The Western Folklife Center: an Exhibition Destination

All through the year, the Western Folklife Center is an exhibition destination in Elko, Nevada. From the Wiegand Gallery and its inspiring space featuring interactive exhibitions and multimedia presentations to educate and entertain and throughout the building at 501 Railroad Street until you reach the lower level, exhibits can be seen on almost every wall.

Horses in the American West, a Nevada Museum of Art-Western Folklife Center collaborative exhibition in the Wiegand Gallery. “Safe and Sound” by Harry Jackson (1982) bronze, collection of Bill Searle. Photo by Charlie Ekburg, 2017 National Cowboy Poetry Gathering.

The Western Folklife Center Wiegand Gallery, designed by Prescott Muir Architects of Salt Lake City, Utah, often combines a major exhibition with a showcase of the handcrafted work of master artisans throughout the West as represented in the Western Folklife Center’s permanent Collection of Contemporary Gear – read more about the Collection and its genesis in Back at the Ranch, an online exhibition. And during the National Cowboy Poetry Gathering, there are special demonstrations in addition to the current exhibition!

Ryan Carpenter leatherworking demonstration. Photo by Jessica Brandi Lifland, 2017 National Cowboy Poetry Gathering.

Also in the Gallery is found the Story Corps booth where you can record a conversation with a friend or beloved family member, and the Black Box Theater showing a 16-minute adaptation from our award-winning video production, Why The Cowboy Sings, exploring the inspiration behind the music and poetry accompanying ranch life.

Photo by Steve Green.

The Pioneer Saloon’s Fireplace Nook is an ideal spot for small exhibitions and has featured such artists as Walter Piehl Jr., Tom Russell, Cal Bracken, Carlos César Díaz Castro, Sean Sexton, Glenn Ohrlin, Bill Lowman and Beth Carpel, among others.

Sean Sexton exhibition in Fireplace Nook.

And, of course, the wall of National Cowboy Poetry Gathering posters on the Pioneer Saloon wall opposite the historic 40-foot 1890 Brunswick back bar (constructed of mahogany and cherry wood inlaid with mother-of-pearl), exhibits the wide array of avenues of poetry and storytelling from horse and herding cultures throughout the United States and the world that the Gathering has explored through our 33 years!

Photo by Steve Green.

Our lower level features L.L. Griffin’s Something That a Cowboy Knows, a photographic essay of silver gelatin prints, donated by L.L. Griffin to the Western Folklife Center after the exhibition’s opening at  the Arvada Center and the Colorado Historical Society, and subsequent tour through the West.

Duley Canterburry and Kenn Lee

Alejandro Solis, Sr.

 

 

 

 

 

Expanding our exhibition tour outside, the Western Folklife Center was pleased to work with photographers Deon and Trish Reynolds to present “WestStops,” a walk-by exhibition with photo murals on Western Folklife Center exterior walls (and others in downtown Elko) as a part of our creative placemaking efforts. Intended as a temporary exhibition, the process to attach the murals is based on an organic paste base. See them now in the 5th Street alley between the Western Folklife Center and the Stray Dog Saloon.

 

And, although only available for a short time each year, there are the special National Cowboy Poetry Gathering “galleries” of Elko County grade school mixed media art and high school photography that always showcase a wide range of creative expression in student art, on exhibit from January through April.

Panoramic photograph of Elko grade school students’ art exhibition in the G Three Bar Theater, 2017 National Cowboy Poetry Gathering

Panoramic photograph of Elko High School student photography in the Western Folklife Center elevator lobby, 2017 National Cowboy Poetry Gathering.

Coming in mid-June 2017, the Wiegand Gallery will host two amazing exhibits:

Dennis Parks: Land, Language and Clay, featuring the work of internationally-known ceramist Dennis Parks and son Ben Parks, both based in Tuscarora, Nevada. The exhibition is organized by the Nevada Museum of Art. Visitors will see pieces from the Parks’ private collections and items drawn from the Dennis Parks Archive Collection housed by the Center for Art + Environment at the Nevada Museum of Art.

