Life On the Northern Range
Spring: a poem by Kimball Lewis
Gray sky washes hope away as swans and swallows flee
Mortal men milk dry the day and wail their tune off key
Vanquished by the sword of time are leaf and grass and flower
Mother Nature’s Nursery Rhyme has seen its finest hour
Winter sets to wax and wane as souls scrape by in ignorance wail
Spring comes back to right the pain as solstice sun removes the veil
To the east there comes a sign of pending feast from famines wake
A bounty shows itself again as man and woman harvest make
Spring is here and all around are evidence of life anew
Gone is winter’s growling hound and nature’s hand extends to you
An early spring snowstorm cut a razor-sharp swath across the Southern Canadian Rockies and down onto the Front Range of Colorado. We have hoped for more snow or rain to ease worries of drought and someone must have been listening because we cut the moisture deficit to near normal in a matter of one weekend. Red and Sophie had been fooled weeks ago by the early blossoms and chirping birds, when tufts of winter coat lay in the corner of the corral dispersed by howling winds. Some of the birds have found this premature shedding as fodder for the fortification of their nests. I rarely blanket my horses, especially in the fall and early winter. I want my horses’ coat growth to be at its maximum. But now, I open the old steamer trunk tucked behind the grain bin and withdraw two neatly folded, insulated blankets. These will serve as temporary comfort from the frozen precipitation beating a slow steady patter against the roof. The corrugated tin of the barn transforms this event into a symphony which sounds like the cymbals of a brass band being put to full use. I pile wood into the stove on the old wooden floor in the oversized tack room and settle into an old, worn down Lazy-Boy which has been banished from the house and relegated to barn duty. This old chair reminds me of childhood. It is deep and worn and soft and inviting. It smells familiar. I light the lantern on the table and withdraw a novel on the life of Teddy Roosevelt. Before I can conquer a mere chapter, the rat-a tat-tat of the tiny ice pellets on the corrugated tin have lulled me into a deep Saturday-afternoon sleep.
This is life on the Northern Range. A warm tack room, a tacky old chair, the soft snorts of content horses, the smell of horse sweat and leather, and crackle of fire. Only the incessant rubbing up against my leg by the arched back of an old tom-cat, too lazy to mouse any longer, jars me from out of a deep nap. The old tom is happy to rub on me until he sees I am awake - at which point he lets out a shriek and tears out over a rack of saddles. Rounding the corner, at age 14, he miscalculates a daredevil leap and hits an old milk can sending it crashing over, which in turn transforms the barn from a sleepy afternoon nap into full awake mode. That old cat is strange. Never had anything but love and plenty to eat, and yet he tears off like that at the first sign of life.
I have chores to do and do them I will. Leather needs neatsfoot oil and saddle soap. The undersides of horses’ blankets will have the old, accumulated hair curried from beneath them and the discarded hair will be gathered by birds and mice. The cycle of life here in this little corner of the range rolls on as spring approaches. Even in spite of the late season snowstorm, she is coming. It is as tangible as the sunrise that bathes the canyon wall orange in the morning. She is rolling her way from south to north in a swath of renewal that no one can stop. The old Ian Tyson song I love so much says it best: “Bald Eagles back in the Cottonwood Trees. The old round hills are just about bare. Springtime sign along the creek, Magpies ganging everywhere. Broodmare sleeping in the afternoon sun, she’s shedding hair everywhere, time for a change. Johnny’s pulling calves at the T-Bar Y, we made it through another on the Northern Range.”
And the geese are coming home. Lopsided V-shaped formations of the majestic Canadian migratory bird cast a silhouette against the gray-blue-orange horizon of dusk, each bird playing a mandatory game of ‘follow-the-leader’ in an effort to draft from the leader’s wake-turbulence thereby conserving additional energy for the 2000 mile journey to summer headquarters. When they fly over my home they are usually on a self-imposed final approach to a pond that sits on a mesa some 200 yards or so beyond my corrals. Because of this, I can hear the ‘whoosh, whoosh, whoosh’ sound of each wing movement as they clumsily splash down. The chatter of the flock elevates as the leader barks out commands. Goose chases after gander, gander after goose as they sort out the pecking order. All is well on the Northern Range.
