BrooksLooks @ Chiricahua Cowgirl

Chiricahua Cowgirl
under powder blue skies a brave Arizona girl rides
on her pride and joy pony the last gift from her mother
upon her death they were left almost nearly alone
her mom’s final hope that they rescue each other
the girl and her pony took their hard lives in stride

from childhood and older they roamed Chiricahua forever
diamondbacks and prickly pear, piñon pine and leather
years went by and they would know troubles life sometimes throws
loss and sadness, all of life’s madness and the pain of poverty’s woes

they shared joys and heartaches, and struggled on these two
the girl and her lineback Dun lived and breathed and grew
good people watched over them, like occasional angels above
giving food and shelter and safety in lieu of a mother’s love

then one day it happened, a new love came to call
the cowgirl fell in love with love him, cowboy warts and all
it ended some months later when she found he was untrue
Chiricahua then erupted her true love was misconstrued

angry skies and wild eyes, nothing contained her rage
the Wild West became wild then, and a cowgirl came of age
they lit out for Dos Cabezas, on beyond Apache Pass
beyond the limits of girl and horse, flat out on the open range

the ride near over, exhausted, she had cried her final tear
a scorpion spooked her lineback dun, it reacted out of fear
the cowgirl was thrown hard down on unyielding ground
she was left there forever to die, her body remains unfound

get up, get on your horse, come tell me when
the Chiricahua Cowgirl rides again
she drags herself from the ground to her stirrups
with broken bones and an unbent spirit
her last ride, she’ll never hear it

Chiricahua Cowgirl rides again
to reconnect with better days
of endless joys and simple ways
over Apache land of Chokonen
Chiricahua Cowgirl rides again

