Cowboy Jam Session by Jeri L. Dobrowski: Waiting for the first spring day
Although the calendar declares it’s spring, a deep-and-lingering snow cover with temperatures well below average has the region’s residents wondering if they’ll ever see May flowers. Stockmen who scheduled calving and lambing for April are dealing with record-breaking snow and cold.
It’s a double-edged sword. A wizened rancher whose land adjoined my folks used to say that you needed a calf-killing storm to grow grass for the ones that survived. Caring for herds in knee-deep snow takes longer and requires additional feed and bedding. Already weary from round-the-clock checks of the maternity pens, the added duty of ministering to chilled newborns tips the scale of human endurance all the more toward exhaustion.
Raised on a cow-calf operation on the High Plains of Colorado, Terry Nash captures one such wintery birthing scene in “Cowman’s Lot” from his recently-released album, December Stragglers. His description of waiting for a heifer to calve is spot-on, right down to the baby “nose-diving’ into the ground.” It’s apparent from this original poem and the title track (read “December Stragglers” at http://www.cowboypoetry.com/terrynash.htm) that Nash writes from experiences. Most ranch folks will be able to put a face to the “hunter a-hoofin’ it into town” and the cow he calls “Wild old Snort.”
Nash includes several pieces by others on the 13-track album, including classics by Henry Knibbs, Bruce Kiskaddon, Badger Clark, and S. Omar Barker. It was a pleasant surprise to find Larry McWhorter’s sentimental contemporary “Black Draught” among them.
Also from Colorado, Al “Doc” Mehl released The Great Divide in 2013. The 17 tracks of original poetry held my attention much like an old-time radio show. Doris Daley’s summation of Mehl’s style captures it succinctly: “Refreshing, original, witty, and loaded with clever wordplay about contemporary cowboy life.” (See http://www.docmehl.com)
For all the cowboy gatherings and festivals I’ve attended, this was my first exposure to Mehl’s substantive storylines and Olympic-caliber rhymes. From the first track to the last, I wondered how the stories would end and from whence his inspiration came. His mastery of words, whether describing everyday scenes or relating stories from his family’s past, left me in awe of his ability to transport me to another place and time.
“The Brand New Year,” about family members and turkeys coming home to roost, struck a chord with me. And his account of the old cowboy in “Dancing with Doris” was so effective that I pictured Otto Rosfeld in my mind without realizing that he was who the poem was written about. It wasn’t until I read the liner notes that Otto’s identity was revealed. Mehl nailed our mutual friend’s zeal for dancing. Other favorites of mine, including the playful “Graduation,” the picturesque “A Quilt in North Nebraska,” and the poignant “The Great Divide,” are at http://www.cowboypoetry.com/almehl.htm.
The Great Divide sells for $18 postpaid from Al “Doc” Mehl, 9140 W 107th Place, Westminster, CO 80021; firstname.lastname@example.org. Listen to snippets and purchase downloads at http://www.cdbaby.com.
Rounding out this month’s offerings, selected in recognition of Cowboy Poetry Week, April 21-27, 2013, is Prairie Song: A meander of memory by DW Groethe (2013, 111 pages, paperback ISBN: 978-0-615-75316-4). Hot off the presses in January, Groethe describes the mix of approximately 75 new-and-previously-published pieces as “new and used poems.” It’s much more than that. It’s a chance for his fans to revisit some of their favorite pieces (“The Bunny Poem,” “Yearlin’ Heifers-Part 1,” “This Old Post,” “My Father’s Horses”) and catch up on what he’s been writing of late. Those who haven’t yet made his acquaintance will find a treasure-trove of material that’s new to them. (For more see http://www.cowboypoetry.com/dwgroethe.htm)
Groethe is a well-read, disciplined Montana day hand who works exceedingly hard at crafting rhyming and free-verse poetry and songs. Paring close to the bone and eliminating all but the most essential of words, he transforms the mundane into the majestic. From the newly-minted “My Grandfather’s Heart”: “There are days / when my grandfather / sneaks up behind me / and breathes life / into the failing memory / of his spirit.” And from “Somewhere in the Night”: “A little rain. / Good medicine.”
Prairie Song sells for $18 postpaid from DW Groethe, P.O. Box 144, Bainville, MT 59212; (406) 769-7312.