Wednesday, February 28, 2024



Having spent the last few weeks dwelling on my own “I REMEMBER” past, it was a bit surprising to find my thoughts turning to the future…..looking ahead to a hazy, but unsettling vision of what might be.

Turns out that some things don’t change much over time. When I first posted this piece in 2018 it made sense to me. Revisiting it again, I’m thinking it sounds even more sensible.

Where to begin?

 Truth to tell, there are so many things that need explaining. Let me start with a ‘little’ mystery……something that needs explaining, at least for me. Such as, do the endless pharmaceutical commercials that dot the nightly newscast bother you as much as they do me? 

 They seem to follow a common formula……smiling faces of folks made well by some medicine with a phony, nonsensical name are parading around while the fine print at the bottom of the screen recites all the ways that wonder drug may harm or maim me, all the reasons I ought not use it. Most aggravating of all, they carry on without ever telling me what ailment their medicine treats. Small wonder those ads get muted in our house.

 So why, you might ask, have I offered that bit of whimsey as an introduction to the following sad lament? I’m not sure I know.

Do warts really worry?

 Did it ever happen to you? Did your mother ever look across the dining table into your eyes, with an admonition that sounded something like this? “Don’t be such a worry wart, son. It can’t be as bad as that.”

 A ‘worry wart?’ Now there is a term you don’t hear much anymore, at least not in my circles. But there was a time, perhaps before ‘The Power of Positive Thinking,’ when it was a not-uncommon label for those who raised their concerns, especially unpopular ones. 

 So here is today’s question, the one I am asking you to consider…….is this Stewart fellow a worry wart? Does he have any reason to be concerned about what he sees ahead? Please read on, and tell me what you think.


Signs of trouble in Late-Life land

 Perhaps you have heard rumors that all is not well in today’s senior world. An endless stream of dire accounts and daunting predictions keeps reminding us how many of our October/November peers are ill prepared for retirement, or late-life in any form. 

 The equivalent of whole forests have given their lives to produce the newspapers, magazines, and books making that point. And odds are that depressing onslaught will continue as the unsettling tide of financial reality becomes more apparent, and the fiscal noose continues to tighten.

 To be sure, if you are one of those caught in that tightening noose you know how real it can be, because it is happening to you. After all, our own reality is the most real of all. We understand that truth, don’t we? So what is it that awaits us around the next corner or two?

Who will pay the price?

 The questions facing the next generation or two are indeed formidable. Is Social Security really a ‘forever’ program? What about Medicare? Will affordable health care be available ten, twenty, or thirty years from now? Or what about the long-term impact of student debt? Will those underemployed graduates ever get beyond that?

 Then, as you look ahead to that future, consider this. The tightening noose facing today’s “Greatest Generation” may well look like the ‘good old days’ to a significant portion of the Greatest Generation Plus One. And if that is true, what about Greatest Generation PlusTwo……our grandchildren. After all, they are the ones who will be asked to pay the bill we have left for them.

How did we get here?

 But before we turn our attention to those we care about the most, let’s take a moment to visit some of the reasons we stand at the edge of what might be a steep and slippery slope. I would submit that a lifetime of cultural potty training, in the form of schooling, television advertising, movies, books, social media, etc., has enshrined and empowered the supposed virtues of material success, status, and the accumulation of ‘stuff and things.’  

 Not just any ‘stuff and things,’ but the right sort of stuff......the stuff so prominently affirmed in glossy TV ads and accepted by our peers as desirable. 

 Too many of us have spent too much of our life worshipping what we called success as the primary measure of our efforts. We know how easy it is to become addicted to the ‘feel-good’ rush of the Divine Dollar Sign smiling in our direction, validating our efforts and confirming our worthiness. Of course, when the dollars and status fail to flow our way that same commitment to material rewards can be enough to lay us low.

 To be sure, for as long as there have been sellers and buyers, sellers have wanted to sell more, and buyers have wanted to buy more. There is nothing new about that. What is perhaps new, however, are the pervasive forces that feed the blatantly materialistic culture we have seen evolve in the course of our postwar lifetime.

