LANGUAGE OF THE LAND, by Tom Swearingen


by Tom Swearingen

There’s not a lot that’s spoken
As we sit upon our mounts.
The cow boss checking tallies,
Adding up the remnant counts.

He’s mighty long on wisdom,
But he’s pretty short on words
When lining out the circles
When we’re gathr’n up the herds.

“They’re out there boys, go get ’em.
Now you know just what to do.”
‘Course he’s right, and he should know,
‘Cause he handpicked all the crew.

He knows there’ll be no slacking,
That we’ll more than earn our pay.
Since that’s ‘bout all that matters
He’s not got much more to say.

With just some simple pointing
And some nods amongst the boys,
We head in all directions
Taking in the morning noise.

You’d think without us talking
There’d be nothin’ much to hear.
But fact is, in the silence
There’s a lot to hit your ear.

Like birds awake and singing.
Or cicadas flicking wings.
There’re Aspen trees a quaking,
And the sound of bubblin’ springs.

Muffled hooves on dewdrop grass.
And the crack of sun-parched brush.
Thermals blowing up steep slopes.
Bobwhite’s whistle ‘fore they flush.

And then the sound we’ve come for.
Distant, faint, from down below,
The bawling calves and mommas
Tell us just where we should go.

The silence gives direction
Sometimes better than what’s planned.
And so we leave the talking
To the language of the land.

© 2016, Tom Swearingen
This poem should not be reposted or reprinted without permission

Oregon horseman Tom Swearingen says one of his greatest pleasures when horseback is being silent and just listening. “It’s amazing what one can hear if we just stay quiet. Of course horses’ ears are keen and they can pick up sounds far earlier than we can. But every once in a while I get the satisfaction (likely kidding myself) that I’ve tuned into a distant sound before my mount’s ears react.”

Tom says that Gary Morton’s 2016 Cowboy Poetry Week Art Spur painting “A Life Less Ordinary” reminded him of early mornings, miles to cover, and the challenge of relying more on senses than planning to be successful at the task at hand and that “Language of the Land” was inspired by that painting and the memories it recalled.


“Language of the Land” is included on Tom’s new CD of the same name. The album has been leading the charts for Western Music radio play, according to the International Western Music Association’s Western Way magazine.

Tom is headed to the 31st annual Durango Cowboy Poetry Gathering, October 3rd – 7th, 2019. Evening performers include Trinity Seeley, Margaret Wilhelm, Brooke Turner, Bill Lowman, Greg Hager, Ross Knox, and Mary Kaye. Daytime performers are Colt Blankman, Thatch Elmer, Almeda Bradshaw, Ol’ Jim Cathey, Rick Buoy, Two Bit Pete, Chris Isaacs, Tim Krebs, Emelia Knaphus, Nolan King, Jarle Kvale, Paul Larson, Allora Leonard, Lynne Belle Lewis, Carol Markstron, Dan McCorison, Slim McWilliams, Kathy Moss, Sam Noble, Dave Munsick, Jonathan Odermann, Abby Payne, Lindy Simmons, Don Schauda, Kacey and Jenna Thunborg, and Tom Swearingen.

Tom will be making his first invited appearance at the Western Folklife Center’s 36th annual National Cowboy Poetry Gathering. He joins other poets and storytellers Doris Daley, John Dofflemyer, Carolyn Dufurrena, Maria Lisa Eastman, Patricia Frolander, DW Groethe, Andy Hedges, Carol Heuchan, Chris Isaacs, Randi Johnson, Jarle Kvale, Annie Mackenzie, Waddie Mitchell, Joel Nelson, Rodney Nelson, Jonathan Odermann, Vess Quinlan, Henry Real Bird, Brigid Reedy, Randy Rieman, Jake Riley, R.P. Smith, Jay Snider, Gail Steiger, Michael Stevens, Forrest VanTuyl, and Paul Zarzyski. Musicians & singer-songwriters include An American Forrest, Mike Beck, Cat Clifford, Dylan Clough, Geno Delafose & French Rockin’ Boogie, Dom Flemons, Pipp Gillette & Lloyd Wright, DW Groethe, R.W. Hampton, Andy Hedges, Hot Club of Cowtown, Ned LeDoux, Corb Lund & the Hurtin’ Albertans, Miko Marks, Marinna Mori, Tracy Morrison, The Munsick Boys, Brigid Reedy, Randy Rieman, Trinity Seely, Dave Stamey, Gail Steiger, Michael Stevens, Jessie Veeder, and Wylie and The Wild West. They also promise “special guests.” Visit for much more, including descriptions of workshops, films, and other events at the gathering.

After Elko, find Tom at the Cochise Cowboy Poetry and Music Gathering, February 7-8, 2020, in Sierra Vista, Arizona. Stay tuned to for more gathering announcements and information.

Tom has many more events on his calendar, which you can find along with other information at

This image by Carol M. Highsmith is described, “Ranch manager Mark Dunning oversees a roundup at the Big Creek cattle ranch near the Colorado border in Carbon County, Wyoming.” The original image is from Carol M. Highsmith’s America, from The Library of Congress collection. This image was digitally enhanced by rawpixel. Find this image at M Highsmith.

(Please respect copyright. You can share this poem with this post, but for other uses, request permission. The photo is in the public domain.)

We’ll be on a break from September 6-20,
but there will be regularly scheduled posts.