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John Wayne's "Advice" to Travelers

Some time ago I mentioned that I had little appreciation for John Wayne's performances, other than as Rooster Cogburn in "True Grit". A commenter or two agreed.

Perhaps it was the roles and the writing more than his acting. To me, he merely had some mannerisms, such as the funny walk, and verbal trademarks: "Tryin' don't get it done, Mister!", "Ready? I was born ready", "Sorry don't get it done", etc.

So it came as quite a surprise when I watched his "Hondo", and saw him actually doing something useful. He was working as a ferrier, getting the coals and horseshoes hot, and banging the horseshoes on an anvil. He appeared quite expert at these operation, too, not that I could really tell. But it was gratifying to at least see him pretending to make a living as a cowboy, instead of just looking tall in the saddle, having shoot-outs, and talking macho.

This seemed important. I've been at this full-time RV lifestyle for 19 years now. Long ago I renounced the attitude of a city tourist looking for pretty scenery, and have always been on the lookout for ways to make the lifestyle seem more authentic and interesting on a long-term basis.

For instance, when a guy goes mountain biking, what makes it seem authentic rather than just an activity for weekend warriors from the big city? That question is certainly timely, because the winter social-hiking season is over now, and the mountain biking season has started again. (Hiking is just too hot over 50 F.)

A local told me that a certain road we had once hiked has been graded, and is nice and smooth. Such events are rare, and deserve to be seen as small miracles. So off we went. (I thought of John Wayne's dog in "Hondo".) And indeed the dirt road was pleasantly smooth.

Something unusual came around the bend: a man on a mule. He was surrounded by a pack of eight hounds, each with a GPS antenna sticking out of their brain. He was dressed in kit that would have made John Wayne envious: a great Western hat, leather chaps, some kind of vest, and a six-shooter on his side. Even though these things sound a bit kitsch, they looked good on him. Maybe it was because they were dirty. They looked useful, authentic.

We talked for five minutes before I noticed he had his quarry strapped to the back of the mule. He was a hunter and a rancher. He also did some guiding for rich city-slickers -- hence the clothing. As always, I tried to earn the respect of guys like this by asking some halfway-intelligent questions. The trick is to put entertainment and prettiness aside, and treat nature as a serious and potentially dangerous business. But such guys see mountain biking as a city slicker sport, so it took some persistence to earn his respect.

And as always with these guys, he had some tall tales, which I listened to, eagerly. It's funny ain't it? Suburban coffee-table-book sentimentalist environmentalists think there is something holy about endangered species. Non-human species, that is. But I would rather see people and their vanishing way of life as precious. Like that man and his mule.

Back in the day... at 15 years of age, the Little Cow-puncher still cast a long shadow across the golden West.


Ed said…
Riding a mule you say. Mules are not a 'spookey' as horses so that makes good sense. A pack of dogs with "GPS antenna sticking out of their brain" which I think were most likely tracking collars. With that bit of information I surmise that his quarry was a cougar and I'm not taking about a 'mature woman' stalking a younger man.

A very lucky encounter and I envy you hearing the tall tales. You are absolutely correct about he being the endangered species.
XXXXX said…
It's gotta be tough....looking for something authentic but preferring graded roads. In reality, roads are rarely naturally graded (unless it's wash or some other action of wind or water.)
I'm not sure what about this man caused you to work for his respect when he is just making a living off romanticizing the past, etc. How is that any different from a postcard?

I have spent some time on Wikipedia reading about the difference between donkeys, mules, and horses. But I have never gotten it from the user's perspective. I would love to be in a situation to learn the lore of horses. But horses have simply become high-overhead status symbols today. They aren't practical.

Hence,the mountain biker is the new "lone rider of the purple sage."
Yes, there were some inconsistencies in my appreciation of the situation. But graded roads weren't one of them! You may have interpreted my word 'authentic' as meaning 'natural', which is the word that metropolitan suburban greens to mean "all of nature except homo sapiens."

And that is the whole point of my appreciation of nature: to see homo sapiens as a part of nature, that is, struggling with it, trying to make a living off of it, and realistic about its cruelties.

There is a big difference between 'making a living' and mere gawking at pretty pretty pretty nature.
XXXXX said…
I do agree with you on one major point, i.e., homo sapiens as a part of nature (actually, a product of it), that nature in its essence is "cruel" (i.e., without feeling) and that homo sapiens is just another mammal which is, for this moment in time, the #1 predator on the planet and thus, "struggles", makes a living off of everything else, and this, in essence, is what is meant by being "realistic about its cruelties."
Yes, "making a living" is merely being willing to take money from people who are enthused with "pretty, pretty, pretty nature."
I didn't interpret "authentic" as "natural" but it would be interesting to try to define that term.
"Not false or copied," and "supported by unquestionable evidence" plus many other definitions.
An authentic antique, an authentic dinosaur bone. Yes, to that. But when one is talking about a personal experience, "authentic" is totally in the eyes of the beholder.
XXXXX said…
Depends on how long you like your shadow to cast across the golden West. If you look far enough, and if you believe deep enough that homo sapiens is just a part of the whole thing...nothing special....then, in this reality, everything any homo sapiens could ever do is both authentic and natural. Just as an elephant can only do what an elephant is capable of doing and a cacti is only capable of doing what a cacti can do, so is homo sapiens capable within a range of what evolution has allowed it to be. The rest of it is all perception. And in that sense, might not qualify truly as "authentic."
Except one can argue even this if one backs up a few paces and lets the shadow deepen even farther across the land....perception is authentic as well even though your perception is different from mine.....both can be authentic and natural. In the end, it all is.
Dadgummit, you got abstract on me again, George. Let me give you an example of "authenticity."

Last spring I was spending quite a bit of money on my van maintenance. I decided my usual repair shop was charging too much. I went out of the way to a shop in Alpine, AZ, where the car repair shop had given me a tow the previous year.

It had a new owner. At that time of year, the town was underpopulated, because it was too early for the tourist season. His prices were lower than the nearest small city. And he seemed competent. So I pounced and made the kill.

Think of the analogy with a predator who has found a new niche or an explorer who has found a new spring in the desert mountains. I tried to milk the act when thinking about that.