Buck Ramsey (cowboy poet) testifying in favor of funding National Endowment for the Humanities
“I think our nation, and our species has common memory that keep us, through tradition, connected; reminded of the precious things our minds and hearts and souls have sifted and sanctified from our long and common experience. But, as regards to songs, stories, and poems, which are much of the tradition of my tribe, I learned early a curious fact: The older the cowboy, the more likely he was to be plugged into that common memory of the tribe. That is he knew more songs, stories and poems than the younger ones and seemed to be in some way purer in his tribal etiquette. When it came to my generation, we knew only snatches of what the old ones knew. Clearly radio, movies, television began drowning out the resonance of the tradition, acted as something of an Alzheimer’s disease on the common memory.”
Personally, I’m a fan of radio, television and movies. They’re all based on telling a good story in one way or another. But stories that tell us who we are serve a deeper purpose. It seems to me that we remember a good “tribal story” as Ramsey calls them, differently than we remember a good movie. Anyone agree or disagree?
A friend, Julene Bair, just posted a moving article about selling the family farm in Kansas.
Out in the Cold at High Country News http://www.hcn.org/issues/40.22/out-in-the-cold
Knowing she had no choice didn’t help. The fact that her mother and brother supported her decision didn’t help. Hang onto the land, was her father’s oft repeated advice–words that haunted her and continue to haunt her. She still feels like her roots were severed. Roots becomes a theme.
Buffalo Grass, An American Native
She talks about buffalo grass, a Kansas native with a root system five miles deep. She notes that only a fraction of any living thing meets the eye. We all have roots, a subterranean life that is deep, immense and often invisible, even to us.
I know what she means. A hundred years ago, there was a legendary “tie yourself down” stretch of railroad along Beaver Canyon, one of the places my great grandmother worked as a cook. The road was so rough, a crew was stationed there with the sole purpose of cleaning up the box cars that tipped over and smashed on the rocks below. “Tie yourself down,” meaning prepare for a rough ride, is a phrase I whisper, whenever I need to give myself courage. I did that long before I understood the term probably originated with my family’s railroad background.
Most of us have no idea how deep the stories go. Most of the time, we never pause long enough to question our family’s way of describing the world. “Tie yourself down” or “Hang onto the land,” we say and go on like that’s the only way.
Buffalo grass is popular in the suburbs these days. Because it needs little water (those deep roots) it has become part of the ornamental grasses landscaping movement. Wonder if we appreciate how deep and how native that choice is?