The act of tuning in to a world where all is new, where nothing is expected and where no preconceived notions of where you are going is a gift for the young. As we age, it is only the lucky who get a chance to visit this world and then only the luckiest of the lucky who are able to find a way to share it with others. These few are called artists.
Like a new song, the phone call came right out of the deep blue sky. The caller was a representative from a well known land trust in the western part of the state.
“We’d love it if you could play for our donors this summer. You’d be in a tent that we’ll set up out on a ranch overlooking the Wind River Range and we’d like for you to play some western dance music. This crowd really likes to dance!”
Well, I thought to myself, if any one-man band can get a bunch of boots to move maybe that’d be a band I could be in.
When the time rolled around, I loaded up for a couple days out and took off for the eight-hour run along the Great Divide, a country of wide open opposites where charging rivers lie against sleeping deserts, invisible hot winds scream at snow capped mountain intruders, and loud living people quietly keep to themselves as if the big country might try to erase them if they become too obvious.
When I arrived it was early evening. The west was on fire and the haze of smoke season was painting my thoughts a watercolor study of washed out light. I found the site of the picnic, backed in, set up my sound equipment and waited.
The crowd began to trickle in and I could see at once that many of them were observers of, rather than participants in, what they imagined to be the western life. Odd looking off the shelf hats were rolled up at extreme angles on top of forced smiles and expensive dress boots showed too much fancy top and not enough working bottom. I thought of how these folks had insulated themselves from the reality they were trying so hard to be a part of. I may not know much, I thought, but natural western dancers these folks were not.
I picked up my guitar and did all that I could do to get those boots moving. I used old country, new country, western Americana and swing. I pulled against them with everything I had but all I was able to raise was a two-stepping couple from a table of folks sitting in the front. They seemed to be a family and it appeared as if they worked hard for their living — probably for some of the high rollers who were seated at the tables around them.
As I was getting ready to call it a night I noticed a little girl of about three sitting at that front table and watching me closely.
Standing up from her chair, she took a couple of steps towards me and stomped her red party shoes twice, left and right. I answered her with my guitar. She laughed. I laughed. She took a few running steps closer to me and stomped again in a distinct rhythm, this time bent over at the waist and staring down at the floor between her shoes. Once again, I answered her.
“Hi! What’s your name?”, I asked when she had come up for air.
I looked at her shiny red shoes, then back into her laughing three year old eyes.
“Ruby”, I agreed.
With that, we fell together into a far away place. I played around the edges, chasing something close to an Irish slip jig and taking my direction from those red shoes. As they tapped, slid, and stomped against the plywood floor so went my fingers across the ebony fingerboard.
I looked up and was astonished to see what seemed like the entire population of that tent erupting into dance. Together, in our creation, we had become lost in a moment that had created something bigger than us. There were big cheers for Ruby, for me, and for the place where she had taken us.
And then, much as it had begun, it all came to an end. Ruby returned to her life as a ranch family’s little girl and my guitar went back in to its silent case.
I left with the sound of the wind rolling out behind me, into a distance that was the only defining detail in a country that runs on forever. And the beat of the road was the flashing of shiny red shoes.
By Dave Munsick