They learned from us

 Truth is, an era of unrivaled prosperity……in the form of growing income, burgeoning credit-card balances, easy-to-qualify mortgages, inflated home values, and generous pensions……has enabled us to dream dreams no earlier generation had ever dared to dream. In the process we have taught our our offspring, consciously or not, to dream those same dreams. 

 Unfortunately, the historically unique times that allowed so many of our dreams to come true may not be found in the world our loved ones inherit. For too many of them the world will be a harder place to grow the dreams they learned from us. In that case they may have to settle for more modest, more achievable dreams.

 Will they be willing to settle for those ‘more achievable dreams’? I hope so, but I am not overly confident. So much depends on the path our nation, and the world, follows in the years ahead. Given today’s political climate who would pretend to know what lies ahead? 

How can they be ready?

  We were raised to believe that things are always improving, that the years ahead will be better than those we have lived through. We call that progress. It turns out, however, that progress is not a given.

 The best advice I can offer my own children harks back to my long-ago Boy Scout days. “Be prepared.” Create a lifestyle that has you living within your means, setting more than a ‘little something’ aside, and relying on as few ‘safety net’ resources as possible.

 In my humble opinion the odds of taxpayers and governments, from municipal to federal levels, continuing to fund what politicians call “entitlements” over the long haul, especially at today’s levels, is very iffy. Any future that includes substantial numbers of tomorrow’s late-life population depending on Social Security, Medicare, and other government programs is apt to produce a disappointing outcome.

The case for caution

 Hopefully those of us who have already made it to October and beyond have outgrown the need for all that ‘stuff and things.’ We are likely to understand the advantages of creating a ‘cautious’ lifestyle, preparing for an uncertain future. 

 Fact is, those lessons are best learned early, when the student has time on his or her side. Still, as convinced as I am of the need for caution, I realize how much easier it is for an elder fossil like me to accept that logic……compared to a starry-eyed twenty-five year old, whose weekly mail includes half a dozen credit-card offers.

 In all likelihood most members of the next generation, our children, will emerge intact, if not victorious, from the challenging life-maze that awaits them. But what about their babies, our grandchildren? I fear it will be a harsher and more traumatic journey for them.

They’ll have to find out for themselves

 It seems that life’s lessons must be lived to be learned. I suppose it’s always been that way. We may wish that our hard-won elder wisdom was easily transferable to those who come behind us. But alas, there are inconvenient laws of nature at work……laws which are rarely rescinded. 

 We can share our concerns and self-proclaimed wisdom, but it is left to those younger generations to accept it, if they will, and put it into action. Here’s hoping they can pull that off.

 Those of us who make up today’s October/November population will find a way to muddle through to our natural end……some quite elegantly, others on a more modest scale. Our trek to the future will not be easy, especially if at some point we are forced to travel alone, without the helpmate who has blessed our life for so long.

 Still, as you can tell, my anxiety is stoked by what I see ahead, the challenging future that awaits the next generations, and the impact that future will have on the ones you and I care about. Those are the thoughts that have me sounding like what Mom called “a worry wart.”

Tuesday, February 20, 2024

I REMEMBER....learning a cowboy lesson


Here I am, remembering again……something I’ve been doing lately. And you know, it seems to me that some of my fondest memories are those of lessons learned. Today’s recollection is a prime example of that.

So, what am I remembering today…..and what lesson did it teach me? Well, if you are my age you too will remember The Lone Ranger and Silver, Roy Rogers and Trigger, and Gene Autry and Champion. But do you remember Gil and Star?

True story…..I was 33 years old. I had bought a ranch, 1,400 acres in the Oregon Outback. We had moved our family there, stocked it with cattle and their calves, and were preparing to drive the herd to the distant summer pasture. 

That’s right…..I had become a cowboy. But in those early days of my ranching career I was a cowboy without a horse. Truth to tell, that was okay with me, ‘cause I really didn’t like horses all that much. But a cowboy without a horse……what would The Ranger, or Roy, or Gene think of that? Clearly, it was time to add Gil and Star to that illustrious list of cowboys and their trusty mounts.


By early March the preliminaries were over and I was about to face the reality of playing cowboy…..the calving, the round-up, the branding, and finally the long cattle drive to the high mountains.…a long, tiring day in the saddle.

