Scott Nelson

"Wilbur's Gift"

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© 2000, Scott Nelson

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It's been said that a picture is worth a thousand words...we know many that are worthy of a poem or a song.  In Art Spur, we invite poets and songwriters to let selections of Western art inspire their poetry and songs.

Our twenty-eighth piece offered to "spur" the imagination is the work of North Dakota artist and rancher Scott Nelson. The piece is from North Dakota rancher, writer, and poet Rodney Nelson's (no relation) book, Wilbur's Christmas Gift, a heartwarming book-length poem, the story of a cowboy and his gift to the children of a rural country school.

 
© 2000, Scott Nelson; this image should not be reposted or reproduced without permission; www.scottnelsonart.com
Image from Wilbur's Christmas Gift (2000) by Rodney Nelson
Acrylic wash
"Wilbur's Gift"
 

Scott Nelson comments:

Some years ago Rodney Nelson (we share the same last name but are not related) came driving up our road for a visit. Rodney is a pretty famous person in these parts, he's about as close to a celebrity around here as one can get. I think he even was on the old Johnny Carson show one time. Waylon Jennings and Jessi Colter drove by the place years ago, but they were running late for somewhere and didn't have time to stop.

Rodney said he had a poem that he wanted illustrated and someone told him I may be able to fill the bill. I told Rod I'd give it a try but as luck would have it we were just getting into haying season and Rod wanted the pictures done as soon as possible. He wanted to get it printed by the fall and in time for the Christmas season. It wasn't an exceptional hay crop that summer so I was able to juggle haying and doing the pictures. I would get up about 2AM, get the coffee going, and work on pictures for several hours before I had to go out and bale. Occasionally we would get some rain and in that case I could work on the pictures most of the morning.

I sure liked the story Wilbur's Christmas Gift and it was easy to do the illustrations because with every line of the poem, the pictures would pop in my head. If Rod had come to me this past summer with the double bumper hay crop I had, I would have had to turn him down...
continued below, along with Rodney Nelson's comments



Art Spur subjects are meant to inspire poetry and songs; we look for poems and songs inspired by the piece, not necessarily for a literal description of the image or its subject. 

Submissions from all were welcome through Monday, December 19, 2011. Submissions are now closed.  

Find the selected poems below.

About Scott Nelson
excerpted from www.scottnelsonart.com

Scott Nelson is a small farmer/rancher, living just a few miles north of the Cannonball river and Standing Rock Indian Reservation in southwest North Dakota. He lives on the farm homesteaded by his grandfather in 1908 with his wife and two children.

Scott is a self-taught artist; he started drawing as a small child as soon as he learned to hold a pencil. Scott works with pen and ink, water color, acrylic wash, and oils. His subjects are mostly Western, contemporary and historical. Scott has illustrated several books and has been published in a number of magazines. He has contributed artwork to the North Dakota Cowboy Hall of Fame Chronicle.

Several years ago, out of a deep respect for the World War Two generation and a lifelong interest in WWII aircraft, Scott started interviewing veteran aviators and illustrating their stories on canvas. As of the spring of 2007 Scott completed 13 large oil paintings and a number of smaller watercolors. The paintings are all based on real events occurring during the war. The veterans inspect the finished painting and suggest if there need to be any changes. When the painting meets their satisfaction, they sign the painting to authenticate it. These paintings have been donated to the Dakota Territory Air Museum in Minot, North Dakota, where they can be seen on display.

Several of these original paintings were on display in conjunction with the North Dakota WWII Exhibit at the North Dakota Heritage Center in Bismarck.

See our feature here for more about Scott Nelson, which includes more examples of his art. Visit his web site, www.scottnelsonart.com.

If you enjoy features like Art Spur, please support the BAR-D.

 

 

 


  Scott Nelson comments:

Some years ago Rodney Nelson (we share the same last name but are not related) came driving up our road for a visit. Rodney is a pretty famous person in these parts, he's about as close to a celebrity around here as one can get. I think he even was on the old Johnny Carson show one time. Waylon Jennings and Jessi Colter drove by the place years ago, but they were running late for somewhere and didn't have time to stop.

Rodney said he had a poem that he wanted illustrated and someone told him I may be able to fill the bill. I told Rod I'd give it a try but as luck would have it we were just getting into haying season and Rod wanted the pictures done as soon as possible. He wanted to get it printed by the fall and in time for the Christmas season. It wasn't an exceptional hay crop that summer so I was able to juggle haying and doing the pictures. I would get up about 2AM, get the coffee going, and work on pictures for several hours before I had to go out and bale. Occasionally we would get some rain and in that case I could work on the pictures most of the morning.

