Baxter Black: The Manly Arts
People ask where I got my mittens, my saddle blanket, my wild rag, my dog’s muffler, my colorful selection of pot holders that hang in my tackroom. I always change the subject, but the time has come to confess.
So there I was in the wilds of the high desert on a cow camp in the early fall, riding three young horses and checkin’ cows, water tanks and fence. Pretty tough livin’ out here. My clothes didn’t get washed much. My razor broke. I tried to wash up at the spring every week or two and brushed my teeth with bakin’ soda and salt. I didn’t have a toothbrush, of course, so I never got that tough gristle completely out. I tried to cut my own hair. Thank goodness I didn’t have a mirror.
A man gets lonesome sometimes. I tried not to think about it. I pondered a lot. I had deep discussions with my dogs but they begin to doze off when I questioned the wisdom of Napoleon invading Italy in 1796 or the value of Latin as a second language.
While trying to fix a hole in the baseboard to keep the pack rats out, I pulled a board loose. There behind it where it must have dropped years ago, was a book. It was still somewhat readable. The pages were yellowing around the edges and water stains faded out much of the print. It was such a surprise. Remember, you must put yourself in my position at the time. I had not seen another human being for weeks, cell phones didn’t work there, and there was no mail delivery. I didn’t have a radio. Things became mundane. Your emotional graph rarely moves off neutral unless you’re getting bucked off or snakebit. Then out of nowhere, I found this book. I pondered if there was some profound meaning that I, a solitary cowboy, was the one to find it. Was it just circumstance? Would it lead me to greater knowledge and peace of mind? Would I become famous or rich?
The owner must have been a learned man. He may have studied it daily, maybe memorized certain chapters; it could have changed his life. Words and phrases could be discerned; “purl, binding, blocking, slipover, ribbed cap, moss…” instructions like “cast on, yarn over, K 2 tog, rest the needle in your lap, p.s.s.o, crochet, garter and if you do slip a stitch, you can work backwards…” The illustrations were illegible. They could have been drawings of someone doing surgery, or sword fighting, or preparing spaghetti, or counting to eleven on one hand. I held them to the window, I looked at them upside down, I tried to iron one page with a hot pocket knife, all to no avail.
I conjured the possibilities; a manual for deckhands on a schooner? A wiring diagram for home appliances? Parasitology Vol. 1: Strongyles? Then a card fell out. It said “The Manly Art of Knitting, © 1972”. I fell upon it like a hyena on a carcass! And even today, though I can’t remember anybody’s name, where I left the car keys, or who is the Secretary of State, I can still knit and purl with the best of them!
So there, I feel better getting it out in the open.