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Cynthia Delaney / CYNTHIA DELANEY 

Cowboy poet Paul Zarzyski "talked" with his hands as he gave advice on poetry writing.

Halter Making 101

ELKO – A small group gathered around master halter maker Kelly Pfeifer Jan. 30 at the conference center. Each person held a brightly-colored length of cord, partially knotted, ends trailing. Baffled looks were the norm.

It was only 10 a.m., just an hour into the workshop taught by the Independence Valley cowgirl. With a short break for lunch, that left about five more hours to fabricate a piece of headgear solid enough to maneuver 1,000 pounds of horse. The feat seemed dubious.

“It doesn’t look as pretty as yours,” workshop attendee Ed Kingzett said to Kelly’s “assistant.”

“That’s ’cause yours isn’t as tight,” 8-year-old daughter Sarah Pfeifer said.

“Do it again?” Kingzett asked.

Sarah nodded.

He carefully wound the cord up over a square knot and cast a look at his compact coach.

“I think you messed up,” she said.

Sarah teased Kingzett saying he had to start over, “… a thousand times!”

Finally, she called Mom to the rescue.

Kelly guided Kingzett as he pulled the cord into place.

“Now put the nose away from you and the tails are on each side of your arm,” Kelly said.

Others watched, holding their knotted cords with an iron grip, not wanting to undo their progress.

Kelly took her first halter-making workshop at the National Cowboy Poetry Gathering a decade ago from Ken Frazier. She is now a pro but understands the uncertainty of a novice.

Kelly turned to assist another eager learner.

“When you hold it up, pretend you’re the horse.”

While Mom worked, Sarah picked up the rope halter diagram and explained some of the trickier knots.

“That’s the son-of-a-gun knot,” she said, pointing to convoluted series of twists and turns above where the lead line would attach. “It’s not that hard, to me.”

Keynote address personifies Cowboy Poetry Gathering

ELKO — The National Cowboy Poetry Gathering is more of a who than a what.

And she just celebrated her 35th birthday.

For the occasion, founding director Hal Cannon addressed her in his keynote Jan. 31 as though the event were a person he’d known half his life: “All these years, working for you, it’s always been about wonder and surprise. It’s personal. You’re family.”

The family bond encompasses the returning audience members and extends a welcome to newcomers. That’s because the people — performers and observers alike — are what give the gathering life.

Kicking off the keynote and serving as a symbol was the lively Elko High School marching band. Red and silver sequins and brass glittered on the Elko Convention Center stage as the ensemble performed “Ghost Riders in the Sky.”

“It’s the combination of so many talented people coming together to express themselves as one but still with their own personal flare,” said Kristin Windbigler, executive director of the Western Folklife Center, “the amount of time each person puts into practicing and coordinating with the others and the resulting beauty that comes from it.”

Collaboration, individuality and artistic expression is what the gathering celebrates.

“It seemed like a nice metaphor for gathering as we have to celebrate the joy of creativity and our freedoms of self-expression and our love of this Western way of life,” Windbigler said.

Cowboy poets and singers also help preserve traditions, and remind listeners of shared work and heritage. Organizers past and present place emphasis on keeping the gathering — and what she represents — alive for years to come.

“Will these poems, these stories, this wisdom speak to the generations coming up? We couch it as cowboy, but the best is universal,” Cannon said after sharing a video clip of Buck Ramsey reciting his poem, “Anthem,” which mourns greed on the range. “Buck Ramsey’s poem is not about some random old punchers from the past. It’s literature for the ages.”

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Roots, reps, revenue highlight talk with Kate Marshall

ELKO — Newly elected Lt. Gov. Kate Marshall spoke about tourism, state government and her roots on a visit to Elko. The former state treasurer joined a crowd of hundreds to hear the National Cowboy Poetry Gathering keynote address Jan. 31 for a peek into Western heritage then sat down with the Elko Daily Free Press for a question-and-answer session.

