky.
It's plenty cold enough for frost
but the air is just too dry.
Against the graying pre-dawn
there's a darker silhoutte.
A remuda horse has just come in,
but he can't tell which one yet.
The faint scent of creosote brush
drifts on the mornin' breeze,
And prob'ly because of the day
makes him think of Christmas trees.
Pausing, he watches the sunrise
break the hold of the night.
Objects begin to emerge from the dark
changing form in the light.
Saguaro, arms reaching skyward,
cottonwood trees, bare limbed.
A rooster up on the big corral fence
sittin' there crowin' at him.
An old cow begins to bawl,
knowin' it's time for feed.
He breaks the bales and scatters the hay,
and the others follow her lead.
Cattle and man have a bond,
they've always been his life.
Over the years they've taken the place
of a family and a wife.
As seasons follow seasons,
he's never changed direction.
Horses, cattle, and wide-open spaces,
the "cowboy connection."
"Merry Christmas, Girls," he calls,
"here's a little extra hay.
An old cowboy likes to do his part
to make this a special day!"
His Christmas seldom means presents,
or bright lights on a tree,
More a time to pause and reflect
on the way a man ought to be.
Some folks don't understand this,
but it really isn't so strange.
It's what a cowboy's life's all about,
to a shepherd of the range.
© Carole Jarvis, from Time Not Measured by a Clock
You can read more poetry by Honored Guest Carole Jarvis here.
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