If you watched as many westerns as I did growing up you know the truth of it. Being a cowboy has always been about a man and his horse. It was time for me to meet Star. Though our story of man and mount coming together was nowhere near as romantic as those of Roy, or Gene, or the Ranger, it did reflect my new life at Poison Creek Ranch.

But first things first. What did I know about shopping for a horse? (Actually, real cowboys would never talk about “shopping” for a horse.) Anyway, where does one go to buy a horse? How would I know what sort of horse I needed? How would I know if the price was right? Finally, how would I know when, or if, I had found the right one?

You see, while Trigger, Champion, and Silver were smart, well-trained movie-star horses, my Star would have to be even smarter than them. After all, Roy, Gene, and The Ranger knew how to tell their mount what to do and when to do it. My Star, on the other hand, would be absolutely on his own. His not-so-trusty rider had no idea what to do, or how to do it. It would be up to the pony. Where would I find a horse that smart?

Chances are you’ve heard about horse traders. It seems they have gathered a rather unsavory reputation over the years, as shady con-men waiting to unload a gimpy, used-up nag on some unsuspecting tenderfoot. Well, in our case we definitely had the tenderfoot, and before we were done we would have a mostly used-up old nag. But luckily, we also had a honest horse trader who really knew his business.

By any measure Fred Curry was a real cowboy, the latest generation of the Curry clan to ranch in the verdant Juntura Valley….a veritable garden spot in the Malhuer River drainage. When he talked about horses you could tell he knew what he was talking about. He was definitely the right fellow to help in my horse search. That process began when Fred came calling at our ranch. Once there, it didn’t take  him long to gather the information he required. 

You see, except for an ill-fated group ride at a coastal tourist stable, I had never been on a horse. (Not counting the State Fair carousel.) Truth be told, I had the look of an arm-chair cowboy. Beyond that, I was not too excited about the prospect of long, cattle-drive with hours in the saddle. In a matter of minutes Fred realized that it would take some serious looking to find a suitable mount for such an unpromising rider.

The answer he settled on was Star. It was hard to imagine another horse in all of Eastern Oregon better qualified for the job ahead. He was a well-trained gelding, docile enough for even the most inexperienced horseman to feel comfortable on his back.`

So how old was Star? Real cowboys consider that an important bit of information….like a car buyer wanting to know how many miles on the odometer. Since I did not know enough to ask that question, Fred volunteered his answer.

To a knowledgable horse trader a horse’s age can be determined by checking the wear of its teeth. Though it was not an exact science, a professional can come pretty close….except, by the time a horse reaches fifteen or sixteen years old the degree of tooth wear is harder to read. At that point age determination becomes less reliable. While most potential buyers would reject such an animal, in our case Fred Curry had already decided that advanced age would be a virtue.

In time I would learn that most Harney County cowboys liked their mounts to be young, frisky, and a little hard to handle. “Something with spunk,” was the way our neighbor, Thad Geer, put it. Perhaps it was the challenge they were looking for, being able to show everyone that they could manage that sort of animal.

Fortunately, Fred Curry had understood from the beginning that I was not in the market for a “spunky” ride. This was how he stated his case. “In his day ole Star was a real good cow pony. He still knows exactly what to do and how to do it. Thing is, he’s older now, and he doesn’t react as fast as he used to. Actually, I’m pretty sure it’s been a few years since Star saw fifteen or sixteen.

“But there’s a plus side to that,” Fred continued. “It means he won’t give you any sudden moves. He’ll be a step or two slower than the other ponies, but you won’t get any quick jerks or unexpected stops. Fact is, ole Star is past the “sudden” stage.”

With that we led Star to the corral, and packed the saddle, blanket, and bridle that were part of the deal into the barn. At that moment it felt like the time for talking was over. It was time to be a real cowboy. After all, I now had my very own cow pony.


I had a ranch, some cows, and a horse. Still, simply having a horse was not enough to make anyone a cowboy. It would be riding my horse that would confirm my ‘cowboyness‘ (There’s a new word for you.) 

Truth be told, at that point I was a bit intimidated by the whole cowboy thing. Could I do it all by himself….saddling my horse without someone else around to lend a hand? To begin with, how would I even catch Star, who was roaming free in the large corral and adjoining hillside pasture? 