What is the importance of tourism to communities like Elko through events like the gathering?

The tourism commission, of which the lieutenant governor is chair, is really focused primarily on the rural counties. It becomes very important when you look at the numbers. If you look at primary and secondary employment, you’re really employing almost half a million people in Nevada, and almost a little over a quarter of the workforce. When you start looking at the income generated to our economy, again you’re looking at almost 25 percent of our GDP in Nevada is made up of tourism. Then you begin to realize how much it is in ecosystem that is a lifeblood for so many businesses. …

One of the things that I think we can expand on in addition to the people who are coming [from other states and countries] is having people in Vegas and in Reno remember to come here — that our own state has so much beauty and grace to it and so much to offer.

What personal connections can you make with the lifestyles that cowboy poets or singers are talking about?

Much more lowly. Certainly not as lofty. My mother’s family are chicken farmers, so you have to step off the stool for my family. I also have a lot of miners in my family, so more on the hard labor side than on the poetry side.

How do you feel about the makeup of the upcoming legislature?

We’ve had a political shift. One of the things that is something to be proud of is Nevada is the first in the nation now with a female majority. We also have gender equity on our Supreme Court. I think given that women are half our population, that it is something to be proud of. Historically, many women came to Nevada to rewrite the story of their lives. Nevada has a history of very strong women, independent women, women who knew how to make it on their own, raise their families when their spouses were out on the range. To have a female majority in the legislature I think is representative of how independent we are as a state.

How do you think Democratic and urban officials can represent the needs of rural Nevadans, who largely voted Republican in the general election?

When you run for office, you run under a political party’s affiliation. As they say, you speak in poetry — hopefully, not as good though [as cowboy poetry] — but once you’re elected, it’s really about governing, and you really represent the state. I brought my staff here so we could have a staff retreat in Elko. My staff represents Reno, Gardnerville and Vegas, where they’re from. One of the things that is very, very important to the success of our state is recognizing that it is the state of Nevada, and it is an ecosystem. There is no Vegas without Elko, without Wendover, without Tonopah, without Baker. You don’t have Nevada unless you have the whole of it. Keeping that in mind is important to the success of us as a state.

How will you stay in touch with the needs and values of your constituents statewide?

One of the things I want to do is create a small business advocate, or ombudsman. The role of that person is, if you’re a small business and you don’t know, or you’re having issues navigating government, then you can call us and we will help you through that process. We will literally be your voice. That person will also have to make a circuit at least annually so that they can go where businesses are and sit down and have an open office hours, if you will, so that people come to them and [meet] whatever their needs are. So we will be out going to where those businesses are and trying to promote them. That also fits not only with economic development but tourism because many businesses intersect with tourism.

Who has been your most influential role model in life and why?

I will have to divide that.

My most influential role model in Nevada is [former Attorney General] Frankie Sue Del Papa. She’s the one who encouraged me to get into politics. There has never been a town I have gone into where she hasn’t helped someone. I once had the headstone of her mother in my car, and I took it to Tonopah to place it on the graveyard. It was very, very heavy, and so I went into the restaurant because I needed help. I just went to the restaurant and went to the front, and I said, “Does anybody here know Frankie Sue Del Papa? I have her mother’s headstone.” And four men stood up, and we bought flowers, and they just told these stories of how she helped them in their lives. I think that is an amazing person. She is definitely a mentor to me and someone precious to me.

My grandmother — she’s a grandmother by marriage — she lost her first husband in World War II. She remarried my grandfather, probably because he wouldn’t leave the stump in front of the house. She really taught me how to manage your life instead of being managed by it. She worked as a clerk her whole life in a store. She had lost both parents when she was 2 years old, so she had to make her own way. You would never see her cry. She would often wear an apron in the kitchen and might twist the strings of the apron if something really bothered her. She thought I would see the world, and she thought the only way to see the world at that time was to be a stewardess. So she wanted me to be a stewardess. She was someone who, I would go and sleep at her house and I would get up and she would cook me eggs and bacon and sit and say, “Let’s just have a chat.” She is a very strong person. Her name was Ruth.

