December 29, 2008

TIME TO LIGHT A SHUCK

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by Stephen Bly


“It’s time to light a shuck, Uncle Avery.”
“I don’t run. I never have. I’m not startin’ now.”
“That’s all noble and good, but this might be a judicious time to consider it.” From
The Lady Who Lingered Too Long

It's the middle of December. The days are short. It's been snowin' off and on for a couple of weeks. That means we’ve got some dark and dreary days up here on the Camas Prairie. Makes me awful thankful for modern lights.

Shadows ruled the indoor dwellings of the Old West. At night kerosene lanterns cast a very dull glow at best. Rooms darkened as soon as the sun began to drop towards the horizon. Even in full daylight, windows were few because of the expense. A bright, well-lit room denoted ultimate luxury. Places like jails especially harbored the ultimate dark, dreary, damp existence.

Many a pioneer wife had to fight the depression of a long, dimly lit winter. Cheyenne, Wyoming, had electric streetlights by 1881. What an amazing invention. But that doesn't mean the whole West followed their lead. Some farmhouses about six miles down a gravel road from us didn't get electricity until 1961.

In the old days, cowboys didn't trail cattle in the heart of winter. But even during the other seasons, night light out on the prairies was a tenuous undertaking. In the early days, cowboys carried unshucked corn in their wagon beds as the principal food for man and beast. Selected shucks graced convenient spots by the fires. When leaving one campfire to go to another, a cowboy didn’t want the vulnerability of blindness from his own brilliant fire as he faced toward pitch-black wilderness. To penetrate the dark and give his eyes a chance to get accustomed, he’d light the tip of one of the whole corn shucks and lift it high above his head. The blaze lasted a minute, just long enough to get safely on down the road.

Not at all as convenient as a modern flashlight. But those old habits did add color to the language. When a departing hombre lit a shuck, he had to leave quickly or its light would be wasted. So, to “light a shuck” came to mean leaving a place in a hurry. "It's time to light shuck” meant. . .I've got to get out of here in a hurry.

The vocabulary of the west was colorful. I don't think we really have anything to take its place. A couple months ago a door-to-door vacuum salesman camped on our front porch. I wasn't about to let him in, so he began his entire spiel on the concrete step. I was gettin' a tad perturbed, when he paused long enough to say, "What do you think about that?" I mumbled, “It’s about time for you to light a shuck." He informed me his company didn’t allow smoking on the job. That's too bad. He could have lit his shuck on the heat steamin' from the back of my neck. Come to think of it. . .I've got to say one thing for these short days in the cold mountain winters, they do keep the salesmen away.

But knowin' when to leave is a learned skill. I reckon there are times when folks hoped I'd quit tellin' some western windy and hit the trail. Maybe we should all keep a small pile of shuck by the front door. When guests linger too long, we could just nod toward the shuck pile.

Just a thought, the kind of thing that comes to mind after long, dreary days in the cabin.

On the trail,
Stephen Bly


COWBOY CHRISTMAS CONTEST:

What's the question that Hap Bowman's been asking up and down the Rio Grande and all over the western states?

Find the answer at one of our websites: http://www.blybooks.com/ or http://www.onestepovertheborder.com/. Record your reply by clicking on the "Comments" button below and your name will be included in a drawing to win a free autographed book of your choice from the Bly Bookstore.

30 comments:

Molly Noble Bull said...

Dear Steve,
As the daughter and granddaughter of ranch managers from Southern Texas, I plan to go to you website and read your stuff as soon as I finish writing this message. Wish I could enter the contest and maybe win a copy of one of your books, but since I also write articles here at Bustles and Spurs, I better not.
Molly
Who just gave birth to a baby book video -- one slot below.

Tina Dee Books said...

Great article, Steve!

Thanks for the terrific info and bringing the old west alive for me. Love it!

Tina Dee

Stephen and Janet Bly said...

Molly: Thanks for the note and reading my article. Enjoyed reading yours too. Be glad to do a book swap with you. We've done that with other authors.
On the trail,
Steve

Stephen and Janet Bly said...

Hey, Tina! Thanks for the note. . .and for moderating this blog for us all!
On the trail,
Steve

Anonymous said...

Duh. "Have you seen my snow shovel?"

What do I win? : )

Karesue said...

The answer is "Have you seen my Juanita?"

A Great book, just like all the others!

Karesue

Anonymous said...

Hi Steve,
I enjoyed reading your blog. I never knew that before.
Here is the answer to your contest,
"Have you seen my Juanita?"
Have a happy New Year.
Blessings, Wanda
wandaelaine [at] gmail [dot] com

louisejgaa said...