Way Out West: Images of the American Ranch, Photographs From the Farm Security Administration, 1936-1943, a rich and personal record of ranch life of the period. Photographs in this exhibition are selections from a book of the same name by former Western Folklife Center Executive Director Charlie Seemann.

In closing, we invite you to enjoy our online exhibitions, Back at the Ranch, An Artful Life; and Between Grass and Sky.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Leadership Changes at the Western Folklife Center

Big changes are afoot at the Western Folklife Center! David Roche, current Executive Director, has announced his retirement, effective June 30. As a key part of a planned leadership transition, Western Folklife Center Board Trustee Kristin Windbigler will take over as Executive Director July 1.

We wish David all the best in his “retirement,” as he anticipates transitioning to a consulting role in the arts and culture industry. We greatly appreciate his leadership in moving the Western Folklife Center forward in the community by engaging local support for the Folklife Center, in helping to re-establish the Nevada Task Force (a group of local volunteers who are assisting the work of the organization year-round); engaging with City and County leaders to invigorate cultural activity in the downtown corridor redevelopment zone; and attracting new supporters to local projects through an award from ArtPlace America, a national funding project supporting art placemaking. Western Folklife Center was the first recipient of the award in Nevada.

During his tenure, David also supported many critical projects that showcased Western arts and culture, including the award-winning Deep West Video program, which partners with students from the Owyhee School on the Duck Valley Indian Reservation to make short films and translate them into the Shoshoni language, and Moving Rural Verse, poetry films highlighting topics of water in the West. He also helped to expand National Cowboy Poetry Gathering programs to encompass the genre of storytelling in the West, and built partnerships with national storytelling organizations like StoryCorps and The Moth.

David says, “It’s been a special honor for me to have had the opportunity to lead the Western Folklife Center over the last three years.  The importance of the National Cowboy Poetry Gathering on so many social and economic levels for Elko and the American West calls out for more and more broad support in order for this unique festival to continue as a beacon of humanist expression. The Western Folklife Center has taught me so much about what it means to be inclusive of all folks who call the West home.”

Kristin Windbigler has been associated with the Western Folklife Center and our National Cowboy Poetry Gathering for almost 20 years, as one of the filmmakers in our DeepWest Videos program (making 7 films since 2005 and mentoring other filmmakers) and as a four-year member of the Western Folklife Center Board of Trustees, including her appointment as vice chair in 2016.

“I fell in love with the Gathering that first year I attended because I saw my own culture—the life I grew up in—recognized, examined, celebrated and lauded,” says Kristin. “The Western Folklife Center and the National Cowboy Poetry Gathering explore and give voice to the traditional and dynamic cultures of the American West, and I couldn’t be more thrilled and humbled by this opportunity to grow the organization and reach new audiences.”

For the last nine years, Kristin has served as director of the Translators Program, which works with 27,000 volunteers in 155 countries to translate TED talks into 114 languages. Kristin developed, then launched, the volunteer program that gives global access to TED’s multi-lingual content. TED is a nonprofit organization devoted to spreading ideas, usually in the form of short, powerful talks.

In the early days of the Internet, she was the executive producer of Wired Magazine’s “Webmonkey,” a learning site for web developers that was used by millions. She has also worked as a journalist and editor, and graduated with a bachelor’s degree in Journalism from California State University, Chico, where she was managing editor of the Chico State newspaper, The Orion. She is from Blocksburg, California, in rural Humboldt County, where her family was involved in ranching and logging.

At the Western Folklife Center, Kristin hopes to nurture the deep connections everyone makes at the Gathering as well as foster new ones by using technology to bring the organization’s far-flung community together year round. In line with the Folklife Center’s mission “to use story and cultural expression to connect the American West to the world,” Kristin will emphasize knowledge and skill-sharing within the Center’s community of artists and supporters to create new ways to participate while ensuring valued traditions of cultural expression are passed from one generation to the next.

“On behalf of the Board of Trustees I would like to thank David for his leadership over the past three years,” stated Board Chairman Paul Caudill. “And with Kristin’s love for the mission of the Western Folklife Center, and her deep background in the cultural arts and media, we are excited about our future.”

