Birthdays have always been a big celebration in my family. The living room was always decorated with streamers and balloons. The birthday honoree got to choose where the family went for dinner that night. We then opened a pile of presents and topped off the festivities with cake and ice cream. It was some serious VIP treatment!
Fast forward to birthdays as an adult. When you get married, you merge traditions and the occasion just doesn’t look the same anymore. You go to work everyday, which makes the day seem like any other day. And if I’m honest, the need to highlight getting one year older isn’t as high on my list of ‘must-dos’ anymore.
So as I started thinking back on my grown up birthdays, I grinned big when I remembered the birthday my husband and I trekked out to Alpine, Texas for a Cowboy Poetry Festival. I learned about the festival from a local magazine that had a calendar in the back with a list of events all over the state. This was ten years ago…long before West Texas became the ‘place to be’. Before Marfa, TX was considered ‘Austin West’. We had no idea what to expect, but the idea of hanging out with a bunch of cowboys reading poetry was enough for us to pack up and haul six hours across the state.
We prepared for our time in Big Bend country by channeling our inner cowboy on the way. We listened to the audio book “One Ranger” written by Joaquin Jackson, a real life Texas Ranger who lived in Alpine, Texas. By the time we arrived, we were chewing tobacco and speaking with a drawl.
We stayed at the Marathon Motel & RV Park and drove into Alpine each day for the festival. The first morning, we rambled through a cow pasture in our Honda Accord to the chuckwagon breakfast. Before we even got out of the car, it was obvious that we were outsiders. But the brochure said, “open to the community – $5 a plate”…so we happily crashed their gathering. Two city slickers eatin’ their biscuits and gravy, milling around in our t-shirts and shorts, just trying to fit in.
After eating like a couple of ranch hands, we went over to Sul Ross University where the festivities took place. We were herded into an auditorium for a tribute to Marty Robbins, a popular country & western singer and songwriter from the late 40’s to the early 80’s. The audience reflected the guest of honor making us the young whippersnappers amidst a crowd twice our age. During the opening show, we watched all manner of talent showcase their music and poems to honor Mr. Robbins career.
It was a crowd that was eccentric without trying. When you think about cowboys, ranchers, horsemen and the like, one typically envisions a hard worker who is rough around the edges, not some abstract thinker who is so deeply connected to their feelings. Their artistry was not stuffy or convoluted. It came from experience, hard times and grit. There was a simplicity to their depth and it was like a breath of fresh air.
After the festival we spent several days exploring the area. We didn’t come close to making a dent in all that West Texas has to offer. I was blown away by how beautiful it was! Wide open spaces, cool weather, stunning mountains, and more stars than you could possibly imagine. It was peaceful and uncomplicated and left me feeling revived, which was just a good way to start my 31st year if you ask me.
Ten years later and I am more than ready to go back. I need a little low-key simplicity in my life right now and I know just the place.
“Uva uvas viendo varia fit”…“a grape changes color (ripens) when it sees another grape.”
-Augustus McCrae, one of the original cowboy poets