Sunday found unusual warmth and a sunburn on my face as I trimmed away deadfall with a saw. The burn-pile I made in the clearing was upwards of ten feet tall by ten feet wide. As a 7:30 dusk saw the return of geese and howl of coyote, I ignited the bonfire and took a swig of Tres Generacions Tequila. At 41 years of age I have rediscovered life and become a different person. No longer weighed down by enormous burdens of leadership or political in-fighting, I slowly transform back into what man and woman surely must have been meant to be before the grotesque automation that now dominates everything. In fact, I am no mountain man nor do I pretend to be. I am no hero, nor celebrity, nor do I seek these things. I am simply a human being with a love for the out of doors and all which occupy the landscape. I want to be simple, less complicated. Back when I was a big shot, or thought I was someone important, I had gradually lost touch with these things. Now I marvel at the change of season and return of geese. The changing hue of the western horizon will eventually give way to 12:00 midnight dusk and the Aurora Borealis will become increasingly visible.
Tonight, I am a man who is free and I am not encumbered by the masses of civilization. So, I stand here and ignite the bonfire. The heat is intense as the crackling drowns out the stream twenty feet behind me. I am 41 and survived my first heart attack. It came slowly one morning through my left arm, shoulder and neck. The wave of nausea was next along with a strong and sudden sense of impending doom. I remember the day as clear as can be. I drove to the doctor’s office and simply said, “I’m having a heart attack, can you help me out?” Funny how your heart reacts to stress. I’m in better shape now than ever but lifestyle, stress, anguish, a broken heart and a combination of these things caught up with me and tried to take me away. I am 41 and it is spring and I leap to my feet as I watch the sparks rise high above the fire. I remove my shirt and engage in some sort of a dance which has no real rhythm. This is not a choreographed performance. This is raw and natural and wild and better left to people half my age. Yet I am here and more alive than ever and so I am mostly naked by the fire and dancing, whooping and singing and celebrating life in its purest form. I am not ashamed, in fact, I am unrepentant for this bizarre display of unbridled human spirit. I know that the Native American who ruled this land long before my trespass must have turned loose in dance and song with the internal “Spring Fever” that burns in every living creature. Tonight, I am fortunate enough to be able to let it all hang out so to speak, as I take another swig of some real, authentic hard core Tequila and dance and shout at the moon. This is primeval and without pretense or fanfare. There are no spectators and in fact, had there been any, the mood would not have been just right for the spontaneous, absurd display.
Is there such a bonfire which burns in the soul of every human and living creature? I believe the answer to be Yes! Beyond the cobwebs of work and stress, pain and pleasure, strength and fear, there lies within every soul, a spontaneous, unbridled force of nature which ticks as precisely as any clock of manmade workings. It is in this natural timepiece of the soul that sits a natural need to celebrate the changing of seasons. Generation upon generation, down through the ages knew when it was time to hunt, gather, hibernate and sew the seeds of life. Only in recent decades and centuries have we muddied these waters with mechanized life and automation. Our internal instincts are clouded by a faster pace and increasing demands until the timepiece built within every soul is replaced by the clock on the wall.
Yet even now, at this late date, there is a window, which might be opened. Finding one’s own self is a very intimate and personal journey. For most, this window will remain closed as we pursue objects of status and wealth. For most, there is no changing season nor time of reckoning save for perhaps April 15 when taxes are due. But you and I know what time it is. It is spring. The rebirth of heart and mind. The planting and growing time. We sow now and reap the bounty in the waning time of summer. We begin a re-birth or at least the opportunity for such, at this very time each year. And so it is that this is spring and it is here in my life on the northern range that I rediscover an almost lost secret. I have stepped through a portal and fallen into a time without boundaries where hope and goodness are only limited by self. That is the way it was always intended to be.
Here, on the northern range.
About the author:
Kimball Lewis is an Idaho Cowboy, writer and public speaker. Lewis travels throughout the US combining his wit, humor and knowledge to deliver motivational and inspiring addresses sprinkled with cowboy poetry to audiences of all sizes. Kimball lives on the Snake River at his home in Eastern Idaho, The Lewis Lookout Ranch. You can email questions or requests for speaking appearances to firstname.lastname@example.org