Telluride Daily Planet, Sunday, August 18, 2013
People have their superheros. Their muses and icons and gurus and gods, those they look up to and wish they were more like. They have their Merlins and Morgaines and Wonder Womans and Joseph Campbells, their Yoganandas and Baghwans, their personal trainers and life coaches, their grandmas and great aunts, the ones who have given them the goods on life. They have their peeps, their teddy bears. Their talismans. Their pacifiers. They have them in order to get up in the morning, to get through the day, or the dark, or a rough patch.
Me? I have Rancherman, my personal muse and superhero. I believe I mentioned him last time — but only in passing. Now, I can elaborate.
Rancherman, though a legitimate superhero, strays from the profile. He doesn’t really have it in him to go big; why would he? With Rancherman, there is no dark backstory or cape or secret identity — mainly because of his ranching background. His mother lived to be 97. His father grew up on a horse.
Because of these simple and humble roots, the work of Rancherman is quotidian, expressing itself on a sort of toast-and-coffee level. His moral ethic and mission is inserted gently into an ordinary day, like a slender bookmark on page 229 of The Poetry of Robert Frost. The work he does is basic and foundational — without newspaper coverage or fanfare or potential movie rights.
For instance: say it’s a rainy day in August and the first cool twinges of fall are crimping one’s heart a bit. Ow. You clutch, feeling something indescribably melancholy. The clouds, getting darker and darker and rolling in from who knows where, are an intense, heavy-stomached, stormy, sea-sky blue sort of deep gray meant to overwhelm one. You feel yourself slipping into that faraway land of vague, boat-bobbing longing.
While a part of you is busy wondering what that color really should be named, and also how a color can be so connected to one’s heart, the rest of you just simply wants to wallow. There is no doubt: as the rain comes crashing down amid lightning and thunder, you want to wallow, to wrap yourself in wool and stare out a window, a window whose transparent face has sweet tears of rain streaming down it. You want to listen to Rachmaninoff and think about the high drama of more important people’s lives. About far off places where the stakes are high.
This is right about the time Rancherman should be hailed, just before getting trapped in that parallel universe of greener grass just on the other side of the fence. This is when you call upon him, saying W.W.R.D. What Would Rancherman Do?
Well, Rancherman doesn’t know how to wallow in anything. It’s never been a possibility for him, and neither have a lot of other confusing emotions. Rancherman arrives on the wings of common sense, wearing faded jeans and an ironed shirt, usually something in blue, possibly checkered. He carries a handkerchief in his pocket. His hands are calloused but his heart is soft, superhumanly soft perhaps. He comes in humming a tune — without a hint of fight-or-flight response in his body. This, come to think of it, is also superhuman.
Rancherman doesn’t see bittersweet gloom in the August sky and doesn’t get all sad, either. He looks out at his cattle, his horses, as the rains pelt them, and takes a moment to pause. Yes, that he will do. For the thousandth time, he wonders what the animals think about as the water comes down. If they notice the rain in their eyes like he might. Then before thinking too much more, he puts on his boots and goes out to check on things.
This is the essence of Rancherman. This, I suppose, is his real secret weapon, his true superhuman trait, this constant checking. Checking on his cattle, on his horses, his ditch. Then checking on his closest neighbor whose truck hasn’t been starting lately. Checking on her trees, the ones in dire need of pruning.
While he checks on things, Rancherman remains quietly optimistic for good outcomes. He is careful and spare with words. He keeps his feet dry and his collar up, but doesn’t hunch over as he walks. He’s my man. Solid. Steadfast. Present. He sleeps well.
And he’s the one I call upon when the skies get dark. Rancherman. Then when his voice comes, it’s soft and gentle, almost sensuous. “Easy girl,” he says, taking off his leather gloves. “Don’t get all balled up. Pay attention to right now, the way the light’s coming in. See it? And then keep checking on things. Always keep checking.”