“We’ve stopped,” she thought to herself. “And I’m on a train.” “Yes, I’m sleeping in a sleeper car on a train. On a train that’s been rushing through the darkness of night. But now we’ve stopped. But where are we?”
The Grand Duchess Olya Kampinskaya propped herself up on her elbows then turned around in the narrow bed to pull aside the curtains. Actually, though her good friend Tim called her Grand Duchess Olya, the family had come to such reduced circumstances that there wasn’t much “grand” left except for a pair of diamond cuff links, a string of pearls and a signed copy of Prince Peter Kropotkin’s “The Conquest of Bread.” “To my good friend, Olya, Kisses and Hugs, Peter.”
She stared out into the darkness and saw some plain wooden structures covered in ice and snow. So, was she really on her way to her dacha in Siberia? She reached for her glasses and put them on. She read the sign. The sign was in English and it said “Devils Lake, North Dakota” without an apostrophe. Hmmmm? So, there was more than one devil at this stop and they had a lake. And she was not in Siberia but somewhere in North America.
Daphne sighed as the train pulled away from the deserted railway platform. It had been fun to pretend that she was a Russian aristocrat running away from Moscow that, at the time, was filled with Bolsheviks and a terrible flu. But she wasn’t Russian or an aristocrat. It wasn’t 1917, and her friend Peter was in Palm Springs. No, it was April 6, 2020 and she was running away from New York and a terrible flu. That was the truth. She was fleeing to the safety, she hoped, not of a dacha in Siberia but her ranch in Montana where her husband, Clay, was busy birthing calves. He was not a Grand Duke nor was he a cattle baron although Daphne often referred to herself, as “The Baroness du Boeuf” or like Barbara Stanwyck, “The Cattle Queen of Montana.” By now you must have figured out that Daphne had a rather vivid imagination and a tendency to make shit up. She’d been doing this all her life.
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.
(In 2014 I wrote this essay on my family of runaways. In light of many of us being at “home” and my friends Bruce and Joanna returning from Ecuador to Italy and being glad to be “home” even if they are quarantined, I thought I’d resurrect this piece that I don’t think I actually published in this form. I’m not sure what a nomad really sees as home. But that may be another essay. )
My great grandfather on my mother’s side, David Lance Short had one of the largest women’s hair products’ companies in the world. He had factories in China that manufactured the silk hairnets that women wore on their coiffures. It was named the West Electric Hair Curler Company after Augustus Albert West who actually invented the “bobbing pin” and who married my great grandfather’s sister, Great Aunt Ethel. They lived with David and his wife Sadie in a mansion in Germantown, PA with a chauffeur and a couple maids according to the 1920 census. David had a one hundred seventy-five foot yacht and was Commodore of the LuLu Yacht Club in Ocean City. Just before the stock market crashed in 1929 his business started to have problems. My father said he had made bad investments a la Bernie Madoff or perhaps the real Charles Ponzi. Soon after that, my great grandfather fell off his yacht, caught pneumonia, and died. So did he fall off drunk or did he jump? The business puttered along, but no one could replace his unique combination of sales and management genius, certainly not my dandy grandfather who had never done much but sit in a office. And so the fortune was slowly lost. Or so it goes. Nothing much left but some diamond cuff links and an old steamer trunk filled with Twenties era clothes that I would play with in the basement of our small drab raised ranch house in Illinois.
Then there were my sister’s stepsisters who were anything but evil. Before the crash they were flappers and went to parties like the ones in the Great Gatsby. Aunt Madeline was married to the composer of “Manhattan Serenade”. And just like in “Some Like It Hot”, both she and Aunt Dorothy took boats from Miami to Havana to party there. Or so the story goes. Also the story goes that Aunt Dorothy was a Miss Atlantic City contestant and won the talent contest for her toe tapping and that got her a Hollywood studio contract. She and older sister Madeline ran off to Hollywood. Her first movie in 1934 “Call of the Savage” was with Noah Beery, Jr. Aunt Madeline had one line in “The Raven” and that’s all I’ve been able to find.