© Copyright 2013 Brooks Bradbury / BrooksLooks

BrooksLooks @ The Gift of Goodbye

January 2013

At that moment, it never quite sinks in. Perhaps only later are we able to understand the magnitude of the gifts we’ve received, as doors close and a chapter of our lives abruptly ends. Little do we know that our lives are only beginning anew as the next chapter is already being written. In time, one chapter morphs into another…and then one day, yet another, in the grand pattern of our unfolding lives.
“Ride the wave” is a common refrain among today’s wayfaring professionals. It is the case today of so many lives on the move. I’m think especially of those of us in hospitality leadership roles. Invariably, we must leave what we know to advance our careers, and accept a new position in a new community far away. In spite of seeking long-term commitments and a place we can call home for a while, employers change, owners die and the boss we loved decides to leave. We anticipate a long-term commitment and a new community we can call home for a time. Instead, recessions occur, employers change, owners die and the boss who’s hired us decides to move on. “Living forward” is important, we tell ourselves, knowing that with each new move there is always an inherent cost to our friendships, our families and even our psyches.
Occasionally we allow ourselves a furtive backward glance, before the current of life snaps our focus back to forward. Such is the case for me, when my time in the Berkshires came to a close, after calling this beautiful part of the world my home for over twenty years. “Twenty years!?” the recruiters would say incredulously, shocked that a tenure of such duration could actually happen in this day and age of shattered loyalty between employer and employee.
My career began and blossomed in New England. My family was raised here, I felt great pride, knew real pain and sorrow and at last, I truly fell in love here and felt great joy. I lived here! I came to love those Berkshire hills and peaks, ponds and people and the generally agreeable tapestry of life woven here. As I passed two decades of living in the Berkshires even local writer Milton Bass referred to me as a ‘local kid making good’ in one of his columns. He doesn’t know it, but it was as close as I’ve ever been to being thought of as a ‘local’.
The Berkshire Hills are far away now, so many memories receding in the rear-view mirror. It was magical time to be a part of the Berkshire scene, an honor to be included among its people for so long. It was an experience that has continued to age and mellow in my mind. Celebrations of hard work and accomplishment still resonate. So many friendly Berkshire faces still pop into my mind, moments I remember and the times our paths crossed. My time there was cocoon-like, as though a nurturing incubator prepared me for what was to come. When it was time to leave, it felt as though I were moving on, a graduation–bringing with it both excitement and some uncertainty along with the good wishes of so many.
Over the years, I had the rare privilege of earning my way up from an entry-level job to become The Red Lion Inn’s general manager, all in one very special place–Stockbridge, Massachusetts. Much was expected, much was given and much was gained there. I thank the Fitzpatricks for the wealth of opportunities they provided me, and for seeing some real potential in me. “Everything is Important” is the pearl of wisdom that has remained meaningful and relevent to me all these years. Thank you Jane Fitzpatrick for your nurturing and inspiration.
It was time to move on from Stockbridge. Real lessons of life were only just beginning, as I eventually accepted the gift of goodbye.
Then, a private club in New Haven, Connecticut needed rescuing. Years prior, legislation passed eliminating the deduction of membership and two-martini lunches from one’s taxes. Private Clubs began to founder, and in this denouement I entered the world of private luxury clubs for the first time–bringing a Fitzpatrick style of hospitality to a struggling city club.
Participation was paramount to my Berkshire experience, and I worked to introduce this private, largely male bastion to prospective new members and to a community generally unaware of the high-level, private conversations that transpired within its walls. There were difficult moments here including struggling to make the payroll each week, renovating unused guest rooms, even issuing bonds among members to replace the club’s ancient infrastructure.
I encountered genuine malfeasance among the club’s former managers, and worked to move them all along–building a new team in the process. I also discovered an employee shooting-up heroin in a rest room there; guests who’s vehicles were stolen from the street during club events; employee thefts; panhandlers and street crime. Oh my. I had truly been thrust from Norman Rockwell’s world into a new one. In spite of these occasional challenges, I enjoyed this urban experience, the amazing people I met and the real sense of community that flourished in New Haven.
New opportunity knocked, this time a call from Wisconsin. The Kohler Company needed a manager for their luxe private club known as Riverbend. It was time to say goodbye to the Connecticut shoreline. Susan and I found ourselves looking at a map to pinpoint exactly where Wisconsin was, then making our intrepid move to the city of Sheboygan along the shores of Lake Michigan. Club members here were very gracious captains of Midwest industry and they paid an initiation fee of at least $75,000 for the privilege being a member.
This was a big company experience, a very successful organization that remains independently owned by the descendents of the original founding family. At Kohler, many things came into focus as personalities and performances were probed and analyzed through psychometrics and the assessment of such tests as Caliper, Myers Briggs, Wonderlic and FIRO-B testing. This was also a wonderful introduction to the Midwest perspective. Go green and gold! I still think of your kind people, and artisanal cheeses. And Leinenkugel’s. I discovered an incredible work ethic here in Wisconsin and among my talented team of employees. It is unrivalled anywhere.
Opportunity then came knocking, this time from the Blue Ridge Mountains of Virginia. It was time to say goodbye to Kohler. A mysterious and reclusive billionaire was creating his first U.S. sanctuary in southern Appalachia. Meetings were held in Paris and Geneva and I was given the privilege and responsibility of opening a $40 million luxury Lodge and Spa atop a 12,000 acre Blue Ridge setting, in one of Virginia’s most rural and beautiful counties. It was my second such hotel opening, and a wonderful challenge.
Susan and I found genuinely interesting and sophisticated people in southern Virginia along the Blue Ridge Parkway. We also discovered a breadth of new experiences in this unspoiled setting. Locally made moonshine appeared one day on my desk as a unique welcome gift–the real deal. Wild ginseng still grows on the mountain sides there, and mountain lions prowl the ridges. Hunting and fishing are a life-style here–more necessity than sport. Music, sweet, joyful Blue Grass, was a gift passed on down to each new generation. No one ever played with sheet music either. We felt we were listening to the roots of American music in Floyd, Virginia.

Resilience, adaptability and ‘making-do’ all come to mind when I think of the great people of Patrick County, Virginia.

It took two years to build and open the lodge and spa as it opened in August of 2010 to a planned five diamond standard. Upon the death of the owner, his eight children were instantly thrust into key decision-making roles. Standards changed. Directions changed. My contract was over and it was time to say goodbye.
No sooner had the words left Susan’s mouth that she was “ready for adventure,” then the call came about a guest ranch in southeastern Arizona. The owner needed a manager and the ranch needed some attention to detail. Out came the atlas and off we went! We can now say we have lived the real southwest experience, there in the true wild west dreams of our childhood. Think Johnny Ringo, horses, barbed wire, water rights and silver mining. The very real town of Tombstone, Arizona was nearby and the old copper mining town of Bisbee well worth a visit.
Here, the Chiricahua Mountains in the extreme southern Rockies, was the ancestral land of the Chokonen Apache. Cochise and Geronimo walked these very trails, defending their ancestral homeland. The last Native American holdouts battled valiantly against America’s military until they were forcibly removed. We have found real strength of character here among the people of southern Arizona, along with profound quietness and a rare proximity to nature’s extraordinary diversity in what are known as ‘Sky Islands.’ Precious little remained of the Apache culture, except for shards of pottery found on our hikes. Here, I also removed my share of rattlesnakes and tarantulas from guest areas. Our guests were generally appreciative and we survived too.
Since living in the Berkshires, we’ve bought and sold six homes and lived in nine different states. We ‘let go of the proverbial rock at the bottom of the river’ allowing the current of life to take us higher and farther. We’ve had the privilege of living in very special pristine places beyond where the pavement ends, where the air is still sweet and clean and infinite stars sparkle in dark skies.
Addenda soon to be added:
Leaving Arizona, hello Great Smokies
Home at last, Colorado
Southern Utah

