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A Western Memoir

by Diane Ackerman

Pub Date: April 15th, 1980
ISBN: 1555914683
Publisher: Morrow/HarperCollins

Poet Ackerman (The Planets: A Cosmic Pastoral) spent a few weeks, on and off, on the Tesquesquite, a vast New Mexican cattle ranch, in search of the vanishing cowboy, and came up with this self-absorbed account. She times her seasonal visits to coincide with such chores as branding and calving, works alongside the men, and describes both the timeless procedures and the new technological aids--from tape decks to helicopters--of the cowboy's trade. But her observations are clouded by romance: all the cowboys are beautiful, rough, and tough, all their horses "tightly muscled and meticulously trained." Being a cowboy, it turns out, is very hard work--dirty, bone-shattering, and endless--but mundane questions of wages, benefits, and longevity (or why the cowboy vanishes) are not her concern. She confides some tricks of the cowboy's trade--such as how to use a horse for a sundial--and often waxes poetic about the "dramatic" landscape and the "thrill" of cowboy-watching. But mostly she is concerned with "why on earth should I come here" among strangers "who baffle easily when I speak in my normal way." The western terrain--especially the description of work--is engrossing, but the poet's little condescending sayings and doings are more tedious than any prairie.