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About Janice Gilbertson:

Janice writes: My husband, Ron, and I live in the beautiful foothills of the Santa Lucia Mountains on the west side of the Salinas Valley in California. I was born and raised here in the valley. I have been horseback since I was four years old. My father ran cattle here all of my growing up years. I began riding in these hills nearly fifty years ago and I am still doing just that. I am a lover of the land and all God's critters and it seems those things become more and more important as my time goes by. I write my poems from past experiences and a darn good imagination. I learn about myself when I write a good poem. It makes me reach deep to find a way to express something that is not only a thought, but also a "feeling." At the same time, I love humor, so things that make me smile are worth writing down.

Yosemite, 2006, riding Danny and leading Nevada



I Knew That
Line Dance Lesson
How Can We Lose?
Weather Report
Miracle in the Night
The Nighthawk's Dance
Freedom Ride
Night Time's Promise
Show Girl
Giving Into Lonesome
Lesson Days

The Wild Side of the Fence
Sometimes, in the Lucias
The Watchers

The Pasture of Frogs
Maybe It's Your Callin'
Lady Gray Pine


I Knew That

On a red and silver morning in the golden month of June
I hit the trail a'trottin' long so as to reach my goal by noon.

These Lucias are my home-sweet-home, trails traced upon my mind.
Don't consider me a braggart, but I could likely ride 'em blind.

Past the mossy spring-ponds, left over in a damp creekbed,
'Neath perfect, arching Sycamores I held my hat and ducked my head.

I traveled t'ward the South and West and watched the landscape rise.
Past rocks and trees and hollowed logs, all familiar to my eyes.

My thoughts began to wander, as my thoughts so often tend...
I rode my pony mindless 'til our way became a blurry blend.

I rode high above deep washes where yellow wild oats grew,
Then scrub and Oak and Pinyon pine where season's warm winds blew.

Then sometime just thereafter, I came 'round with a start...
Someplace back at who-knows-where, my trail had fell apart!

I gathered up my wits and skills and aimed my horse another way.
No problem here, I knew this land. It was just a short delay.

The high-noon sun moved over and the shadows chose my route,
But a shaley-slide and winter wash sent me 'round about.

The next I knew we were restin' 'neath a tree I knew too well...
We had rested there some hours ago, where it's morning shadow fell.

But I wasn't worried. No, not me. I knew that place by heart.
No way could I be lost up there, cuz I am much too smart!

Off we stuck with purpose cuz I wasn't messin' 'round no more,
...Down the switchback, cuttin' corners...Why! There's that blasted Sycamore!

What ya 'spose was wrong with my dang horse? It's a common-knowledge fact,
Just drop your reins, have trust in him. Why, he'll simply re-enact...

The day was shot when I saw the gate that enters my own land...
BUT I KNEW THAT...I know this place like the back of my own hand.

2003, Janice Gilbertson
This poem may not be reprinted or reposted without the author's written permission.

I live in the foothills of the Santa Lucia Mountain range


We asked Janice how she came to write this poem and she told us: "I Knew That" was a fun one for me. I am a proud volunteer member of the Monterey County Sheriffs Mounted Unit and we are primarily a Search and Rescue Unit so we try to learn as much as we can about the why's, how's and where's of people who loose their way. So maybe that is how this poem came to be.

Janice Gilbertson (left) and her mustang with the Monterey County Sheriffs Mounted Unit

On November 10, 2005 Janice was recognized as the Monterey County Sheriffs Mounted Unit Volunteer of the Year at an event sponsored by the Monterey Sheriff's Advisory Council.


Line Dance Lesson

I was walkin' up town past the hardware store,
I noticed a poster stuck on the door.

Out the corner of my eye, I gave it a glance,
Saw that it said, "Come On and Line Dance."

For an older cowgirl, I'm pretty light on my feet,
I can do pretty good by a good steady beat.

So later that evenin' when the chores got done,
I pulled on my best boots and headed out at a run.

I got to the hall -- 'bout the last to get in,
The first thing I noticed, there weren't many men.

Real cowboys don't line dance, I've heard some folks say
Real cowboys ride broncs, brand calves and buck hay.

I've seen 'em on tv in Stetson hats and fancy clothes,
Pants tucked in new boots with real pointy toes.

The gals are all wearin' short skirts or tight jeans,
Some lookin' real cute, some bustin' their seams.

Well, now we're all here, there's a dozen or so.
The teacher up front says, "We'll start out real slow."

She's sayin' some stuff  'bout stomps, heels and toes,
And how we'll look nice if we stay in our rows.

I know right quick this will be hard for me,
I'd forgot the first step when we got to step three.

The folks all around me are vinin' and turnin',
It's becomin' apparent, I'm pretty slow learnin'.

Now they're all at the end and I'm still at the start,
I reckon I missed the whole middle part.

She puts on some music, says "Now--let's do it faster."
Now it becomes a real bad disaster.

Dang! I can't remember my left from my right,
I'm startin' to sweat and I'm lookin' a sight.

A guy on one side gives me a stare,
Says "What'cha doin' here? Ya'll should be over there."

Now we all turn around and I'm thinkin', Oh! Brother!
They're all goin' one way, and I'm goin' another.

A gal on my right is lookin' real mad.
I'd stomped on her foot, guess it hurt pretty bad.

I tell her I'm sorry, guess I went wrong,
"By the way," I say sweetly, "How long's this dang song?"

Finally it's over and I'm headin' for the door,
The teacher is hollerin', "Don't go there's still more."

Well, I ain't goin' back. I ain't takin' a chance,
I ain't gettin' beat up just learnin' to dance.

January 2000, Janice Gilbertson
This poem may not be reprinted or reposted without the author's written permission.


We asked Janice how she came to write "Line Dance Lesson" and she told us: "Line Dance Lesson" was fun to write 'cause it was so darn true I made myself laugh. A few years ago my husband and I took lessons at the rec (wreck) center here in our small town of King City. First of all it was a challenge just to stay up that late. The first few times we went I laughed so hard at myself I couldn't do a thing right. Loving to dance and being a horseback rider, I was amazed at my lack of coordination. The poem is too true.

As anyone does, I love to laugh and I would have to say that Baxter Black is my favorite poet. I write when the notion strikes, and almost always due to remembering a true incident. I've written a few sad or serious things, but they are usually for someone else. I like the funny stuff. "I like to think I can bring to mind a funny picture and make someone laugh."


