Saturday, February 7, 2009

Ode to John Todhunter

Betty and I seldom make detailed plans when we go on trips. We dry camp as much as possible. In the U.S. out west in particular there are millions of acres of public lands available to anyone wishing to pull over and camp. In Canada there is 'Crown Land', their public owned land.
Any planed vacaion would have deprived us of meeting John Todhunter..

Terry Stephan

Changing Lanes:
Emmy and I were camped in a prairie meadow at the foot of a mountain in southeast British Columbia.
Sitting in autumn sunshine, we were trying to figure out with binoculars if some highflying eagles were golden or immature bald eagles. A pickup camper similar to ours, but with distinctive scalloped curtains in its windows, jounced down the range road and pulled in beside us. A lanky man got out of the truck and said, “How you folks doing today?”
Thus began our short but interesting relationship with John Todhunter, rancher, hunter, and cowboy poet.
The tall man sat down beside us, cross-legged on the prairie grass, with a practiced ease that belied his 76 years. With patience and humor, he related tales and answered questions for several hours, with an encyclopedic knowledge of hunting, cow ranching, mountaineering, and life in general in this corner of British Columbia.
He told us why an ATV is useless for herding cattle, where Sam McGee is buried, and the only good use for a computer.
That day and the next we kept thinking of questions he would have answered, the provocative opinions and insights he might have offered, but sadly, we would never see him again. He was retired from ranching and now lived in a town in the opposite direction from which we were traveling.
Fate sometimes decides you need a second chance at something (or someone). We left our meadow and traveled a half hour or so east on secondary roads. In the parking lot of a roadside café, I recognized a familiar looking pickup camper with scalloped curtains. Todhunter was just leaving when I pulled up to his driver’s door. He accepted my offer to buy a cup.
Over coffee, Emmy and I sat at the country café, intrigued and entertained by John Todhunter for another afternoon. We found he was a fan of poet Robert W Service. My favorite Service poem is “The death of Sam McGee”; Todhunter rattled it off the top of his head as if he wrote it. We learned he was a poet in his own right.
He recited from memory a few of his own poems, most with dozens of verses. Subject matter was practical and included truck driving, logging, working the range or a combination of all.
I recorded the following poem and received permission from John Todhunter to quote it. Only one of his poems is published, he won first prize in an early cowboy’s poet competition in Nevada, all the rest are in his head. I apologize in advance for any discrepancies from the original and, if it is lacking anything, it’s his well timed delivery and rich bass voice. He never gave me the name of this poem.
* * * * * *
“I’ve shivered and shook on a dozer,
I’ve ranted and raved and cussed,
My fingers are broken and bleedin’
And both of my kidneys are bust,

My fingers are broken and bleedin’
From wielding the tools of repair,
Oh God of internal combustion
Please grant me a cat skinner’s prayer.

Now I’ve studied your parts book bible
And here’s the things I require,
A set of unstretchable cat tracks
That won’t come off in the mire,

Tanks, for gas and diesel,
Of the type that don’t run dry
When I’m working a road on a hillside
Twelve miles from the fuel supply

Some diamond studded cat rolls
That will turn and abrade the soil
And a crankin’ motor magneto,
For which I will never toil

Oh God of internal combustion
I have worshiped and served you well
Forsaken the Gods of my father
Until my soul is spligged for hell

If you grant me these things I require
I won’t ever work Sundays again
But I’ll worship internal combustion
For ever and ever, Amen

No comments: