The Cranky Farmer Who Never Was

by Kee Kee on August 19, 2016

in Inspiration,Wisconsin,Yoda

Yoda and the cornTwo days ago I was walking Yoda early one morning around my parents’ rural Wisconsin neighborhood. Because I work from home, I’ve been fortunate that Yoda and I have been able to spend every August for the past six years here. It’s quiet, the people are friendly, and Mom and Dad live on a lake, so coffee breaks often involve kayaking or a jump in the water.

This particular morning, there was a foggy marine layer hanging over the lake, giving it a peaceful, otherworldly feel. The sandhill cranes were trilling in the distance. I was still pretty exhausted from a whirlwind trip to the Pacific Northwest for a wedding this past weekend, so I found myself looking at the ground in front of us while we walked, lost in my head considering whether to make myself a cup of coffee when we got home, or to go back to bed for a nap. And yes, I was cranky. There was absolutely no reason for it, but I couldn’t shake my irritable mood.

I looked up and noticed an older scraggly guy leaning against the back of his pickup truck looking at us. He was wearing work boots and a faded t-shirt. I forced a smile and said good morning to him. He didn’t respond, and instead, with what looked like a scowl, he turned away and walked to the front of his pickup truck. I remember being irritated that he didn’t smile back or answer me. I also remember doing a little exasperated eye-roll to myself once he turned away. My crankiness grew.

And then, as we walked on I heard him call after me, “Would your dog like a treat?”

It turns out that he had reached into the front seat of his truck to grab a box of dog biscuits. “Oh yes!” I said, as Yoda pulled towards him to help himself to the treat.

“I have something for you too,” he said, pulling out a plastic bucket filled with sweet corn from the bed of his pickup truck.

“I picked these from my field this morning. How many ears would you like?” he asked.

I asked for three. He gave me six.

cornBy now my previously forced fake smile was a huge genuine one that I could barely contain. This farmer completely turned my morning around, and my smile lasted through out the day, especially at dinner when I took my first bite of that juicy warm sweet corn smothered in melted butter.

I keep thinking of the farmer and the big lesson he delivered to me this week. My rush to judgment about him being a cantankerous old man couldn’t have been further from the truth. Perhaps he had been lost in his thoughts too when I said hello, or maybe he didn’t even hear me because his truck was running. Whatever the case may be, I’m pretty sure that next time I encounter someone who seems a bit, well, crotchety, I’ll take a moment to remember the farmer and slow down my rush to judgment.

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cowboy poet #1

His name was Lon and his hands were trembling as he looked down at the words written on the crinkled piece of faded yellow college ruled notebook paper that he was tightly gripping.

“I’ve never read this poem in public,” he quietly said, his voice shaking.

Lon Hall is a cowboy poet from Montana. He’s a real cowboy, and a real poet. A few months ago we were standing in front of the main stage in a barn built in the middle of the Arizona desert at a very secluded RV park located on a tiny road named Music Road. It was a couple hours before show time at the 32nd annual Sideman Jamboree music festival.

Music Road

Our conversation was pretty surreal, given my dog Yoda and I first stumbled on this remote RV park five years ago, in February, 2011, during my five month road trip around the United States in search of shama, which is Sanskrit for inner-peace. I was a weary road-tripper back then, and was surprised to encounter a group of octogenarian musicians at this desert oasis who had gathered from all over the country, many of whom were former Western Swing Hall of Famers. At the time they were having their 27th annual secret month-long music festival here in the dusty desert in the unincorporated community of Bowie, Arizona, about 90 minutes east of Tucson. The festival is named Sideman Jamboree because many of the original musicians were sidemen and sidewomen to some of the old music greats, performing along side people such as Sara Vaughan, Ernest Tubb, Merle Haggard, Waylon Jennings, George Strait, Jimmy Buffet, Hank Thompson, Tennessee Ernie Ford and even the late great Bob Wills. This annual gathering gives them their turn at performing center stage. Each night for the entire month they all contribute dishes to a 5 p.m. potluck dinner, and then take turns performing on stage for hours. It is like Burning Man for senior citizens! Five years ago, they gave Yoda and me a camper to sleep in and they fed us and let us sit in on the evening’s foot-stomping music performances.

Sideman Jamboree Main StageNow it was Sideman Jamboree #32, and I was back with a film crew making a documentary film about this very special gathering. I was standing here trying to persuade Lon to read his poem in front of a crowd and to let us film it.

Lon wrote his first poem in 1998. Poetry was a mostly secret passion of his. Secret, he told me, because his brother was equally passionate about writing poems. The problem is, Lon is the one with the natural talent, yet he never wanted to outshine his brother, so his poem-writing became a clandestine operation. He stopped writing altogether when their mother passed away in 2008 of a staph infection. Lon’s eyes welled with tears when he told me this.

“Poetry is who I am,” he said, with a stutter. “But I let that passion die along with my mother.”

I looked at him and realized how much this man symbolized for me. One of my biggest takeaways during my time on the road was from a conversation I had with an Alabama cowboy who told me that the most important ingredient for a happy life is to be true to oneself. When I first arrived at Sideman Jamboree in 2011, I was just learning that the secret to finding shama is to live with the cowgirl spirit–to embrace life with a sense of adventure and always be authentically me. Five years later, I have practiced this cowgirl nugget of wisdom on a daily basis. It’s not always easy, in fact at times it is downright challenging, but the incandescent joy that comes with each act of being true to myself has proven to me that the Alabama cowboy was right.

“Maybe it’s time for you to kick up your spurs and start living again,” I said to Lon. “Stop keeping your passion a secret.”

He smiled, making his perfectly coiffed handlebar mustache curl slightly upwards. It was clear from the twinkle in his eyes that the cowboy spirit was beginning to spin its magic.

He took a deep breath, and then bravely declared, “I’ll read two poems.”

Sideman Jamboree takes place each February, and musicians and non-musicians alike are welcome. Getting There: From I-10, exit #366 (near Bowie, Arizona). The Alaskan RV Park is on the south side of interstate.

This article also appeared on The Huffington Post: A Cowboy Poet Gets Real At Sideman Jamboree

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