How Can We Lose?

We been plannin' and packin' and countin' the days,
We redone our gear 'bout eight differant ways.

When we get to Montana we'll be meetin' our guide,
Not a care will we have, we'll camp and fish and ride.

We load up the truck and put 'er on cruise,
Winnemucca Or Bust! How could we lose?

OK...so the first night was NOT a real good one,
We lost most our money... wasn't much fun.

We head on up 'tward Idaho way,
Ever run out'a gas two times in one day?

Well, finally we get there ..not feelin' so great,
Can't remember exactly the last time we ate.

The road to the trail head was kind'a hard on the truck,
We did nine creek crossin's ...on five we got stuck.

Well, we feel a little weak, but excited anyway,
A man shakes our hand, says "Just call me Ray."

Now it's turnin' dang cold, and we wait and we wait,
Then it's startin' to rain and it's gettin' so late.

Ray's boys and his packer come get all our gear.
Our feet are 'bout froze off from just standin' here.

The stocks finally ready, but I've got a hunch,
We're leavin' so late there won't be no lunch.

Well, finally we're ridin', we head up the trail,
It's gettin' some colder..it's startin' to hail.

We're still thinkin' how much we're gonna have fun,
Likely up higher we'll get in some sun.

We ride and we ride, and it's a beautiful sight!
Ray stops at this place, says, "We'll camp here tonight."

Not knowin' him well, I study his face,
He can't really mean we'd camp in this place.

What he was thinkin' I'll never know.
We'd ridden 'til we were in two feet of snow.

I guess he could tell by my cold, steady stare
There was no way in heck I was gonna' stay there.

Ridin' down to the lake's the new plan he had.
But he looks somewhat worried, says,"The trail might be bad."

Well, finally he finds it and down we all go,
It's steep and it's rocky..we all go real slow.

We come to a ledge where it seems the trail ends-
We look over the edge..and there it begins.

Now, I know this ain't right, and I ask myself why?
'Cause to get down to there this horse has to fly.

There's no turnin' back now, for that it's too late.
But I'm knowin' right here, good thing we ain't ate.

Ron's horse teeter totters and disappears out'a sight,
Then I see from behind 'em they landed all right.

Now, the packer's behind me and tries to get past,
I don't think 'cause he means to..his string's just to fast.

Well all of a sudden it all falls apart,
I'm holdin' my breath and clutchin' my heart!

The pack strings all buckin' and throwin' a fit,
Our gear's spread all over..they're trompin' on it.

I look up from the bottom and what do I see...
There's underwear hangin' on the limb of a tree!

Well needless to mention we're just about beat,
We're cold and tired and needin' to eat.

Now Ray's been braggin' 'bout how he can cook,
He makes up his own, don't go by no book.

I'm tremblin' and droolin'.. can't hardly wait,
I'm tryin' real hard not to grab for my plate.

Don't know what is, and don't really care,
I take a BIG bite...Oh, what a nightmare!

I jump right up, spittin' and chokin',
It's the worst stuff EVER, I ain't jokin'.

Well, we go to our tent and try to get warm,
I can tell by the wind, we're in for a storm.

The thunder starts rollin' and there's lights in the sky
But through all this racket...I hear water run by.

I stick out my foot and let out a shriek!
Between me and Ron there's flowin' a creek.

We're grabbin' up stuff to try to keep dry...
Geez, it's too late, now I'm startin' to cry.

We stand under a pine in the dark of the night,
Ain't nothin' to do but wait 'til daylight.

Seems a long, long time since we put 'er on cruise..
Hollered "Winnemucca Or Bust! How can we lose?"

Janice Gilbertson
This poem may not be reprinted or reposted without the author's written permission.


Weather Report

There's somethin' I've been noticin' lately that really sticks in my craw,
Fact is I'm thinkin', it ought to be made against the law.

Now, we been havin' a long dry spell, and things 'er lookin' pretty sad,
When the dirt's so dry it can't make a clod, thats gettin' pretty bad.

Everything on the place has a coatin' of dust,
Only good thing I know is nothin' won't rust.

No sense plantin' when nothin' here grows,
Puttin' out seed's just feedin' the crows.

The cows are gettin' gaunt and the hay stack's gettin' smaller,
The good spring's dryin' up down in the holler.

Guess we'll have to be lettin' the hired man go,
Can't pay his wages, the market's so low.

Now, we're just about comin' up on the part,
Made me think about writtin' this piece from the start.

See, when evenin' comes 'round we turn on t.v.,
Just waitin' to see what the weather will be.

Now, these folks on the news are young and pretty smart,
They all went to school to learn the weather tellin' part.

These days they're usually real pretty girls,
Showin' maps with colors and lines and swirls.

This is the part thats makin' me mad,
They talk about rain like it's somethin' real bad.

Now I don't understand, but maybe you'll know,
What the heck do they think makes things grow?

Do they know where they get the food they eat?
The clothes they wear or the shoes on their feet?

They wouldn't be happy, ain't no doubt,
If they turn on the faucet and no water comes out.

How long do you reckon they'd love that sunshine,
If they were livin' on a place like mine?

Somebody should tell them to try to refrain,
From bein' so happy 'cause it ain't gonna' rain.

February 2000, Janice Gilbertson
This poem may not be reprinted or reposted without the author's written permission.


Miracle In The Night

My breath comes fast!
I hurry, walking, then trotting!
It was ten when I was here last.
I've been doing this since Sunday night.
This time I overslept.
In two hours it will be daylight.
The grass is wet with a heavy dew.
The cold slides up under my jacket.
The light is dim, the moon nearly new.
I stop every hundred feet or so.
I strain to hear any sound,
So I can choose which way to go.
The pasture is big and slopes West.
I hope she's not down in the trees.
My heart is too loud in my chest!
I am looking for a black mare in the night.
I know she knows I'm here.
I don't want to intrude with my flashlight.
Finally! I hear a grunting moan,
Then, whoosh, like throwing a bucket of water.
I see it's feet in the second the light is shown!
I sink down on the ground,
Mindless of the cold wet grass.
I softly say her name, then not a sound.
I can see steam rise in the night time light.
I hear her licking sounds.
It's head pops up! It seems alright!
I can smell the odor of birth in the cold air.
Emotion wells up inside!
And this isn't my first time to be there.
It's getting lighter. I've been here over an hour.
My joints are stiff from the cold.
I'll come back after coffee and a hot shower.

