Kevin Tate | October 18, 2012
I’m not a country or western music fan and I’ve never set foot in Bob’s Country Bunker, but when I got to camp and met Don I couldn’t help thinking of the lyrics from Chris LeDoux’s “This Cowboy’s Hat.” As it turned out, Don had more stories of adventure than even the song suggests, and more evidence of a life less ordinary.
There were about a dozen of us in a tent camp in northeastern New Mexico on a pronghorn hunt. Don, who declined to give us his last name, was who the outfitter had hired to cook.
It was August and although the land was very dry, it was also plenty hot. Midday vistas evoked the closing shot from “High Plains Drifter,” only with hunters in pickup trucks instead of Clint Eastwood on a horse. Don’s preferred attire made him look like Pea Eye Parker from the “Lonesome Dove” miniseries: canvas cowboy pants of a style not widely seen since the 1800s, a long underwear top covered only by suspenders and a fairly large cowboy hat with character marks covering every inch and surface. The event was set to last three days and, of the nine hunters, seven tagged out the first day and the other two tagged out the next morning, which left plenty time to hang around camp and trade stories, an activity at which Don excelled.
He looked to be roughly 70 or so, but one would imagine he’d have needed three times that many years to accomplish all he said he’d done. From the Alaskan oil fields to the Panama Canal to his ’64 Corvette cruising the Sunset Strip, Don had been there and done that for sure, but what made his tales enjoyable was the unassuming way in which they were told, the fact the experience, not the narrator, was the hero of the story. That’s a storyteller’s optimum position, one of raconteur rather than braggart, and one he arrived at with a natural grace. He’d enjoyed what he’d done, what he’d seen done or what he’d imagined doing to the point the memories were now his regardless of whether the experiences ever had been.
It should be said here one thing he indisputably had done along the line was learn to cook well in a challenging environment. Using an ancient stove powered by a temperamental generator, a sink fed by an electric pump that pulled water from barrels hauled in from miles away and in a kitchen comprised of folding tables under a tent buffeted by winds that kept sweeping down the plain, bringing a goodly portion of the plain with them, he prepared breakfast, dinner and supper for an impatient herd of hunters and staff, and delivered excellent food that reflected a widely-traveled palate. What he’d experienced in his travels, he translated to his cooking. It was better than good, it was fit to eat.
I think of his life’s stories now that the weather’s cooler and more encouraging, when anything seems possible and probably is, because he’s living the American dream as well as anyone. On the heels of Halloween, when our kids dressed up and pretended to be cartoon characters, Power Rangers and Transformers, it’s nice to remember we live in a country where the only thing required to transform our own lives is the will to do it. Wherever our dreams may lie, the road from here to there is open. Don and his hat can attest to that.