Next?

There are things and people we miss about each place we’ve lived, with plenty of pleasant memories all piled up. We are grateful for the gift of goodbye and the rich experiences that life has brought us since our time in the Berkshires out on the road to adventure in hospitality.

Thanks for reading this tome, for checking in from time to time and following along.

Brooks and Susan Bradbury

BrooksLooks @ Arizona’s Promising Wine Future

Out on the crush pad at 7 a.m. on a cool and glorious Arizona morning, winemaker Curt Dunham of Lawrence Dunham Vineyards brings out a hot pot of coffee before the day begins.  His thriving vineyards surround the winery against the backdrop of Chiricahua Mountains, with the peaks of Dos Cabezas and Mount Graham visible in the distance.

Along with affable assistant winemaker, Frank Price, the men are focused on organizing their well-sanitized equipment for a day of harvesting and de-stemming just as the process is about to begin.  A crew of six have been harvesting beautifully ripe grenache grapes by hand since well before dawn, and now the first giant one-ton tub of grapes is brought in on the forks of a tractor.

It was a cool night at this mile-high elevation and the first picked grapes are bursting with sweet juicy flavor.  Wielding a special pitch fork and a flat-bottomed shovel, each tub of thirteen in total is emptied into the mechanized de-stemmer as the clean-picked stems dump neatly out one side while the slightly mashed grapes (now referred to as “must”) make their way up a 4″ diameter clear tube rapidly filling a 300 gallon, slightly translucent industrial vat.  “25 Brix,” is the first report of sugar content, about what Curt expected of Mother Nature’s produce.

Nine full-fledged wineries now operate in Cochise County alone.  Five more are in the process of being planted as this very special terroir is being discovered.  Rich volcanic soil, and the moderating influences of elevation and nightly temperature swing contribute to Arizona new status as ‘wine country.’  It is a joy to witness  the surprised and pleasant reactions of our European and American visitors alike as they taste Arizona’s new craze crop–amazing wines!

Much of this corner of southern Arizona area is counter-intuitive, beginning with the quality of wine (and people!) one can already discover here.  Talented wine makers such as Curt Dunham and Peggy Fiandaca; Rod Keeling and Jan Schaefer; Sam Pillsbury; Bob Carlson and his family; Rob and Sarah Hammelman; Mark and Rhona Jorve and many more are perfecting their wines for all of America to discover.

For the adventurous tourist, one might also think of southern Arizona as the wrong place to visit in summertime.  After all, who hasn’t seen those extreme temperatures on the Tucson and Phoenix weather maps?

Think again! At over 5,000 feet in elevation, August and September are actually very enjoyable months of the year to visit.  Largely gentle monsoon rains create verdant vistas, flowers bloom and grasses come alive, and first-time visitors are stunned to see flowing creeks and filled ponds–in Arizona!  For both wine and visitors, the cool evening temperatures work their magic.

The giant vats are carefully loaded into Curt’s huge chilled storerooms–the winemaker’s craft well underway.  Curt’s enthusiasm is overflowing, and his impeccable attention to detail is obvious.  The future of Arizona wines is very bright indeed.

