Sunday, March 20, 2011

Cowboy Heaven

A couple of weeks ago, I decided to indulge. I ordered twelve new books, three written by Richard P. Hobson: Grass Beyond the Mountains; Nothing Too Good for a Cowboy; and The Rancher Takes a Wife. I am in Cowboy Heaven.

Cows. Cayuses. Blizzards. Wood stoves. Wolves. And, of course, cowboys. Rugged men who lived by their wits and grit fighting to survive blistering cold, vicious mosquitoes, recalcitrant livestock, and unpredictable wildlife as they carved a life, and built a legacy, in the Chilcotin frontier during the 1930s and 40s. These are not fictional stories, but biographical tales full of dry wit, startling hardship, and deep respect for the land, and the people and critters that settled it.

I thought a thirty-plus-year gap between my first read of the stories, and now, might have tempered the enjoyment. Hardly. I am even more impressed.

As a youngster, I did not appreciate the true nature of the sacrifices these, and other pioneers, made to realize their dream of developing profitable ranches in inhospitable mountain ranges, and sour swampland.

Frostbite. Hypothermia. Blood-poisoning. Blizzards. Bugs. Pack rats. Starvation. Isolation. Injury. Disease. Accidental death. Theirs was not an easy life. Ours is.

Tractors and trucks replace horses, plows, and freight wagons. Natural gas fireplaces and Air-Source Heat Pumps relegate most wood stoves to emergency, or back up appliances, if they're installed at all. Land lines and cell phones negate the need of the Moccasin Telegraph. Grocery stores eliminate the need for canning and butchering. Unfortunately, what we gained through technological advances, we lost in self-sufficiency, and community cohesion.

One windstorm, and many of us are helpless, unable to survive a day without power, forget a winter. Worse, we've lost touch with our foundation, the people and history once found around a campfire, or at the dinner table. And with the loss of these things, comes an erosion of esteem, confidence gained through learning from elders and more experienced peers how to resolve problems, and overcome obstacles, alone, or as part of a group.

Our ancestors built something from nothing. They practiced patience, and negotiation, fitting many people under one roof. Survival hinged on their ability to communicate, cooperate, integrate; teamwork. Trust.

In our busy, helter-skelter, get me to work and the hockey arena on time, lives, we sometimes forget the value in these things. Books like those written by Richard P. Hobson, help to remind...

"An interesting custom of this isolated and far-flung country was the way the frontiersmen eased their thirst for talk and company by throwing in to help each other out, when circumstances necessitated it. In this land where there was no such thing as hired help, neighborliness was taken for granted.
      With the slightest provocation or with the frailest kind of excuse, a rancher would saddle up a half-broke colt or one of his snappiest horses and start to ride. His destination would be some particular friend's cabin; any distance up to fifty miles was not considered unusual." ~ Grass Beyond the Mountains, by Richard P. Hobson, pg. 61.

Friendship is the only cement that will ever hold the world together. ~Woodrow Wilson


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