 

Learning to Jitterbug in Elko

by Krys Munzing

I grabbed a camera and stopped by Let’s Dance! at the Western Folklife Center on April 27 to check out the night’s Jitterbug lesson: a very relaxed and really complete class with returning students and newbies interested in learning the dance. Instructors for the night were Ali Helmig and Stefan Goehring, and they had it down to easy, show-n-tell steps that the dancers followed, including individual tips as the lesson progressed.

This fun community event has been produced by the Western Folklife Center since May of 2013, twice monthly February through October (once monthly during November, December and January). Let’s Dance! is run by a volunteer group of dance enthusiasts – from bartending to dj’ing to teaching, these Elko folks do it all to bring together dance lovers of all ages from all walks of life. The event is held in the Western Folklife Center’s G Three Bar Theater: the beautiful hardwood floor is ideal! On this night, the music was dj’d by Rob Hegemann and Robin Wignall worked the Pioneer Bar when anyone was thirsty.

For singles, the best part of Let’s Dance! is that you don’t have to have a partner with you, there’s usually a good mix of gals vs. guys – – and on this night, I noticed that Ali and Stefan even asked for a switch of partners a couple of times so everyone could get used to the slightly different styles throughout the room: it’s helpful at dance nights to be able to do the steps with whoever asks, right? One of my friends says it’s a perfect date night with her husband, too.

Another really great aspect of the lesson planning done by Elko Let’s Dance! is that they take into consideration what’s happening around Elko. For instance, the California Trail Center west of town is  having its annual Trail Days event the first weekend of June, which includes a dance night, out under the stars, so Let’s Dance! is featuring Contra Dance on May 25. The National Basque Festival is coming up in Elko on July 4th, so both June lessons will be in Basque dancing. And leading up to the Silver State Stampede…well, I’m sure rodeo swing or another topical lesson is in the plan.

It’s a great opportunity to get out, meet people, exercise a bit, and have fun without spending a lot of money ($5 for the lesson and you’re good for the rest of the evening) on music, dancing and socializing. In fact, once the lesson was done, I noticed quite a few dancers taking a break right there on the dance floor to visit awhile.

Elko Let’s Dance has a facebook page that is full of info – check it out here and get more information by email at wfcdance@gmail.com or visit http://www.westernfolklife.org, where we post the upcoming lesson on our event calendar.

Poster image by Jessica Brandi Lifland

Yevgeny Alexandrovich Yevtushenko–“Cowboy Poet”

YY - PZarzyski & YYevtushenko 1995©Rosoff

By Paul Zarzyski

“A poet’s autobiography is his poetry. Anything else can only be a footnote.”

In January 1995, the distinguished Russian poet, Yevgeny Alexandrovich Yevtushenko honored us with his spirited, yet humble, presence at the eleventh annual National Cowboy Poetry Gathering in Elko, Nevada, thanks in large part to a dear friend of the Gathering, poet-critic Scott Preston, who extended the invitation to Mr. Yevtushenko. My best recollection is that few of us knew much, if anything at all, about the Russian writer’s work or life. It was our way, however, to delve into his poetry the instant we caught wind that he’d be joining us, and the admiration for his sensibilities was instantaneous; dare I quip that we rolled out the “red” carpet of western hospitality for this literary figure as we had never done before? I only wish I could relay here the many personal recollections of those who also shared the stages, as well as attended the behind-the-scenes jam sessions, private corner-table saloon conversations, and, yes, even a wedding ceremony, with Yevgeny as celebrity witness and Russian-proverb messenger.*** Moreover, I wish I could relay the responses of those hundreds in the audiences, who sat in musical awe of his words delivered with fervor in both English and Russian—especially “our” western women (and certain western men?), who swooned over the tall, lithe beautiful poet-god with his Cossack charisma and charm. What I wish most, however, is that I had a $5.00 poker chip for each captivated (and capsized) woman I witnessed peering into the deep alluring pools of Yevtushenko’s eyes. To this day I still grin when I think about all those tough cowboys kissing good-bye for good the wife or girlfriend, who they thought they knew inside and out, never again being quite the same gal with whom they arrived in Elko!