If you will remember, Roy, Gene, and the Ranger had only to whistle to have their movie-star mounts racing toward them. The couple times I called him from the side of the corral it was hard to tell if Star even heard my summons, or was simply ignoring the distraction.

So how could I ride Star for the first time if I could not coax him close enough to put a saddle on his back? Fortunately, I was not dealing with someone like myself. The other half of our transaction was a horse….a very savvy horse, who had long before learned to deal with timid, not-so-savvy humans.

 The plan, which Star allowed me to think was my own, was a simple one…. based on the horse’s already observed response to the sound of a few scoops of oats rattling in a tin bucket. That alone was enough to have him trotting toward the barn for a welcome treat. Seconds later, as he stood quietly with his nose in the bucket, it was an easy thing to slip a rope around the horse’s neck and tie the other end to the fence. Star, of course, knew the routine.

With my mount thus secured it was easy enough to throw the saddle blanket over its back, taking care to smooth out any wrinkles, per Fred Curry’s instructions. Next came the saddle, a bulky, hard-to-handle piece of gear that would be a bit more complicated. It took two or three tries, but eventually the saddle was in place, ready to cinch up. With a hurried trip between the horse’s legs and under its belly to grab the cinch strap, it was a simple matter to feed the strap through the buckle rings and pull it tight.

That left one last step to complete the saddling process. Fred had warned me that an old pony like Star had learned to inhale a belly full of air to expand his girth as the cinch was being tightened. Then, when the air was expelled, the constricting belt would not be uncomfortably tight. Fred’s way of outsmarting his mount was to forcefully jab a knee into the horse’s belly, causing it to exhale before a last tightening of the cinch. With that in mind, I provided my own jab at Star’s gut and pulled the strap tight.

The saddle was in place. That left just one piece of unfinished business to be accomplished before Star and I set off on an inaugural ride to the far end of the alfalfa field. That last step would be the bridle, the rider’s steering mechanism, which had to be fitted in place.

Have you ever stopped to consider how big a horse’s head is, or how large and deep its mouth? And those teeth, even the worn and aged ones Fred spoke of, were equally large, and a bit intimidating. What if Star did not want that piece of cold metal in his mouth?

As before my timid concerns were for nought. It took only the sight of the bridle held before him to have Star opening his mouth, waiting for what he knew came next. As I expected the teeth were large, but once I realized there would be no resistance it took only a minute or two to have the bridle strapped firmly in place. Finally, with my trusty mount saddled and ready, I was prepared for my first Star-ride.

And a good ride it was….over the back hill, down the road that led to the irrigation well, then back toward the barn. It was a slow ride, as I grew more comfortable with my place in the saddle. Then, on our return, as we approached the shallow creek that ran across the road things became more interesting.

I was becoming more confident by the minute. I tugged on the reins, pulling Star to a stop, slipped down from the saddle, and reins-in-hand led him to the water for a drink. Truth be told, I was feeling rather proud of myself. I had overcome my initial anxieties, saddled the horse, and gone for an extended ride. Why wouldn’t I feel good about that?

Minutes later it was time for the last short ride over the hill to the barn. Gathering the reins, I stepped into the stirrup and grabbed the saddle horn to pull myself into the saddle….at least that was the plan.

Instead, I was pulling the saddle horn towards me, and my foot in the stirrup was slipping under the horse. A moment later I lay flat on my back beside the creek. Though the cinch strap was still buckled, the too-loose saddle had slid under Star’s belly and was hanging there upside-down. 

You may have heard of Horse Whisperers, who claim they can talk to horses. Perhaps they can. But what about a deflated cowboy who was absolutely certain he could read his horse’s mind?

In the course of my sudden collapse Star had remained perfectly still. Now he stood passively, looking down into my face. Do horses grin, or chuckle under their breath? At that point I was sure I detected hints of equine laughter. As to what the motionless animal might be thinking….it must surely have been something like, “You silly, wannabe cowboy, I got you this time.”

When I had finally wrestled the saddle back in place, my not-so-subtle knee in Star’s belly was harder than before, enough to elicit an audible grunt. In the end it was one of those lessons a budding cowboy needed to learn. It must have stuck with me, because our next outings, during the days before the cattle drive, passed without incident.