and again I remember an innocent moment, over thirty years ago, when I was
sitting in the college cafeteria at lunchtime. As was the custom at the time at
our small college, the instructors sat with classified staff and students, all
of us like a family. On this day, one of the students came out of the kitchen,
stopped, and dropped his tray of food. Utensils crashed, glass broke, food
scattered, and people laughed.
Sometimes I recall
an incident in which my father and another man were talking about a fifth
wheel. This was many years ago, when I was in my late teens and when fifth
wheels were not common features of recreational vehicles. They were used almost
exclusively with large equipment such as trucks and farm tractors. I asked what
a fifth wheel was, and instead of just explaining, my father took the occasion
to criticize me for not knowing. “It’s a fifth wheel. That’s what it is. Don’t you know what a
fifth wheel is?”
“Rangeland Lament” is a song recorded by Carol Markstrom and included on her award-winning Desert Rose album. I wrote the original lyrics to it, and it has been a great honor to see my work end up in such a distinguished place.
I could see I was snowed in but good. My circular drive had three huge drifts, and the dirt road that led out to the paved road was drifted over in several places. Snow was still falling, and a hard, cruel wind was blowing from the northwest—a true Wyoming blizzard. I walked the half mile out to the corner to see how bad it was, and I decided I wasn’t going anywhere. Even if I did dig myself out and manage to get to the main road, I would lose a few hours, and most of my work would be drifted over when I got back.
When I was a grad student at UC Davis in the 1970’s, I believed in a liberal education. With a B.A. from UCLA, I entered the Ph.D. program in English in 1971, and I was in no hurry to specialize. University life seemed natural to me. Unlike some of my fellow students of that era, I enjoyed preparing for the foreign language exams, I liked all areas of literature, and I loved teaching English 1, the freshman composition course. Philosophically at least, I felt responsible for everything in my field, but I also felt I should be free to study what I wanted.
“Darlings of the Dust” is a short story that appears in the anthology Contention and Other Frontier Stories, released by Five Star Publishing in May 2019. In my story, the cowboy detective named Dunbar (from his own series of Dark Prairie, Death in Cantera, and others) arrives in the town of Westlock, Wyoming, and goes to work at the Paradise Valley Ranch.