from "Wrangling with Rodeo"
In the northern Rockies of Washington State, Ice Age floods carved channeled scablands some fifteen thousand years ago, right at the spot where I sit with my son and wait for the Cheney Rodeo to start. The show's sponsor—U.S. Smokeless Tobacco, the owner of Copenhagen and Skoal—has emblazoned its name on the glossy programs and the arena banners.
Reed and I perch on bleachers, whose paint is flaking from decades of hot sun. The coarse slats promise a rash if we lean back. Dressed in sandals, shorts, ball caps and t-shirts, we feel out of place—and we are. Most everyone else wears cowboy hats. The announcer in his tower speaks as if praying for the gathered multitude. He names the United States "the greatest nation on God's green earth." Country music booms at top volume, shuddering the steel frames beneath our feet.
A radio hit by Toby Keith is playing, a militant threat of a song entitled "Courtesy of the Red, White and Blue." Its lyrics reference a roster of enemy nations. "Hey, Uncle Sam put your name at the top of his list, / and the Statue of Liberty started shaking her fist." The singer is giving a hit list, a pantheon of leaders of foreign nations soon to fall. This is a song of vengeance for the attacks on the World Trade Center and Pentagon. "Man, we lit up your world like the Fourth of July," the belligerent chorus roars. "It's gonna feel like the whole world is raining down on you, / courtesy of the Red, White and Blue!"
The sport of rodeo is kicking and very much alive in my bioregion. Ropers, riders, queens, and clowns are thrashing their limbs and stirring up dust in arena matches that pit humans against much-larger mammals. This pastime, this sport, gratifies a throwback urge to subdue enormous beasts.
My son hunkers between my legs, his eyes sheltering from the sun. My hands cover his ears in a pathetic attempt to block out the heavy music that is rattling the stands. He shifts, his seat on the bleachers scratchy. It is a hot day.
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Paul Lindholdt is a professor of English at Eastern Washington University. He has collaborated on the books Cascadia Wild: Protecting an International Ecosystem; The Canoe and the Saddle: A Critical Edition; John Josselyn, Colonial Traveler: A Critical Edition of "Two Voyages to New-England"; and Holding Common Ground: The Individual and Public Lands in the American West. The essay "Wrangling with Rodeo" is from In Earshot of Water (University of Iowa Press 2011).
Established in 1969 and housed in the historic Kuhl House, the oldest house still standing in Iowa City, the University of Iowa Press publishes scholarly books and a range of titles for general readers. As the only university press in the state, it is dedicated in part to preserving the literature, history, culture, wildlife, and natural areas of the region.
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