MY CANVAS HOME
by Sam Jackson
When as a lad, I camped alone,
while tending to my wooly flock.
Now more than sixty years have flown,
would if I could, turn back the clock?
From time to time my mind replays
fond scenes of how those days were spent
engaging in the humble ways
that come from living in a tent.
In many ways, those times were good,
self-confidence, experience gained,
though doubting that today I could,
for progress has me luxury trained.
Could I, one hour before the dawn,
arise as coyotes greet the day
to light a fire then stumble on
to find a steed that’s grazed away?
It mattered not how sweet the grass
how tall, nor tender, near the camp—
you’d swear that buckskin horse’s ass
would trek a mile to make me tramp.
Some sights and sounds come drifting in
so sharp and real it seems that I
can taste and smell and hear the din
from eggs and bacon as they fry
Scoop out the breakfast from the pan
hot coffee perkin’ in its pot
the dogs er smellin’ hotcakes, an,
are hopin’ that you’ve cooked a lot.
The pine bough bunk serves triple role
as table, bed and easy chair.
and hangin’ from the center pole
your digs are lit by lanterns glare.
Designer cupboards proudly stand
displaying manufacturer’s pride—
“Pure Sun Kissed prunes, the healthy brand!”
exclaim “These shelves are bona fide!”
Beside the Spam, boxed flakes of wheat
their corners gnawed some, here and there
Danged chipmunks likely had a treat—
no more that right that we should share.
A stove sits perched across the aisle
its coat of rusty weathered tin
ain’t seen no polish for a while
top’s bent and sides are wearin’ thin
Still sittin’ on the same old stone
that keeps its belly off the ground
we move, but it stays here alone
until next season rolls around.
‘Bout once a week I’d keep an eye
a peerin’ down the home ranch trail
expectin’ Dad would soon come by
a fetchin’ fresh supplies and mail.
It’s lonesome? but I ain’t afraid,
jist “shepherd up,” get over it!
Six bits a day, I’m gettin’ paid—
while we’re at war—I’ll do my bit!
© 2008, Sam Jackson, used with permission
Utah’s Sam Jackson started herding sheep as a young boy. Sam has written, “My father, Alvin Jackson, was a 5th generation sheep rancher, or ‘woolgrower’ (a term more commonly used in the industry). The outfit was strictly a ‘range’ operation with the sheep not seeing the inside of a building during their entire life other that 20 minutes a year during shearing.”
“I’d dare say there aren’t many left who have spent time in the mountains living in a tent and being supplied by packhorse during the course of making a living. Although I hesitate referring to this as ‘Roughing it’ (for each generation has their own definition of the term) it may come pretty close, but for whatever it’s worth, here are some recollections of time spent in my ‘canvas digs’ while herding sheep for my Dad during WW II…”
Read the rest of the story along with the poem in a “Western Memories” feature at CowboyPoetry.com.
Sam’s poem, “Toast to the Sheepherder,” is included on a CD from the Western Folklife Center, Songs and Stories from Sheepherding. Sam comments that the CD “documents the history of a nearly forgotten industry that had much more to do with the successful settling of the West than most folks realize.”
Sam conceived and produced the National Cowboy Poetry Rodeo (NCPR), inspired by his belief in “excellence through competition.” The NCPR is now headed by Dawn and Geff Dawson.
This Russell Lee (1903-1986) photograph, taken in 1940, is titled, “Sheepherder with his horse and camp outfit, Ouray County, Colorado.” It is from The Library of Congress Farm Security Administration – Office of War Information Photograph Collection. Find more about it here.
(Please respect copyright. You can share this poem with this post, but any other use requires permission. The photo is in the public domain.)