Winter/Christmas Art Spur 2016-2017: “Pitchfork Winter”

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Submissions are now closed.

Find the Winter-themed poems below by Marleen Bussma, Tom Swearingen, Jeff Campbell, and C.W. (Charles) Bell.

Find the selected Christmas-themed poems below by Michelle Turner, Jim Cathey, and Jean Mathisen Haugen.

It’s been said that a picture is worth a thousand words…we know many that are worthy of a poem or a song. In Art Spur, we invite poets and songwriters to let selections of Western art inspire their poetry and songs.

Our 44th piece offered to “spur” the imagination is a special Winter/Christmas Art Spur, a 1923 photograph by Charles J. Belden (1887-1966) titled, “Work on cattle ranch, Z/T Ranch, Pitchfork, Wyoming.” It is from the Library of Congress Prints and Photograph Division. Find more about it here.

A biography at the Charles Belden Photography Museum web site notes, “The greatest contribution of Charles Belden to the Pitchfork Ranch was making it famous. In the 1920s, ‘30s, and ‘40s, Belden took pictures of the Pitchfork Ranch for newspapers in Los Angeles, Denver, Billings, Minneapolis, Detroit, Cleveland, New York, and for National Geographic magazine…His technical abilities, combined with an unequaled knowledge of the cowboy and sheepman, allowed Belden to capture the true life and times of the Pitchfork Ranch from 1914 to 1940…He lived and worked on the Pitchfork and, in 1922, became a co-manager…”

Find the bio and more at the Charles Belden Photography Museum web site.

Find a collection of Belden photographs at the University of Wyoming‘s digital archive.

 

WINTER-THEMED POEMS

A PITCHFORK MORNING
by Marleen Bussma

The snow has wrapped its alabaster arms around the day
and squeezed all color from the summer’s generous display.
Sam sits atop his horse and pulls his neck inside his coat.
The snow-haze hid most things his eyes would recognize and note.

The raw wind keens and cries sad tones you cannot hear in town.
It beats the snow and sleet across Sam’s face, though he looks down.
Three hundred miles and thirty years ago he never knew
he’d still be punching cattle in this life he’s passing through.

Dark specks that move emerge from Jack Frost’s cloak that hides the hills.
The cattle come for feed brought in by wagons where it spills
atop the ground and spreads out like the Golden Fork Buffet.
Their greedy appetite will not give in to weather’s play.

Their backs are white and crusted with a blanket spun from sleet.
Their heads wear scarves designed by wind cut from an icy sheet.
Sam notices a cow that staggers, stumbles, slips on snow.
She goes down on her side while other cows don’t even slow.

Sam nudges Sadie to a trot to check the fallen cow.
He steps down from the saddle, tilts his hat so he can bow
his head into the wind that screams and threatens all who live.
“Just one mistake!” is shrieked by elements that won’t forgive.

The cow is blinded by a frozen mask stuck to her face.
She doesn’t try to struggle as Sam wipes away all trace
of glaze encrusted on her eyes, once sightless, shaded, still.
Sam carefully pulls frosty fragments with a cowhand’s skill.

His patient struggles to get up with energy renewed.
She joins the gather near the hay and makes her way to food.
As winter drags its frozen feet with cowboys on alert,
a warm chinook off eastern Rocky Mountains wouldn’t hurt.

© 2017, Marleen Bussma
This poem may not be reprinted or reposted without permission.

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ONLY PLACE FOR ME
by Tom Swearingen

Cows are strung from here to Sunday,
Nose to tail all afternoon.
The herd snakin’ way to low ground,
Down the trail ‘went up last June.

Temp’rature is barely twenty.
With the wind chill it feels worse.
But I count it all a blessing
What most folks would call a curse.

To be all day on the gather
Bringing high-graze cattle down,
To still be a part of something
Not much understood in town.

To ride from can’t see to can’t see.
No need for a watch or clock.
To know I’m spendin’ my time well,
Working hard to raise this stock.

Riding ground that my father rode,
And his father rode before.
Not a lot of people these days
That can say that anymore.