Yevtushenko reciting 1995©Rosoff

You bet, we presented, interwoven into our lighter-hearted work, our most “serious,” heart-wrenching, soul-searching sensibilities from the Elko stages (In reflection of Yevgeny’s haunting masterpiece, “Babi Yar,” I read my Holocaust Museum poem, “Shoes.”), after which the oftentimes solemn overall mood magically transitioned to levity in Yevtushenko’s presence. We drank together, we laughed together, we danced together—as if to prove aloud and out in the wide open spaces of the Cowboy West that the crucial human counterpoise/anodyne/antidote to the evil and toxicity of human torment and suffering is indeed poetry, with its aftermath of wisdom and hope and, at times, you bet, redemption and joy.

“together / we extol what the soul knows /
once solaced by poetry—it know it wants more / poetry!”

YYevtushenko & PZarzyski ©Rosoff

Yevgeny Yevtushenko’s death in Tulsa, Oklahoma on Saturday, April 1, 2017, set into domino-effect motion for me a power-grid overload of Cowboy Poetry Gathering reminiscences, not only of our 1995 event, but of 33 year’s worth of close encounters of the ars poetica otherworldly kind coaxed out from behind the humankind / animal-kind / plant-kind / cosmic-kind scrims in Elko. For whatever mysterious reasons, year-after-year, the sacred open range of the west, before the stringing of barbed wire, becomes, for thousands of us in attendance, the open range of the heart and soul and mind rising up out of the creative journey, out of storyline and/or song line, out of imagination, to the wildest Elko Gathering heights. I choose to believe that Yevtushenko felt the presence of this power, and in its midst, embraced his fellow travelers into the passionate and compassionate realms of universal language.  Whatever the catalyst responsible for our coming together so munificently in that minuscule space and time, his presence—his grace, wisdom, humility and wit—narrowed further the finest of spiritual lines between us, and reminded us that we were not, first and foremost, Cowboy Poets of the American west, but rather Human Being poets of the Planet, Earth.

Amen, and R.I.P., Brother Yevgeny.

 

Yevgeny Alexandrovich Yevtushenko–Cowboy Poet

Purring growl of your Russian tongue makes love
to our women, suddenly erumpent and churning
erotic in public. Once they were sweet
cream butter melting to our Dutch oven touch
under slow even-burning coals of mesquite,
ashwood, piñon fires, but now they burn
hot in the flames of pitchwood pine–they sizzle,
smoke, scorch and ruin the cobbler
because of you, Yevgeny. The cold war over
does not mean the heat-seeking
Yevtushenko must strike, but you have
struck Elko like a Cossack Slim Pickins
forking the bomb to earth
in a switch-a-Roosky take on our movie,
Dr. Strangelove. Stalking Siberian tiger,
you prowl the aisles, all perimeter seats
manned by women anxious to be anointed,
transfigured by one droplet of your love-
potion ambrosian spit. I must believe
they adore you merely because
you do not slobber them with Red Man
Tobacco juice, with granules of Copenhagen snuff,
Brown Mule or Skoal. In your baggy corduroy britches
tucked inside reptile-hide boots
like some tinhorn Texan, you capriole from podium,
glide, prance, pivot, swoop, whirl, as if the room
effervesces with pinkish iridescent bubble-
bath bubbles shaped like Cupid hearts
popping to the hot soft guttural
touch of your phonics, of your skinny fingers
sculpting and scripting into sexy metaphor
the palpable air of our women’s longing. You tempt them
away from our horse lather and leather pheromones
into the surrealistic–lure
them with your somniloquous lips. How dare you kiss
their thinnest skin, their rice-paper cheeks,
the silken backs of their hands gone limp
to your line’s feminine, feline endings
gently penetrating their capillary
yearnings? How dare you
mesmerize us men into applauding
your pilferage? I have caught you red-handed,
Yevgeny! But, how do I indict a fellow knight-
errant from the ivory tower’s round table
when so few of us make this crusade? The Cowboy
Coliseum exults and salutes you the Czar-
zyski of Cossack Poetry, while boasting me
The Elko Yevtushenko. My Slavic compadre,
my comrade, my partner-in-rhyme, together
we extol what the soul knows
once solaced by poetry–it knows it wants more
poetry! But it is you who has exposed the sword
as impotent twig in your forest
of Dwarf Birches. You who has led the brigadier
charge of words into battle for all those still
kept silent. Yes! Yevgeny, I shout Yes!
yes, the way to mankind’s peace-filled helix
is through the chromosomal Y, its remnant
exiled within all men. Bring it on home,
Yevtushenko–bring us back to the mother world
where your poetry throws open the gates
rolls and buries the barbed wire, bulldozes
the hormonal walls into rubble,
and hoists the white flag that allows us all,
unconditionally, to swoon for you.

