But God himself comes often and stays long,
when the castrati’s singing disturbs Him.
– Ranier Maria Rilke (“The Voices”)
Within the quietude of dawn
streaked in yellow flame
between charred black shadows
when the sun peeks low beneath
the branches shedding leaves,
I hear voices in the canyon,
from the ridges and the draws,
of the generations gathered
where women left their track
ground in stone, and men
built barns and fences,
some yet leaning into time
unknown, for a different breed
of cattle and of dreams—
a chorus clear and strong.
And all the working hands
that left no mark upon the land
they still inhabit singing
harmony and peace
within the quietude of dawn
streaked in yellow flame.
“A Voice for the Voiceless”
All this time, decades of learning and relearning
reapplied to new devices designed to save time—
to bank, spend or squander somewhere in the future
with no guarantees made selfish sense, a singular
detachment from the congested urgencies swirling
like autumn’s colored leaves in a quest of rest
and peace. How he craved the storm’s building
energies, the dark electricity thundering rain
to erase time’s tracks, that might freeze the moment
into days and weeks. Old flesh come alive
with the prospect of starting over again, cotyledons
of grass for cows and calves—a refreshed relief.
Terri Drewry photo
Long shadows on blond feed tall,
standing skeletons of oaks from drought,
the gray cow caught talking with an iPhone
to her new, silver-belly calf.
No audio, too far to catch the vocabulary
lesson, the inflection of each murmur
into song, the guttural beginnings of all words—
a universal language of basic sounds
with deep meanings that defy time
and cultures, that survive the latest plague
of progress and the genius of science—
no better teacher than a mother cow.
One would think that after 46 years of calving first-calf heifers, we’d be more relaxed about such a natural process where maternal instincts usually insure a successful calf crop. But I confess our anxiety is high this time of year, perhaps in part because we’ve seen all different kinds of failures from coyote kill to breach births to heifers more social than maternal who leave their calves alone too long to gossip with the other girls.
This morning before checking the first-calf heifers bred to Wagyu bulls, I drove up the road to see two coyotes taking turns trying to hamstring a brand new Angus calf belonging to one of the third-calf cows who was nowhere around. My shot that missed sent them off in different directions, but they’ll be back. While checking the calf, its mother showed up, looking to take me as I rolled it over to make sure it was OK.
Not far away, a first-calf heifer across the fence was down in labor, two feet showing when she stood up. I left her to check the rest of the first-calf heifers. About an hour later I returned as 5176 was licking off our first Wagyu X calf of the season.
Coyotes connect beneath a Harvest Moon risen
to make light of night shadows, young yip solos
rush into choruses that pull at dog hearts at work—
MPs on patrol, to join them. The wet stinking green
of your jungle war, I think of you often now, pushing
sod at home forever wounded, a momentary flash
of flesh the earth is absorbing, you could not end it—
not even with poetry, though we tried and cried
over miles of lines and poles to your barricade
of stacked straw bales, trailer camped alone
in snow, to dig your way out with words—
with cowboy metaphors for a broken heart.
You see, my friend, it has become a business
advertising fear enough to make us cower
to power and profit, the ultimate redeemer,
the sanctification we endorse to be left alone
with all our hungers satisfied, give or take
a life or two of the fifty-seven thousand—
not the Western adventure for a young Marine
hero. Coyotes connect beneath a Harvest Moon
risen to make light of night shadows before dawn.
She knows now,
how to be a mother—
and sharp eye,
to the soft talk
upon each breath,
the language of cows:
the umbilical stretched
from the warm womb
to grow and graze
a dry and brittle world.
Born in a drought,
she can be a mother
in any kind of weather.
Heads down, our future grazes green
on the edge of time, on ground
the river met with Dry Creek—
all the round cobbles mined
to build the county seat gone wild
with willows and cottonwoods,
natives claiming space we named
between the Kaweah and Wutchumna
Hill. Nothing is the same for us
or them as they mature to become cows.
Heads down, it is easy to forget
to look up at where we’ve come from.
Weekly Photo Challenge: ‘Edge’
Progress parallels the creek,
follows a crumbling dirt track paved
up canyon past the end of power poles
and the double yellow line,
the busy bulk of it beyond
the hazy ridgeline—
beyond thinking past water
when the creek is dry
Caravans of Christians
craving altitude, the new shine
of fifth-wheels pulling for the pines—
the guttural rumble, leather herds
of Harleys and the bright spandex
of cyclists pass us by
as if we were a landscape
to endure along the way
to something better.
Try as we might to push our calving date back two weeks to avoid the first of September heat, the bulls would hear nothing of it, repeatedly visiting our neighbor’s virgin heifers intended for Wagyu bulls. Also, we were under the influence of Big El Niño prognostications, wet weather for the first half of December that could hamper hauling the bulls up the hill to our older cows. With the stars and daylight hours aligned with our bulls’ internal clocks, we opted to let them go to work rather than having to bring them home and fixing fence everyday.
Nine months later, our own internal calendars click to new beginnings as the calves come, a new season and new year as we begin to leave summer behind and wait for the first rains to start the green feed, that unpredictable time of year when we harvest grass with cows to raise another crop of calves. Welcoming the shorter days, we’re saddled-up and ready, looking forward to another wild ride.