Clark Emmons is an honest-to-goodness cowboy, and he’s got the grace and integrity of a man who has lived the life that is right for him. Born in 1919, he spent much of his boyhood in Lompoc roaming the hills, wandering along the creeks, and learning the ways of the outdoors. He got his first horse when he was 16, and after graduating from high school, he followed the rodeo circuit, served with the United States Army during World War II, and in 1943, married his sweetheart Dorothy. Over the years, Clark has worked as a cowboy and a cattle rancher on various ranches in our region, including El Chorro, Rancho Jesus Maria, and Rancho La Vi±a, and has participated in brandings and roundups on dozens of others. Today he seems like an emissary from a bygone era, the voice of a vanishing vocation, a gentle and decent man with an old-fashioned work ethic and stories to tell.
Luckily, he tells them. Clark’s newly published book, Our Seasons: Poems of the Land and Its People, is documentation, in rhyme, of a way of life, a sense of place, and the character of a man. These are poems as accessible as open barns, and alive with cattle dogs, county fairs, tomcats named Blue, and old bulls raising Cain. They speak of fixing fences and hunting strays, of washed-out trails and friends who stand by you. One poem, “Country Men,” is a heartfelt tribute to Clark’s fellow soldiers on the Pacific front, another, “50 Years Gone By,” is an appreciation for his wife, revealing a quiet sense of surprise at everything the two have weathered together. There is something pure and authentic here, a glimpse into a heart that’s true.
Clark’s love of the land is always evident, and his verses brim with references to canyons and springs, fog and wind, acorns and caves, and tanbark oaks-that certain wildness that has miraculously endured in the far reaches of our county. The old Santa Barbara names are woven like a song throughout the collection: names like Jalama, Cojo, La Tinta, Rinconada, Chicaro, Salsipuedes, and San Julian. There is pleasure in simply seeing these names written down, and in reading them out loud. In “Rancho Santa Rosa,” Clark presents, in 15 stanzas, the entire history of a ranch, from the 1860s to the present, as it passes through the hands of different owners and is shaped by the forces of nature and economics. He concludes with a hopeful declaration of its endurance:
We have seen wind, rain and snow
And many things that nature can bestow
But the LaVi±a will be here like a song
After many other places have come and gone.
Another, “Great Sayings,” is an assemblage of aphorisms, some humorous, others sentimental. My favorites: “Things will get done if the good Lord is willin’ and the creek doesn’t rise,” and, “It’s the man that’s the cowboy, not the outfit that he wears.”
I interviewed Clark with my sixth grade students at Vista de Las Cruces a decade ago. “I’ve met great people and made a lot of friends over the years,” he reflected back then. “I’ve had more than fifty years of marriage to the same lady, and I’ve had the privilege of being an honorary vaquero at the Santa Barbara Fiesta. I used to watch Westerns and dream of being a cowboy, and I’ve lived the life I wanted.”
“The Last Ride,” the final poem in the collection, seems to reaffirm that sentiment:
Just remember me as a likeable fellow
That my word was always good, not too much bellow
I have gone where there is no strain or strife
To me nothing better than that good cowboy life.
It’s the man that’s the cowboy. Clark Emmons is the real thing.
Our Seasons: Poems of the Land and Its People is published by Muleshoe Press, and is available at The Book Loft in Solvang and Printed Matter Bookstore in Lompoc. Clark Emmons will hold a book-signing at The Book Loft in Solvang on Saturday, November 17, from 4 to 5 p.m. For more information, call 688-6010 or visit bookloftsolvang.com.