‘Course days like this will test you some,
Winter gnawing at your core.
Reminding you there are reasons
Others don’t take on the chore.

The feeling long left from my hands,
And about gone from my seat.
Warmth just a dwindling memory.
Still some hours ’til home fire’s heat.

Today it’s snow and bitter wind,
Other times it’s sun and dust.
But regardless of conditions
Being here for me’s a must.

Because I’m right where I figure
Is the only place for me.
For a cowboy is what I am,
Cowboy’s what I’ll always be.

© 2017, Tom Swearingen
This poem may not be reprinted or reposted without permission.

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OLD MAN WINTER
by Jeff Campbell

The yuletide season’s over
It will soon be New Years Day
We all enjoyed a white Christmas
With more snow on the way

As I sit here in the saddle
I confirm the forecast right
While looking all around me
At a world cloaked in white

Santa may have gone back home
But Old Man Winter’s settled in
The horizon’s almost disappeared
Where does the sky begin?

The only demarcation
Of where prairie meets the sky
The long red ribbon of cattle
Drudgingly passing by

Workin’ the herd out of the wind
Patient and try not to rush
West down to Burgess Creek
And the shelter of the brush

This frozen task accomplished
Our work is still not through
Here in the dead of winter
There’s always more to do

Use snow to our advantage
Push it up against the fence
A barrier against the gales
Another refuge of defense

Chop logs like a lumberjack
To feed that old wood stove
Chop ice in the water tanks
Where the drinkin’ waters froze

Movin’ hay to the cattle
Make sure that they’re well fed
Bring in a shiverin’ calf
To warm up by my bed

Like the devil in summer
Old Man Winter blast the range
We never do defeat him
Just survive till seasons change

© 2017, Jeff Campbell
This poem may not be reprinted or reposted without permission.

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LINE CABIN NIGHT
by C.W. (Charles) Bell

When the winds of winter freeze the surface of hill and plain,

With frozen icy weapons beat upon the window pane.

When the ground is deeply covered with drifts of whitest snow,

And the air so clear I see the ranch, way down there below.

That’s when I sit and listen to the north wind’s mighty roar;

The fire in the fireplace casts crazy shadows on the floor.

Outside it’s cold and darkness, while inside it’s warm and bright,

Settled down in solid comfort—I call it—Line Cabin Night!

© 2017, C.W. (Charles) Bell
This poem may not be reprinted or reposted without permission.

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CHRISTMAS-THEMED POEMS

CHRISTMAS TRAIL
by Michelle Turner

The first snow of the season came in silent, and swift
A wet, sticky snow; too heavy to drift
Falling straight down, it stacked up real quick
Bad for the drovers, but good for Saint Nick!

“Well, Boys, It looks like we’re gonna be late.
The Christmas festivities will just have to wait.”
I sighed a small sigh, and then bowed my head,
“Give us this day, our daily bread”

The families back home were just joining hands
Praying for cowboys on frigid range lands
“Father in Heaven, we ask this of You
Push the blizzard aside; please let them get through”

I watched crystals of ice form on long pony tails
like Christmas tree tinsel decorating our trail
And heat-melted snow dripped over my mare
drizzled like caramel on a gingerbread square

The cattle were covered with coats of white flocking
My mind wandered home to an empty hung stocking
Clouds of hot breath from the herd blurred my view
As if looking through steam over mugs of hot brew

My thoughts were cut short by a cheer from the men
After wiping my eyes and then looking again
One single star peaked out from the skies
and I knew we’d be home for leftovers and pie

We secured all the gates and rubbed down our mounts,
then dragged our cold bones to the steps of the house
With the door bursting open, such commotion inside!
They all waited Christmas, ‘til the end of our ride.

© 2016, Michelle Turner
This poem may not be reprinted or reposted without  permission.

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CHRISTMAS WISHES
by Jim Cathey

While I’m watchin’ them cows comin’ down in the snow,
Hankerin’ for some better times,
An’ the warmer wind breaks they’ll find down below,
I’m shore wishin’ for warmer climes!

It was comin’ on Christmas time of the year,
We’d hired on for winter brandin’,
An’ was shore ‘nuff proud to hunker down here,
Like Mary an’ Joseph way back when.

