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Baxter Black signs off with laugh fest
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Baxter Black, right, couldn’t resist having a little fun with John Peavey, even before his show started.
 
Sunday, April 5, 2015
 

STORY AND PHOTOS BY KAREN BOSSICK

                Somebody better buy Baxter Black a pass to Zenergy or BCRD Fitworks.

                America’s most famous cowboy poet is going to need something to replace the workout he gets on stage now that he’s officially retired from speaking engagements—at least, for the time being.

                The lean 70-year-old looked like a Chinese acrobat a quarter of his age as he presented his last show before going on hiatus. The show Saturday night at the Sun Valley Inn was a benefit for the Trailing of the Sheep Festival.

                It was a wild ride right out of the chutes as Black acted out his stories and poems—from rolling over on his back like a dead jackrabbit to demonstrating how to use cockleburs and other natural materials rather than toilet paper to help Sheryl Crow combat global warming.

                “How I envy cowboys who live where there are trees…..” he crooned. “ ‘Cuz I’m reduced to horny toads.”

                His 200 fans clad in bolo ties and fringed cowboy jackets didn’t have to worry about the rich slice of chocolate cake they’d just consumed—they worked it off with deep belly laughs and rolling around on the floor.

                “He taught us how to laugh at ourselves when it’s snowing horizontally,” noted John Peavey, a longtime friend of Black’s and co-founder of the Trailing of the Sheep Festival.

Black honed his craft during 10 years of working as a big animal veterinarian for the J.R. Simplot Company at a Grand View, Idaho, feed lot back in the day when there were no cell phones or TV reception in the bunkhouse.

                “I was on NPR 20 years and it always occurred to me: A lot of these listeners don’t understand what I’m talking about,” he said. “…The cowboy mentality is an attitude—a way of looking at life.”

                What urban people don’t understand, he went on to say, is a lot of cowboys like he are not comfortable around big water. That’s why he was taken aback one day when the big wigs drove up to feed lot and said they wanted to do something for the cowboys.

                “Well, I thought, I could use a new hat. But, no, they wanted to take a bunch of feed lot cowboys deep sea fishing!” he said.

And, with that, he launched into the perfect opener for a dinner show as he spent the next 15 minutes describing his odyssey into seasickness, complete with demonstrations of standing on a  heaving deck that resembled a rodeo rider aboard a bucking bronco.

                Black talked of seeing a cattle drive--a pickup truck. And how the wind never blows in Wyoming—under 85 miles per hour, that is.

He told about how he once was so engrossed in the business of inseminating heifers that when he was asked to judge a women’s cycling contest he responded, “Gosh, Tom, I don’t think I can get 28 days off!”

                You don’t show a mule who’s boss, he said: “Mules are like cats—they live at your place and do as little as they have to to get by.”

                Border collies, he said, are “faster than a speeding bullet, more powerful than a locomotive and able to leap tall sheep in a single bound…And they zip among sheep like hummingbirds.”

Dogs, he noted, get gushy upon your return, whether you’ve been gone five minutes or five hours. Forget your keys and the dog licks your hand when you come through the door, while the spouse greets you with a sarcastic, “I thought you left.”

Sheep men, he said, vote Republican and pay cash. The cowboy brand of thinking is: “I’ve got my money in long term CD’s, but I’d like something a little less risky.”

Black told the story of a neighbor who went off every day to a job with great benefits—a job so great she had to wear a dress…a job she hated but couldn’t quit because it was such a great job.

Every day, he said, he would sit on the back porch swing and watch as she came home hunched over. She redeemed herself by going out to her backyard rabbit hutches where she would talk to the rabbits and sing them little rabbit songs.

One day, he said, he noticed his dog with a jackrabbit in his teeth. Sure ‘nuff, there was an empty hutch at the end of the line. Black grabbed the rabbit from his dog, cleaned it up and propped it up in the empty hutch.

Then he watched as his neighbor came home and performed her daily ritual of talking and singing to the rabbits. She got to the last hutch and screamed.

“He looks dead,” he observed.

“Yes, but I buried him three days ago!” she said.

Photographer honored

                Trailing of the Sheep Co-founder John Peavey honored the late Sun Valley photographer David Stoecklein, who passed away in November, during Saturday night’s dinner show.

                David was a major icon who really loved the West and put his heart and soul into photographing it, Peavey said. The evidence remains on his photographs, calendars and other items.

The family plans to keep the business going. And they’ve created a foundation to perpetuate Stoecklein’s legacy. The foundation will help anyone with a passion for photography  get a camera or do whatever else they need to further that passion, said Stoecklein’s son Taylor Stoecklein, who followed his father into photography.

 

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