Hard Times Come Again No More


A Western Odyssey

Thick darkness. Restless wind. Headlights on a two lane highway. Two orange foxes darting in front of the car. A thump.

The general outcry from several half-asleep people resonates in the vehicle. My heart hurts, just thinking about those poor foxes in pain. What can you do?

“I think that was the turn back there! We missed it!”

It has been a very long car ride.

We rumble down a dirt road, winding through the hill silhouettes that flicker in the headlights. The road guides us to a gate in the darkness, and then to a golden patch in the lights of log cabins. 

*    *    *

I awake in a cozy room with wooden doors like Pa Ingalls built in Little House on the Prairie. A sign on the door says that this cabin is a hundred years old and used to be the cowboys’ barracks. I like to imagine it. 

I step outside. The beauty of the landscape stuns me. Rolling green and golden hills stretching in every direction, the blue sky above, a wind so violent it knocks the sleepiness out of me. 

I dart back into the cabin for a very scanty coat that I happened to stuff into my hangup bag, and then Gretchen and I walk up to the meeting house, ducking into the wind with every step.

Hot coffee has never felt so good. Or homemade sausage and gravy and local eggs. We all sit at the log tables, talking and laughing with the cowboys and cowgirls of the Colorado Cattle Company, famous for its appearance in City Slickers, hearing the history of the gorgeous place, relaxing before our next video shoot. 

*    *    *

The afternoon sun has gone behind the oncoming rain clouds and the wind is more frozen than ever. We drive cross country to the set, a barren riverbed beneath a cliff, with two gnarly trees and bleached driftwood decorating the scene. The sky is grey above the grey ground. The wind whips my black dress around and around my legs. 

I step gingerly through the tall grasses, watching for rattlesnakes, though the veterans say it is too cold for snakes. Sandra, one of the cowgirls of the dude ranch who hails from Switzerland, says she sees 4-6 rattlesnakes a week in summer and always brings a shovel and a knife with her when she goes riding. 

I sit on my missionary organ and feel the wind slowly defeat my jacket as I bury my head into my hood. Sandra brings us hot coffee to warm us in our frozen state. We watch Annie and Jeremiah perform their solos while Paul achieves swift moving shots with the camera in the dry river bed, listen to Graham playing the music over the speakers, read books, huddle.

And then it is time for the group shot. I shiver as I take off the hoodie and the boots and warm mismatched socks (my socks are always mismatched…don’t judge me). Since I am not impoverished or living in the Dust Bowl and therefore do not have any shoes that look like it, I go barefoot. 

I soon regret that decision. The river bed is cold and wet, with sticky clay and sharp pebbles. I set the missionary organ up on its box and we play Hard Times Come Again No More over and over, the wind ripping our curls and tearing around our legs, the cold seeping in till my hands and feet are numb. I dig my toes deep into the clay. 

And then Tim and David are flying the drone above our heads. We are drowning in the music and the wind and the experiences of the man who wrote the song, the passionate cry for peace, all wound up in our memories. The plea is as old as the earth.

Rain begins to drip-drop into the dry river bed, falling off the leaves of the gnarly old trees and splashing in the sage brush. I wince as the dry grass pricks my bare feet on our walk back to the truck. Who could live without shoes? We load up our things and tumble cross-country back to the warmth of our heated cabins, our soft blankets, eating delicious, piping hot burritos.

It sinks into me. The blessedness.