As quickly as a game of telephone goes awry, so must go other forms of storytelling, subject to the listener’s interpretation, bias and focus. And once the story is converted by another, it loses its impact, and in the retelling either swells or diminishes in strength, the truth falling somewhere in the middle, if we’re lucky.
Such is the premise behind a series of presentations during this year’s Trailing of the Sheep Festival, gatherings of people bringing their own stories or serving as ambassadors for stories that need unfiltered retelling lest time and circumstance render them nothing more than campfire fodder.
Photojournalist Andrea Scott is representing the dwindling buckaroo culture, collecting stories from the field, where many a cowboy and cowgirl toil away the days with no time or inclination to sit down and chat.
Diane Josephy Peavey, a writer who works on the Flat Top Sheep Ranch in Carey beside her husband, John Peavey, has put out the call to similar women to come forth and share. It started with an oversold get-together at Carol’s Dollar Mountain Lodge last year, and this year will be a retrospective as well as a collecting at nexStage Theatre on Friday, Oct. 12, for “An Evening with Women Writing and Living in the West” which will include a film of last year’s speakers.
“The faster things change,” Peavey said, “it always begs the basic question, ‘If we don’t tell it, who will? And if we leave it to interpretation, will it be told well?”
Peavey referred to last year’s event as “priming the pump” and said courage was the resounding descriptor thrown around afterward.
“It was extraordinary,” she said. “It was powerful and so moving. Women came up to me saying, ‘I’ve never told that story before and I didn’t want it to die with me.’”
Once such story was of a woman who, left behind at 15 when most of the men left for World War II and caring for an 86-year-old father wounded in World War I, took over the sheep operation. She charged out into the hills with her dogs, guns and her horse and 3,000 sheep for company, explaining only, “My father never gave us more than we could handle.”
Local horsewoman Katie Breckenridge explained that despite her knowledge, it was still a huge fight to take over a portion of her family legacy, simply because she was female.
The 12-minute film is to highlight the power of that day, and encourage similar sharing this year, but in a more intimate setting.
“We must learn these stories before we attempt to leave our own marks on the land,” Peavey said. “A ranch is one of the few remaining family traditions where generations can work together. All of this is threatened today. What we found last year is that there were so many stories locked in these women’s hearts that they thought no one would ever care to know. But we have to hear them before it’s too late.”
There are a number of events slated for this week of Trailing of the Sheep which encourage the telling of and listening to stories from around the West.
First up: Photojournalist Andrea Scott presents “The Idaho Buckaroo Project.”
About what: In parts of rural Idaho, a traditional way of life continues as it has for centuries. This is the world of the “buckaroos” of the Great Basin, who ride, dress and adorn their horses much as the first Mexican vaqueros did more than 300 years ago. Scott, an Idaho native who grew up on a large cattle ranch, says her mission is to “promote understanding and preserve the buckaroo way of life.”
Listen: Scott and some of her artist friends will present at the Hailey Public Library on Wednesday, Oct. 10, from 3:30-6 p.m. Demonstrations include horsehair ropes and other buckaroo gear such as bits, spurs, horsehair hitching, gathering fleece, wool spinning and making wool saddle blankets.
Learn more and give support: On Thursday, Oct. 11, from 5:30-7 p.m., the Sun Valley Center for the Arts in Hailey will display Scott’s exhibition, which includes photographs and essays and Scott herself. Bits and spurs, hand-woven saddle blankets and other handmade horse gear crafted by buckaroos will be on display and for sale to benefit the project and the culture. Portland-based singer-songwriter Jill Miller will provide scene-setting live music, and refreshments will be served. Visit ascpttwesternphotography.com for more on the project. The Center is at Second Avenue and Pine Street in Hailey. Admission is free.
More than campfire tales: On Friday, Oct. 12, from 7:30-9 p.m., is “An Evening with Women Writing and Living in the West Sheep Tales Gathering,” at nexStage Theatre, 120 S. Main St. in Ketchum. Children are free and adults are $15 whether online at www.trailingofthesheep.org or at the door.