(From I Am Not A Cowboy—Dry Crik Press, 1995)

Yevgeny Yevtushenko 1995©Rosoff

***Read Carson’s Vaughan’s piece in the Paris Review, “An Empty Saddle for Yevtushenko.”

Listen to Yevtushenko recite poetry in Elko during this session hosted by writer Kim Stafford.

Dreaming of Our Future

By Kristin Windbigler, Vice Chairman,
Western Folklife Center Board of Trustees

KristinWindbigler-WFCblog

Several trustees and staff members got together last year in Salt Lake City, Utah, to talk about our dreams for the Western Folklife Center. We asked ourselves what could this organization be in five years? How about 10? Who do we want to reach and what are our goals? In my role as vice chairman of the Board of Trustees, I gave a short talk at the annual Stakeholders’ Breakfast at the recent National Cowboy Poetry Gathering to share our progress and plans for the future. We were thrilled by the enthusiastic feedback we received, and thought it would be a good idea to make this information available to the whole community. That’s because we hope you will want to get involved!

It can be difficult to get where you want to go if you don’t have some kind of map, so we wrote a new strategic plan that will help us set priorities and focus our collective energy to ensure we are working toward the same goals. It includes fresh vision and mission statements that were polished until they became so crisp and clear that anyone could learn them, even the most memory-challenged among us. If you weren’t sure what to say in the past when someone asked you what the Western Folklife Center does, try these on for size:

Vision Statement: Explore and give voice to traditional and dynamic cultures of the American West

Mission Statement: To use story and cultural expression to connect the American West to the world

Don’t worry. If I see you on the street, I won’t ask you to recite them, but there is nothing like a little clarity and focus to get everyone headed in the same direction. I would like to note, though, that when we say “the world” in the mission statement, we mean that we value both the connections the Western Folklife Center fosters among individuals within the West as well as between the West and the rest of the country and, of course, the world. Not many of us will forget the memories of incredible experiences made possible at the Gathering because of the cultural exchange program, and we hope there will be more of those to come in the future.

wfc_ecosystem_edited.001

 

What We Do

The strategic plan also spells out what the Western Folklife Center does. Most folks who attend the National Cowboy Poetry Gathering know it’s our signature event, so that, of course, is highlighted, but the Folklife Center has a long history of producing rich and robust programming throughout the rest of the year. In order to make sure we were all in agreement about what it is that we do, we focused our scope to these four points:

  • The Western Folklife Center provides a platform for rural and urban communities to communicate and exchange new ideas and avenues of expression.
  • We produced the first Cowboy Poetry Gathering in 1985. Our National Cowboy Poetry Gathering continues to celebrate and promote the artistry and ingenuity of life in the American West. It remains our signature event, with programming changing to reflect contemporary realities and issues of the American West.
  • Throughout the year, our fieldwork, research, exhibits, website and archives preserve, document and share the heritage of the West.
  • Our media and educational programs entertain and engage, deepening the understanding of the vitality and challenges of Western communities.