BrooksLooks @ Being Home on the Range


Here, the question, “You live here!?” is often followed up with, “I’m so jealous!”
You see, we happily called a small ranch in the southern Rockies our home, the place we welcomed guests to a beautiful hideaway. It is located in the mile high Chihuahuan Desert of southeast Arizona, in an ancient caldera. Bradford Angier, who with wife Vera wrote the inspiring, “We Like It Wild!” referred to locations like ours as the ‘back of beyond.’
When the pavement ends at Arizona Route 181, just as it bends north to the breathtaking Chiricahua National Monument, the six-mile drive on a primitive road to the ranch can build character–giving one pause to consider their travel decision. Once at the ranch a few miles later, guests breathe easier as they relax–easing into one of the most beautiful and tranquil settings surrounded by the Coronado National Forest.
It is a dramatic setting, a region of ‘Sky Islands’–mountains separated by high chaparral where an incredible multitude of species flourishes, both flora and fauna, segregated over eons by individual ranges.

The peacefulness of the area belies its violent history. This is the sacred land of the Chiricahua Apaches, final Native American holdout against the U.S. Military under the leadership of Cochise and Geronimo. There is an incredible sense of place here, wide open vistas where you can see forever down laser straight roads.

To the photographer, incredible light and colors of azure and cerulean blue make for very dramatic images both at dawn and at dusk when the shadows grow long and gentle. All manner of creatures become unique subjects.

As you might imagine, to live here requires some forbearance! The mailbox is 28 miles away through a Border Patrol check-point, “yes, I’m a citizen of this country.” The store is an hour’s drive away, and shopping excursions can be an all day affair. Rattlesnakes (especially the hair-trigger Mojave’s), tarantulas, cinnamon colored black bears and mountain lions require heightened awareness of one’s surroundings. Of course, the more mundane nuisance known as “goat heads” requires a bit of patience too. These severely sharp and pointy burrs attach themselves to everything, whether we like it or not!
For people leading complicated and stressful lives however, this setting provides a true antidote. Here one can find the balance needed to regain control of a complicated lifestyle. Savor unbelievable quietness, amazing fresh air and the long perspective of looking up to very old mountains.
Come. Ride a horse. Sit by the campfire. Swim. Walk along a very special nature trail–one that is full of nature. Remember what being still is like.

Come to the mountains. It will make all the difference.

BrooksLooks @ The Opening of Primland, Luxury Lodge and Spa in Southern Virginia

An Introduction

Opening a Luxury Lodge and Spa in Southern Virginia

A few years ago, a New York City recruiter called to introduce me to a new project in a rural area of Virginia. I flew to Switzerland to meet the reclusive French billionaire, Didier Primat, who would offer me the opportunity and challenge of opening his new luxury Lodge and Spa in the Blue Ridge Mountains of southern Virginia. Knowing the family’s reputation for exceptional hospitality, I will always feel immense pride to have been selected for the challenge.

The grand ‘design and build’ project was completed at an investment of over $40 million for 26 exquisite guest rooms and gloriously opened to the public on August 31st, 2009. The cost of the hotel’s construction was much less than the nearly $1 billion required over three decades to improve the 12,000 acre ridge-top property, build its roads and infrastructure and to create a remarkable golf course designed by noted British architect Donald Steel.

Sadly, Mr. Primat never lived to attend the grand opening of his hotel, his first property in the United States. Little did we know that we would soon learn of Mr. Primat’s premature death at age 64 just one week after arriving on the property. This event coincided with the declining world economy as its free fall into recession beginning in 2008.

At the time of his death, Mr. Primat was the largest single land owner of real estate in France with family estates in Normandy, Alsace, Limoges and Paris. He also owned properties all over the world as well as 20% of the stock of Schlumberger Limited a multinational oil services company founded in 1926 by his grandfather and grandfather’s brother in 1926.

It was during my interview in Mr. Primat’s office at “Rouvrais,” beautiful estate of Didier’s mother Madame F. Schlumberger Primat in the pastoral outskirts of Geneva that I could sense Mr. Primat’s physical condition was in decline as he bravely faced the effects of esophageal cancer. I telephoned my wife Susan from Paris the next day, as we pondered whether to take on the project knowing the potential risk in the event of the loss of the owner. We decided to press on.

In spite of Mr. Primat’s death, the massive effort to open the luxury Lodge and Spa at Primland in Meadows of Dan, Virginia moved forward. As the project was launched, the pressure fell to Mr. Primat’s friend and confidant, asset manager Jean-Dominique Percevault of Paris, and to Mr. Primat’s children to continue advancing the huge sums needed for construction and to make the many split second decisions required on all manner of architectural and design issues. This was a tense time. A prolific stream of emails ensued between Virginia and the Geneva office, and the young Primat family members with lives of their own were now thrust into new roles.

