Next week, the annual Durango Cowboy Poetry Gathering will roll into Durango, including the cowboy parade, this year to be led by members of longtime local ranching family the Cugninis.
Also featured will be singer Trinity Seely and her band, who will take the stage Thursday night at Henry Strater Theatre.
Along with being a talented musician, Seely is also a working rancher – walking the walk as well as talking the talk.
She grew up in British Columbia, Canada, on a fishing-dude resort that her family owned and operated. It was a childhood she said she adored, and it was during her childhood that her love for music was born.
“Of course, we were pretty much the wilderness family, we lived three hours from town and just grew up on the back of a horse. That’s always been my passion, I’m so lucky for that in my life,” she said. “We had a little family band growing up: My mom played the guitar and sang, and my dad played the bass, and then all of my sisters and I would sing, and that’s where the love of music came in.”
She ended up attending school in Ojai, California, and later, when she married, Seely and her husband trained horses for a bit, and they have spent most of the last 15 years working on ranches across the Northwest.
“We’ve worked in Utah, Wyoming, Nebraska and Montana, and just really living the cowboy life and raising our kids on these ranches and teaching the important values and lessons that lifestyle offers,” she said.
Oh, and she’s also a working musician.
“This works out great – you know, when people ask, ‘Where do you get your inspiration for your songs?’ And that’s the easy part because it’s just been a part of my daily life,’ she said. “There have so many just amazing days that we’ve had; you’re just constantly writing in your head and the minute you get home, you just want to write it all down. And that’s how these stories are born. All of them kind of have a place in my heart from a personal standpoint.”
And, Seely said, as a woman, she gets to add a feminine voice into the mix.
“I get to offer a different perspective, I think, of this lifestyle, being from the woman’s perspective,” Seely said. “I’ve had years where I’ve been raising my kids and I haven’t been able to help out as much, to more recently, the last seven years, I’ve been horseback every day with the rest of the cowboy crew, and usually I am the only woman. I’ve had some experiences that I’m so grateful to be able to share. It’s pretty neat. I enjoy every minute of it.”
One of Seely’s favorite stories, she said, also turned into a song called “Kitchen Window Cowboy,” written when her youngest son was a baby.
“At that time, we were working on a ranch in Wyoming, and I could look out our window over Devil’s Gate, and we lived at the base of the Rattlesnake Pass and our kids went to the Poison Spider School. It was an amazing place full of history,” she said. “I’m sitting at this window in our house, and I’m looking out over the cowboy crew and they’re gathering all the cows and calves because it was time to wean and ship the calves, and I was sitting there just crying because I had this little baby and I couldn’t be outside and I wanted to be, and I was really just feeling sorry for myself.”
Just at that moment, she said, a friend sent her an email by a woman named Jan Wood, who’s now a close friend. The poem in the email was titled “A Kitchen Window Cowboy,” and it just talked about everything Seely was feeling in that moment.
“I thought, ‘Oh my gosh, there are people that understand what I’m going through.’ So I called Jan and we became fast friends, and after talking with her, we collaborated on this song. ... It’s just pretty close to home,” she said. “That was a big moment for me as an artist, realizing that we all have opportunities to really support each other as women, and mothers and cow women and stewards of the land. Everything that we’re doing, we have these wonderful opportunities to support each other and just this camaraderie is more than we can even comprehend.”
For Seely, that camaraderie also extends to cowboy gatherings, which she said are an important part of preserving – and celebrating – cowboy heritage.
“For me – and I don’t want to speak for everybody, of course – we live in a day and age where there’s been this big separation from our heritage and a sense of place,” she said. “And so when we all gather and share stories, and a lot of them are original from this day and age, which is pretty special, but a lot are coming from generations ago when, ‘OK, this was my grandpa’s ranch’ or, ‘That is a part of our family’s history and so that means that’s part of who I am.’
“I think that there’s just a part of us that longs for that sense of place and to belong to a genre, just as cowboy music and poetry is all about tradition and values and things that are important,” she said. “I think that’s what it is: It’s important for all of us to remember that this is not a dying breed as you hear people say; this is something that we have a responsibility to keep alive because it is very much alive, you just can’t see them from the road – you’ve got to come to the gatherings and experience it.”