Priorities for the Immediate Future

Using these guidelines, we set priorities for the immediate future. Remember that part above where I said we hope you’ll want to get involved? Well, the first thing we want to do is invigorate and grow our community by creating more opportunities for anyone to volunteer or contribute. We have a wonderful, passionate community who feels a deep connection to the Gathering and our organization. It’s not uncommon to hear from folks who have just attended their first Gathering that they were surprised by how inclusive it is. We want to extend that feeling year-round.

We’ve already partnered with other organizations in Reno and Yountville, Calif., to produce shows we’re calling the National Cowboy Poetry Gathering on the Road. We want to expand this concept and are exploring possibilities for shows in Texas, Montana and other sites around the West. These events create opportunities for us to showcase our community of talented artists as well as reach new audiences who may not be aware of the scope of our work or the rich diversity of voices we represent.

Another way to expand our reach is by leveraging social media even more to highlight both new and existing fieldwork. There is some amazing stuff in our archives that most of the world has never seen and many of you may have forgotten. Some of that could be repackaged for an online audience, but we’re also hoping to both bolster our preservation efforts and make the entire archive more accessible by partnering with a program or facility that values its contents as much as we do.

We also want to experiment with new content and programming that can be distributed online. The Moving Rural Verse poem-films that were unveiled at this year’s Gathering and our recent collaboration with StoryCorps are great examples of content with the potential to reach people who have never heard of the Western Folklife Center. We might also examine how we can use live video streaming most effectively or consider a podcast. Nothing is off the table. I, for one, am particularly interested in educational formats that can encourage the kind of skill-sharing that will continue to nurture the traditional forms of Western cultural expression on which the Western Folklife Center was founded. We must cultivate as well as preserve the wealth of knowledge within our community for the future.

And finally, in order to better understand what you want from the Western Folklife Center, we plan to field a survey soon to learn more about how we can better serve you. We want to hear your ideas, we hope you will volunteer to help, and we want to make sure that everyone is recognized and appreciated for his or her contributions. You are part of our family and we want to make sure you feel included. If you would like to chat, feel free to reach out by contacting the Western Folklife Center office or find me on social media. I would love to hear from you!

Faces of the 33rd National Cowboy Poetry Gathering

We’ve been having a great time going through photos of the 33rd National Cowboy Poetry Gathering by our photographers Jessica Lifland and Charlie Ekburg. We wanted to share some of them with you — Enjoy!

Doug Moreland by JBL

Doug Moreland by Jessica Lifland

Mike Thomas by JBL

Mike Thomas by Jessica Lifland

Ross Knox by CE

Ross Knox by Charlie Ekburg

Teresa byCE

Teresa Jordan by Charlie Ekburg

Don Jack and Andy by JBL

Don Edwards, Ramblin’ Jack Elliott and Andy Hedges by Jessica Lifland

Jack Sammon by JBL

Jack Sammon by Jessica Lifland

Paul by CE

Paul Zarzyski by Charlie Ekburg

shoe shine girl by CE

4H Shoe Shine Girl by Charlie Ekburg

Olivia Romo by JBL

Olivia Romo by Jessica Brandi Lifland

Luke Bell by JBL

Luke Bell by Jessica Brandi Lifland

Girl performing by CE

Young Buckaroo in Talent Show by Charlie Ekburg

Dame by CE

Dame Wilburn by Charlie Ekburg

Ofelia Zepeda by JBL

Ofelia Zepeda by Jessica Lifland

Dom Flemons by JBL

Dom Flemons by Jessica Lifland

Reedys by CE

Johnny and Brigid Reedy by Charlie Ekburg

Trinity and Kristyn by CE

Kristyn Harris and Trinity Seely by Charlie Ekburg

Doris Daley by JBL

Doris Daley and Jarle Kvale by Jessica Lifland

 

Dave Stamey by JBL

Dave Stamey by Jessica Lifland

Brian Farrow by CE

Brian Farrow by Charlie Ekburg

andy Wilkinson by CE

Andy Wilkinson by Charlie Ekburg

 

An Oak Tree and a Sea Change

By Amy Hale Auker

Behind our barn, in the horse lot, is an oak tree. It is actually three oak trunks that rise from the same base creating a basin above the roots. When it rains or snows, the basin fills with water. It is a smart oak tree.

