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Badger Clark's "The Christmas Trail"

While cowboy poetry is a genuinely American genre, cowboys worldwide share the same traditions & values of living close to nature & to God.

Badger Clark

Badger Clark

Introduction and Text of "The Christmas Trail"

Badger Clark's poem, "The Christmas Trail," consists of five stanzas, each with the rime-scheme ABABCDDED. It employs the cowboy dialect of losing the final "g" on present participles and uses "hawse" for horse and "mebbe" for maybe. The cowboy charm that infuses all cowboy poetry is lushly on display in this Christmas poem.

(Please note: The spelling, "rhyme," was introduced into English by Dr. Samuel Johnson through an etymological error. For my explanation for using only the original form, please see "Rime vs Rhyme: An Unfortunate Error.")

The Christmas Trail

The wind is blowin' cold down the mountain tips of snow
And 'cross the ranges layin' brown and dead;
It's cryin' through the valley trees that wear the mistletoe
And mournin' with the gray clouds overhead.
Yes it's sweet with the beat of my little hawse's feet
And I whistle like the air was warm and blue
For I'm ridin' up the Christmas trail to you,
Old folks,
I'm a-ridin' up the Christmas trail to you.

Oh, mebbe it was good when the whinny of the Spring
Had weedled me to hoppin' of the bars.
And livin' in the shadow of a sailin' buzzard's wing
And sleepin' underneath a roof of stars.
But the bright campfire light only dances for a night,
While the home-fire burns forever clear and true,
So 'round the year I circle back to you,
Old folks,
'Round the rovin' year I circle back to you.

Oh, mebbe it was good when the reckless Summer sun
Had shot a charge of fire through my veins,
And I milled around the whiskey and the fightin' and fun
'Mong the mav'ricks drifted from the plains.
Ay, the pot bubbled hot, while you reckoned I'd forgot,
And the devil smacked the young blood in his stew,
Yet I'm lovin' every mile that's nearer you,
Good folks,
Lovin' every blessed mile that's nearer you.

Oh, mebbe it was good at the roundup in the Fall,
When the clouds of bawlin' dust before us ran,
And the pride of rope and saddle was a-drivin' of us all
To stretch of nerve and muscle, man and man.
But the pride sort of died when the man got weary eyed;
'Twas a sleepy boy that rode the nightguard through,
And he dreamed himself along a trail to you,
Old folks,
Dreamed himself along a happy trail to you.

The coyote's Winter howl cuts the dusk behind the hill,
But the ranch's shinin' window I kin see,
And though I don't deserve it and, I reckon, never will,
There'll be room beside the fire kep' for me.
Skimp my plate 'cause I'm late. Let me hit the old kid gait,
For tonight I'm stumblin' tired of the new
And I'm ridin' up the Christmas trail to you,
Old folks,
I'm a-ridin' up the Christmas trail to you.

Reading of "The Christmas Trail"

Commentary

Badger Clark's poem has become a classic in cowboy poetry, dramatizing the cowboy's exploits through each season, while enjoying his journey home for Christmas.

First Stanza: Happy, Going Home for Christmas

The wind is blowin' cold down the mountain tips of snow
And 'cross the ranges layin' brown and dead;
It's cryin' through the valley trees that wear the mistletoe
And mournin' with the gray clouds overhead.
Yes it's sweet with the beat of my little hawse's feet
And I whistle like the air was warm and blue
For I'm ridin' up the Christmas trail to you,
Old folks,
I'm a-ridin' up the Christmas trail to you.

The speaker describes the sights he encounters as he is "ridin' up the Christmas trail to you, / Old folks, / I'm a-ridin' up the Christmas trail to you." He first mentions the wind that is "blowin' cold," and he sees the tops of the mountain are snow-capped.

The flat land looks winter-brown with the dead plants, but the trees in the valley wear the mistletoe, and he is in a good mood "whistl[ing]" a tune as if it were spring weather.

The rider is happy to be going home for Christmas to his family, which he calls "Old folks" in the refrain of each stanza. The trail he usually takes to reach home he has named the Christmas trail because it is a special ride heralding a happy reunion.

Second Stanza: Reminiscing on the Ride

Oh, mebbe it was good when the whinny of the Spring
Had weedled me to hoppin' of the bars.
And livin' in the shadow of a sailin' buzzard's wing
And sleepin' underneath a roof of stars.
But the bright campfire light only dances for a night,
While the home-fire burns forever clear and true,
So 'round the year I circle back to you,
Old folks,
'Round the rovin' year I circle back to you.

The speaker then reminisces as he rides, thinking back to what he did in spring: bar-hopping and camping outdoors under a roof of stars. But his journey home reminds him that his campfire light only dances for a night.

The home-fires are kept burning always, and always welcoming the adventurer back to their love and stability.

The cowboy/speaker therefore repeats his slightly varied refrain: "So 'round the year I circle back to you, / Old folks, / 'Round the rovin' year I circle back to you."

Third Stanza: Thinking Back on Summer

Oh, mebbe it was good when the reckless Summer sun
Had shot a charge of fire through my veins,
And I milled around the whiskey and the fightin' and fun
'Mong the mav'ricks drifted from the plains.
Ay, the pot bubbled hot, while you reckoned I'd forgot,
And the devil smacked the young blood in his stew,
Yet I'm lovin' every mile that's nearer you,
Good folks,
Lovin' every blessed mile that's nearer you.

The speaker then recalls his summer exploits of "fightin' and fun" among the wild horse that drifted from the plains, He again enjoyed his time around the campfires, eating hot stew cooked out of doors.

But again the cowboy comes back to the present journey back home, and this time he avers that he is "lovin' every mile" that brings him back to the "Good folks," who wait for him at home.

Fourth Stanza: Good Times During Autumn

Oh, mebbe it was good at the roundup in the Fall,
When the clouds of bawlin' dust before us ran,
And the pride of rope and saddle was a-drivin' of us all
To stretch of nerve and muscle, man and man.
But the pride sort of died when the man got weary eyed;
'Twas a sleepy boy that rode the nightguard through,
And he dreamed himself along a trail to you,
Old folks,
Dreamed himself along a happy trail to you.

The cowboy/speaker then describes the good times he had at the roundup in the Fall. He felt a burst of pride to be able to participate in such a physically challenging event, but he later realized after becoming weary eyed that he would be glad to get back home to rest from such hard physical labor.

Thus, the speaker dreamed himself along "a trail to you, / Old folks, / Dreamed himself along a happy trail to you."

Fifth Stanza: Finally, a Grateful for the Warm Home

The coyote's Winter howl cuts the dusk behind the hill,
But the ranch's shinin' window I kin see,
And though I don't deserve it and, I reckon, never will,
There'll be room beside the fire kep' for me.
Skimp my plate 'cause I'm late. Let me hit the old kid gait,
For tonight I'm stumblin' tired of the new
And I'm ridin' up the Christmas trail to you,
Old folks,
I'm a-ridin' up the Christmas trail to you.

Now it is winter and he approaching his family home. The cowboy colorfully describes the scene: "the coyote's Winter howl cuts the dusk behind the hill, / But the ranch's shinin' window I kin see."

The returning cowboy then humbly claims that he does not deserve the warmth that awaits him, but he will be very grateful to receive it.

Having grown tired of new adventures, at least for a while, he is happy to be "ridin' up the Christmas trail to you, / Old folks, / I'm a-ridin' up the Christmas trail to you."

Ernie Sites singing "The Christmas Trail"

© 2015 Linda Sue Grimes

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