IN THE CLOUDS

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Down the Sierra’s spine,
they sneak-in and loom,
cumulus over the ridgeline.

No storm clouds, but friendly.
We know now we’ll never be
the same, never assume

green feed and water
always. We will pray
in our own way, kneel

before the cotyledons
breaking through the clay,
stare rain in the eyes.

And when the chant of pagans
sing, we will make love within
soft petals of wildflowers.

 

 

EQUINOX 2014

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The air smells damp at first light
beyond the jagged silhouette of ridges
that frame my mind—no straight lines,
no ‘only’ connections between heaven
and earth as I glance up in disbelief
inhaling dark moisture around me.

First dew after a drought confounds
the senses armed for more hot and dry
and I want out—out of summer
and into pastures with the heifers
nursing their first calves. I follow
fresh coyote tracks in last night’s dust

to an isolated draw for yesterday’s newborn,
watching for motion among the boulders
and Blue Oaks that haven’t moved
in my lifetime, where the spring went dry
two weeks after we drilled our well
deep into the hardrock to artesian

a half-mile away. We had to trench
a pipeline back to the trough
from the pump—no straight lines
above or under this old ground
holding us together best it can—
and there I find them: fine.

We are tough enough to submit
to long days beneath a blazing sun,
wear mental armor, gnash our teeth
into lockjawed grins to get by, but
searching, ever-searching for new sign:
fresh proof that nothing stays the same.

 

 

WPC(2) — “Endurance”

ENDURANCE

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In dry times, we plod
a little deeper within
our hearts with each step.

 

 

WPC(1) — “Endurance”

TWINS

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Double-sum troublesome
the first morning after
her all-night labor.

 

 

Feeding Again

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Psychologically, it’s not been difficult to get back into the feeding routine again, having fed continuously from August to April last season with little rain and less grass. And physically, I’m still in fair shape, but after forty-five years of bucking bales, I tend to roll them, rather than muscle them into place on the feed truck. And due to two years of drought, there’s 40% less cows to feed now.

As they begin to calve and have two mouths to feed, it’s essential that the cows are in good shape so that they will be cycling when we put the bulls out on the 1st of December. We ended last season with more dry feed in our upper granite country than in the clay, but still not enough to sustain a cow with a calf very long without hay. If a cow gets thin going into winter when she burns more calories, it takes more hay to get her to cycle than if we had fed her earlier.

Nobody’s starving, but after the last two years, just the sound of the diesel engine brings them to the feed truck. It was a little cooler yesterday, about 85° when we headed up into Greasy Creek, feeding the girls in Belle Point along the way. By the time we got to Greasy Cove the cows were shaded-up on the edge of a near-empty Lake Kaweah, about the only water they have to drink. We can’t take the hay to them, so they have to chug up the hill out of lake bottom to get hay. We didn’t have all the cattle, but left enough on the ground that the rest will get some.

Despite cooler nights and shorter days, stockwater is still an issue as the pond at Ragle Springs is now dry, though the spring is running enough to support a few head. We’re watching the weather hopefully, knowing that we will need near-perfect conditions get a decent feed year: early slow rains to get the grass started well-enough to hold moisture and keep our dry slopes from washing away.

WEEDS

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A place to hide in weeds
with rain—a closer look
at one another.

 

 

IDES OF SEPTEMBER

 

                        I began to be followed by a voice saying:
                        “It can’t last. It can’t last.
                        Harden yourself. Harden yourself.
                        Be ready. Be ready.”

                              – Wendell Berry (“Song in a Year of Catastrophe”)

Two laps around the sun, the voice, it dogs me—
recalling tougher times, tougher men and their women
who bore it all, the earth and flesh as one.

We are ready—weary, but ready once again for change:
the stirring of dry leaves clinging beneath thin clouds,
long shadows as the sun slips south, the raft of Widgeon

freshly arrived rising at first light, circling back
despite me. The silhouettes of first calves gathered
in shaded nurseries around oak trees, knowing only

the voice and scent of mother, dust and dirt—
blissfully naïve of rain, green leaves of grass
waiting in ambush somewhere ahead on this dry track.

We give in to it, the certainty, and sink into the earth
emulating centuries of oak trees. The barns are full
and ready as the bellies of cows heavy with calf.

 

 

AT DAWN

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The earth is hard and dry—
but when it comes to dreams
we look to the sky.

 

 

FIRST

December 28, 2013

December 28, 2013

 

Shedding a few leaves early, the sycamores
have begun to turn, quit taking water,
teasing me with peeks of more alabaster flesh

at a distance—first moves before the sway
of winter’s naked dance along the creek—
sandy cobbles like rafts of human skulls now.

On my morning circle of first-calf mothers,
I check the spots where water rises first
behind the granite dikes beneath damp sand

and short-cropped green as if I might
hurry time, escape into the future cool and wet
and wait like a rabbit for tortoise to catch up.

 

 

Calves

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