To Bee or Not To Bee |

To Bee or Not To Bee

As he was about to head back home to Idaho, Frank gave me that damned cowboy hat.

I didn’t see how I could wear the thing. I’m no buckaroo.

Still, when I put that hat on, it sucked me in. Woven of fine straw, it stretched snugly around my bald head. I pushed it down until it flattened the tops of my ears, which is very cowboy, I think.

I wore it some, like to the gas station in Silt, and around the farm, and it keeps the sun off you. I’ll say that. That stretchy-tight fit keeps it on even in a windstorm. High and round at the top in back, like Hopalong Cassidy’s hat, its crease tapers toward the front.

It looks great, but it feels like a lie.

I don’t brand. Never have. I don’t ride or rope or shoot. I don’t know the difference between Angus and Charolais. I don’t know the names of the parts of a saddle, other than “stirrup.” Also, I refuse to wear Wrangler jeans.

Most ominously, I’m not so sure about horses – magnificent but very small-brained creatures that will buck or stomp you if they get a chance.

I do own an ancient monster rusted-out extended-cab F150 pickup (that’s a Ford, Hon), so when I drive around rural Garfield County with my hat, I get a lot of waves.

I confess to a weakness for yoked western shirts with snaps. I don’t care what they cost. Western shirts look sharp, and you can pop out of one in about two seconds, if you ever need to.

But they don’t say, “I’m a cowboy” like a hat does.

My beekeeping sidekick Mark owns some cow-calf pairs, and two or three bulls. In his spare time, which is mostly before dawn, Mark hauls water and mends fence. He might go look for a bull on the loose, like at Far Bars or on the Little Snake, up by the Wyoming border.

Mark leans against Nanci’s pickup in the morning, as those two talk cattle.

He taps his snoose can and packs a fresh wad. “That danged old cow has that mastitis in her udder,” he says solemnly. “She needs doctorin’ up bad.”

“You’d better flush her out,” Nanci responds enthusiastically.

Mark smiles at this sage advice. “Yeah,” he says, “I’ll just flush her out.”

I want to state for the record that Mark wears Wranglers. Nothing but. Still, he sports a baseball cap, not a ten-gallon hat. This brings my own hat dilemma into sharper focus.

Mark wallowed in the mud in Nanci’s corral after work. I have no idea what he was doing. “Here, try this on,” I said. I tossed him my cowboy hat.

He turned it over in his tore-up hands. “That’s your hat,” he said.

“Put it on,” I said.

Mark hesitated. He shifted his weight, and the mud sucked at his western boots. “Put it on,” I said. “I want to see what you look like.”

When Mark put that hat on, standing there alone in his boots in the mud he looked like Gene Autry, like John Wayne, like the Sundance Kid. He looked like every honest cowpoke who ever stretched barbed wire or chased dogies through the sagebrush.

“It’s yours,” I said.

“I can’t take it,” he said, like any cowboy would.

“Well, I’m just going to leave it here, because I don’t want it,” I said.

“I can’t take it,” Mark said.

But I had him at a disadvantage. He was kind of stuck there in the mud with the hat. Besides, that hat sucks you in. As I turned to walk away, Mark pushed it down all the way, until it flattened the tops of his ears.

New Castle beekeeper Ed Colby thinks the worst name anybody could call you is “a drugstore cowboy.” You can e-mail Ed at

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