Aunt Dorothy met another contract player, a handsome former stunt man, Dave “Tex” O’Brien aka Dave Barclay. They appeared in Westerns, musicals and serials. She co-starred in 1936 with him in “Reefer Madness”, the marijuana movie that became a cult classic in the 1960’s in which he uttered the memorable lines “Play it faster! Play it faster!” She also co-starred in his serial “Captain Midnight” where every week her character, Joyce Edwards, the hapless daughter of a scientist, managed to get kidnapped and every week he had to rescue her. What’s not to like about any of those stories true or exaggerated? I listened to my mother talk about her older sisters and her former life and I would day dream of living in luxury with birthday parties with huge ice sculptures and a train set that covered half the basement. I would day dream of being kissed on the forehead by my aunts and their dates, dressed in sequined gowns and fox furs. Those were my dreams, but they were my mother’s real memories.
On the other hand, we had the Depression era tales of my father’s family as they struggled in Dearborn, Michigan. Not very glamorous, but boy could my Dad tell a tale. And as responsible as he was now, he was also more than a bit of a bad boy back then. He was a “Little Rascal”; a Bowery Boy in Detroit. My sisters and I lived for dinners when my Dad would regal us with stories of how he and his brother Tom would find discarded bits of tobacco and roll them into cigarettes and sell them to the auto workers on their way to the factories. He would laugh heartily and tell us how he and Tom got into trouble for trying to sell kisses from their sister, Aunt Fran.
In Dad’s college yearbook, there is a picture of his roommate and himself with the caption “the bad boys of the dorm.” His roommate Marion Snapper and he defied the authorities every week it seemed. There was the time that “Snapper” dressed in a Tarzan suit and swung across the chapel. There was the time that they varnished the seats of the same chapel. And they were pre-seminary students!
When the U.S. entered World War II, Dad and Marion joined the Naval Reserves and were sent to Columbia University and Princeton Theological Seminary respectively. They were assigned to a base in New Jersey. Dad said it was very confining to be stuck on that base after going to classes at the Universities. So they convinced the commanding officer that they were seasoned Thespians and it would do the Navy men a world of good if they could see a play. Of course, they needed a car to get the props, costumes, and lumber for the sets. I guess they had a great time touring around New Jersey. And eventually they did put on the play, “George Washington Slept Here”. Or so the story goes.
Needless to say, neither of them became ministers, but did become educators and inspiring ones at that. Snapper actually was one of my college education professors. My father became a pioneer in special education in the 1950s. In the post war year,s with the rise in manufacturing and the rise of the company man, he bucked the tide and firmly believed that “children should be custom made and not mass-produced.” He taught the children history but also how to harvest hay, raise a steer, and build a wooden jeep that actually ran.
Yes, I was a creature of two very different worlds; the Dutch world of discipline and study on my Dad’s side. The other was the world of high-flying business types, fancy parties, and show business that was my mother’s side of the family. The first one I was raised in and the second one I could only imagine. The first one was quite real. And could be quite scary. Each week the Calvinist minister told us all about the consequences of disobedience and sin. But despite the specter of eternal damnation, I somehow got myself into some sort of trouble now and then for questioning the rules. The other world of flappers and furs I could only run to only in my imagination. It provided some escape from the drab and straight-laced world of the Chicago Dutch.
It was only much much later that I saw how much the two worlds were alike with inventors on both sides, businessmen on both sides and gypsies and runaways on both sides. All of them coping or trying to be creative in the buttoned up cage called adulthood.
So how could I not turn out to be a little rascal who couldn’t quite stick to the script with these kinds of people in my constellation? Must be how I ended up on a cattle ranch in Montana by falling in love with a cowboy. Or so the story goes.
Another thing you can learn from the Tao of Cow…Boy is to not do what you are told.
Well, don’t do it unless you’ve thoroughly thought it through. My career has profited by my not doing what the producer or a client told me to do. More often than not it would have been a knee-jerk reaction. And quite often wrong or ill timed. Think it through first. It’s amazing how many “problems” solve themselves.
It’s kind of kin to my advice to “not take my advice”….
unless it rings true
when you thought it through.
When Cowboy Clay is leaning back in his recliner with his eyes closed, I often ask “Are you asleep?”
“Nope. Just meditating,” he’ll murmur.
I think to myself, ” Oh c’mon, he’s sleeping. But then what is sleeping on it but a long meditation? It’s taking the time to ponder and wonder.”
Right now, in these days of love in the time of cholera, we have been given the gift of a big time out. May we use it wisely to think things through and then act up.
I love the train. Maybe I will just ride it all week long.
Back and forth from wherever. Makes me less nuts.
