TURNING TO FACE THE WIND
by Jane Morton (1931-2020)
I hear the windmills creak and squeak
As wheels turned toward the wind.
Those mills pumped water for the stock
On which our hopes were pinned.
The sucker rods moved up and down
While wheels spun round and round.
They sucked the fossil water up
For use above the ground.
The windmills made life possible
On flat and dry terrain.
They kept the stock tanks well-supplied
Despite infrequent rain.
To us those wooden windmills were
The pyramids of the plains
More monumental than the ones
That held pharos’ remains.
My family, too, faced winds head on–
The winds of chance and change,
The winds that blew with blizzard force
And howled across the range.
And like the windmills on our ranch,
We anchored to that place
Until the winds became so strong
They ripped us from our base.
© 2003, Jane Morton
This poem should not be reposted or reprinted without permission.
With great sadness, we learned that popular poet Jane Morton died on February 16, 2020.
As we’ve written elsewhere, Jane wrote poetry and prose about her family’s ranch history, which began with her great great grandfather, a circuit-riding Baptist minister who left Illinois and headed to Colorado in 1872. Generations later, her mother, Eva Lena Ambrose, was surprised to discover that her husband, a teacher and coach, was determined to return to the family farm that eventually became the family ranch. Her mother faced a harder-than-expected life with dignity.
Jane Morton shared this photo taken at her family’s ranch in Colorado in the 1970s or 1980s and told us that the photo was “… of the calving shed, which is part of a larger pasture outside the fence where, in November, they bring in the heifers who are going to be calving for the winter… The corrals there are used during branding. There is a big brush pile, most of it out of view, that provides shelter for the cattle during the winter storms… ”
In her award-winning book, Turning to Face the Wind, Jane Morton includes the photo of the same shed, “and the heifers and calves that have been rounded up for branding. The heifers will be separated from the calves and turned out to pasture where they will stand by the fence calling for their calves… In the book, the photo accompanies her poem, “The Cows Came First,” that ends with a wry observation about her mother, a reluctant ranch wife:
Dad bought one stone for both of them,
and he had it engraved.
A cow and windmill took the place
of flowers she had craved.
When mother said the cows came first;
she knew my dad too well.
Above her final resting place,
that cow will always dwell.
A detail from the photo is used as the cover and within the 2007 edition of Deep West videos, from the Western Folklife Center. The videos are a collection of films made by ranch families, “first-hand stories from the rural West that are rooted in the values of life on the land.”
Watch that Deep West video and hear Jane recite “Turning to Face the Wind” and another poem and tell about the windmills, her father and his tractor, and about aspects of the ranch that have changed over time.
The video was also aired on the Rocky Mountain Public Broadcasting Network along with other films in its Real Colorado series.
Jane made two other Deep West videos, one with her poem “Branding” and great photos, and another, “At the Edge of the Aquifer,” about a cowboy living on the Ambrose ranch in Colorado and the water issues he faces.
Jane and Dick Morton were married for over sixty-six years.
Find more about Jane Morton and more of her poetry at cowboypoetry.com.
Jane Morton’s talents and cheerful presence will be missed greatly. We are fortunate to have her poems, stories, and recordings.
Find an obituary here.
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