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Road Trip to Elko: Cowboy Poetry

Just after Christmas my friend Anne invited me to join her on a road trip to Elko, Nevada, in the middle of winter. Elko is in the Great Basin, and winter temperatures peak at what we Northern Californians consider bone-chilling lows. So–what’s in Elko during the last week of January?
Since 1985, Elko has been home to the annual Cowboy Poetry Gathering. This–perhaps unknown–bit of culture is nonetheless a big, wholesome slice of all-American pie. Poets and musicians, craftspeople and cowboys, ranchers
and scholars, storytellers and artists, filmmakers and piano players, all gather to celebrate a unique bit of western culture.
I was first introduced to cowboy poets by my husband Max, who loves all things western. What’s the draw? The myth–or code–of the west might be defined as romantic, in a moral sense. This is a world of old-fashioned right and wrong, of ethical behavior that might seem dated in our urban-centric modern culture. But the “cowboy way” is also laced with
self-deprecating irony and big dollops of humor.
True-to-form, when I asked Max if he would accompany Anne and I, he declined. Not because this isn’t something we’ve wanted to do for years, not because he wouldn’t love to go, but because his commitment to his job and his personal integrity would not allow him to take time off work just for fun. In true cowboy lingo, he said “No, you girls go. Have fun. And tell Anne, I ride for the brand!”
We leave in less than a week. We’ve decided to go all out, girl-style, and take at least three changes of clothes–all western wear–per day. Lest this be a mere Thelma-and-Louise style jaunt (I hope we make it home alive!), we have given ourselves assignments.
Anne, a travel-writer (among other things; I’ll let her introduce herself to you) plans, naturally, to write. I’m a graphic designer, and the art director for Spectrum magazine; I plan to shoot lots of photos and try to capture the look and feel of this other world.
Bonnie Dwyer, editor of Spectrum, has invited us to blog our trip, and let her know if there is any spiritual content to cowboy poetry. I believe I can already answer Yes; but I’ll be keeping my ears open and let you know the temperature of the spirit that we find, in Elko, in the middle of the winter.

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