Steve and Janet,
I probably don't qualify for your contest but this question has been before my eyes everywhere I go for over a year. It is "Have you seen my Juanita?" Love the book!

Jan Grueter
louisejgaa

Anonymous said...

The answer is "Have you seen My Juanita?" The book was great. My husband and daughter are hooked on your books, and my husband is not much of a reader.

Mary Woolems

Faith said...

Hmmm...that would have to be "Have You Seen My Juanita?"

I've got that exact saying on a bumperstick that I received in the mail...wonder where I got that from? :)

Great book, BTW.

Blessings,

Faith

Stephen and Janet Bly said...

Dear Anonymous: Sorry, you're wrong--no prize! But try again.
On the trail,
Steve

Stephen and Janet Bly said...

Dear KareSue: Thanks for entering the contest. You're name's in the cowboy hat.

On the trail,
Steve

Stephen and Janet Bly said...

Dear Wanda: Thanks much for your note. Your name's in the hat.

On the trail,
Steve

Stephen and Janet Bly said...

Dear Jan G: Thanks for taking the time to post to this blog. Hey, you get a legitimate entry too.

On the trail,
The Trail Boss

Stephen and Janet Bly said...

Dear Mary: Thanks much for the note. Got your name in the hat too.

On the trail,
Steve

Stephen and Janet Bly said...

Hey, Faith: Thanks for stopping by. Got your name included in the old cowboy hat drawing.

On the trail,
Steve

AJ said...

The answer is "Have you seen My Juanita?" Now I want to get the book.

ajhawke[at]aol[dot]com

brendalottakamaggiebrendan said...

What an enjoyable post! I found myself chuckling out loud at your brand of humor! I'm sure I can use this shuck info at some point in my 3rd novel that I'm writing. I like the cabin in the snow picture, too! Thanks for a fun read.

Sylvia Miller said...

The question that Hap Bowman asks is, "Have you seen my Juanita?"

My sister has read several books by you, but the only ones I have read so far are the Austin-Stoner Files series. They were very fast-paced and interesting!

Stephen and Janet Bly said...

Greetings, Brenda/Maggie: Thanks for the note. Appreciate the comments.

On the trail,
Steve

Stephen and Janet Bly said...

Hey, AJ: Thanks for stopping by. I'm putting your name down right now to enter the drawing.

On the trail,
Steve

Stephen and Janet Bly said...

Greetings, Sylvia: Glad you enjoyed the Austin-Stoner series. I really enjoyed writing those stories about Lynda Dawn and Brady. Your name's in the cowboy hat.
On the trail,
Steve

Cleda said...

Thanks for the updates through feedblitz and this wonderful information....

The question is "Have you seen my Juanita" and I have sent for the search kit...

and have bookmarked your websites...

have a wonderful week and ending days of 2008....

cedson76255(at)yahoo(dot)com

Ree said...

Have you seen my Junita?
brillianceyan[at]yahoo[dot]com

jemilyea said...

The answer is "Have you seen my Juanita?" I read that book when it first came out. I make sure my public library buys all your books! My favorite of your many series is the Fortunes of the Black Hills series. I like the way you tied in the Homestead series and mentioned Miss Fontenot.

Stephen and Janet Bly said...

Greetings, Jemilyea, Ree, and Cleda: I'm putting your names in my hat for the drawing. Thanks for your notes and participation.

On the trail,
Steve

Connie Sue said...

Good ole Hap was determined and asked "Have you seen my Juanita?". What a journey he had in looking for the woman of his dreams. what a guy to be that determined!!! Blessings, Connie Sue

Stephen and Janet Bly said...

ATTENTION, EVERYONE! THE WINNER OF THE DRAWING AMONG ALL THOSE WHO ANSWERED WITH THE RIGHT QUESTION, "HAVE YOU SEEN MY JUANITA?" IS . . . (drum roll) . . .MARY WOOLEMS! CONGRATULATIONS, MARY! SEND US YOUR MAILING ADDRESS AND CHOICE OF BLY BOOK YOU'D LIKE, AND WE'LL SEND IT YOUR WAY ASAP!

On the trail,
Steve & Janet
www.BlyBooks.com

Stephen and Janet Bly said...

Hey, Connie Sue! Thanks for stopping by. Yep, that Hap is quite a guy.

On the trail,
Steve

Stephen and Janet Bly said...

From Steve: Thought I'd post this note I received on my regular e-mail:

I couldn't find a place that asked for comments but I believe the answer is "Have you seen my Juanita?"
I don't know I haven't had the privilege of reading that one yet. I just finished Sweet Carolina. Had me hooked by the second page. Now I just have to read the next two. The Land Tamers look like a great book can't wait until it comes out.

Well keep riding the trail in all this snow.
Kathryn Mackey