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The first year I went to the National Cowboy Poetry Gathering in 2002 I was amazed to see how many people were living lives similar to my very small wife-of-a-cowboy, remote-cow-camp existence, and yet they were writing poems and songs, creating art and crafts, bringing their lives from the ranches up onto the stage, sharing the work of growing food with a broad audience.

Since then, I have only missed one Gathering. I always come away inspired and encouraged. I come away with my well filled to the top.

This year, I began my #roadtriptoelko with a slightly negative attitude. Because of world and national affairs, I dreaded gathering with my friends. I dreaded hearing more divisive talk. Plus, I had been working with The Moth, a storytelling organization out of New York City, to tell my own story on Saturday night. It was hard. It was hard to work with the director, Maggie Cino, because I felt like I already knew how to tell a story. After all, I am an author! I tell stories on stage almost every time I introduce a poem. I blush to admit that I wasn’t taking direction well. Maggie persisted through many phone calls to hone my story, to help me tell it better. In the weeks leading up to the Gathering, I worked hard on that story as well as poetry and material for other sessions on my schedule. Andy Hedges and I collaborated to pull together a last-minute Guy Clark Tribute/Jessica Hedges Benefit, and the work softened me. The Western Folklife Center was generous in their help for the late-night tribute show, and I began to realize that my phone calls with Maggie, if I would lighten up and listen, might pay off in a better, clearer performance. Maybe cowboys have something to learn. Maybe a good hand is open to new things. Maybe that openness is what makes us better hands.

We arrived in Elko midday on Wednesday. Before the artists’ breakfast on Thursday, every shred of my concern about divisiveness was gone. And my pockets were full of gifts… honey, oranges, lemons, a gorgeous photograph by Jessica Lifland taken when she visited the ranch, a cell phone antenna booster, a bottle of Apple Crown Royal, a box of copper-plated horseshoe nails, a red suede coat from Jim Bone, a flowing blouse from Pam Brown, a homeopathic remedy to ward off the flu, and more hugs than I could count.

But the real sea-change for me was on Friday afternoon when I joined Teresa Jordan and the rest of The Moth storytellers for rehearsal. When I heard the other stories I realized that only by being open was I going to, once again, fill my well. The diversity of the stories was incredible. Teresa’s story was one of leaving the land so many years ago. We heard a story of the Oregon Trail from a third-grade teacher, a story of loss and healing from a Native American man with a strong sweet voice, a story of immigration and homecoming from a man from Guatemala. I told my story of leaving the land only to return to dig in deeper. I realized that one reason I love my community so much is that we are inclusive rather than exclusive. That when we open our doors, we all win. We tell about growing food and making art from agrarian roots. We recite the words of tradition. In that telling, we make room for anyone who wants to hold hands with us. To dance with us. And we learn from them just as much as they learn from us.

amy-auker

Amy Hale Auker storytelling at The Moth show, with Brigid Reedy playing musical interludes.

The keynote address written and delivered by Andy Wilkinson, spoke of reconciliation. Art, especially poetry and music and story, brings us together, makes us kinder to one another. The 33rd National Cowboy Poetry Gathering was one of community and kindness. As I stood on stage on Saturday night, I felt the tiny rock in my pocket, the one given to me by Brooksie, the one shaped like a bird on a nest if you look at it from the right angle, and was flooded with love. I was flooded with hope. I recognized the beautiful strength in humans coming together to share, the beautiful idea of gathering. It is hard to be divided when we look each other in the eye and tell our personal narratives.

From folklorists who give dance lessons, to Butch Hause keeping the sound board going long past midnight during the Guy Clark Tribute, to a hat full of cash for Jessica and Sam Hedges, to old friends helping me when I almost melted down with nerves, to a song by Rod Taylor about turning off the news and going out of doors… this Gathering was my best ever.

The well in the base of the smart oak tree behind the barn is full from all of our winter moisture, and my well is full because we gathered, we came together in community, rooted together, growing up strong.

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