I sure liked the story Wilbur's Christmas Gift and it was easy to do the illustrations because with every line of the poem, the pictures would pop in my head. If Rod had come to me this past summer with the double bumper hay crop I had, I would have had to turn him down.

Rod had the book printed, a nice professionally bound, hardcover book that he had to make a visit to the banker to have done. I think Rod told the banker he needed the money to buy a new tractor or maybe some bred cows. I'm sure the banker would never have gave him the funds if he knew it was for a self-published book.

As it turned out the book was a phenomenal success and flew off the shelves in the manner of the Cabbage Patch doll or Beanie Baby when they were popular. Several older ladies were once seen fighting over one when supplies of the book got low.

The books were all gone several weeks before Christmas and left those who wanted the book in a desperate situation. Books showed up on eBay and went for ten times the original price.

I became somewhat of a minor celebrity and people would drive for many miles out to our place so I could sign their book and draw a small sketch on the flyleaf.

My fame quickly passed and now things are back to normal, spending my time breaking horses and following cows around.



Rodney Nelson comments:

I wrote Wilbur's Christmas Gift one day when I needed to write something for my daughter Annika to recite at a big Christmas show. I sat in a chair all day long as the story swirled in my mind. 

When I was done I thought of a wonderful little book I had read, A Cup of Christmas Tea...I thought then and there I should have someone illustrate my poem and make it into a book. 

I really liked Scott's drawings and for the first time knew exactly what Wilbur looked like. 

Scott is something like Wilbur: gentle, kind, and extremely modest. My favorite drawing is Wilbur standing with his hands at his side when he is getting his hugs.  Scott wouldn't know how to take a hug either. 


© 2000, Scott Nelson; this image should not be reposted or reproduced without permission;
 www.scottnelsonart.com; image from Wilbur's Gift (2000) by Rodney Nelson
 

It hardly seemed like Christmas
with the prairie brown and bare,
smoke from the country schoolhouse
hung lazy in the air
....

....the first stanza of Rodney Nelson's  Wilbur's Christmas Gift


Find more about Rodney Nelson and Wilbur's Christmas Gift in our feature here.

 


 


© 2000, Scott Nelson; this image should not be reposted or reproduced without permission; www.scottnelsonart.com
Image from Wilbur's Christmas Gift (2000) by Rodney Nelson
Acrylic wash
"Wilbur's Gift"
 

Poems


Ain't Nothin' Quite So Lonely
by Bette Wolf Duncan of Iowa

 
Ranch Country Christmas by Ken Cook of South Dakota

McGroot and the Kid by S.D. Matley of Washington
A Good Christmas Deed by Jean Mathisen of Wyoming
Our Christmas Tree by Joyce Johnson of Washington
A Tree for Toby by Marleen Bussma of Utah
The Christmas Tree by Victoria Boyd of California




Ain't Nothin' Quite So Lonely

An old abandoned house it was—
a broken-hearted place;
alone, again, with memories
that time did not erase.
As winds raced through its attic,
you could hear its timbers moan,
“Ain’t nothin’ quite so lonely
as a Christmas spent alone.”

And out upon the prairie,
rode a cowboy, Christmas day.
His wife had long since passed on;
and his kids lived far away.
Each Christmas left him heartsick
like few other days he’d known.
Ain’t nothin’ quite so lonely
as a Christmas spent alone.

And up above the prairie
through the star-lit clouds up high,
Santa, reindeer, sleigh and elves
were traveling ‘cross the sky.
Finished! They were finished!
Their task was truly daunting—
to visit every family,
and leave no child a wanting.

But, it left his crew bone-weary—
with a journey home ahead.
Exhausted, drained, the crew now faced
the journey home with dread.
Tired, the crew and Santa too,
and traveling back so slow,
when Santa spied an empty house
just waiting, down below.

Then Santa made a bee-line
for the yard; and parked his sleigh.
He figured that his weary crew
would rest there Christmas day.
The house was just ecstatic
when they all walked through its door,
unpacked their sleighs, and lit a fire,
and sacked out on its floor.

* * * * * * * * * *

The cowboy saw the vacant house,
with curling, chimney smoke.
He figured there was someone there
who fueled the fire and stoked.
With a pine tree freshly axed to give
the occupant within,
he headed for the house with hope
he’d be invited in.