February 2001, Janice Gilbertson
This poem may not be reprinted or reposted without the author's written permission.


The Nighthawk's Dance

The young nighthawk rides a circle around the bedded herd.
He sings a soft tune to the flat-eyed faces and answers a night-callin' bird.

Mostly a man, but at times still a boy, he wonders at the loneliness of his draw.
He misses his home and his first love, then halts the feelings with the clinch of his jaw.

The care-takin' wrangler with the foresight to predict the gloom of the first-time night guard,
Had chose the old night-horse that had been many a first nighter's pard.

The young cowboy's eyelids felt gritty and dry and unaccustomed to parting the dark.
He didn't even know the last time they drooped, and his unreined horse continued his arc.

Her hair was so black, it shined electric and blue, and streamed with the turn of her head!
Her dark eyes were huge and sparkled with light and her gaze left nothing unsaid.

The music he heard was loud and fast! the fiddle bows sang and flashed!
They whirled and twirled up into the sky, dazzling and a million-star splashed!

Hearts pounding with passion and feet flashing fast, they flew across the night sky!
Petticoats raised showed her small slippered feet touching stars...making starry sparks fly!

He longed to slow down some and pull her closer, put his arms around her small waist.
But...frustration intruded, the energy slowed down and his passion was seeming displaced.

The fiddlers gave in to a sweet tinkling sound, and the stars gave into the moon.
He felt himself falling and grabbed at the dark...all this to a jingle-bob tune...

He lay on his back, hat all askew, the old sorrel blew soft in his face.
Ashamed and afraid he bolted up fast and peered through the dark in disgrace.

He mounted up quick and rode stiff and alert, hardly allowing the blink of an eye.
That he danced in the sky 'til he fell off his horse was a secret he'd keep 'til he died.

2002, Janice Gilbertson
This poem may not be reprinted or reposted without the author's written permission.


Freedom Ride

Wake me just ahead of dawn, between starry night and new day's light.
I'll close the door without a sound, and walk the path that's pasture bound...
                                                                         For this I need no sight.

I'll listen for the pinetree owl to ask, " 'whoo' passes by?" "Not to worry." I will say, "It is only I."
I'll hear the coyote conversation travel 'cross the sky, and from his hidden hillside den, 
    Grey-Fox's throaty cry.

I want to find that trail to ride to where there's only peace of mind. Take me to the 
    mountain one more time.

In a time that travels much to fast, I'm a dreamer wishing for the past, and this is my connection.
The rattle of the gate chain will bring them up the slope at a leggy lope, out of dark's direction.

Their clover breath will blow warm and sweet, memory perfume I'll always keep...aromatherapy 
    for me.
I'll choose the one to share my ride and lead the other by our side, and off we'll go to see what 
    we can see!

I want to find that trail to ride to where there's only peace of mind. Take me to the 
    mountain one more time.

I'll wear silver spurs with jinglebobs and as I ride along, I'll hum a patriotic song about this land
     I love.
I'll let my horses reins swing free and try to move in harmony and not disturb the nature we 
     are part of.

I'll sing soft songs of flags and freedom to hearing, twitching ears, words to help me quell my 
     fears of life's uncertainty.
My ride will take me back in time, remind me how it is that I'm...living life so free.

I want to find that trail to ride to where there's only peace of mind. Take me to the
     mountain one more time.

Quick! We'll hurry up the trail. My heart will beat to eight hooved feet...This will be a glory ride!
Just in time we'll leave the night and top the ridge to meet the light, me astride the friend I 
    ride and one beside.

Together we will face the East, and this is where I'll find the peace I wish for.
Another privileged day for me, living life so rich and free! I have no need for more.

2003, Janice Gilbertson
This poem may not be reprinted or reposted without the author's written permission.


Night Time's Promise

Let's ride at night through a blue-shadowed canyon under a night-light sky.
Let's choose a trail that is North star bound under a high moon's watchful eye.

Ride your best horse and I'll ride mine too, and we'll trust them to travel a surefooted trail.
Let's use fancy spurs we've been saving for someday and silver bridle that hangs from a nail.

Let's laugh at old stories sing old cowboy songs and share hopes for time still ahead.
We'll shed daylight worries, sad thoughts and bad thoughts and wrong things that somebody said.

Let's take this ride together, giddy on fancy and freedom and dreams.
Let's shoot for the stars up that silver-lit trail, track promise by the light of moon-beams.

We'll ride a good ride through the night time air t'ward the renewing dawn
With reinchains swingin' and spur rowels jinglin', let's meet the new day head-on.

2004, Janice Gilbertson
This poem may not be reprinted or reposted without the author's written permission.


Show Girl

They streaked through the gate at a high leggy rate and cleared out the warm up pen
Calamity bound at the speed of sound, they circled again and again.

Her handsome steed could fly indeed but his head began to bob and duck
Ten times around he churned the ground and then he commenced to leap and buck.

Her Stetson sailed, her elbows flailed and she rode like a marionette gone wrong.
Her legs were swingin' and her spurs were ringin' and that horse just kept goin' strong.

Her buxom figure moved with vigor, caught up in centrifugal force.
She began to slide from side to side, her generous bosom chose her course.

Her eyes grew so wide, I could see from the side, false lashes stuck in her hair.
Her pearly teeth chattered and then they clattered as the stick-em shook loose in there.

Her rouge disappeared and her color went weird when her blood all headed south.
I don't think she could even blink and she sure couldn't close her mouth.

Her horse started weavin' and his sides began heavin' an he coughed up a green gob of stuff.
He had wore him a trail all 'round the rail and he looked like he 'bout had enough.

But it just wouldn't end and he caught his wind and he raised his tail half-mast,
His teeth were bared and his nostrils flared and he left us all aghast,

She drew up her knees as close as you please and gripped the horn with all her might.
With his legs stepping high and his head in the sky, they seemed about to take flight.

A few more rounds of leaps and bounds and suddenly he just up and stopped.
His ears lay splayed and his back kinda' swayed and his head just quietly dropped.

My bumfuzzled brain was feeling the strain as I watched them calmly head to the gate.
I gawked in surprise when she stopped to advise, "Y'all better warm up or you're gonna be late."

2004, Janice Gilbertson
This poem may not be reprinted or reposted without the author's written permission.

