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Still more poet than cowboy
By LISA BRITTON
Of the Baker City Herald
The first time I met Glenn Fleming, his blue eyes twinkled as he asked if I'd like to hear a poem.
How could I refuse?
He drew himself up straight and tall, feet together, one hand raised in the imitation of holding a "slow down" sign.
It's called "The Flag Girl."
"She stood by the road with a flag in her hand,
And waved as the traffic went by.
She had dust in her mouth, dust in her hair,
And even had dust in her eye.
She stood by the road with a flag in her hand,
her nose, it did sunburn and peel.
With coffee and pop and no place to hide,
Her bladder was made of steel..."
My smile grew as he recited the stanzas, his own grin a testament to how much he enjoyed creating his own cowboy poetry.
His eyes still twinkle though his words are fewer.
Fleming, 82, has Parkinson's disease, a condition that affects the nerves and causes muscular tremors.
He was diagnosed with Parkinson's in 1996.
But he kept writing.
"I'd be doing it now if I didn't have this Parkinson's," he says, glancing at his shaking right hand.
During his poetic process, he wrote the poem out longhand, then typed it out.
"On an old Underwood typewriter that I bought him when he started college," says his wife, Barbara.
Fleming's collection "The Cowboy Poetry of Glenn M. Fleming" is available at the Ranch Art Gallery.
He didn't publish all his poems.
"I had special ones for special people that I didn't put in the book," he says.
He still has ideas.
"I still have a few more, but I can't do anything," he says.
Fleming tried his hand at cowboy poetry for the first time less than 20 years ago.
But he's always liked it, he says, and he used to seek out the poetry in the "Farm and Ranch" magazine.
"They always had a poem in them," he says. "I tried it a little bit when I was a kid. It used to kind of intrigue me."
Though he'd always wanted to be a rancher, he still describes himself as "just an old schoolteacher."
He spent more than 20 years in Redding, Calif., where he taught just about everything.
"Name it. If they needed a teacher somewhere, they roped me into it. I taught everything except Spanish," he smiles.
"Then I decided to be a rancher."
In 1971, he and his wife, Barbara, sold some timber land they owned in California to buy acreage near Virtue Flat.
He was finally a rancher.
After a while, he even attempted some cowboy poetry.
"I found out it was pretty easy," he says.
A positive response kept his creative juices flowing.
"I found out people enjoyed them, so I kept writing," he says.
His ideas come from comic strips, jokes, even "a smart remark somebody makes."
Then there's "God's Quiet Time," a poem inspired by a simple feeling.
"I wrote that one from the spiritual feeling ranching gave me. It felt like God was there," he says.
The Flemings ran cattle on their ranch for five years. After a severe drought hit the county, they sold their cows and have leased out the land ever since.
That didn't quiet Fleming's Western spirit. "I want to be a cowboy when I grow up," he says, eyes crinkling into a laugh.
After the drought, he continued with his cowboy poetry.
Throughout the years, many acquaintances requested poems, and Fleming was happy to oblige.
It was one of these poems that earned first page honors in his collection "It Started in Houston," written at his daughter's request for he and Barbara's 50th wedding anniversary.
"It was in the spring of forty-three
When she first came on the scene.
She was a cute little co-ed
And I was a U.S. Marine..."
"I put it first in the book just for you," he says, gently squeezing his wife's arm.
He admits that poems don't always come easy.
"It takes a little thinking," he says. "Some of them I had a terrible time putting it together to come out the way I wanted it to come out."
But it was the response that kept him writing.
"If I'd known they'd like it, I'd have started earlier," he smiles.