Fighting Fire

When modern life becomes overly complicated, the American cowboy remains grounded in the natural world with grit and tenacity as a steward of the land. This year, we channeled the rebellious spirit of the cowboy to strip back expectations and embrace simplicity. Like flames of a fire, the risks taken to preserve family legacies, honor Western heritage, and fuel our nation are worth the moments of uncertainty. In “Fighting Fire,” we explore the resiliency of human connection and the search for light and purpose in an ever–changing world.

Gillette, Wyoming

The fight for what is ours

In the early 1800s, more than 70% of the American population worked in agriculture. Today, that number has dwindled to less than 1%. For the families that have maintained their land for generations, it is becoming more difficult to hold onto their ranch with every passing year. Working cowboys and ranching families across the nation are facing innumerable challenges that threaten the vitality of local communities and their heritage. Small family ranches with hundreds of years of history are being lost and replaced with corporations, drastically affecting the wellbeing of their communities. Meanwhile, bureaucratic policies are raising the cost of cattle substantially and many families are having to rely on sources outside of the ranch for income. As the agricultural landscape continues to change, ranchers are coming up with creative solutions to protect their family legacies with innovation and perseverance all while continuing to raise cattle to feed the nation. Among these families is the Daly family, captured in this chapter, who utilize their working cattle ranch to offer guided mule deer and antelope hunts to sustain the 100,000 acres of land that have been in their family for five generations.

Kaycee, Wyoming

Adding fuel to the fire

Hours away from the nearest road and even further from the creature comforts of home, oil rig workers across the country spend more than half their time on an oil rig, a sublimely large platform that spans hundreds of feet. Oil rigs operate 24 hours a day, seven days a week, 365 days a year. This cadence requires crews to remain on site throughout their entire shift, which consists of 14 to 21 days in a row, 12 hours a day. On the rig, workers pump anywhere from 500 to 5,000 barrels of crude oil daily, providing fuel for transportation, heating, electricity generation, asphalt, road oil, and modern–day conveniences from ice chests and house paint to heart valves. To ensure health and safety only achievable through the tight–knit brotherhood formed by spending more time together than apart, crews consist of the same individuals every single shift. This is true of Cyclone Drilling’s Oil Rig #39 crew—including Foreman Dane Wang, Relief Driller Danny Estreich, Floorhand Dawson Nance, and Rig Operator Josh Miller—captured in this chapter. These crews rely on the expertise of their peers to eliminate the life–threatening risks they face during lifts as they work to fuel the nation.

Reykjanesbær, Iceland

with fire

While there are opposing views when it comes to western fashion—one school of thought maintaining that western pieces should be grounded in functionality suitable for working ranchers, and another view toying with western fashion as a celebration of American heritage—one unifying fact remains: the unyielding respect and admiration of the iconic American cowboy. The romanticism that coincides with the ideals of the West takes shape in different ways, from art and pop culture to fashion. Playing with Fire showcases the fashion risks taken from contemporary themes and cold weather layers to western–inspired influences. It speaks to igniting new runway trends by juxtaposing winter fashion with utilitarian layers and bringing the pieces woven with threads of resilience into contemporary fashion. The spirit of the West has become a cultural movement, and as western-inspired fashion continues to permeate both chic and popular sensibilities, the cowboy’s timeless ethos endures.