Shore now, you recollect the Christmas story?
‘Bout when Baby Jesus was born,
An’ that night with God in all His Glory,
Give us that very first Christmas morn,

Now I reckon as how life can shore be rough,
An’ it warn’t no different way back then,
Them ol’ boys herdin’ stock found it mighty tough,
But lookin’ back, they’d shore ‘nuff grin.

But when they heard them angels a singin’,
I ‘spect it spooked ‘em a good bit,
They figgered it was just bells somewhere a ringin’,
An’ they hunkered down, but didn’t quit.

Yeah, I ‘spect it was colder’n rocks in a heap,
That baby was wrapped up an’ warm,
An’ them dang shepherds with their flock of sheep,
Just plumb hunkered down in that storm.

Now that’s the same choice we make to be cowboys,
I guess, sorta like them three kings,
They chose to follow that star that promised joys,
About which them angels would sing.

Glory to the highest with peace an’ goodwill to all,
An’ them ol’ boys herdin’ their stock,
Scairt, but watchin’ out for ‘em, no matter how small,
Cow, horse, donkey, sheep in a flock.

An’ that baby, layin’ there in a manger,
Wrapped head to toe in swaddlin clothes,
A promise of eternal life to strangers,
After life an’ death, He arose.

Yep, that’s how Christmas musta got started,
An’ so we celebrate today,
While we thank the Good Lord for our paths He charted,
I ‘spect we should hit our knees and pray!

Lord, thank you for giving us Jesus on earth,
An’ for promisin’ life with you,
As we celebrate this wondrous birth,
Please allow our faith to renew.

An’ thank you for these critters in the snow,
That let us know the cowboy way,
An’ help us stay true, our faith all aglow,
Thank you Lord! In yore name we pray.

Well, I’m still watchin’ them cows comin’ down in the snow,
Hankerin’ for some better times,
An’ the warmer wind breaks they’ll find down below,
I’m shore wishin’ for warmer climes!

© 2016, Ol’ Jim Cathey
This poem may not be reprinted or reposted without permission.

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A COWBOY, CAMPFIRE AND A STAR
by Jean Mathisen Haugen

It was cold that winter night,
when I got caught out in the snow.
A blizzard came in from the west,
and how that wind did blow!
I’d been riding across the range
looking for a few stray cows,
trying hard to bring them in,
but the storm hit here and now.
I found shelter in a shallow cave
and built a warm campfire,
chewed on jerky and had some beans—
not all I would desire.
For this night was Christmas Eve
and I was there all alone—
no songs and surely no angels,
just the howl of the wild wind’s moan.
I used my saddle for a pillow
and had my soogans near,
crawled inside to get some sleep,
but sure wished I wasn’t here.
I drifted off into a dream
and then, in the middle of the night,
I heard some rustling in the brush
and it gave me a bit of a fright.
The storm had finally cleared.
I saw way off a’ ways afar
the streaming beams of high lonesome light
that were coming from a star.
Then I saw an angel fly by
and soon a flock of them were singing,
there just above the little cave
songs of joy and even bells were ringing.
The campfire should have gone out by then,
but the flames were dancing high,
brightening the lonely cave
and nearly bright as that star in the sky.
Then it was suddenly quiet
and I went back to sleep.
Near morning I crawled out at dawn—
and there was canned food in a heap,
along with fresh-cut firewood
and a tipi tent that was brand new.
I scratched my head, fixed coffee
and made a real strong brew.
And it was then I stumbled over
some feathers from real angel wings—
then I realized that was no dream—
I had really heard them sing.
I am old and crippled now,
but I can recall from years afar
the story of that long ago night
’bout a cowboy, a campfire and a star.

© 2016, Jean Mathisen Haugen
This poem may not be reprinted or reposted without  permission.

Thanks to all who participated.

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SUBMISSIONS

Poetry submissions were welcome from all, through Tuesday, January 17, 2017. Christmas-themed submissions were welcome by Tuesday, December 20, 2016).

Submissions are now closed.

 

Find previous Art Spur subjects and their poems here.

 

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