Well, Santa and his crew were pleased
to have a Christmas guest.
They asked the man to come on in
and stay awhile and rest.
The reindeer dashed into the house,
but no one cared a fig.
The cowboy yodeled up a storm;
and Santa danced a jig

Donner played a fiddle
and Vixen played a flute;
and Rudolph on his new tin horn
chimed in with a toot.
Dancer drummed an old tin pan
and Prancer sang a song;
and Rudolph on his new toy horn,
tooted right along.

If you’re wondering, dear Reader,
just how this story ends—
well the cowboy found a nice, warm house
with lots of kindly friends.
And the sad, old house was happy
and filled with Christmas cheer;
and memories that warmed its heart
all through the coming year.

And Santa long remembered
stopping there to rest.
Indeed, he thought that Christmas day
was just about the best.
He’d been alone when he got home
most Christmas days before.
They left him feeling empty
and wanting something more.

* * * ** * * * * *

The moral of this story—
for there is a moral here—
about what counts for Christmas,
for that day is drawing near….
what counts are friends and family!
Gift are over-blown!
Ain’t nothin’ quite so lonely
as a Christmas spent alone.

© 2011, Bette Wolf Duncan
This poem may not be reprinted or reposted without the author's permission.

 


Ranch Country Christmas

If Wilbur has a weakness it's kids at Christmas time,
Why I know that old cowboy hardly spends a dime,
To make sure Christmas morning down this valley ain't a bust,
'Cause a gift for every youngster left by "Santa" is a must.

Out here in the country where ranching is our way,
There's plenty work to last all year but seldom enough pay,
For presents piled beneath a tree decked out with blinkin' lights,
No store bought dolls in pretty dresses, wagons, trains, or kites.

Wilbur stockpiles his supplies startin' New Years Day,
To braid and build and fashion homemade gifts to give away.
From Thanksgiving to Christmas Eve long nights to fill the bill,
He's creating treasures using expert cowboy skill.

A rope halter and lead rope, Chuck's boys could use some gear.
Braided reins for Benny's oldest, should have finished those last year!
Two straw dolls with burlap dresses for the twins of Mrs. C's.
A box kite for Jess's youngest strong enough to catch a breeze.

Builds a wagon from an old canoe the wheels carved out of pine,
Long enough for seven children to all ride in at one time.
'Cause Joe and Pearl has quite a brood from diapers past fifteen,
All piled in it together they'll look like packed sardines.

Delivering his presents might take up half the night,
Had Wilbur not devised a plan that rivals Santa's flight.
He piles 'em in his pickup while families are at church,
Makes it back to sing "What Child Is This" from his last row favorite perch.

The parents of the children know Wilbur is the one,
Making Christmas morning special for daughters and their sons.
So when the snowball dance rolls round complete with potluck feast,
That's when a herd of thank you comes at Wilbur all unleashed.

His favorite fresh-baked homemade rolls from Chuck's wife just appear,
Along with pie from Mrs. C. the best she'll make all year.
Joe and Pearl keep waiting on him 'til he's overstuffed with chuck,
Jess and Benny pool their thank you slip a jug in Wilbur's truck.

And when good cowboy music gives each rancher's wife a chance,
The mom's of all those children ask sweet Wilbur for a dance.
Not sure what's said between each as they whirl around the floor,
But Wilbur's eyes are glistening when he shuffles toward the door.

It takes work to raise a family a fair piece from the lights,
And friends with hearts of kindness hold the chill off Christmas nights.
You can bet your bottom dollar when New Year's rolls around,
Wilbur will start his "shopping' spree"…but not in any town.

© 2011, Ken Cook
This poem may not be reprinted or reposted without the author's written permission.


 

McGroot and the Kid

Near Christmas time old man McGroot
Had just come in from riding fence.
He pried off frozen cowboy boots
And aimed to break his abstinence

From whiskey, forced by the long ride.
The instant he’d settled, with thick
Wool socks at new-stoked fireside,
And raised an ancient glass to lick

To final drop, his cabin door
Received a tiny tap down low.
“A Christmas elf?” his gruff voice roared.
The door eased open. On tip-toe,

Wide-eyed, stood a wee lad, son to
The rancher, McGroot’s own boss who’d
Sent him on that cold fence ride. “Shoo,
Sonny, my blinkin’ work day’s through!”

The boy looked hurt but didn’t flinch.
“Gran says Ma’s time has come,” he said.
“No room for boys, not e’en an inch.”
McGroot, chilled, saw his own Ma dead

In distant winter memory.
“Hmph,” he snorted, to mask his grief.
He had no true affinity
For kids, but his druthers turned thief

And warmed his heart to this poor lad.
“Seein’ as you’re here already,
I’ll make the best of something bad.
What’s your name again, boy?” “Freddy,”

Said the kid, his blue eyes two pools
Brimmed with tears. “I’m Freddy McKee.”
McGroot’s feet surrendered footstool
And he sat up straight. “Ah, I see.

