Ziran Muse: Spider

Ziran Muse: Spider

The first time we saw Spider we collectively yelped in curiosity. WHO IN THE HELL is that super tall, super dapper, super cowboy with the mustache and heart-shaped glasses!? He tipped his hat to us and came over to Meilu. We just stood there in awe and our jaws crashed to the floor. We had never met someone like Spider and he’s the coolest person we met in New Mexico, period. He taught us about being a “cow puncher” (aka a real cowboy) and he embodies everything you think that title means: resilience, independence, and a spirit that’s tough as nails. Yet Spider breaks all the stereotypes a cowboy invokes - he’s warm, poetic, extremely intelligent, and a true gentleman. He’s a writer and artist too, making the most incredible bespoke cowboy boots the old fashioned way. More on that in the interview.

There’s an inherent desire to romanticize Spider’s life - he’s a lone ranger living off the land, he reluctantly carries a cellphone that doesn’t text or go online or have pictures, and his approach to the world is anti-capitalist with a strong anarchist flair. He does life with an independent fierceness that’s admirable and even enviable. He lives the way we *think* we want. He doesn’t perform or pretend like so much of our generation - he is the real deal, taken simply and straight. But he’d be the first to tell you his life is hard. He spends his days in the penetrating sun doing hard physical labor. Paychecks don’t always come. He fundamentally opposes a system that he has no choice but to rely on. This duality and inherent tension is just part of what makes Spider so interesting to know.

Everytime we hung out with Spider we learned a little bit more about him, and would savor the crumbs he dropped. He's fluent in Spanish and grew up on a Navajo Reservation. He hates the government and systemic idiocy. He has a thing for spicy women and can flirt better than you. He’s damn funny with a twisted sense of humor. Sometimes he has a twinkle in his eye that borders lunacy, and you can see an off-kilter sheen that playfully glimmers and reminds you that you can never be quite sure what to expect from him. If it's not obviously clear... Spider is fucking rad. 

He gave us some of his old horseshoes which Lucien used in our Rust Dyed collection of garments. He graciously let me photograph him wearing one of the finished shirts. In these photos you can see a patchworked guitar strap I made for him too out of silk scraps, with a hand embroidered Spider on it.

In a world of conformity, Spider is an emblem of individualism and integrity. He's everything and nothing you think he'd be. He holds this duality like a lasso, spinning it round and round, creating circles to the point you don't know where they begin and end. We hope everyone has a chance to meet someone like Spider, and we’re so grateful we crossed paths with this undeniable living legend. 

So here is the interview! Thank you Spider!  

Some background! Where are you from and how did you become a bootmaker and cowboy? 

As a youngster, I turned my back on school because I love being outside and I love horses.  Young and green, I wandered all over, punching cows from New Mexico to California to Montana to Idaho to Nevada, to the Mexican states of Sonora and Chihuahua, back to Arizona....

In 1995, I worked the fall wagon at the ORO ranch in northern Arizona, and when the works was over and the wagon pulled in, they cut us single guys loose, and it being December, I decided to go south and look for work rather than north.  After about a week of bopping around feed stores and bars, I found myself in Nogales, home of Paul Bond Boots.  Back then, every bunkhouse in the west had one of Paul Bond's well-thumbed catalogs, and I had done my share of flipping through them and dreaming about one day being able to afford a pair of those high-heeled, tall-topped, boots with their colorful tops, and so I figgered, since I was in town, I'd go by and drool over a pair or two in person.

While I was there, I met the then 80-year-old Paul Bond who showed me around personally.  On my way out, I asked the old man, "You wouldn't happen to need any help right now, would ya?"

"Have you ever made any boots?" he said.

 "Nope," I said, "But I've damn sure wore out a pair or two."

 "Well," he said, "That's a start."

He let me roll out my bed behind the shop and the next morning I went to sweeping the floor and cleaning the bathrooms, and pretty soon I was on my way.  Most of the crew of about 15 spoke only Spanish, and most of the customers spoke only English, and seeing's how I can yak it up in both of 'em, it wasn't long before Mr. Bond was teaching me to measure people's feet and build lasts, and it went from there.  I left the next April for the spring wagon at the ROs, promising I'd be back when it pulled in, and I wound up running the place for six years, till the walls closed in and I took a camp job back at the ROs, living the next six years on the side of Mohon mountain, remote, 8 hours to headquarters, no pickups, no phone, none of that bullshit.  I'd make a trip to town 3-4 times a year, packing everything home on a mule.  I had some great horses and pretty damn good mules.  I saved up a decent nest egg and decided to try to get my own cows.  Went into business with a cow trader and predictibly, lost it all, had to go back to working for wages, still and all, got to spend some time in some beautiful country, up by the Grand Canyon, over in the Animas mountains down on the border, now here on the Pecos River, all the time making boots on the side.

Favorite book and why?

I couldn't even begin to pick a favorite.  I just recently re-read The Brothers Karamazov, which I seem to go back to every few years.  It's a different book every time.

What are the main things you’ve learned from your experiences living off the land? 

Don't go pettin rattlesnakes.

You love to write - do you have a short story you’d like to include? 

I don't love to write, it's more of a compulsion.  I quit writing seriously when the print industry died out.  One day I got a check for 14 cents for a 500 word piece and that seemed like a good time to chuck it.  I still write poetry, I ain't saying it's good, but it keeps me busy.  I wrote this one after meeting a cute little girl.

Meeting Meilu

The wind blew all day.  

Jackrabbits hid in the brush

and my neck was sore 

from hunching over in the saddle.

But I cleaned up,

I dressed up,

filled up my Allsup’s cup,

fired up my pickup,

and drove to town.

The museum was warm

and full of people.

It was nice to be inside.

Nima talked about

his grandpa and straight lines

and how he bought a new ruler

just for Roswell.

And as we all moved to the hall

where his grand canvas slept

stretched out on the floor

like some linear lion

of lost Persian lore,

I saw you.  Eyes flashing, you sat

perched on your daddy’s shoulders, 

tall enough to stare me down.

While you drooled on his bald

head, I caught your glance

and came over to meet you.

“Hello,” I said. You grinned all gums

and grabbed the finger

I held out.  You tried to

shove it in your mouth, and I knew

we would be friends forever.

You sang me a song you wrote - is music something you’ve always tinkered with?

Yeah, I started playing guitar as a kid, and it's fun.  I like writing and playing silly songs.  When I was in Nogales, I did the band thing for a while, but music is a lot more fun for me if it's just something I do for the hell of it.

What are the principles you live by? 

Don't go pettin rattlesnakes.

Ziran comes from Daoist philosophy and means “natural, spontaneous, and free.” To push away outside influence and embrace your own authenticity. Do you feel like you live Ziran at all? 

Oh, yeah.  That's me.  Probably to my own detriment, but what the hell.

Words + Photography: Kelly Wang Shanahan (@theziran)

Muse: Spider Dailey (www.grumpybastardboots.com)

Shot on 35mm film in Roswell, New Mexico. September 2023.