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Fischer, Joan (ed.) / Wisconsin people & ideas
Volume 52, Number 2 (Spring 2006)

Percy, Benjamin
In the quiet depths of cattle land,   pp. 47-48


Page 48

wisconsin humanities c ouncil 
Society no longer sends its sons into the 
wilderness to prove they are men, and 
years later they're still not sure if they're 
all grown up. 
he earns a reputation as a horseman and as a man working for 
the Sunk Creek Ranch. 
By God, I wanted that! 
At 18, 1 was a legal adult-but aside from a diploma, where 
was the proof? It struck me then that society no longer sends 
its sons into the wilderness to slaughter large beasts and 
prove they are men. Instead parents buy their boys a Nintendo 
and 10, 20, 30 years later they're still not sure if they're all 
grown up. 
Wister, like some great and terrible Moses draped in leather 
and carrying a buffalo gun, taught me to reexamine what it 
means to be a man. He demanded it. 
Courtesy Theatrical Poster Collection, U.S. Library of Congress 
48  SPR  NG  2006  WISCONSIN  PEOPLE  &  IDEAS 
When trying to explain to his beloved why he must gunplay 
with a no-good rotten scoundrel of a cattle thief, the Virginian 
says, "Can't yu' see how it must be about a man?" And in many 
ways this is the novel's central concern-the merit of a man- 
and for a long time I wandered in the Virginian's incompatible 
world, the world I still occasionally dream in, comparing 
myself to this 100-year-old hero. 
i 
Whenever I go home, I go to the Someplace Else Tavern. 
Antlers and bear traps and fishing rods and snowshoes deco- 
rate the walls. The bar is 30 feet long and made of pine, 
smooth with lacquer, dusted with peanut grist, with a bright 
brass foot rail lining its bottom. The stools are not stools at all 
but saddles somehow attached to a swivel system fixed to a 
short steel pole. And behind the bar there is a mirror that 
stretches the length of it, stenciled with Wild West scenes- 
cowboys warming beans over a fire, chasing buffalo with long 
rifles propped against their shoulders, fistfighting Indians in 
feather headdresses. 
I imagine myself among them. I like to think I'd do all right. 
Quick draw, talented horseman, resilient drinker, feared by 
men and cherished by women. I sip my Coors and down a 
whiskey shooter and through the surreal fog of cigarette 
smoke, it almost seems possible-I am almost there-a sensa- 
tion similar to the one I experience every time I crack open 
The Virginian and feel "steeped in a reverie as of the primal 
earth." To lie down with wild animals, with elk and deer, would 
be the only way to make my waking dream complete, "to leave 
behind all noise and mechanisms, and set out at ease, slowly, 
with one packhorse, into the wilderness, [where I would] feel 
that the ancient earth was indeed my mother and that I had 
found her again after being lost among houses, customs, 
and restraints." 
Benjamin Percy teaches writing at Marquette University. He is 
the author of the newly released short fiction collection The 
Language of Elk (Carnegie Mellon University, 2006). His stories 
appear in The Paris Review, Chicago Tribune, Greensboro 
Review, and many other places. 
m 


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