Tim WhytePauline HartePatti RasmussenRichard RiouxLeon Worden

Black N Whyte

Strange timing of a heartfelt cowboy prayer

Tim Whyte · March 30, 1997

The timing was weird. I was driving down Valencia Boulevard with the car stereo playing a song that reminded me of last year's cowboy poetry festival, and I saw a homeless man.

He was just leaving the South Fork Trail, turning right onto Valencia Boulevard. He walked deliberately, though I couldn't know where he was headed or why. He obviously did not have a place to call his own, yet he moved as if he was on a deadline.

The song was "The Wolves." It's a tune that Garth Brooks recorded on one of his earlier albums. The songwriter, Stephanie Davis, had performed it at last year's Santa Clarita Cowboy Poetry and Music Festival. I had Brooks' DC in the car stereo, sort of getting myself into the mood for this year's version of the down-home festival at Melody Ranch, scheduled next weekend. It's a helluva great event, one in which you will experience laughter, tears, beers and appreciation for our Western heritage. The poets and musicians are first-rate, and the atmosphere at Melody Ranch -- a real, working motion picture ranch complete with a Western town -- is that of a small-town country fair. (I'll be pouring beer for the Historical Society on Sunday between 10:30 and 11:30 a.m. That's a bit early, but hey, it'll be noon somewhere. Y'all come say howdy, heah?)

I have an oddly eclectic taste in music. In the Jeep's CD changer as we speak are Garth Brooks, Oingo Boingo, Fiona Apple, the Gin Blossoms, the Eagles and, because my wife wants it, Celine Dion.

I've always liked Brooks' music but hadn't given "The Wolves" much attention until I'd seen Davis perform it live at last year's festival with only her voice, her heart and her guitar. I'm not especially religious, but for some reason this little prayer, a masterful piece of cowboy-cowgirl poetry-songwriting, stuck in my mind. Perhaps it's the purity of its emotion, the basic-ness of the story, its sincere near-panic. It's somehow deep but not complicated, and it goes right to your gut.

. . . January's always bitter, but Lord, this one beats all / the wind ain't quit for weeks now, and the drifts are 10 feet tall / I've been all night drivin' heifers, closer in to lower ground / then I spent the mornin' thinkin' / about the ones the wolves pulled down....

Some of the cowboy poets are real-life cowpokes, the most American of American figures. Some are also comics. Some tell tall tales, and some tell starkly realistic stories of life on the ranch, of good times and hard times alike. They have humor, romance and, like some of the popular Gen-X bands, angst.

The latter is Davis' forte.

. . . Charlie Barton and his family, stopped today to say goodbye / they said the bank was takin' over / the last few years were just too dry / And I promised that I'd visit, when they'd found a place in town / and I spent a long time thinkin' / about the ones the wolves pulled down....

Later that day I went to the Public Access studio to tape the show we do every month with the City. I interviewed Councilwoman Jo Anne Darcy about the upcoming festival, and ew wore our cowboy garb to get into the spirit of the thing. I wore my straw hat that I'd bought one fateful day in August just before I heard my friend Randy Wicks had died, and I wore a badge that says "Sheriff Tim" that I bought on a gambling trip to Laughlin.

After the show, I went to a grocery store on Bouquet, then cut back across Newhall Ranch Road toward Valencia. I don't know. Sometimes you go through a phase where you play the same song over and over for a few days. I hit disc number three and skipped to the tenth track. Brooks' voice and guitar filled the Jeep.

. . . Lord, please shine a light of hope / on those of us, who fall behind / and when we stumble in the snow / won't you help us up, while there's still time? ...

And then I saw him again. The same homeless man I'd seen earlier, when I'd been playing the same song. The coincidence was eerie. This time, he was sitting on a bus bench, waiting for . . . what? The buses, I think, were done for the day. I didn't stop. Maybe I should have, even to offer him a few dollars for food or something, but it was dark, you know, and . . . well, these days, you can't be too careful, can you?

As I passed, I couldn't help but wonder what his story was, how he came to be in that situation, and if he was just a neighborly leg up or a pat on the back away from being in a warm home, rather than sitting on a bus bench, one of the few, the unnoticed homeless of a bustling Western town called Santa Clarita.

And the song played.

. . . Tonight outside my window, there's a lonesome, mournful sound / and I just can't keep from thinkin' / about the ones the wolves pulled down....

Oh, Lord, keep me from bein'...

The one the wolves pull down.

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