It was a unique honor to work with so many very special people at Primland including Mr. Percevault and Mr. Primat’s eight children (Bérengère Primat Serval; Harold, Garance, Stanley, Kevin, Margaux, Flora and Justine Primat) their families and their mother Martine Primat. I consider it a gift to have known Mr. Primat and I am happy that our paths crossed for a time at Primland.

Driving for miles into the 12,000 acre Blue Ridge property on its then primitive dirt roads (now paved) across guardrail free precipices, I glimpsed the Lodge’s concrete decks and steel structure for the first time. The work site was in the midst of a pristine and wild Blue Ridge setting surrounded by a stunning golf course that was already open to play. The site would become a broad canvas on which hundreds of people would work together under time and budget constraints to create the perfect assemblage of people, furniture, fixtures, equipment and systems before we could welcome our first guests.

With little evidence of professional hospitality in place as I arrived, it was clear that the property would require significant change to become a credible hospitality venue. Few people understood the depth of the fundamental change that was required. As you might imagine, expectations were very high.

At the outset, it was the direction of the owner to create a five diamond standard. It would be a tall order to initiate the necessary change and evolve from that of a hunting and timber harvesting mentality to that of an extraordinary hotel/spa/golf complex. ‘Five diamond’ and ‘five star’ phrases were already beginning to appear in company press releases as I arrived. I cringed each time, knowing that there was a long way to go before the property could attain this standard.

As I look back, I wonder if this change is still evolving–the uneasy balance between the ‘way we were’ and the ‘way we’re going.’ It was a big change indeed for an operation heretofore designed for timber harvesting, wing-shooting and hunting native deer and turkeys to build the kind of culture necessary to welcome an upper echelon of travelers who expect a high standard of anticipative service—a tall order indeed.

Neighbors in the Blue Ridge Community took to referring to Mr. Primat as “the Frenchman”. More than a few were perturbed when early on, gates began to appear on his new Blue Ridge property—thereby shutting off a convenient and inspiring shortcut for mountain folk to get up, over and down the mountain.

That such a monumental hotel was being constructed in southern Virginia, in the county of Patrick, a largely rural and ruggedly beautiful wilderness area Primland seemed entirely incongruous. Perhaps Mr. Primat considered this a retreat, an American sanctuary away from his base of operations in Europe. At a minimum, the project was a substantial addition to the county’s economic development, providing jobs for over 150 employees and truly helping to put the little Blue Ridge town of Meadows of Dan squarely on the map.

“Up on the mountain” was how local folks described the county’s western half located atop the Blue Ridge escarpment. Here along the edge, was where Primland was created offering incredible distant views into the North Carolina piedmont. The lower half of Patrick county, to the east and south, comprised foothills and small towns the largest of which is the county seat of Stuart, named after locally born confederate hero Jeb Stuart.

I came to know many of Patrick County’s citizens as friends and enthusiastic supporters of Primland. I learned so much from them. They would share with me what was important about the area’s culture, and I worked to share with them all that was important in building a new hotel. Sometimes we were clearly at opposite ends of the spectrum trying to understand each other.

It is always an advantage to work with the local community rather than against it. This really helped create a first line of enthusiastic supporters who provide their enthusiasm and positive recommendations to visitors, even though they were a bit unsure of its mysterious European ownership. Local officials and business leaders were regular visitors and we were very proud to host all manner of community and chamber of commerce events, including open house celebrations for local guests.

There was above all in the community a spirit of sharing everything with everyone. I can tell you that “‘mater” sandwiches never tasted as good as those tomatoes grown on the mountain. An exotic can of sardines would occasionally appear out of a brown bag on the lunch table or even tins of Spam. Pinto beans are a local staple and were supplanted with the occasional can of ‘beanie weenies’ regularly washed down with a ‘Cheerwine’ soda or a caffeine-spiked ‘Sun Drop.’

Important lessons were learned about wing shooting, the ritual of deer hunting and the importance of turkey season. These animals (and others) provided subsistence for many employees year-round in the form of jerky and ‘deer meat’ lunches. In secret places in southern Virginia, wild ginseng still grows in the mountains and real moonshine is still distilled, tax-free of course. Apple butter is boiled down each fall and shared year round, chinquapins are still collected and ‘fried pies’ are ever popular.