Less glitches than flying although last week the train I take hit a man and killed him just North of Hudson, NY. What was he doing on the track at night?
Someone killed a squirrel in front of my house. I felt bad. Who else will mourn Mr. Squirrel. Just me and Mrs. Squirrel. The vultures came and there is just a splat this morning.
Did your plane get delayed due to the “flight planning software glitch”?
Is that what happened to Mr. Squirrel? A car avoidance software glitched?
Or was it murder?
Or was he just tired of looking for nuts?
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.”
Okay, let’s add another word for being mean or pissed off which can make you mean. Specifically, a pissed off mean cow. But a word that can be applied to mean pissed off people in general.
The word is “snuffy”. So add that to “gnarly”, “owly” and “high headed”. Well, “high headed” is a word for wild, Cowboy Clay reminded me. “Different”.
So Cowboy Clay called this morning and I asked how the cold calf was. Two nights ago a calf was born in below zero weather out in 2 feet of snow. He decided he better get him in which means putting him in the ranch house’s mudroom. He loaded him up in the pickup, but then he almost got stuck in the deep snow. Somehow he made it and got the calf in to the warmth.
So two days later I wondered how the calf was doing.
“Oh, I put him back out there, but the darn cow wouldn’t take him. Wouldn’t recognize him as her own. So I went back a little later and put some of that powder on him.”
(That powder has the hilarious but appropriate name of “O NO MO”. Translated is Orphan No More. It takes the human scent off and hopefully will get the cow to take the calf aka nurse the calf.)
“Not much luck when I checked and then the darndest thing happened. This other cow came up to the calf and started to butt him all around. I had to jump in there and try to get her to go back to her own calf. She finally went away. And then the next time I checked his mother had claimed him. But then I found another new calf and I was doctoring him when that same mean cow got a little snuffy again. She tried to butt me and the calf, but I got away from her and got her to go back to her own calf.”
I asked if he had marked her tag number down and he said he did. That means she might be on the list to “send her down the road” next fall when her calf is weaned. Sending her “down the road” means going to the meat packer, if you haven’t figured that out.
In my line of work in Hollywood, you get the occasional mean person. You try and fend off the “gnarly”, “owly” or “snuffy” ones. It’s best to try humor with these snorty owly snuffy types. It can work to be a little playful or a little curious about why the bad mood. Doesn’t work to crack jokes with an angry 1200 pound mother on a mission. She goes on the list. If humor doesn’t work with the human snuffy type, you can put them on a list. But the consequences of that list aren’t so dire as ending up in the “Meats and Deli” section at the grocery store.
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.
The winds had howled louder than any pack of coyotes and wolves put together. Those winds had taken the foot of snow that fell in the night and hurled it on to the last bit of road out of the ranch. As Daphne listened, the howling began to morph into yelling. Phrases like “Montana sucks in winter” and “You are crazy as hell and you’re not going to take it anymore, are you?” and, of course, “We gotta get out of this place, if it’s the last thing we ever do,” came screaming at her from outside.
Earlier in the day, she had got out and got back albeit with a bit of maneuvering. So she thought that 4 hours later it might still be possible to get out. Of course, there was always the “upper gate”. This is the gate next to the cattle guard which opens up into the North pasture that borders the frontage road. Once thru this gate it’s fairly easy to ride over the rocky yet level field and go out another gate on to the frontage road. This is never “drifted in”. However, for 20 years Daphne has complained that the “gate” is impossible for her to close. It’s really really tight. She can get it open, but then can’t get the darn post back in it’s wire hoop. Plus she can’t open the barbed wire gate without shredding her good coat. Since fashion is always more of a consideration that practicality, Daphne prefers to try to go out the main entrance.
But even Daphne had become practical in the last two weeks since the weather has been just terrible with snow drifting and temperatures in the teens and lower, demanding that she wise up. So, she took to carrying a Carhartt canvas jacket in the front seat just in case she had to open the upper gate. She still couldn’t close the thing, but the cows are mostly way down the other pasture and rarely come up to this gate, so it’s safe to leave it open for an hour or two.
Even so, as Daphne neared the cattle guard and seeing that Cowboy Clay had not opened the upper gate, she decided to plow her way through the drifts. Recklessly, she gunned the motor of the All Road and drove over the cattle guard and into the first drift which was a tad bit harder and less fluffy than she thought. Her heart lept to her throat as the car came to a dead stop in the next drift. Continue reading →