In that case, give yourself a rest.
I think I have some biscuits here.”
He stood and rummaged in a chest
Of tea, sugar, some bottled beer,

A jar of sauerkraut. At last
His calloused fingers found a tin:
Short bread, in quantity so vast
He wondered at the feminine

Judgment of the niece who’d sent it
For a Christmas treat. “Did you eat
Tonight?” McGroot inquired. “A bit,
But not for hours, since supper meat,”

The boy replied with outstretched hand.
“You’d better tuck in,” the cowboy
Urged. The kid’s appetite proved grand:
A dozen biscuits he destroyed.

“Thank you, sir,” he said to McGroot,
His face pinker than the other
He’d worn before. He spoke, astute.
“Saint Nick will bring me a brother,

Or maybe a sister.” McGroot
Replied, “Ah, that’s fine,” but worried
That the mother would pass enroute.
The lad’s thoughts should not be flurried

With tales of doom, however. Back
To happy memories he cast
For a tale of Kris Kringle’s sack
That left a model ship with mast

Under his own boyhood tree. “It
Was a grand vessel, trim and true,
A ship of dreams, that would befit
A sailor on the ocean blue.”

But McGroot had journeyed westward,
By land instead of ship, trooping
Across rangeland behind the herd.
The lad nodded, eyelids drooping,

And slumped on the footstool, his head
Lolling down. “Not much of a seat,”
McGroot said. He gathered the kid
On his lap, closer to the heat.

When Boss McKee opened the door
Midnight had passed. A wide grin broke
His weary face as over floor
He tip-toed. And McGroot awoke

But not the kid, whose innocent
Head lay on his breast. “Thanks, McGroot,”
Boss McKee said. “This night’s been spent
But all is well, the babe’s a beaut.”

“And the mother?” McGroot burst with
Heart-felt fear. “Doing well, old friend,
Doing very well. Here’s a fifth,”
McKee said, handing a fine blend

Of whiskey McGroot’s way. “It’s good
Of you to mind the boy. You’ve had
A long day.” The crackling firewood
Sparked kinship shared, McGroot’s heart glad.

© 2011, S. D. Matley
This poem may not be reprinted or reposted without the author's written permission.

 


 

A Good Christmas Deed

That old hoss looks mighty weary,
carrying a pine tree aint all that much fun.
Still it makes some people's life less dreary
and helps get the Christmas spirit done.
That cowboy saw those folks didn't have much,
so thought to get them some things they'd need—
nothing fancy, couldn't afford all the non-such—
but Jess—he'd do his good Christmas deed.
They can see that tired hoss out the window,
wondering why he is standing there—
they have no notion a cowboy did go
to bring some gifts and joy to share.
If that cowboy would look back behind him
he'd see the real Santa grinnin' at what he's doin'—
taking time the help those folks out,
from his cattle feeding and horse shoein'.
Many years have passed since that scene
and the hoss and old Jess are  long gone—
but cowboys still ride where pine trees are green,
wishin' for joy at the New Year's dawn!

© 2011, Jean Mathisen Haugen
This poem may not be reprinted or reposted without the author's permission.

 


 

 

Our Christmas Tree

My mama and I had planned
To go out to fetch the tree.
It is just a week ‘til Christmas,
I can hardly wait to see
The pretty bits of glitter
We have gathered through the year
And from all of our past Christmas’s.
How nice it will appear
When we hang it on the branches
And turn on the lights to see.
We want to surprise Daddy
With our glorious Christmas tree.
We saved this Saturday before Christmas
For our day of having fun
And riding out to find a tree
When our daytime chores are done.
It has started out quite typical for
A Dakota day this time of year.
The sun is shining brightly
And the air is crisp and clear.
Over night the temperature had dropped
And the air is still and cold.
Daddy has gone to find some strays
To bring them to the fold.
Mama and I have sheepskin jackets
To keep us nice and warm.
Our horses are sure footed.
We will not come to harm.
Just as we we’re getting set to leave,
The weather changes quite a bit.
The wind is hinting of a blizzard.
We must not be caught in it.
As we watch, the wind grows stronger
And picks up the fallen snow.
I begin to fear that Mama
Will say we cannot go.
The wind is sweeping up the snow
And leaving barren ground.
It picks up dirt as well as snow
And tosses it around.
It is too dangerous for us
To go to fetch our tree.
We both know a Dakota blizzard
Can be both cruel and deadly.