These are the people of southern Virginia, underestimated and misunderstood by generations of Americans. I came to see in their Appalachian faces a strength and sophistication as great as any I’ve witnessed anywhere and to appreciate their unbelievable resilience. One underestimates these simple country folk at one’s own peril. If someone ‘fell off the mountain’ down into a ravine, got lost in the woods, broke an axle, got lost in the densely thick fog or faced timber rattlers and copperheads up close—I can tell you from experience these were the only people you could count on.

More than anything, the culture of the area was expressed in its soulful Bluegrass music. It seemed as if every family member here was taught to play and pick beginning at an early age. No one ever looked at sheet music! I am proud to say that Bluegrass Hall of Famer Sammy Shelor and his renowned Lonesome River Band performed for the grand opening of the Lodge adding a sweet local sound to the celebration.

Many heroic performances were required of Primland’s employees both tenured and new to open such a Lodge. The talents of a few very special consultants were also critical to success. I hope they always know how much their contributions meant to the success of Primland’s opening. We couldn’t have done it without Christine, John, Steven, Sylvie and others.

In the midst of enthusiasm and excitement as the opening drew near the usual pre-opening travail occurred–the luxury suite drain was clogged with cement left by the builders, improperly installed glass shower doors shattered upon dripping guests, and a hasty valet or two scratched up a luxury vehicle or two in the new parking garage below the Lodge entrance.

That first winter, un-insulated pipes froze and burst several times with water gushing forth into beautifully decorated rooms and living areas down through all four stories on freezing winter nights. In spite of all the challenges and difficulties a magnificent new Lodge and Spa opened and is waiting to welcome you to southern Virginia!

A world class golf course and spa, a one-of-a-kind telescope observatory (the likes of which you’ve never seen in a hotel environment) and even ‘tree houses’ perched on the edge of the ridge are only a few of the unbelievable aspects of the Primland experience.

In the observatory, the team created a wonderful “Tour of the Universe” program available most evenings after dinner in order that guests could see the celestial images coming through the 14 inch Celestron reflecting telescope. The 28 foot revolving, steel diameter dome was programmed to synchronize with the motorized telescope. Everything was digitally programmed to scan the heavens light years away.

I’m certain that Mr. Primat would be proud of his accomplishments today. Primland has gone on to achieve rare recognition as a L.E.E.D. certified hotel and to be included in the Condé Nast Travelers’ Top 25 Hotels of the World.

Thank you to everyone involved with this project, for working together to create a masterpiece. Thank you to each member of the Primat family, to Primland’s talented staff and to the many local Patrick County citizens who provided so much support, encouragement and timely insights.

I’ve enjoyed getting to know you all, and my life is richly blessed by you.

brooks.bradbury@gmail.com

© Copyright 2013 Brooks Bradbury | BrooksLooks

Photo Credit: Barry Towe

BrooksLooks @ In the Company of Cowboys

A Picnic of Cowboys and Cowgirls

A year ago, a car was parked along the dirt road leading to the ranch and a man was on the other side of the barbed wire fence wandering in the field. This is quite a common sight here in southeastern Arizona, however I recognized neither the vehicle nor the occupants.

As soon as I heard the voice I recognized instantly that it was none other than cowboy poet Baxter Black standing there before me in all his cowboy glory, eyes twinkling out from under his wide-brimmed hat as he introduced himself and his wife the very delightful, CindyLou Baxter.

It seems Mr. Black was given the wrong date for the Southwest Pioneer Cowboy Association picnic to be held here in the Chiricahua Mountains, and he and CindyLou had arrived one week prematurely. Susan and I were just as happy to invite them for lunch, and while I welcomed our new friends and guests to Sunglow Ranch, Susan took to the kitchen making the finest lunch ever made under pressure. Baxter recited his poem, The West, phrases of which continue to this day to pop into my head such as, “the wind is the moan of the prairie” and “they don’t call it Death Valley for nuthin'”…

Today, over a year later was held this year’s SWPCA Cowboy Picnic. Over a hundred guests were in attendance just down the dirt road from the ranch, and a glorious steak dinner was cooked-out and beautifully served to all. More than one cowboy guest remarking to me that, “there are less and less of the real old-time cowboys left.”

Stackable plastic and metal folding chairs were ‘circled up’ after the meal, as raffle prizes and story-telling began. Cowboy poetry was recited. Stories were shared from the heart, and a celebration commenced for the real cowboys and cowgirls who were in attendance. Many sentences began with, “The Smith Ranch”, or “The Price Ranch”, or “The Riggs Ranch” and beautiful, time worn cowboy phrases like “prit’ near” and “howdy” were oft’ spoken.