This poem appeared in the RodeoWyoming coverage of Cheyenne Frontier Days in July, 2005


Giving In To Lonesome

Her long angular legs, with bony knees poking at her pant legs, sunbleached and threadbare,
Disappear into oversized, kneehigh boots, toes stuffed with burlap and worn beyond repair.

Her bare brown hands that no longer noticed the cold, had bent and fused until there was no pain.
The right rested in its place on her thigh, the left let its crooked fingers weave the leather rein.

It was his tattered, dirty sheepskin coat she wore, unbuttoned to the cold early air,
And..it was his old blue scarf 'round her throat, shaped by the sweat of his neck and the knot he'd tied there.

She sat an old bay gelding, a little too narrow chested and slightly splayed.
He was stoved and gaunt with age, hip bones wide, a long high-withered back some swayed.

They stood for a moment inside the pasture gate, both shifting old bodies for comfort's sake.
She legged his ribby left side gently and they tuned to ride the ancient fence, north, to the break.

'Neath a cast iron sky with not a single glint of guiding star, she rode the dark before dawn.
By the instincts of a thousand rides, they traversed the trail by memory of days bygone.

There was a time when she would ride here on snorty colts..,their morning fresh stride dancing her along!
What a grand time they would have, just hopin' to find a stray or a little bunch where they didn't belong!

There are no cattle now. Not for a decade. But old habits hang on like old barbed wire...
His fence pliers hung in their scabbard, there to twist a wire or tap a staple, should she desire.

Ghost calves bawled for their mamas and handsome bulls bellowed to the long-gone cows on the lowland.
She still sees him on his black, up on the Zig Zag trail...and he is sitting his saddle grand.

Time's trickery confuses her and she curses her old mind where his image lingers...
A bank of fog knuckles over the high ridge and grips the canyon floors with wet, grey fingers.

A harsh chill shudders her thin body and sends gooseflesh down her bony spine.
The familiar sounds and relived images cruelly tease her lonesome mind.

For the very first time, she turned back on her unridden trail, leaving life as it were...
For the first time in over fifty years she rode home and left the gate stand open behind her...

2004, Janice Gilbertson
This poem may not be reprinted or reposted without the author's written permission.

Janice Gilbertson writes: Well, I certainly don't mean to sound morbid or self-involved, but this past year was a year of loss for me. My father, my brother, friends and dear little pets all went to their home beyond and I suppose when that happens it is natural to have thoughts of people who end up alone and lonesome. We write what we feel, right?

I suppose it became harder for this once strong lady to hold on to her connection than to just let it go. If she is "real" and out there somewhere...I wish for her Peace.



From my highfalutin', front row, fence rail seat
Where I balance on broadside and boot heels, discreet

To enjoy the early morning equine event
That pretentious ponies so often present.

The stage light streaks high from o'er the east sky.
Horse shadows lay long on the pale alkali.

They send subtle signals a watcher may miss.
A flick or a twitch means that or means this.

Bay mare directs with a pistol-shot snort.
Dunny and Dan dance a three beat cavort.

Heads toss tangled manes and they taunt with an eye,
They mill and they weave and they nip and defy.

They leave at a lope to a boundary imposed,
And as they are racing act two is composed.

Under the influence of fabricated fear,
They play to a predator who lurks frightfully near.

Their hooves churn the stage dust to drift and to float,
And beat 'neath my breastbone, the sound they denote.

Muscle bunches and springs, bunches and springs,
Rhythm glints colors their shining hides bring

Right past my grandstand seat again and again,
I, who longs to be the ultimate equestrienne.

My empty fingers bend for the feel of the rein,
And I sway on the rail with each ride that I feign.

I ride through each bog and stiff-legged leap.
For rearing I'm up, for stops I sit deep.

My fence rail plunges and spins left and right.
My spine flexes keen, my bootheels grip tight.

I am audience participation at it's its best
But bay mare writes the script and cues for a rest.

This show will run long, repeating, repeating.
As, hopefully, will I...I hold reserved seating.

2006, Janice Gilbertson
This poem may not be reprinted or reposted without the author's written permission.

Janice told us: It is nearly impossible for my "insides" to sit still when I watch a horse run and play, or when I watch a good cow horse work in the arena. They really can put on a show on a cool early morning. There is a 'pecking order' that dictates who gets to do what and when. In this case, my bay mare really is the Grand Dame. When I was a young girl I would slip off the fence rail onto a warm smooth bare back and let my horse carry me around the corral. We didn't thunder around bridleless, although it was always a girl's dream. When I was writing this poem I could see myself, feel myself, riding each one of my horses through their antics astride those smooth bare backs.

Last December (2005) I attended a workshop given by Paul Zarzyski at the Monterey Cowboy Poetry and Music Festival, where he spoke about using the "sounds" of our words in our poems. I tried to do some of that in this poem and it was a fun challenge. Thanks to Paul.


Lesson Days

In the silver cold of morning when the sun just comes to rise
When ice lays thin as window glass and floats there on the trough
Frost glitters on the new green earth like diamonds in my eyes
I pull my jacket closer, find my stirrup and we're off.

My little sorrely gelding, flush with youth and opportune
Goes steppin' short and prancy with ne'er a care for me
With clippin' hooves and jinglebobs we play a rowdy rigadoon
His legs are full'a crowhops and he's on a morning spree.

I tell him he'll be sorry when his day has come to end
But he doesn't pay no mind to me or heed a word I say
I tell him he should listen for I'm speakin' as a friend
He just gives his bit a chomp or two and cocks his ears away.

Oh, yer thinkin' yer a smarty now, ya think ya know it all
There's a hump beneath my saddle and I know what's on yer mind
Yer thinkin' you could leave me here in a heapin' sprawl
But I'm ready for yer foolery and won't be left behind.

We might have to climb the ridge, I say, where digger pines grow tall
And we might have to check the springbox up in Mickey's canyon
We might have to chase that wild cow, the one we missed last Fall
By sundown you'll be learnin' how to be a good companion.

You won't be jiggin' down the hometrail, that I guarantee
You'll be right polite and mindful and stridin' long and slow
You'll be wishin' you'd a'listened when I warned ya how it'd be
I'll be sorry to be saying you'll be reapin' what ya sow.

2006, Janice Gilbertson
This poem may not be reprinted or reposted without the author's written permission.

