Leaning in on the messy parts
Have you ever felt a little dismayed, confused or troubled by the fact you don’t seem to fit into a tidy box? That’s me, mostly, most of the time. Just when I think I’ve got it figured, something comes prancing across the scene and I am entranced. All I want to do is incorporate that shiny, bit of sparkle into my life somehow. Or, there are sides of me that don’t neatly align, they are contradictory, overlapping with conflicting ideas, controversy or friction. Some of these contradictions I’ve had since I was a child. The earliest memories I can muster up are coloured with horses and those who ride them, especially gritty characters with a bit of fray, or worn patches.
Storytelling before bed, after our glasses of milk, was a regular on the bedtime circuit. We three girls, each in our pyjamas, seated on our beds, lined up in our room we shared while my dad, for the most part, would settle himself in a chair and offer up memories of growing up in the same area we were being raised. One little snippet would surface every so often and I would latch on to it, hoping it might come up again and again. It was always just a line or two but in my mind, it was a full colour, afternoon’s worth showing. Simple words of a fellow who would ride down the roads on his horse, on his way to work, singing and whistling as his horse walked, with an old rope tied round his waist by way of a belt. Those words stuck in my mind like burdock in the fall.
And now, again, here in adulthood, I come across places, people and events that do the same. They are sticky that way and they don’t always neatly align myself with what could be considered my liberal tendencies. One is rodeos.
I know, there’s a whole realm of big breaths and wide eyes when it comes to rodeos. What I see, when I start looking past my own stigmas, are the stories, layered upon each other in time and space, all overlapping. These are people for whom it’s a livelihood or an extension of their livelihood. It’s a tight-knit community. I see competitors helping each other rig up the other’s draw in the chutes. Or lending tape or chalk. There’s a focus and steadiness as each cowboy prepares behind the chutes, taping their hands, wrapping their pant cuffs, hooking riggings around the girth of their bronc, or seated on their rope horse, looping their rope just so with a few slow practices swings lazily rounding the air above their heads. The horses waiting at the arena gate for their turn to burn around barrels, thousand pound masses of energy waiting to be released, held in by only the posture and rein of the woman atop. Trust and duty are all around. There's a feeling of comradery, with safety with another being assumed. perhaps its because things can go sideways fast when animals are barreling across arenas, ropes are stretched tight, and flat out speed is what most events require. I'd likely feel okay leaving my wallet on the car seat. People help each other out, look out for one another, pitch in where needed. Cowboys volunteer in the gates to help guide steers straight while another cowboy launches himself off his full out galloping horse, wrestling the steer down.
Even as I write that last sentence, I know how it highlights how controversial rodeo can be for some. I do. But I do think it’s one of those things, so many things lately, where each side needs to lean in, rather than standing back, to see the story of the other. Because for me, it is story that has captivated me despite all of its untidy tendencies toward controversy. Story bridges us, across time, and across lifestyles. It helps us realize, or me I suppose in this case, that we are not singular, self-contained, perfectly presented plots, or ideas. We’re all an evolving, twisting plot that leaves bylines undone, unexplored and messy. And knowing this, taking it into our hearts, however uncomfortable it may be, brings about an openness to others and ourselves, a grace that your story, my story and our story are not done, will not be done. It’s easier to walk on together from there.
With that disclaimer out of the way, I thought I would share some images from my travels this summer at a few rodeos. My hope is they convey even a slight shadow of the emotion and effort carrying an event like this. If anything, perhaps you can, through them, sense the buzz of humanity, mixed in with the earthy smells and dust of livestock.