It is easy to be disappointed with gods
bringing only a veil of mist
when we hunger for rain.
We have dismissed our lust
for days and nights of dark storms
that seems beyond our means—
swollen creeks and gushing floods
fade is the distance, flake
like bark from dehydrated flesh.
Only the purple cotyledons
of Red-Stem Fillaree still believe
in miracles, open yet to the heavens,
to the sky. We load the goosenecks
with young girls for town,
shiny and fat with months of alfalfa—
say goodbye to what could have been
better than the auction ring. We know
the gods can’t do everything.
A long time ago, before the Wuk-chum’-nees came to Id’-ik,
the Kaweah River, the old-time bird and animal people who
lived at Sho-no’-yoo near Lemon Cove almost starved. There
was no rain. The ground was dry and bare. Trah’-tah, the
Oak tree had no acorns. There was no Kis’-tin seed, no Kaw’-
wah seed, and no Chee’-tut clover. Tro’-khud, the Eagle;
Wee’-hay-sit, the Mountain Lion, and all those people had
nothing to eat.
- F.F. Latta (“The Great Famine”)
We have grown numb to the dry,
plodding circles, feeding hay,
weighing which girls go, who stays.
We, who think we have the best to offer
bird and animal people, grow calloused
to the color, to the dawn, to the day
after day of the earth struggling.
Grandfather oaks lay down, pull
their roots free to serve leaves
to cattle. Nothing is as it was,
no cycle or sign into the future,
no escape except that empty gaze
before ascension when the soul
prepares to leave the flesh,
collecting essentials, just in case.
More than a payday, this glorious morning at our shipping corrals on August 22, 2012 as we wait to weigh the steers in the pen, sprinkler running to keep the dust down.
Yesterday’s color along Dry Creek is beautiful despite the bare hillsides in the background.
I took the Kubota up the hill this morning to cut some Live Oak for the wood stove, taking some hay and my camera along. After the last dry year, there wasn’t enough dry feed to carry our cows until the new grass came, despite heavy culling since May. We’ve been looking at bare hillsides for at least a couple of months, and conditions had to be perfect to keep from feeding hay this December. Our first rain at the end of October wasn’t enough to start the grass, and even the rain nine days ago was barely sufficient to germinate the seed. As we head into colder weather, what germinated will come slowly if it survives. Essential in colder weather is the protection the dry feed provides.
One of the only places we have any dry feed is the Gathering Field in Greasy where the photo above was taken today. The photo below shows spotty germination in the clay along Dry Creek.
The Red Stem Fillaree below has begun to turn purple under stress on a gentle west slope along Dry Creek Road. The cover of dry feed would have provided shade and helped keep moisture in the ground a little longer. All in all, a spotty germination to date with below-freezing temperatures predicted for mid-week. Nothing short of a miracle, like plenty of warm rain, will alleviate the pressure on the cows, calves and us, as well as the ground.
The birds move in and out as they please,
but some stay, like you and I, to watch
the arrival of guests bringing something
to the party. Even the town pigeons fidgeting
on the barn roof beneath a skyful of hawks
can bring humor and drama to a dirt farm—
to bare ground fenced and cross-fenced.
These are repetitious, pastel days of browns
and grays washed one upon the other
preparing for winter rains that never come—
like all the Mallards and Pintails waiting
somewhere north for a storm to follow.
Meanwhile, we visit with the Phoebes
feasting on a new hatch of gnats. The earth
seems to slip as the quail roll in from the hill.
Roadrunners snag the last of the butterflies
while hummingbirds and honey bees
get down to their buzzing business
upon fading purple plumes of Mexican Sage.
Some leave early and some leave late—
we just don’t know who’s coming next.
We know how to live
day to day,
from if to if—
the first word
to begin each thread
we follow to connect
elements and trends
of hay, grass and rain.
We come to despise
the empty promises
of weathermen at night,
see thin cows in our sleep.
The light is low,
leaves on fire
as cotyledons hesitate
on naked hillsides.
No one knows
and only a newcomer
or a fool dare predict
weather in California.
Despite yesterday morning’s red sky, our forecast for Thanksgiving has diminished to a slight chance of showers. Alerted, Red is also watching something from his the pen.