When hillsides leak,
it could be Kauai
less the rattlesnakes

denned nearby until
the first of March
to bathe in the sun.

When this draw runs
from Buckeye to Greasy
we have enough,

our measure of rainfall
filled with when
we fell in love.






We leave winter’s ice and snow
on the other side of the Sierras,
find spring colors waiting,

poppies and lupine in canyons,
yellow mustard claiming gentle
slopes of green, green grass.

How we worry with the bloom,
feel the leer of summer peeking
already to forget the drought.




We don’t imagine men
who live alone
in the mountains

of ever dying—
we seldom saw them
when alive.

Word trickles down
the watershed:
tracks in fresh snow

where he lay down
forever to become
part of our landscape.


Independence, CA





Weekly Photo Challenge (2): “Vibrance”


Yesterday’s Eastern Sierras





Weekly Photo Challenge (1): “Vibrance”






Robbin and I have made the trek to the National Cowboy Poetry Gathering in Elko, Nevada, where we were married twenty years ago, so many times that it seems like Groundhog’s Day. We split the 720 mile trip into two days, laying over in Bishop, stopping at the same places for gas and a snack or a meal, the same motel, right down to virtually the same heavy coats and winter shoes. One almost instant replay after another.

Yet always something new, some detail or happenstance to change the course of events, to make every Gathering a little different, a little richer. This year the weather was a player.








On the wind beyond the window,
snowflakes sideways, the street
streams with white waves, riffles

on gusts colliding with vehicles
to swirl like dust on a black
river of asphalt. I am no snow man

and imagine small covies of quail
before the shotgun, before
the bobcat, before taking flight.

Feathers fly with each collision,
gather and flee downstream
as if running for their lives.


After the Gathering




Though the Gathering has evolved in many ways over the last three decades, its emotional impact on me seems always the same. The music, poetry and camaraderie of friends heightens the senses, sandpapers the synapses, to leave me vulnerable and more fragile than I’m used to. A catharsis, or cleansing that strips away my everyday defenses to become more uncomfortably human, even on stage.

In yesterday’s session with Amy and Gail Steiger, it was like getting hit by a Mack truck as I informed the audience of Amy’s accomplishments as an author of three books, winner of a Willa Cather award for the first, ‘Rightful Place’, when all the pride I felt for her stuck in my throat, leaving me helpless to speak, helpless to read the poem I dedicated to her after I finished reading ‘Winter of Beauty’. Completely surprised, I was swept up and away into a blurry sea I couldn’t navigate until Joel Nelson in the front row said, “It’s OK, John, we got all morning.”

His steady voice righted me, and after much fumbling for alternate poems, I finally read the piece. Just one of many emotional moments, and just part of Elko’s annual rejuvenation for me.

Prior to the Gathering, I was interviewed by a writer for the Smithsonian: where apparently I failed to truly express the impact of the National Cowboy Poetry Gathering on me.


Winter Storm Warning




Woke up to snow this a.m., more forecast.

Try as I might to get to bed early, alas I was in an apparent minority as we reconnected with mutual and distant friends via current technology.




Looking forward to reading with Amy & Gail this morning at 10:00 @ the G Three: ‘Writing the Future’.

After Hours



A big part of the draw to National Cowboy Poetry Gathering for Robbin and I is reconnecting with old friends. Denise Withnell and David Wilke of Cowboy Celtic, and I filled-in last night for an ailing Wylie Gustafson at the G Three Theater show featuring the dynamic Paul Zarzyski. Little notice and no real plan, four dear friends had a ball before a great audience.

Unwinding afterwards in our room, Dave, Denise and I say goodnight.