The Long Trail: My Life in the West
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A Canadian icon on his longstanding love of the West and his life in "one of the last true cowboy countries on either side of the border."
"I live on a ranch about six miles east of the town of Longview and the old Cowboy Trail in the foothills of the Rockies. On a perfect day, like today, I can't imagine being anywhere else in the world. Of course, I'm not going to say there aren't those other days when you think, 'What am I doing here?' It's beautiful country and it can be brutally tough as well." —Ian Tyson
Ian Tyson's journey to the West began in the unlikely city of Victoria, BC, where he rode his dad's horses on the weekends and met cowboys in the pages of Will James's books, and eventually followed that cowboy dream to rodeo competition. Laid up after breaking a leg, he learned the guitar, and drifted east, becoming a key songwriter and performer in the folk revival movement. But the West always beckoned, and when his marriage to his partner and collaborator Sylvia broke up and the music scene threatened to grind him down, he retreated to a ranch and work with cutting horses. Soon, he'd bought a ranch in Alberta and found a new voice as the renowned Western Revival singer-songwriter and horseman he is today. This book is Ian's reflection on that journey...
From the Hardcover edition.
Copyright © 2010 Four Strong Winds All rights reserved under International and Pan-American Copyright Conventions. No part of this book may be reproduced in any form or by any electronic or mechanical means, including information storage and retrieval systems, without permission in writing from the publisher, except by a reviewer, who may quote brief passages in a review. Published in 2010 by Random House Canada, a division of Random House of Canada Limited, Toronto. Distributed in Canada by Random House of Canada Limited.
Truth be told, I didn’t get Dylan at first. I didn’t think he was that great a guitar player and I thought he was a terrible harmonica player. It took me quite a while to realize he was a great player — his style was simple yet powerful. When he started cranking out all those songs, you stood there amazed. But he was just one of the gang at first. He ran with Suze Rotolo, a good friend of Sylvia’s. In her memoir A Freewheelin’ Time, Suze claims I was responsible for turning Dylan onto pot. I don’t remember the details, but it may be true.
I’ve always said it’s hard to be a cowboy in Ontario, and it’s true. Lots of guys try it, but it lacks authenticity somehow. Ultimately I couldn’t relate to the life and culture there. It’s perfect for some people, but not for me. Besides, I was having trouble with a neighbour who had opened a landfill right beside my place at a time when hardly any environmental laws were enforced in the area. A wannabe cowboy friend of mine, Frank Watts, worked as an on-again, off-again realtor. “I think we can sell him your place if you want,” he told me.
It sounds strange, but I never really knew my mother. She wasn’t an extrovert by any means — she kept her thoughts and feelings pretty much to herself. She had four siblings, a couple of whom were alcoholics, and as a result my mom didn’t drink. Unlike my dad, she was pretty severe; she didn’t approve of “loose morals” at all. She was always there for me over the years, but poor Mother lived a pretty dour life. She had fully bought into Presbyterian doctrine, and at Christmas and Easter she’d drag Jean and me to St.
She eventually came off, but she darn near got him rode. When we had our last big calf branding at the ranch in the mid-1990s, down in the willows east of the stone house, Adelita was riding a little horse called Spinner. I’d bought him in Wyoming from the Miller Ranch. He was a softhearted little guy, a real child’s horse, and he gave her his whole heart and soul. But at the branding, Spinner got spooked and came apart on her. This time she rode him. Any other person probably would have fallen off, but Adelita hung on as he bucked around.