“You know this story of yours might be a homecoming.”
This idea was presenting to me by a friend and fellow photographer after we overlapped on our current projects. My current project IS a homecoming, and each and every time I bring my camera to eye I can sense and sometimes feel the influence of my father. He’s out there somewhere. Sometimes he plays tricks on me. (The hummingbird thing..I know that was you padre.)
The short of it is I miss the old man. Dad was the reason we first went to Wyoming all those years ago. The cross country drive with siblings and a car sick dog. The silence, the wind, the smell of sage after a rain. Like an infection, that place put the hooks in me and never let go, and it’s because he put me there in the first place. I set my pants on fire with a branding iron because of him. I got trampled by cows because of him. I got stepped on, scraped off, bucked off and knocked over by horses because of him. I got my fingers caught in the fence because of him. I broke beaver dams because of him. I picked up nails because of him. I learned to shoot, hunt and fish because of him.
Wyoming was true open space and once you have it in your bloodstream there is no antidote available. You have to live with the knowledge of what it’s like. The overwhelming din of absolute silence and isolation. The elements, those you need to mind or they will erase you from this place, and the landscape that reminds you that you are one step away from nowhere. I think about this place on a daily basis. I don’t fully understand it, not sure I ever will, but now I have New Mexico and this place is rapidly filling a mile wide void in my mental state. I need this place more than I want it, if that’s possible. Dust and bones, history and the knowledge that out there, around the next bend or over the next ridge line, is the unknown I’m stalking like the ghost of a bygone time.
The sound of leather soled Western boots on the dry ground. The flash of lightning and simultaneous pounding of the accompanying thunder. Hail so thick it looked like snow. Watching game move through that first crack of morning light, foreleg lifted but not yet placed, nostrils exhaling the steam of a heart driven combustion engine, all senses on high-alert. It was all too good to believe. Of course I had no pressure on me, it wasn’t my ranch. It belonged to him, and his ranch partner who is equally guilty in this crime of my exposure to the West.
Juan wasn’t my father but it sure felt like he was, and this was a good thing. Juan wasn’t from the West, he was Cuban, but as they say he got west as fast as he could. The real deal cowboy. Not the rodeo type or the owner of a 4×4 with a lift kit, he was right off the pages of what you think you know about the West. I saw him do a lot of things you probably wouldn’t believe, so I’m not going to waste your time with trying to explain them to you now. He had a touch of the wild in him, probably still does. I hid his cigarettes and he ran me down and made me give them up. He made me do everything I was afraid to do. He taught me an extreme range of words I wasn’t supposed to repeat. He bought me a hamburger after I started crying when I slammed my head into the passenger side window on the way home from a trip to Ft. Collins to pick up tractor parts. He rescued my fingers from the fence. He left me in the middle of nowhere with a notepad and my first “assignment” to track the cows being bred by the lucky bull in front of me. It was perfect.
There was also another guilty party. Yep, mom was there too. She taught me a lot including what a Pentax K1000 and Haliburton case looked like. That case went everywhere we went, just like the bag I carry today. From truck to truck it would be stuck behind the bench seat as we roamed the pastures or mountainsides coming out from time to time to make these pictures you see here. Back then what she did was considered not extreme but dedicated. Like a slow trickle from an irrigation pipe, it might not seem like a lot but when all is said and done a photographic archive exists and the thirst of a field is satisfied.
I’m not sure where I go from here. I really don’t know. All I know is I can’t run from the demon forever. At some point the haunting of the West will come calling and I will need to go and pay whatever respect is required. It might be nothing. It might be everything. Until that time I’ll continue to drift. And when I’m out there amid whatever it is that brushes against me, I’ll know that the old man is there too, right where he should be.
Dedicated to BOJ
Thanks for putting me there.