A bit slowed by age, these were the originals–the ones who’s family tamed this very wild west from the 1870’s onward, and who continued in their parents’ footsteps ranching in this faraway land. Back then, this land had only recently been delivered up, wrested violently from the Chiricahua Apaches as their parents became the first white homesteaders here.

Now, a bit grizzled, thin and worn with age–it was clear that I was in the company of real cowboys and real cowgirls. Lord knows the hardships they faced. I couldn’t help but feel I was watching the passing of a way of life, and the end of an era. But I saw extraordinary character in these wrinkled faces, and simple lives.

Baxter and CindyLou never made it this year, but I’ll be looking down the road for them when next year’s cowboy picnic comes around. Heck, they prit’ near made it last year.

BrooksLooks @ Innkeepers

INNKEEPER NATION  

we build our business by serving guests first
we attend to comfort
solve hunger and thirst
the go-to people for relaxation
getaways and celebrations

sometimes speechless at what we behold
at what we see,  what we’re told
at times we’re smug, at times incredibly wise
at times it’s so quiet we hear the overhead rise

we check legions in, check legions out
we’re pleasant every day, no doubt
we serve canapés and wine and cheese
work endless days and aim to please

TripAdvisor can make good days, or turn them ‘round the other way
good reviews make us seem wiser, the bad give us hell to pay
it sure beats life in a cubby or the tedious nine to five drag
with more weekends off we’d be even more chubby
probably half in the bag

all of our guests bring joy to the heart, sure
most all at arrival and a few at departure
we’ve got holes in our tape charts we’re desperate to fill
this ain’t for the faint-hearts nor the over-the-hill

we’ve got plenty of secrets to get off of our chests
always gracious under stress, appreciative of returning guests
we carry bags, show the way, pour the coffee, clean the loo
offer advice–receive our share too
we see our guests naked without inhibitions
at times locked out in awkward positions

in-tune with our grease-traps, we brave the occasional mouse
we know the double edge sword of a completely full-house
we clean up messes and spills, we pay heavenly bills
we flash miles of smiles, vacuum hairs off tiles
we silence bedsprings, fortify walls against snores
return lost and found things, settle check-out time wars

we point toilet paper for some unknown reason
is this in the handbook or are we over-reaching?
we strategize on renting beds–stars and diamonds dance in our heads
we spend long hours at labor in our inn vocations
“live with” our customers and have more than a few reservations

perpetually in need of a longer vacation
we are the faithful of the innkeeper nation
we’re given one chance to make first impressions
we look askance at indiscretions
become an innkeeper—you’ll live life even deeper
and fly by the seat of your pants

it’s our guests we treasure as fragile and rare
of course! my pleasure! why yes, be right there
it’s up-close and personal–with changeable roles
sometimes we are tested by challenging souls
but we smile through anger resisting the urge
when we’re over-the-edge and out on the verge

this is our calling we are destined to serve
we’ve got the manners, the brass and the nerve
guests return joy and love us in turn
they respond to our kindness, their loyalty we earn

but snoozing away, in those early morn hours
we awaken from dreams of Frette and flowers
remembering there’s only one choice we need make
it’s not what room to clean first nor which muffin to bake
not the quiche or fritatta nor the gluten-free cake
nor which potpourri we’ve decided to use
or if we need padded hangers (or just padded rooms)

for the heart of the matter, the real crux of the thing
is when we wake up to an alarm bell ring
a moment of truth arrives each day in our life
a decision we make that cuts like a knife
our only choice is this one, to get by:
are we going to live? or are we going to die?

if you’ve decided to die, please — fall down quickly
and spare all the others from the negative and prick-ly
but if you’ve decided to live: then by all means flourish!
grow joy in your soul, love and be nourished

in the final analysis, it’s the gifts we give
the time we share, the way we live
the giving back, the being there
the friends we make, the way we care

time gets shorter, numbered days whiz by
plenty of worries, to stop and ask why
it’s an innkeeper’s life our living to serve
in spite of the grind and the occasional swerve
WE are the gifts we give to those who arrive
over our thresholds and up the drive

when it’s done and over,
we tally neither losses nor wins
we measure our success–by beloved guests
after all they’re the reason that we all keep inns!

© Copyright Brooks Bradbury / BrooksLooks 2012