Editor’s note: Answers have been edited for clarity and length.

Judge refuses Nevada's latest bid for plutonium shipment ban

RENO (AP) — A federal judge denied Nevada’s latest request Thursday to immediately block all future shipments of weapons-grade plutonium to a nuclear security site near Las Vegas.

The state wanted the shipments blocked until potential safety and environmental risks could be reviewed further. U.S. District Court Judge Miranda Du denied the state’s request a day after the Energy Department revealed that it had already sent half of the highly radioactive material that it had planned to move from South Carolina to the Nevada National Security Site.

The judge in Reno said in a 16-page ruling that proceedings will continue on a regular schedule in a lawsuit Nevada filed in November seeking to block plans the Energy Department approved in August to transfer a full metric ton of plutonium to Nevada.

The department disclosed for the first time Wednesday that the shipment was sent sometime before November and said it doesn’t intend to ship any more to the site 70 miles north of Las Vegas.

Nevada Attorney General Aaron Ford asked Du in new court filings to schedule a status hearing Monday on the growing controversy. On Thursday, Du directed lawyers for the state and the federal government to work together to come up with a time to hold such a hearing.

Gov. Steve Sisolak said the state is considering seeking a contempt of court order after he says the government lied about the transfer of the plutonium. The Energy Department is currently under a federal court order issued earlier in South Carolina to remove the material from the Savannah River nuclear site by January 2020.

Nevada’s lawyers on Wednesday again requested that the court block the shipments, saying the Justice Department had assured them no shipment would occur before February of this year. Ford’s office argued the court should not accept the government’s assertion that it would not send more plutonium to Nevada.

Energy Department officials say they had to keep the previous shipment secret until now for national security reasons. They disagree with claims by Sisolak and members of Nevada’s congressional delegation that they didn’t receive prior notice of the plans to begin moving the plutonium to Nevada.

The department said in a statement Thursday that completion of a supplement analysis of the plan by DOE’s National Nuclear Security Administration in August served as notification “ahead of time” that they would move the plutonium out of South Carolina in compliance with the 2020 deadline.

“NNSA routinely ships this type of material between its sites as part of our national security missions and has done so safely and securely for decades,” DOE said.

Nevada argues the department has failed to adequately study the potential dangers of moving the material, which still has the potential to be used to help develop nuclear weapons, to an area that is subject to flash floods and earthquakes. Nevada says the state’s lands and groundwater may already be contaminated with radioactive materials.

Wednesday, Du rejected the state’s November request to block the shipments. On Thursday, she said her Wednesday ruling made the additional request moot.

She said federal law requires her to defer to the Energy Department’s conclusion that no additional environmental studies are necessary unless the state could prove it would be irreparably harmed by the shipments.

“Nevada’s claim of irreparable harm to Nevada’s lands, environment and by extension Nevada’s citizens, is merely a theoretical possibility at this juncture as Nevada provides no evidence from which this court may infer a likelihood of any concrete or impending harm,” Du wrote.

She noted that the government has transported nuclear materials to the Nevada site before and historically uses plutonium in testing operations there.

“Thus, it is highly hypothetical that shipments of additional plutonium to NNSS and staging there would lead to imminent immediate harm,” Du wrote.

Officials in Nye County where the site is located said on Thursday that they would have preferred the Energy Department conducted additional studies of the potential impact of the shipments in compliance with the National Environmental Policy Act but that the safety concerns were being blown out of proportion.

Darrell Lacy, director of Nye County’s Nuclear Waste Repository Project Office, said DOE has trained Nye County and state law officers and emergency response crews to handle any emergency.

“We assume that the shipments of these type of materials are a routine matter in Nevada,” Lacy said. “We do not think this movement of 1,000 pounds of plutonium placed our residents or the environment in a high-risk situation.”