The Mighty Viking

Conquering those things we must, one story at a time

Finding Home On The Range

Hank wasn’t a big  man, and never was. But he didn’t let his size, or lack of coordination dampen his aspirations.  

As a wee lad, figuring out what to do, he decided to try his hand at cow-herding.  It turned out, though, that he wasn’t that good at it.  In fact, he was about the worst cowboy ever.  He’d fall off the horse, couldn’t rope a cactus if it fell on him, his wad of spit always dribbled down his chin instead of lofting into the sage in a graceful arc.  He had none of the traditional skills of a true cowboy.  The trail boss thought his shooting skills seemed impressive at first, until he realized everyone scattered when he pulled out his pistol, and that none of his targets were intentional.  

The final straw came when everyone realized that beans didn’t agree with Hank’s constitution.  It seemed there was not enough prairie in Wyoming to spread the stench around satisfactorily.  And of course, this brings up Hanks inability to remember he had spurs on at critical moments in his daily routine.

But there was one thing he could do.  Turns out ol’ Hank was a bit of a vocalist.  

This isn’t to say he was q universally gifted musician.  He made a harmonica sound exactly like a rampaging screech owl, scattering rodents to their underground hiding spots for miles around (and most of the other cow-hands).  But he could work a bit of magic on the guitar around the campfire, and filled in the sound-space with a tenor so sweet the evening sounds of myriads of insects and frogs would hush, and sigh to themselves.

As nice as this was, the Trail Boss couldn’t have a dysfunctional cowboy on his crew, so he began a withering string of insults every time Hank screwed up.  He’d mock his posture in the saddle, cough and sputter in (only slightly) exaggerated revolt when he broke wind, intentionally assign him to rope particularly ornery cattle and then laugh and slap his knees at the ensuing calamity.

At first Hank was embarrassed.  And then he was depressed.  He flew right past downtrodden on the second week and moped his way into a third.

He didn’t know what to do, he realized he was an abject failure at this line of work, but what else could he do?

He was brooding on this very question one hot afternoon, dust swirling up into his headband, spur puncture wounds stinging from the saddle-sweat working its way into his tender, punctured backside.   His belly was  grumbling, and hands all blistered with rope burns.  It was at this low point that a dust devil suddenly enveloped him.  He choked and gasped, and squinted his eyes to see while the turbulent gust had its way with him.  He nearly suffocated before it was over.  They found him squatted on the ground hacking away, spurs faithfully digging into his backside again while he tried to clear his lungs.  The Trail Boss had a good laugh, but realized quickly this was actually serious.  They called an early day, set up camp and gave Hank an extra ration of water to recover with.

Later that evening, Hank moved sullenly into the warm circle of light around the campfire, despondent as he’d ever been.  The others felt a little bad, even the Trail Boss took on some sympathy for him.  It wasn’t that they disliked him, it was just that… well… he didn’t belong out here.

To. cheer him up, someone brought out the guitar, and said, “Hank, sing us a song”.  He picked up the instrument, plucked at it a few times, and then sat down to see what he could conjure up.  As usual, the spurs got him started into the song with a “ki-yi yip yyeeeeeaaaahhhh!” 

But this time, nothing came out.  His voice, wrecked by the dust storm, could not make a peep.  There was just nothing.  He opened his mouth again, and strummed the intro, but the other cowboys were left hanging, waiting for that melodious voice to fill the evening.

Hank was crushed.  He knew that, other than this minor service he provided the crew he was pretty much useless.  Fighting back tears, he dropped the guitar on the ground, turned his back to the fire, and took a few steps into the darkness to hide his shame and grief.  

Now… those cowboys were rough, and they weren’t given to much sentimental stuff, but seeing Hank bereft of his one and only gift suddenly spurred them ( pun intended) to action.  One pulled out a harmonica, another picked up the guitar from where Hank had dropped it, and as a tune evolved from the instruments, the Trail Boss himself started to sing in a gravelly, trail-roughened growl through 30 years of tobacco.  

It was not especially good music.  But there was an earnestness in their old-school trail songs that touched Hank, that brought him back from the edge of utter defeat.  The old codger sang a familiar song, and Hank turned back to the fire with tear-stains running rivulets through his dust-covered face.  

When they got to the chorus, his countenance suddenly lifted in divine inspiration.  As if the words were scripture written upon the wall, he suddenly knew what he had to do.  the cowboys stopped singing as Hank croaked out unintelligibly in exultation.  They couldn’t understand.

In the morning, they awoke to discover that Hank was gone. Everyone puzzled as to what might’ve happened to him, but clearly he had left of his own free will. With nothing else to be done they continued to drive the herd and hope for the best for Hank.  

Weeks later, they arrived at the ranch without further incident, having nearly forgotten Hank.  But when the herd was brought in and secured, and the rancher’s wife had finished setting up for their celebratory dinner, suddenly there was Hank.  In his arms was cradled a Corgi.  He cradled that little pup like it had been handed to him by an Angel of Light.  His voice was healed -as healed as it would ever be anyway.  The Trail Boss, having spent many an hour wondering if his callous treatment had sent Hank over the edge, approached him with relief and hinted the beginnings of an awkward apology.  Hank smiled, gestured to him to stop, and said, “think nothing more of it.  You gave me the answer to life that I was searching for.”

A quizzical look clouded over the grizzled face.  Hank continued, “it was when you sang in my place that last night.  Suddenly everything made perfect sense.  I realized what I had to do from the words of your song.”

Stumped, the old man just looked at him.

“Your song spoke of the things a cowboy must do.  I couldn’t do any of them as a cowboy.  But there was one thing I could do.  I couldn’t herd, I couldn’t rope, i couldn’t shoot, I couldn’t even eat beans.  But there was one thing about being a cowboy I could do”

Unable to contain his curiosity, the Trail Boss finally asked, “and what is that?

Hank held up the Corgi, “ I could get a long little doggie”


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