Sorrely = sorrel color
rigadoon = lively dance for pairs

Janice told us: I have a little sorrel gelding who tends to bow up a little when he doesn't get ridden regularly. My Dad always said the only thing that will make a really good horse is wet saddle blankets. He would frequently remind me that my horses were too fat and spoiled. I couldn't argue that. In this poem I refer to Mickey's canyon and that really is a place for me. My very first horse when I was a little girl was named Mickey and she died at a very old age on the place I grew up on. My father borrowed a tractor and buried her there in that canyon where he found her. It has been fifty years and I still think of her. I told my husband, Ron, that this poem sure wouldn't win any awards for being "deep" but it sure could be "snappy."


The Wild Side of the Fence

Windshield wipers slap-slapping the sleet away
Radio cowboy croonin' the cowboy blues
Big tires whinin' on the frozen asphalt
Warm air blowin' strong on toe-tappin' shoes

County road pickets and five strands of barbs
Run neck and neck at seventy miles per hour
Thoughts as clear as a foggy side window
As soulful as a fat meal and hot shower

Take no notice of the little grey draw
Just there, on the wild side of the fence
One strong-armed stone's throw from comfort
A band of five huddled in defense

Coarse winter coats lay in wet cold designs
Muscles quiver from flanks down to hocks
Bony spines humped, heavy heads held low
Tangled manes hang in long ropey locks

A masterpiece of misery in the sage
Spirits suspended in thin icy air
Instinctual longing for better days
Not a frost-laden breath left to spare. 

2007, Janice Gilbertson
This poem may not be reprinted or reposted without the author's written permission.

Janice says she was inspired to write this poem while traveling home to California from Idaho. She told us, "We usually see a few wild horses in Oregon or Nevada. Sometimes we stop for a closer look, but most times we zip on by. I have seen some looking healthy and fit and I have seen some that break my heart."


Sometimes, in the Lucias
Sometimes—on a ridge in the hard, hot air, where deer hooves clatter on the chalk
Horned toads hide in plain view and jackrabbit trembles in the shadow of hawk
Sometimes—I hear sounds, a bee buzzing on the sweet sage, the singing gnat at my ear
The music of shifting, falling shale beneath the pads of something wild, come near
From the time I was just a small child, I rode long days out on my own
I wonder, now, at my comfort. Perhaps I was never really alone.
Sometimes—it is their voices I hear, not words, but the sounds of words
That rise from canyon shadow or fly through the air with swifting birds
I can hear the thrum of man-talk and the melody of women's voices high
Children's giggles with the singing gnat, and infants fuss with spotted fawns' cry
If I leave the ridge and ride the trail to where a spring flows sweet and free
Sometimes—when my lips touch the pool, the reflection there is not of me
The mountains of Santa Lucia harbor spirits of those who came long before
And, sometimes, now, I follow the trails of Padres, Salinans and Conquistadore
How I long to sit with them beside a shady, singing willow creek
Or ride beside a spirit horse up-trail to a glorious coastal peak!
They beckon me to painted caves. They bid me welcome to adobe walls
And though we share no common blood there is a sort of kin who calls...
Sometimes—I lay in silent dark and ask, if ever I should ride away
Though I may go with heart and soul, will my spirit choose to stay?
2007, Janice Gilbertson
This poem may not be reprinted or reposted without the author's written permission.
I have lived here in the eastern foothills of the Santa Lucia Mountains of western California for over fifty years. The range is a little over one hundred miles long, rising from near Monterey and ending in San Luis Obispo County to the south. The west side juts up from the Pacific coast and its floral and fauna is influenced by the ocean mists and fog. The east side where I live tumbles and then rolls down to the beautiful, fertile Salinas Valley. It is much drier here on this side, but there are rivers, creeks and springs that bring relief to the land and animals.
There were at least three Indian tribes in the range and surrounding areas, but it was mostly the Salinan-Jolon Indians who lived in this area. The San Antonio Mission is not far from here, maybe fifteen miles as the crow flies, but twice that far to drive. The Padres and settlers are the history of Jolon and surrounding area.

I was seven years old when my family moved into this canyon and I began riding my old horse around the roads and trails. With two brothers quite a few years older than I, I was very much a loner and our horses and dogs were my best friends. It was only natural that I would fall in love with the land.

Now, my front porch looks west to hills and high ridges and the back yard shows off the Gabilan range across the Salinas valley. I never ever tire of it. "Sometimes, in the Lucias" came directly from the center of me. As I worked on writing it, I could hear the sounds and smell the scents just like I did when I rode alone as a child.

This poem, from Janice Gilbertson's book, Sometimes in the Lucias, was a 2009 Western Writer's of America Spur Award finalist.



The Watchers

He lays in the dust of the well traveled trail and watches through know-it-all eyes.
Hidden in shadow and gray shaggy hide he's a stalker in wild disguise.

He's a gangster by night when he trots with his pack and howls to the spirits in the dark.
But...by day he's a loner, a sly one who spies and lives up life on a lark.

It has long been believed he's a bearer of spirit...or a taker, a trickster, a thief,
So righteously taking what he deems as his, no matter his victim's belief.


I scold myself for the tremble of my hand and the unease that squirms inside
Premonition prickles the back of my neck as I pull the window curtain aside.

And of course he is there and returns my stare through amber kaleidoscope eyes
"He's just a coyote," I say, and I'm not his prey. The calves and the lambs are his prize.

But the words of Native folklore haunt me, or perhaps it's common sense I lack.
I only know that he can vanish in an instant and leave no trail or track.

He watches me...and I watch him, until I turn to see he's no longer there.
I'll hear him tonight as I toss in my bed, his howling too daunting to bear.

2007, Janice Gilbertson
This poem may not be reprinted or reposted without the author's written permission.

Janice told us, "I know that there are many poems written about coyotes. There is something mystical and elusive about the way they live. I hear them often in the night and sometimes after daylight. Their soulful howls and frenzied yipping always leaves me feeling a bit anxious and 'spooky.' Perhaps I have read too many Native American folk tales about them, or maybe it is just their very real slyness. Whatever the reason, they have a way of unsettling my spirit. So, here is one more coyote poem with some truth to it. I do see one sitting on the side hill behind the house or over on the ridge to the west, from time to time and I feel he knows a lot more about me than I do about him."


