Its Saturday afternoon and we’re at the women’s rodeo where ladies are competing against passive goats instead of bucking bulls.
We watch them goat tying, and as ever there are a list of exacting rules. It is a test of skill and speed. She may be disqualified for undue roughness, touching the goat after the tie, or if her horse comes in contact with the goat or tether. If the goat becomes untied before six seconds have passed, she receives no score. It’s all about touching and tying.
The term goat-rope or goat rodeo has a secondary colloquial meaning in American English:
n. a messy or disorganized situation.
US military jargon ca. 1970s-1980s, referring to an operation or undertaking involving an unnecessarily large number of people, most of them contributing nothing or actually impeding progress.
Driving along I-15 in Utah yesterday I came across a crashed truck and 25 million escaped bees. The bees were being driven from South Dakota to California to pollinate almond trees.
Since 1940 the number of managed bee colonies in the US has halved from 5 million to 2.5 million, a fall that is mainly due to colony collapse disorder disease. This drop in numbers had led to the commercial movement of bees – every year 80 billion bees are trucked across the US from east to west and back again to pollinate fruit trees. Ironically some experts believe that transporting the hives from farm to farm is contributing to the rise in disease…to say nothing of the death toll each time a truck carrying hives crashes…
Recent bee escapes due to auto accidents:
July 2011: 14 million bees on Highway 20 in Idaho (en route from California to North Dakota)
May 2010: 17 million bees on I-35 near Lakeville Minnesota (en route to North Dakota after wintering in Mississippi)
March 2010: 8 million bees on Hwy 99 in Sacramento, California
March 2008: 12 million bees on Hwy 99 near Sacramento (en route to Yakima, Washington)
September 2007: 13 million bees in Bear Trap Canyon west of Bozeman, Montana (en route from Idaho to North Dakota)
Last night as I was leaving the rodeo, the cowboy raised his hat and called out after me ‘Happy Trails’… the catchphrase of Roy Rogers.
Throughout the 1940s and 50s Roy Rogers presented a highly romanticised ideal of the West for children around the world. Rumour had it that he was more romantically attached to his Palamino horse Trigger than to his wife Dale Evans. Here he is serenading Dale with Trigger hasn’t got a Purty Figure from their 1944 film, Lights of Old Santa Fe.
Trigger was billed as The Smartest Horse in the Movies and worked alongside Rogers in 87 films, knew 60 tricks and could walk 150 steps on his hind legs. There is a touching intimacy between them…man and horse…a romance…and I wonder what leads both contemporary and traditional cultures to anthropomorphise animals so?
On a cold day in downtown Billings I am browsing in a thrift store and uncover this book, first published in 1956. A western morality tale where Dale Evans, wife of Roy Rogers and Queen of the West, teaches little Bobby and Kate Starr rule number 7 from Roy Rogers’ Cowboy Code for Children: ‘be kind to animals and care for them’.
But the code doesn’t seem to apply to all animals in this fictional and romaticised view of the west and its interesting to note that:
native coyote = bad
imported calf = good
Its late in the day and I am standing on a deserted stretch of Route 89 filming an abandoned house. Wandering away from the camera, I see a grey wolf limping around the side of the building. I hold my breath. These creatures are so shy of humans that I know he can’t have seen me. Later I look at my footage, and there he is, a shadow behind the grass. And in the next clip, a few minutes later, he limps back. I think he must be wounded and living in the empty house. As I’ve been filming abandoned houses all over the state I often see scat inside them. Perfect shelter from the brutal Montanan winter.
Last week the grey wolf was stripped of its endangered species status in the American West. The move is the culmination of a long dispute that has pitted the wolves’ defenders against hunters who say the wolves were devastating wild game they wanted for themselves. www.bbc.co.uk/news
After the serious business of judging was over, the fun began. As light relief from trying to reach perfection, the bunnies raced each other in heats of two, aided by the delicate breath and eager hands of their owners.
And somewhere at the back of my mind I thought of the rabbit fire chief and the dancing chicken in Herzog’s Stroszek. Set in Wisconsin in 1977, I imagine the amusement arcade no longer exists, but
who knows. Here anything is possible.
The cowboy called to invite me to the fairground where his sister was competing in the Fur and Feathers Show. Inside the barn an excited crowd had gathered clutching their pet rabbits. The rules of the American Rabbit Breeders Association Standard of Perfection were rigorously followed. The girls lined up at the bench with their rabbits and the judge stopped to inspect them one by one…
“The American Rabbit Breeders Standard of Perfection provides the guide for evaluating rabbits on the judging table, as well as a guide for the breeding of top quality show animals.”