Daddy comes in from riding out
To look for his wandering stray.
He’d found him just in time, he says
And now is home to stay.
When he sees the decorations
That are waiting for the tree
And more likely the disappointment
On my face when he sees me,
He says that when he’d ridden out
To find where that stray might be,
He’d spotted just the one he’d thought
Would be a perfect tree.
“If I hurry I can fetch it and
Get back home before the blow
I’ll take old Dan, he’s weather wise.
If too dangerous, he won’t go.”
Mama is keeping busy
She’s searching all about
For candles and the hurricane lamps
In case the lights go out.
I’m standing at the window watching
As the sky is getting dark
I know that riding in a blizzard
Is just no kind of a lark.
I hear old Ringo barking,
Daddy’s at the barn, too far to see
If he found that little meadow
And has brought that perfect tree.
He’s knocking snow from off his boots now
And bringing in that little tree.
After supper we will trim it,
My mama, Daddy and me.

© 2011, Joyce Johnson
This poem may not be reprinted or reposted without the author's permission.

 

 

A Tree for Toby

The Widow Franklin slipped on snow hid ice that lined the path.
She found her balance and continued through the weather’s wrath.
Wind clawed and cleared a way into her threadbare overcoat.
At least her scarf was tight and kept the cold off of her throat.

The water pails were heavy as she hauled them to the house.
In better times they would have been transported by her spouse.
She tried to steer her mind clear of the happy days before.
The shuttered thoughts were mute. There was no laughter anymore.

Her children were there waiting as she finished up the chore.
The younger one was squealing as she crawled across the floor.
Her son stood still with somber eyes that slowly searched her face.
She gave him reassurance and she noticed that a trace

of tension left his body. He’d been worried while alone.
They said he was the man now and should act like he was grown,
but Toby was a young boy whose small world had given way.
She wanted to protect him and for that she’d have to pray.

She wondered about Christmas that would soon be here this week.
There’d been no preparation and the prospects looked real bleak.
She could cook up a special meal, but as for festive fare
like presents and a Christmas tree, their household would be bare.

They’d always honored Christmas in their home and in their heart.
Some new traditions came when growing Toby took a part.
He’d helped his father cut the tree that lit the room up bright
and listened to that Bible story read on Christmas night.

Her Ellie was too young to understand what life had brought,
but Toby’s sunken spirits needed lifting as she thought
of going out herself to cut a tree to bring some cheer.
She’d have to ride that horse and face a fright’ning inner fear.

She knew it was an accident. The horse was not to blame.
Her Ken had died and she was now a widow just the same.
She’d put her fear aside to see that Christmas came once more.
Just then there was some scratching and a noise outside the door.

Their neighbor Wilbur had stopped by to bring some Christmas joy.
He’d brought a tree he’d cut down for her little girl and boy.
This country Santa Clause had one delivery that day.
Its piney scent brought mem’ries of past snow rides in the sleigh.

They brought the tree inside and let it fill the corner space.
A sliver of a long sought smile showed on Toby’s face.
Her heart was lighter with the hope that sadness was set free.
Their world was brighter now that Toby had his Christmas tree.

© 2011, Marleen Bussma
This poem may not be reprinted or reposted without the author's permission.


 

 

The Christmas Tree

The little school was bright with candles
And children’s laughter and joy
The teacher played carols on the piano
And sang with the girls and boys

The children were poor and wouldn’t have
Any gifts come Christmas morn
With ranch times hard and money scarce
their folks work weary and worn

But they loved the Christmas season still
With stories and songs to sing
Of the Savior’s birth and His love for them
For they knew he was their King

As they sang inside in the candle light
a cowboy rode up outside
he placed his ‘gift’ on the school house porch
then hurried off to hide

The children heard a thump on the door
and clambered ‘round about
As their teacher opened the school house door
the children peering out

And there it was…a Christmas tree
On the tiny school house step
The children laughed and cried for joy
Their teacher silent wept

Then gathering ‘round their Christmas tree
The teacher shared her thought
Of gifts each child could make for Christ
Not presents that were bought

Each child wrote for the Savior then
Their gift of kindly deeds
They’d be His helping hands all year
Help others with their needs

While making garlands for their tree
Their teacher made a star
And told of Baby Jesus’ birth
In Bethlehem afar

Then tucking "gifts" in piney boughs
They sang sweet "Silent Night"
And Jesus filled each youngster’s heart
With peace and joy and light

© 2011, Victoria Boyd
This poem may not be reprinted or reposted without the author's permission.

 

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