The Pasture of Frogs

In the magic dust of summertime
when crawly things are in their prime
lizards, snakes and horny-toads
leave silly tracks 'cross country roads

Where the ground is baked by hot, hot sun
bugs and spiders do dare run
to hide in dried-up cowpie shade
or webby places they have made

You'll not find a drop of moisture, NO
you'll not hear a single sound, although
mystery lies beneath that ground
for which an answer's ne'er been found

When the winter rains first softly fall
it seems to take no time at all
to notice on a moonlit night
they have returned with all their might!

It seems to be their summer fate
They do not croak. They de-hydrate
They shrink like tiny sponges, then
when rain comes...they're back again!

I love to hear their croaky sounds
their cacophony song abounds
it drifts to me from pasture bogs
and those reconstituted frogs

2008, Janice Gilbertson
This poem may not be reprinted or reposted without the author's written permission.

Janice told us, "When I was a kid I would play in the creek for hours on end. I loved watching the little tadpoles, or pollywogs as we called them, turn into teeny tiny frogs. As the seasonal creek receded and left behind spring pools, I would scoop them up in my palms and relocate them to deeper water so they could finish changing to frogdom. When I walked out through the wet pasture grasses, there would be hundreds of little frogs hopping wildly about. Frogs were a big part of my life apparently.

"As summer came on and it grew warmer, the grasses would dry up or be grazed off and the ground would bake hard under a blazing sun. The frogs would disappear slowly and I wouldn't hear them at night anymore. Night songs changed from frogs to crickets. So, where did they all go? Did they die? And if they did, then where did they instantly come from when it rained again in winter? The creek would swell and run in torrents in the winter, so where did those little frog-bound tadpoles come from when the water slowed and ran clear? I believe I finally solved the mystery."


Maybe It's Your Callin'

Maybe it's that certain way
Early morning smells in June
The fragrance of the damp leftover heat

Maybe it's the rise and fall
Of golden dust at dawn
From the milling of the saddlehorses' feet

It could be the slap of leather
The jangle of the bridle chains
The cadence of the hoofbeats down the lane

There's that friendly cowboy banter
And the planning of the gather
Some spittin' and some razzin' to sustain

There's the frolic of the cowdogs
In their rough and tumble glory
There's the quiver of excitement in a mount

In the mid-light of the coming
Of the sunlight o'er the ridge
Maybe that is what it's really all about

Then there's that swagger on your jog
And that ole sense of satisfaction
You can get when you bring in that ornery stray

And when you water at the crossin'
Give your horse a little rub
Maybe that would be the best time of your day

Ah! Maybe it's the headin' home
Followin' your shadow
Anticipatin' supper and your bed

Maybe it's the certain way
The night air smells in June
Or a hundred things that never could be said

Could be the knowin' where you fit
That easy comfort in your soul
Like that ole saddle that you ride most every day

Just maybe it's your callin'
Or, you were just born lucky
Cuz you know you couldn't live no other way

2008, Janice Gilbertson
This poem may not be reprinted or reposted without the author's written permission.

Janice comments, "Wouldn't life be grand if we could each be doing the work we know and love every day, and have the comfort that comes in knowing that we are exactly where we are meant to be."



The Rough Stock Rider's Kid

At last light

of  a summer day

she sat alone

in his old car

out in the


           parking lot

 reading wore out

 comic books


 Hard voices drifted through

 the rusty screen door

 while a jukebox played

 Nashville hits.

 She knew every word

           by heart

 She liked when

 the pretty neon

 signs warmed up

 to their bright colors.

 Once she tip-toed

 at a grimy window

 to watch the

           waterfall sign

           go around.

 He almost always

 came out

 carrying a Nehi

           grape soda

 and a cellophane bag

 of salty peanuts,

 hand them through

           the open window

 with orange-brown

 nicotined fingers

 and say...

           "How ya doin', Sissy?

                        Doin' OK?"

 "Fine" she'd say.

 And even when

           she knew

 they weren't, she'd say

           "We goin' now?"

 "Real soon, Sissy...

 Real soon."

 She liked when

 they drove

           at night

 when radio stations crackled

           through the dark.

 They would sing

 country songs


 In a while he would say

 "Better get some sleep


 She would curl herself

 on the broad backseat

 wrapped up in

           her faded quilt

 and watch the stars

 through the back window

           until sleep came.

 She liked the rodeo days


 She could hang out

 behind the chutes

           with the cowboys.

 They treated her good...

 Gave her change

           for hotdogs and


 She would sit on the top rail

 of the back fence

 where the hot wind

 blew dust in her

 brown eyes,

 waiting for him

           to ride...


2008, Janice Gilbertson
This poem may not be reprinted or reposted without the author's written permission.

Janice comments: This is probably my first honest attempt at writing free verse poetry. I think free verse poetry always intimidated me a bit. Years ago, one of the first poems I wrote was free verse, but it was a very emotional poem about my horse that died in a tragic accident, and to tell the truth, it was words and lines that came right from the heart and bypassed any knowledge of writing I may have had back then. As in any new endeavor I take on, I always wonder what "the rules" are. I think I was delighted when I found out that there really are no strict rules.

It is fun to be freed-up to write my thoughts and not have to apply my words to rhyme and meter. So, now I have two or three keepers under my belt and there may be more to come some day.

This poem actually originated from a short story I began writing some time ago. With humor (or not so much) I told my husband it was possibly my first novel. Who knows? Maybe it will be one day.



My List...

If the cattle trails grew over
Were there no call for the drover
If the windmills no longer caught the breeze

If the meadow grass grew bitter
If the hay fields wilt and wither
Or springtime never thawed of winter's freeze

If crystal rivers all ran dry
Or if the eagles failed to fly
I think my heart would ache too hard to beat

Oh...Lord! If horses could not run
Nor poppies open to the sun
The worth of day would be so bittersweet

If campfire ashes all grew cold
Were there no more tales to be told
There would be much less purpose for the night

No white faced calves, no tadpole creeks
No tall pines where the north wind speaks
Why should I care to rise at morning's light?

Beneath my grasp of countless pens
Flows a list that never ends
Of all the things vital to my being

No, not the grasp of gilded shine
And nothing which is only mine
But all things for feeling, hearing...seeing...

2009, Janice Gilbertson
This poem may not be reprinted or reposted without the author's written permission.

