I am a lover of poetry… I am a lover of cowboys… and the two combined…can there be any better formula for perfection? Perhaps I have not lived enough to answer that question. Today, I was invited to attend an event that I had only heard of until now and it may have given me an answer… A cowboy poetry reading…
When the idea was presented, I had this strange internal conflict brewing. How could a cowboy, rugged, tough, and strong, deliver poetry and what would that look like? I sat back and let my mind wander to think about that vision… a campfire, under a dark night only illuminated by the light of the stars, the sound of crickets and coyotes in the distance, the deep voice of a man tired from a day’s work, but inspired by something so powerful he is compelled to create words that lasso the mind and warm the heart. Is that what I would find at the Dangberg Home Ranch Historic Park some 20 minutes south of here? I wasn’t sure, but I was looking forward to finding out.
I was encouraged to bring a lawn chair, a packed dinner and a cold beverage with or without alcohol. And that is exactly what I did. I decided to wear a casual pair of shorts, a white sleeveless button down rayon top, and my favorite sandals. I put my hair up as the day was a hot 95 degrees. My light dinner was packed, a beverage to drink, my camera, and of course my good friend, Siri, at my side… and off we went.
The drive was uneventful and relaxing. I was able to take in the views of cows grazing in the grassy fields that sat at the base of the Sierra Nevada Mountains. The sun was unobstructed as the sky was a deep blue. The view left me inspired by the landscape to sit back and take in words of the poetic kind.
As I came closer to where Siri was saying my turn would be, I was confused as the only road ahead was a gravel path that seemed to lead to an old farmhouse. As she directed, and with a little bit of courage, I turned down this gravel road not knowing where it might lead. As I made my way down the bumpy gravel, the view seemed to be something out of a western movie, a perfect little ranch that any cowboy would love to call “home”.
I pulled up and breathed a sigh of relief as there were indeed other cars parked and I knew I was in the right location. I stepped out of the car and for a moment shook my head at the old house that sat in front of me. The paint of the house was weathered but well kept; the grass at the foot of the house was green and plush while the towering cottonwood trees rustled their leaves in the breeze. I just stood for a moment and looked 360 degrees at the sight I was lucky enough to enjoy. A ranch… with land as far as the eye could see, nestled closely to the mountain range, I could almost picture those that had lived in this house and appreciated the daily view. It truly was breathtaking.
I made my way up to the tent where the event was to take place and was approached by a gentleman wearing a pair of wrangler jeans, a plaid shirt, and that sharp looking cowboy hat. Did I mention the smile he had? Yes, that smile, the type of smile that says, “Whatever can I do for you?” Well, that is almost exactly what he said! I mentioned I had not been there before and he so graciously gave me a brief history of the house that was built in 1856 by Heinrich Dangberg. He and his family created a ranching empire that included 48,000 acres. He founded the town of Minden, NV just south of the ranch and he was a successful businessman. Four generations lived on the Dangberg ranch. He offered that I return and he would give me a private tour of the house. I thanked him for his time and information and he directed me where to sit up front. He certainly was not short on being gracious and polite.
As I sat down, I looked up and one of the cowboy poets walked over to shake my hand and introduce himself. I smiled and thanked him for the introduction. I looked around and there was a crowd of about 40-50 people and they all looked and smiled at me as if to welcome me to the event. Before the event began, a gentleman next to me kindly offered me a beer. Before I knew it, I had many new friends to share the event with… what a fantastic feeling!
The two cowboy poets, Ken Gardner and Tony Argento, were nothing like I had envisioned. The first poet, Tony Argento, had a very long grey beard and an outgoing gregariousness about him mixed with a little dry humor. He was dynamic in his storytelling as you could tell he enjoyed the dramatic flair with his recitations. The second poet, Ken Gardner, I will admit, melted my heart from the first poem he recited. Young? No.. Strong? At one time… Rugged? Perhaps in his younger days. Words that could lasso my mind and warm my heart? Without any doubt! He was a man about the young age of 80- something, but a spirit so wise, gentle and humorous he had me waiting on his every next word and poem.
(Below is a short rough clip, pop in your headphones and have a listen.)
Ken used a cane to walk and slowly made his way to the center to deliver his poems. His voice had a roughness that revealed the years gone by. He recited the poems like a professional storyteller, but made subtle references to his age as he announced that he and his wife had been married for 60 years! Yes, 60 years! And then, he caught me off guard as I had just been thinking about his health and what a sad day it would be for those close to him to have him leave this earth. Ken recited a poem about a good friend that had succumbed to Alzheimer’s disease. The words delivered were full of love and passion but also acknowledgement that he faces similar situations in his older years, as was noticeable with a line or two forgotten here and there. But make no mistake, it made the appreciation for Ken’s wise and poetic words more valuable and appreciated.
At one point during the event I looked over and saw Ken resting his eyes and I couldn’t help but think of the stories he could tell and how valuable his advice would be.
The event ended and as I packed up my chair that cowboy I had met at the beginning of the event thanked me for coming such a distance to hear the event and I was reminded that he gives private tours of the house. I thanked him for his offer and with a smile and a wink I was headed slowly back to my car.
I thought I knew what a real cowboy looked like, the wrangler jeans, cowboy hat, rough and rugged appeal… No, tonight a real cowboy was 80-something, had the priceless wisdom with poetic words that lassoed my mind, melted my heart and made me fall in love with cowboy poetry, just as Ken had fallen in love with his wife some 60 years ago. The words, the setting, the community, the stories… were real, not anything that I thought it would be, but so much more! Wondering what tomorrow will bring…