I JUST FINISHED READING A BOOK?
Can I get a badge?
As much as I enjoy reading, I am a pathetic xMOOC-like reader- I keep signing up and rarely complete. I have at least 3 books on a table at home with a bookmark in the middle, and on my various apps, at least 5 partly read ones.
I invested 25 cents on it at a thrift store in Pine, Arizona, because of the subtitle “Growing up on a Cattle Ranch in the American Southwest”, hoping it would provide some realistic insight into the Western106 experience.
It’s her family’s experience, going back to her grandfather H.C. Day, of settling, cattle ranching, and living in a rugged ranch area of now public lands that straddle the Arizona / New Mexico border. The interest is because of this being my home turf, and a place I have visited, not too far north of where my friend Karen Fasimpaur lives now.
It highlights to me what a narrow slice of history is the stereotypical western in films, and what the films leave out is that people lived across many changes that transformed that image in real life. In about 100 years, from 1880 when H.C. claimed public land (not highly desirable due to arid conditions) when people were encouraged to ranch in the new land from the Gasden Purchase, to the time when so much was changed, and the ranching on public land had become so micromanaged by government (glossing over a lot of facets of the use/abuse of land by us people).
The hook was there on the first review (before the book) by Jill Ker Conway:
Sandra Day O’Connor and her brother, H. Alan. Day, have taken all of the themes of the conventional Western narrative- the roundup, the wild horses, cattle and cattle stampedes, the rattlesnakes, the natural disasters like flash floods, and the colorful figures of cowboys- and transposed them from the usual narrative of the isolated, rootless male figure of the Western into the story of three generations of a family and their relationship to an arid and beautiful expanse of land on the border between Arizona and New Mexico. It’s a story of what the land taught them and what it takes to survive under the extremes of drought and distance.
What you find is the life is much less glamorous and much much more physically/mentally demanding work than the movies would ever suggest. The rewards seem almost meager, but you get a sense of bonds between people, the cowhands Rastus and Bug Quinn who essentially spent lives as family members of the Day’s, and also of addressing all the things a western rancher cannot control- not just weather and critters, but the change of life around them.
Nothing stays as static as the time period stereotyped in westerns.
This is not a summary of the book, by any means, just a bit of appreciation for the reading of it. I have a few dog eared pages with underlines on sentences (I do like writing in my own books).
There is a lot of detail of day to day living- mending fences, fixing water pumps, baking biscuits, and the gear of cowboys. I learn the high heel on my boots are not a fashion thing, but to keep the boot in the stirrup.
Boots are expensive if they are custom-made or made from special leather. They can be the most comfortable footwear you can wear or the most uncomfortable.
I know that well! My well worn 8 year old Lariats are the most comfortable ever; I have a black newer pair in my closet that are the former.
Shirts are almost always long-sleeved, The sleeves give some measure of protection from scratching by thorns when riding through brush, and also give protection from the sun. The best way to tell a real cowboy from a dude is to look for very suntanned hands and face and very pale skin on all other parts of the body. No self-respecting cowboy will take his shirt off to get a tan.
And more on the attributes of cowboys:
The cowboys did whatever job was required, They met the unexpected as though they’d known it all along. They never complained, and they made the best of everything along the way.
Those who completed an entire roundup had a real sense of accomplishment. Most who did it realized thet had experienced something few people have a chance to do and something that few people are capable of doing.
Well those quotes were all about cowboys- the real meat of the book is the spirit of O’Connor’s parents who kept the family, the ranch, and all these people affiliated with it going through the 20th century, DA and MO as they were called. Her father was not easy on them at all, rather demanding and had high expectations, yet provide the three children a sense of the value of work, play (he liked his card games), interest in the external world (family discussions), and support for them to do what they chose in the world (sending Sandra to Stanford).
O’Connor affirms that he paths in life to and beyond the Supreme Court were built upon these life lessons.
The value system we learned was simple and unsophisticated and the product of necessity. What counted was competence and the ability to do whatever was required to maintain the ranch operation in good working order– the livestock, the equipment, the buildings, wells, fences, and vehicles. Verbal skills were less important than the ability to know and understand how things work in the physical world. Personal qualities of honesty, dependability, competence, and good humor were valued most.
A basic instinct in both animals and people is that of territoriality. We want to belong to a place familiar to us. If we have such a place, we are part of it and it is part of us.
This real west was a blink in time. It’s gone.
But at least we have some shared memory of it. What will our current blink of time look like to the ones who come next?
I don’t know, but I do know my territory- I am part of it, and it is part of me.
Top / Featured image: A photo I just took of a book on a table ;-) I license it totally for any purpose, wondering what it is I can license.