Lady Gray Pine

We were so damn wild then
She, up there on top of that mountain
and me, crazy-haired, dirty-necked girl
who knew next to nothing

About how far was far
So, I would plan over and over
how I would leave early, say daylight
with my Army canteen brimmed with red Kool-Aid

We had been part way there before
me on Ginger, looking for cows
to take down the road to the corrals
where the men did the cutting and branding

I could ride there, tie up to her scabby trunk
sit in her thin shade
eat my lunch from waxed paper
and gaze out at her whole wide world.

My God, how I regret it did not happen
Regret right to this day
never having laid on the ground
beneath her gray-green bows

She knew everything
She knew when the tide was in
when early frost was coming on

I imagined her borne
from the seed of a blue jay's beak
skittering down smooth rock
caught up in the perfect crevice

Like me, she grew stunted at first
until her roots grasped the meager soil
where she held to with all her might
until she rose to the occasion of life

She was tall and gorgeous when we met
I would watch her fling her arms in the wind
Imagine her waving to the ships
that brought the conquistadores

I knew she had shown the Salinans
the trail to Pimkolum
their guide to the sacred place
atop mount Santa Lucia, sta'yokale

She had heard the music of harness
and thunder of hooves
when the wagons routed the valley
below her mountain

And she watched the gringo cowboys
trail cows from the Pacific grass
to Jolon valley and beyond
to the shipping pens

I doubt she went gently
didn't bend and bow low
and lay her majestic height
across the hardscrabble earth

Not that gal
She twirled and flung her limbs
against a storm from the bitter coast
she pitched her head to the sky

And when the last ghastly gust wailed
her heartwood burst
and flung far down mountain
as far as far could be

I never did go to her
we just kept in touch
right up until the morning I looked
and the skyline was empty

2011, Janice Gilbertson
This poem may not be reprinted or reposted without the author's written permission.

Janice Gilbertson comments:

The little house I grew up in sits in a narrow part of a long deep canyon. Its front porch faces a creek, the main road and then a high steep hill. In the evenings I could sit on the little porch, look skyward and see the silhouette of a tall digger pine up on the crest. It was a beautiful sight when dusk turned to dark and for just a bit of time I could see the shape of the tree and the sparkle of the stars around it. My mother and I spoke of its beauty many times. It was in those days that I was riding my horse alone to the outer edges of my private world. My brother's army canteen and a peanut butter and jelly sandwich sustained me through my journeys. I attempted one time to ride to the pine tree, but after scrambling up the deer trails and winding through the scrub oaks, I was headed off by the rusty strands of an old barbed wire fence. Some of the old posts had been burned out at one time, but the strands still hung high enough to keep a little girl from going on. I still remember the sadness I felt when one day I saw that the tree was no longer there on the hill. I'm quite sure it was a windy rainstorm that ended her vigil.

Many years later when my family moved into the home I live in now, I discovered another digger pine high up on the last visible ridge at the head of this same canyon I grew up in. I began to notice from which places I could see the pine the best. It stood solitary and so tall I was amazed to find that I could see it from down on the valley floor. I could always spot her from as far away as highway 101 south of town. Once again I became "attached" to a digger pine and then was saddened when I found the skyline empty after a storm.. Perhaps it was their wild independence that drew me to them. I don't really know, but for a time they were a part of my life.



Janice Gilbertson is featured in a series of short films, "American Nobodies." You can view the segment here  in Season One at www.AmericanNobodies.com (click on her image to launch the segment).

The series is described as "a documentary series looking at extraordinary things about ordinary Americans." In the segment about Janice Gilbertson, she is seen with her horses, comments on her involvement in cowboy poetry, and recites her poem "If I the Poet," from her book, Sometimes in the Lucias. (Her poem, "Sometimes in the Lucias," from that book was a 2009 Western Writers of America Spur Award finalist.)



Janice Gilbertson has shared interesting photos in Picture the West:

  Spring in the Santa Lucia mountains

   Life in 1955

jggrandmother1918.JPG (33601 bytes)  Her grandmother, circa 1917, West Texas 



Read Janice Gilbertson's

copyright 2009 by Lori Faith Merritt ( www.photographybyfaith.com) "Heading In"
2009, Lori Faith Merritt

Headin' Out in our Art Spur project


Bring 'em Home Slow with 2007 Cowboy Poetry Week Art Spur poems


The Porch Light with 2007 New Year poems


The Right Way with 2006 New Year poems


 Seein' is Believin'  in our ArtSpur project


A "Little Cowboy" Conversation and Bless Ya' for Takin' the Ride, posted with Holiday 2002 poems 


Books and Recording



"Blindsided by domestic life and responsibility, Lanny Ray felt the tug of the rodeo world stronger than ever. He did a good job of lying to himself about it, though. He told himself and anyone who would listen how he was just anxious to get out there and have his best season yet. He'd ride those horses like nobody's business and bring home enough winnings to care for his wife and the baby coming in the fall. His fans slapped him on the back and congratulated him on his attitude and his coming fatherhood. But people who knew him the best, including his father and his sister, Rose, thought that at times they saw a trapped animal look in his eyes. Rose, especially, had caught glimpses of him staring out across the valley or toward the mountains, as if he could see things a thousand miles away."

Summer of '58, a novel by horsewoman, poet, and writer Janice Gilbertson, tells an engaging and unique story. It's 1958 and Angela's now-divorced father takes her on the summer rodeo circuit. The evocative, nearly cinematic period atmosphere of honky tonks, cafes, motels, and arenas is filled with captivating characters. Readers are transported to another time, but all is not sweet nostalgia; young Angela becomes involved in a murder. The compelling plot makes for a satisfying page-turner.

Find excerpts at Janice Gilbertson's web site, janicegilbertsonwriter.com, where there are also excerpts of another to-be-published novel, The Canyon House; her writer's blog; and order information for her novel, poetry books, and poetry CD. Visit her Facebook page.

Summer of ‘58 is published by PEN-L Publishing.

Summer of '58 is available for $17.96 postpaid from: Janice Gilbertson, PO Box 350, King City, CA 93930; kiger@onemain.com. Credit card orders are accepted by the publisher at Pen-L Publishing and the book is available at Amazon.com.




A chapbook of stories and poems, includes:

Angela (prose)
The Rough Stock Rider's Kid
I'd Say...(prose)
Maybe It's Your Callin'
Have You Ever Rode In (prose)
Pasture Frogs
Older Cowgirl's Lament
Salinas Valley Wind
My List
Last Best Place

Published by BK Publications, Eagle, Idaho.

