Back From Elko Full of Balloon Juice

I just got back from a quick trip to Elko, Nevada, and I’m full of balloon juice, having been pumped up by Baxter Black, former large-animal veterinarian and legendary cowboy poet.

I stayed at a real-live ranch and rode the range with a real-life cowboy, and you can’t beat that. But I and the other reporters on the four-day tour also got a chance to talk with real-live ranchers and their families about the cowboy/buckaroo way of life and why they love it so much despite all its vicissitudes.
We were watching a movie at the Western Folklife Center called ‘Why the Cowboy Sings’ and it’s a matter of fact that a good number of the hard-boiled journalists, myself included, were downright teary-eyed listening to people talk about how much they love the land and their way of life and one another.

But Baxter Black was all about the humorous side of ranching, especially the vicissitudes. He says he has two kinds of audiences, generic and ‘cowy,’ and with the cowy audiences he doesn’t have to explain the jokes about oysters, and there’s a lot more blood and snot.

And you don’t get more cowy than Elko, so we got the real show complete with prolapsed uteri and exploding methane gas.

Baxter is one of hundreds of cowboy poets and musicians who attend the Cowboy Poetry Gathering, which is celebrating its 25th anniversary. And in that time it has been a real focus for western folklore; two to three hundred similar gatherings are now being held all over the West.

So over the next couple of weeks I’ll be hammering out a story about it.

Everybody knows that inside every Easten liberal arugula-chomping, NPR-listening elitist there’s a little kid who wants to ride and rope and cuss and spit like a real-life cowboy. But what’s not so well known is that inside every real-life cowboy there’s a poet.

Part of the fun was crossing the Great Salt Desert with Ann Terry Hill of Travel Savvy News, who covers all kinds of destinations around the country, particularly Out West.