These are stories from letters written in 1995 between Diane on a Montana cattle ranch and Joanna in a small village outside of Spoleto, Italy in the province of Umbria. Diane and Joanna had been movie and television talent agents representing such actors as Julianne Moore, Emma Thompson, Christian Bale, Stanley Tucci and the comedian Lewis Black. Both jumped ship, skedaddled, flew the coop and escaped to the country. Joanna may have gone farther miles wise, but psychically Diane was on another planet. Joanna could get to Rome in an hour and a half by train. Diane could maybe get to a Costco in that time and only when the roads were good.
Fro…to and fro…and… Daphne slowly opened her eyes. She felt for her phone. It was 6:05 AM. She turned over and opened the curtains. The train had stopped at a station. It was still night but she could make out some one story buildings and little houses in a row. The houses were covered in ice and the ground with snow. Siberia? No, the sign read “Devils Lake, ND” with no apostrophe. Cold place for devils, she thought. Bet they leave for the winter and head south.
She laid back down and decided to wait until sunrise to get up and at ‘em. She had slept well and felt good. She took a deep breath and the air smelled… fresh. She remembered being sick the day before, but feeling better when she went to sleep. She remembered waking up around 10 PM and peering out at a city that must have been Minneapolis. She had tried to stay awake long enough to say a silent “Hello” to all her relatives both alive and buried there. Almost all her father’s family had lived, worked, and died in the Twin Cities. All except Aunt Hannah. And many summers were spent at the lakes north of the city with these aunts, uncles, cousins, and grandparents. It’s where she learned to fish and to water ski a bit. She remembers the leeches that attached to her legs and her uncle burning them off with a cigarette lighter. That was when everybody carried a cigarette lighter. They ate a lot of hot dogs and hamburgers and peanut butter and jelly sandwiches. They got lots of mosquito bites.
I will be posting the final chapter of my/Daphne’s train ride from Albany, NY to Malta, Montana in a few. I’ve gone back and made some adjustments in the timeline so as to make this diary a bit less confusing. I’ve never really written this way before; in installments and especially using multiple personalities in installments. Made it much harder to keep track of who was talking or who was in my head from one day to the next. But I also realized that except for my essays, I have never completed anything in my life. And discovering that I am an ENTP and that psychological type, indeed, does not complete much, I am relieved that there is some sort of explanation. But still, a bit unrewarding. So my goal was to get this thing done and out of the way before I forgot it. Although the surreal aspect of being alone on a train is not easy to forget. The details are. So it isn’t perfect because I hurried. But it did get done.
Daphne fumbled around in her bag and pulled out her iPhone and IPad and was pleased that this newer car had an electric outlet near the door and across from the sink with it’s own little shelf.
Just then, Marilyn’s head appeared from around the corner and handed her a menu, “You’re getting off in Montana, right?
“Yes, Daphne smiled, “My husband’s picking me up in Havre. He’s got a long drive from the ranch. About 4 hours.”
“I heard from the crew coming from Seattle that the Montana National Guard is checking people’s temperatures at the station when they get off the train,” she said with a shrug.
“Ah, smart of them. The governor seems pretty serious about this flu. But, as I said, I’ve been self quarantined for 3 weeks, so I should be Okay.” Daphne said with as much confidence as she could muster with this bit of news. And then I’m just going to the ranch and self-quarantining again. So should work out just fine.”
Marilyn nodded and smiled and disappeared back around the corner.
Some have called the Covid-19 virus “The Honey Badger Virus” cuz Honey Badger Don’t Care. But I wont give it that title or that power. How about we call our fearless first responders, docs, nurses, truckers, and custodians in NYC and other hot spots, the “Honey Badgers of this Crisis” title instead and not give the title to this g.d. virus. And some more advice from the Tao of Cow; don’t be a mopey dopey cuz Cows Don’t Mope. So eat some grass (grassfed burger or a salad, if you are a human); drink some water (or a good Bordeaux or even some cheap shit, if you are a human.). And just get on with it and keep moo-ving forward.
Note: Evie Taloney has some advice too. You know who else don’t mope? The beekeeper in the great documentary “Honeyland”. Highly recommended for quarantine watching. I won’t give it away, but try to guess what she buys when she goes to the city to sell her honey. It’s something I’m thinking about a lot.
By The Montana Maven and Cowboy Clay (with some additional help by the Catskill Contrarian).
One of the main tenets of The Tao of Cow (which is more like the Tao of Cow…Boy) is “Shit Happens”. This principle is not as pessimistic as it sounds. It’s just what is. “The best laid plans of mice and men” is just another way of putting the same principle that you just got to try to do your best and embrace the yin and yang of things. You need to explore and embrace those pesky opposites of what you are and what you’d like to be. Judgement is for your own actions. For everybody else you should just be kind. You can’t control other critters whether it’s cows or coworkers. Better to let them be.
I’ll try to explore every week some of the guideposts within the “Tao of Cow”.
#1 Things Will Work Out…Until They Don’t. Then You Move to Plan B”. Try it for Three and Then Go to Plan C. I find this the most useful of Cowboy Clayisms. No sense in crying over spilled milk. Crack open a beer and meditate on what’s next. For example; in moving cows from pasture to pasture, it helps if they want to go. If you are patient and your help knows a thing or two, you may get them to go thru the gate. But sometimes “shit happens”. Your neighbor’s horse is young and jumpy and spooks the cows. Then the cows start kicking up their heels and running in the opposite direction. You can wait until they quiet down and try again or try to get them to another gate or call it a day. The rule of three works here for cows and students. Try something about three times. After that call it a day and give yourself a break.
