Tue, Mar 31, 2009 at 12:03 PM
sent by Travis Diehl
Rhetoric of Authenticity: "axe handle," "baseball glove," "dim bulb," "coyote bait."
Symbols of Authenticity: Black and white photograph of four cowboy generations, mirrored by position of men drinking Coors Light after work. Two Browning rifles in the front seat of a Chevrolet truck. Wrangler jeans, Bangora hat, large rodeo belt buckles.
And yet, to embrace this legacy -- even briefly -- tugs at the imagination.
The morning is crisp, the ground muddy. Dark clouds from the night's rain hug the surrounding mountains like sooty cotton candy. Hawks circle overhead.
In the distance, six men and a woman on horseback push several dozen cattle across a shallow river. Their loud bawling fills the valley like a drunken horn section.
"C'mon! Get up here where the action is, please?" Steve Tellam shouts to one of his volunteer vaqueros, friends who relish the opportunity to use their quarter horses for a task they were bred to do. His brother the home builder is among them.
It's the twilit Western come back as an LA Times article--those proud few still hacking it, their brothers building houses--this implicit holiness or even martyrdom to the Last Cowboy--The Vanishing Cowboy.
It's a romanticism that in many ways stops any material discussion of the situation. This way of life is called dying, then a little show of grief, then we can file the cowboy away with the dying things. Well, what precisely is valuable about this vanishing way of life? Chiara makes a good point; there is a huge accumulation of corporeal knowledge, of cows, of the land, horses, that isn't documented, and is abandoned further down the production chain of the feed lots and slaughterhouses. Movements like Slow Food or free-range/organic livestock recuperate or reinvent this knowledge, but I wonder how much adopting the "common sense" of the long-time rancher at every level of large-scale food production could help create a healthier food industry. We don't make any progress with this human interest story; it's not news, it's not research, it's a eulogy for something that's not dead yet. Almost by its own admission, this latest LA Times article perpetuates a suspended, Romantic state of vanishing. The article has a precedent in 1934; this way of life has been "disappearing fast" for over seventy years. Already, when the arthritic senior Tellam was just learning to walk, the cowboy way of life was declared on its death bed. As a result of this nostalgic discourse, we still, as Chiara said, have yet to figure out precisely what it is that's at stake in terms of our relationship to land: what knowledge, what values. Well according to the LA Times, it's... Natural knowledge, Natural values, which are threatened by City values. Something like that. The problem is generalized and buried.
Those soulless city folk "pedal past" in their chemical, freakish Day-Glo uniforms, so sucked dry of soul by their daily commute, by the city they chose over Nature--as the city "sucks" the pastures dry of water--this pathetically mediated bicycling communion with the wild their only respite, those poor bastard cyclists, too jaded or worn dumb by civilization to so much as GLANCE at this pure miracle of life, this glowing starving calf, in the arms of the Last Cowboy, who gentles a life-giving teat between its pure and pumping lips.
But no, this is a dude who does it, this Tellam dude--he knows exactly how much it costs these days to fill the tank on that Chevy.