Stories of cowboys and cowgirls drift through our imaginations from the time of our earliest daydreams. Youngsters in America hear tales of the Wild West early on, reinforced by a steady stream of Hollywood movies and TV shows. I was a youngster in Europe, but there too, German author Karl May regaled us with stories of the American West and the adventures of the fictional Native American hero Winnetou and his pal Old Shatterhand. The drama of exploring unknown territory with a trusted companion, fending off foes, wild animals, and the elements is universally fascinating.
With my single source of Wild West literature, I mistakenly believed that cowboys were a distinctly American phenomenon. But through my travels I’ve come across “cowboy” types in many parts of the world. As a practical matter, the job of keeping cattle demands a particular uniform: leather chaps, wide-brim hats, bandannas, and duster jackets where it’s cold. All over the world, “cowboys” appear very much the same. And curiously, enjoy the same music, which is a bit harder to explain considering the disparate cultures represented. But the appeal of a sad story put to music is as universal as one in print. Cowboys and a fascination with their lore seems universal.
Riding a horse along narrow trails early on a fresh, sunny California morning at Alisal Ranch, the memories of my youthful imaginations come flooding back. The experience seems so familiar, but I can scarcely think of another time I have been on a horse. It must be a ride Winnetou took that I’m recalling.
The Santa Ynez Valley
Nestled in the Santa Ynez Valley, bound by the valley’s namesake river in the northeast and Central California’s coastal mountains to the southwest, Alisal is shielded from the breezes from the nearby coast, producing warm days and cold nights. Steelhead trout flourish in the rivers and seasonal streams that cross the property. And the rolling hills are dotted with sycamore and oak trees old enough to have started growing when this land was Mexico.