This goes for machinery too. If you are cutting hay with an old swather, it’s bound to breakdown. You try to fix it. You try this and that. You spend a couple days, maybe three. If nothing works, you call your neighbor and ask if he can cut the hay for you.
Another way of looking at it is “It Can’t Always Be On Your Schedule”. Entertainment projects whether it’s filming a TV series or filming a film have their own schedule. A film company is a large machine with many gears and cogs. Sometimes something puts a monkey wrench into the gears of that fairly well oiled machine. It could be that sudden thunderstorm. It could be a nervous star. It could be an idiosyncratic director. It could be the dog that won’t Stay! It can never be a grumpy grip or a cranky coach. So you suck it up and get out of the way and wait your turn.
P.S. It is also the job of the Cow…Girl to pushback on the Tao of Cow…Boy. For example, the phrase “Cowboy Up” is used a bit too frequently on a ranch. “Hey Honey, the plumbing really needs upgrading.” “Cowboy Up!” He replies. “I don’t think we should wait until it breaks.” “I’ll Get To It,” He replies. “Sigh.”
my old horse died today. i guess it doesnt matter much to anyone but me. i bought him back in 92. my friend and i were at the cort bar just celebrating another day i guess when a pretty girl stopped in with a trailer load of horses from arkansas for sale. she was full of smiles and full of figure so after a few drinks and a ride under the street lights ( on the horse not the girl ) i became the owner of my new friend pepper. the next morning with a heavy head and a lite pocket book i walked out to examine my new purchase. he was big and black and i guess compared to his previous owner you might even call him ugly. while i was saddling him up and sobering up i wondered if perhaps i had over payed but when i stepped home on him all my doubts were dismissed.there was no buck no runaway. he wasnt real handy with the rein but he had this perfect smooth balletic lope that felt like whiskey on the water. later when my pards and i would be heading out to the gather they would all be bouncing along at a trot shaking their bones and i would be sitting up there on pepper rocking in my chair like a baby. man he made me feel good.he wasnt the cat quick cutting horse type for pushing and sorting cattle but he had the persistence and patience to get the job done.he had the heart to go anywhere i asked him no matter how tough, he would never balk or back down. when it came to roping and dragging calves to the fire he would always get me in position to throw a good loop and he could pull any critter i caught. man he made me feel good. when he got old i didnt ride him any more.i didnt use him for any thing more than just to see him and bring the memories of all the miles ridden together that make me feel good. so my good horse died today. i guess it doesnt matter much to anyone but me. but man it makes me feel bad.
Since Education is back in the news because of the appointment of a Dutch Calvinist from my neck of the woods, I thought it might be a good time for people to examine just what is an “education”. John Taylor Gatto makes the distinction between ‘”education” and “schooling”. I have read his book “The Underground History of American Education”. He wrote an article in 2003 in Harper’s called “Against Education”. You have to subscribe to Harper’s to read the essay, but there are excerpts available on line. I’m not sure of some of his ideas about but definitely like some of his observations about how awful and mind numbing school can be.
You are made to sit in BOXES and are taught to behave so that when you graduate you can sit in another BOX all day long. And at the end of your life you end up in a hospital BOX and then a real BOX. Every four years, in preparation for the ballot BOX, for 18 months we were being herded into two awful BOXES called political parties. The whole process looked more like that cartoon of the cow staring at a meat packing plant with a sign that said “Enter Left” and “Enter Right”.
My 2¢ is that we need shorter work weeks with one parent working so they have more time to spend with their kids. I learned more from helping my Dad build a barn than I did from awful Miss Bloemendal who kicked me out in the hall every week. As an educator himself, he said, “Children should be hand made and not mass produced.” I read a lot of books. And I spent a lot of time in the woods making up stories of elves and other mythical creatures.
We hear an awful lot of yapping about “freedom”, but we imprison our children and literally imprision lots of teenagers. We imprison in prisons around 2.3 million people, more than any other nation. However, we are a big country. Proportionately though, we still imprison more than any other nation except maybe North Korea and Cuba. But according to Politofact, we don’t have accurate information on prison populations in those 2 countries, but they could be ahead of us. The point is whether we are first or third, it’s a disgrace.
Freedom should not be about the so-called free market of freedom to choose between 20 different cereals. It should more appropriately be about freedom to think differently and being able to freely express those different thoughts. But….(there is always a but), as much as we should respect individual freedom, with freedom comes responsibility to “do unto others as you would have them do unto you.” Children should be free to have safe places to run and holler at the top of their lungs. They should also have mutual respect for others and the good manners not to scream in other peoples spaces. That goes for adults too!
Good manners and mutual respect for others opinions and cultures are great goals for an educated person. Since education is a journey, there will be many stops and starts along the way. So when you come across a different opinion, it is wise to take the PACE approach. Be Playful, Accepting, Curious, and Empathetic. Not an easy task especially the Playful part if it’s been knocked out of you due to years of being stuffed in boxes.
Notes: I got the boxes idea from the anthropologist and anarchist thinker David Graeber in his essay on “Revolutions in Reverse” and PACE from cognitive behavioral therapist Dorothy Dacar.
Yes, after 23 years here in Sweet Grass County, I can report that there is still no parallel parking in Big Timber. You can still pull your outfit in vertically with it’s nose facing the store. **Yes, “outfit” is something you drive not wear and “Gant” means thin and not a famous shirt maker. A Mexican drag line is a shovel not a bunch of Carmen Miranda impersonators kicking up their heels. And ‘casting a cow” is not getting her a good part in “City Slickers III” but tying her down on the ground.
There is still not one stoplight in a county whose square miles equal the state of Rhode Island. The anarchist in me loves that idea as much as I love roundabouts instead of 4 way stoplights. Hate being told to stay put when there is no good reason.