When you’ve lost the romance and love for ranching, and you’re tired of the work without rest, or when you’re exhausted by the day-to-day, year-by-year gamble of working in agriculture, you can turn on Baxter Black and remember the joy and the fun of the lifestyle with which you fell in love. He was a gift to the agricultural community.
Dr. Baxter Black had an innate knack for speaking directly to people. Whether you heard his voice from a cassette tape played in a tractor cab or at a convention in front of thousands of fans, his poems and words of wisdom gave us something to relate to. His ability to turn a phrase was remarkable, but what struck me was his ability to relate to so many of us.
I met Dr. Black at the annual Montana Cowboy Poetry Gathering in Lewistown, MT. Being a more literal thinker, I had never paid much heed to poetry. It was summertime, the hay was baled, and we were about to begin fall works, and hauling hay meant more time in the tractor.
I’ve never farmed anything except dry land hay. However, I know something of the lunchtime rationing that has one eating a sandwich at precisely 10:55 am to stay awake, especially when hauling bales in an old tractor without an air ride seat or a radio. For years, those Baxter Black and Friends cassettes provided the adult companionship and humor needed when I was stuck on a piece of equipment with an infant and a border collie.
Finding the humor and beauty in the mundane with Baxter Black
While interviewing Baxter Black at his home in Arizona, he took me out to view “the best seat in the house” – his prized Dutch door outhouse. And, what a view it had!
Even his rock wall held that special, personal touch. Each stone, brick, and piece of concrete was collected as a memento of Black’s travels over the years. As he told the stories about his wall, Baxter pointed out one concrete stone, “You see this one? It’s supposed to be Texas. My friend, put it in upside down. And Texas, well, it looks like a duck.”
Baxter reminisced about seeing a herd of cattle coming into the pens from his spectacular vantage point while working as a veterinarian.
The herd was headed steadily towards the gate like a backward teardrop. “It was so quiet and peaceful, a view you could just steal. You could hear the cowboys hooting at the cows, but all of the sudden, the teardrop splattered against the gate. And the language turned colorful. ‘Git outta the gate you no good sofa ditches, I’m a gunnin’ four yo shoes a musta linka booda nina tens!’”
This incident inspired one of his first poems, written on the hood of his vet truck – The Cowboy and His Dog, If you’ve ever worked cattle with dogs, it’s one you can relate to.
A few life lessons from Baxter Black
Glitz and glam them if you need to! With a closet full of wacky, handmade shirts, he said you’ll get some curious stares, and probably look like a clown. However, once you’ve got their attention, the show’s all yours.
There’s no time to sit around and pout. Even when you’re “down to no keys”, and life’s taken everything from you, there’s no time to sit in the ashes. Get up, dust yourself off and do something!
Don’t let them know that you don’t know. As a feedyard worker, Baxter got handed the enormous task of balancing rations. Having never done this job before or taken a nutrition class, he used some positive self-talk and got the job done.
“You’ll be amazed at how capable people think you are if they don’t know you well. Don’t waste that advantage.”
Do what you want, the way you want to, and see what happens. Don’t fear decisions.
The truth in humor is what makes it funny. There aren’t any science fiction jokes.
The last time I saw Baxter Black was at the NCBA conference in New Orleans at the Justin Boots booth. Baxter signed a copy of Poems Worth Saving in his backward, upside-down, odd, left-handed way, and we talked about our last trip to Benson. We talked about Las Cruces and New Mexico State University.
Baxter stopped abruptly, mid-sentence, pointed right at the center of my forehead, and told me that I was going places, so I’d better get my butt in gear and get there. I was in a weird place then; I was “down to no keys” myself. It’s what I needed to hear. I took a few photos for fans, found Cindy Lou, said goodbye, and went on our way. And I’ve been hustling ever since.
Baxter leaves a wonderful legacy of videos, DVDs, CDs, books and poems for the next generation. It is my sincere hope that even if you’re not familiar with the work of Dr. Baxter Black, that you take the time to share the fun, humor, wit and passion with the next generation of agriculturists. He wrote them for us, because he was one of us.
Heidi Crnkovic, is the Associate Editor for AGDAILY. She is a New Mexico native with deep-seated roots in the Southwest and a passion for all things agriculture.