Riding In is available for $11 postpaid from:

Janice Gilbertson
PO Box 350
King City, CA 93930




Foreword, by Virginia Bennett:


The four-by-four diesel pickup winds its way up through the canyon, bumping left and right, back and forth over stones which have rocked ranch-vehicles for decades. The narrow, dirt road twists and wends through flowering buckeye, manzanita and chemise, past long-neglected loading-chutes and old homesteads shaded by digger pine. Deer graze at the side of the road and lazily lift their heads, dark eyes watching as we pass.

Janice Gilbertson is taking us up Pine Canyon to show us the view from the top, but I suspect, subconsciously, she is also showing us the roots of her upbringing. Passing a relic of a house off to the right, she nods in that direction, saying, "That was where my folks lived, where I grew up. As a kid, I used to go all the way out there with a rope and halter to catch my horse to ride."  The meadow she is referring to is becoming overgrown with weeds and bushes as it rolls down toward the seasonal creek. Back then, fathers didn't keep the kids' horses up in corrals just so they were handy to clamber on for an evening bareback-ride. Feed was too costly.

It was a hardscrabble outfit, I can tell.

Crossing a cattle guard, Janice informs us that this was where her father's leased range had started. Rusted barbed-wire fences march up the slope, for this is sure 'nough hilly country and not an easy place to raise cows for a living.

My sweetest memory of the trip comes as we round a corner in the road to the left and our driver wistfully states, "I can't drive this patch of road without seeing my Dad and I following cows coming down from the mountains. I was just a little girl and loved helping my Dad with the horses and cows."

Almost at the summit, the road is blocked by an iron gate and "No Trespassing" signs, so Janice jockeys the big truck around to where our view through the windshield encompasses the rough canyon we'd just negotiated and the plains of the Salinas Valley beyond. We sit and listen to cowboy music on the CD player and Janice tells us this is where her father's range ended. Watching as she scours the hillsides with the eyes of a lover well-acquainted with the hummocks and vales of a loved one's body, I know that she is intimately familiar with every square inch of this inhospitable land on the east side of the ridge. Filled with dry gulches and rattlesnakes and not a whole lot of grass that I can see, I arrive at a new appreciation for Janice Gilbertson. Her family eked out a living here in these summer-sizzling mountains, while down below on rented land, they depended on a creek that only flows when the rains come, if they come.

And they found something else here in this wild country, a beauty that blossomed in a little, blond-girl's heart while she playfully built dams in the stream or rode the foothills alone. A discovery which, in adulthood, bloomed forth with well-chosen words to share with the awaiting world. 

For it seems to me that the cowboy poetry world, perhaps unknowingly, has been waiting for this collection of  verse that brings to life a landscape in the coastal ranges of Central California unfamiliar to most non-natives.

Just north of here, John Steinbeck walked and rode the ancient trails of the Salinan Indians and captured in words the struggles of Hispanic and other European emigrants. The Dorrance brothers quietly practiced a method of horsemanship which would eventually flood the world with their understanding of a gentle, patient approach to training.  Author Lillian Bos Ross penned her dramatic tale of love and danger enacted in the untamed reaches of the Santa Lucia Mountains when she wrote "South Coast."

For the South Coast is a wild coast, and lonely...
You might win at a game at Jolon
But the lion still rules the barranca
And a man there is always alone.

Janice herself searches deep in the canyons of lyrical phrases and thought, combining an innate knowledge of horses, cattle and countryside to create profound expressions, as here in "Giving in to Lonesome."

Ghost calves bawl for want of their mamas
Bulls bellow for long gone cows on the lowland

Or here, in "The Wild Side of the Fence," where she describes the condition of feral horses seen alongside a highway:

Coarse winter coats lay in wet cold designs
Muscles quiver from flanks down to hocks
Bony spines humped, heavy heads held low
Tangled manes hang in long ropey locks

A masterpiece of misery in the sage
Spirits suspended in thin icy air
Instinctual longing for better days
Not a frost laden breath left to spare.

These mountains, canyons and cattle trails all harbor secrets worth telling. This land deserves a voice, and that voice belongs, in part, to Janice Gilbertson.



If I, the Poet
Sometimes, in the Lucias
Giving in to Lonesome
Freedom Ride
It's Memories We're Makin'
Shadow Girl
Sing Me a Promise
Lesson Days
The Ranch Horse
Night Time's Promise
Bring 'Em Home Slow
The Wild Side of the Fence
Myself, the Fool
Story on the Wind
The Tour
Bless Ya for Takin' the Ride
The Watchers

A little nonsense...

Show Girl
Cowboy FAST Food
Weather Report
The Nighthawk's Dance
But I Knew That

Back then...

The Porch Light
The Cowboy of a Little Girl's Heart
Imagine That
Real Cowpokes



"Janice Gilbertson is proudly and deeply rooted in place. Her honest, organic poetry resonates with the beauty and spirit of her beloved Santa Lucias and reflects her own rare spirit, inquisitive nature, and unique talents.
Margo Metegrano, Editor, CowboyPoetry.com

"Lots of cowboy poems, even good ones, come across as the observations of the poet—and outside-looking-in view of the subject. Janice Gilbertson's poems are almost the opposite. They seem to grow from within the subject, as if the poem is inside the subject, or is the subject, giving readers a deeper sense of a place, a moment, a feeling.

"The stories Janice tells tend to be personal ones; intimate moments from life. You'll find few big incidents, few history-making events in these poems. Instead, she fills us with little feelings, small sensations whose effects loom larger and linger longer than the sensational stories so typical of cowboy poetry."
Rod Miller, poet and author

Sometimes, in the Lucias, is beautifully designed by Betty Rodgers of BK Publications, Eagle, Idaho.

The book is available for $17 postpaid from:

Janice Gilbertson
PO Box 350
King City, CA 93930




Janice Gilbertson's CD, My Western Point of View, includes:

Cowboy Fast Food
Bossin the Crossing
Endless Trail
Myself the Fool
Joe, You Awake
Shadow Girl
Just Forget It
Down to the Devil's Place
The Nighthawk's Dance
The Ranch Horse
Freedom Ride
The Cowboy of a Little Girl's Heart
Bless Ya for Taking the Ride

My Western Point of View is available for $17 postpaid from:

Janice Gilbertson
PO Box 350
King City, CA 93930


Contact Information



Janice Gilbertson
PO Box 350
King City, CA 93930






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