REAL LIFE

 

 

It’s a dance—
concentrate and relax,
guide the feel

of your horse
with your legs, find
the feel of your rope

at your fingertips
swing in rhythm
with the calf.

Like everything else,
it’s a dance—just
concentrate and relax.

 

Fuller Branding, Dry Creek – December 15, 2018

 

HEAVEN’S HOOF DANCE

 

 

Down the mountain, down
the four-wheel drive dirt track
to the asphalt that connects us

to home and families,
to basic urgencies far away
lost in time and space

beyond the whine of twine
around the heels of calves
stretched for branding—

when and where we are gods
for a moment, immune
to the insanities

of a civilized world.
All the old men gone
still lean against the boards.

I find my place among them,
whoop and illuminate
color with details,

hoping to see myself once more
stepping to the untamed rhythm
of heaven’s hoof dance.

 

 

Paregien Branding 2018

 


 

 

 

While waiting for the irons get hot, the first brandings of the season are like social events, a community of neighbors catching up with one another, great help from the first calf to the last. Thank you all.

 

GOOD HANDS

 

 

It could have been dreams
in a young man’s sleep,
lightly listening for the bell mare

high in the granite scree
that glows under starlight—
a celestial showering

from a leaky bucket sky
that came over me
to be a cowboy.

I did it well-enough
to stay in the same place
to become a cowman.

But it could have happened
at a branding, watching good
young hands just come to help.

 

 

Photo credit: Audrey Maze

 

Calves at the Gate

 

 

We began baiting our cows and calves on the Paregien Ranch into the gathering field, yesterday, with the Kubota and a little alfalfa hay. We plan on branding tomorrow, trying to take advantage of our drying roads after 2.5” of rain last week. Fortunately, the Valley fog was not a factor until midday when it rose to cloak landscapes up to 2,500 feet. We’re going back this morning with horses to collect a little bunch we missed and sort the dry cows and late-calvers from the bunch. It’s still too early this morning to tell where the fog is.

With ample dry feed, we haven’t had to supplement these cattle this season except for a little ‘hello hay’ when we’ve checked them. Though the cows know our gathering routine and are camped on the hay we’ve strung-out through the gathering field in the photo, it’s a brand new experience for the calves. I found their confusion looking longingly beyond the gate, to the ground they knew, humorous enough to pull out the camera.

 

PAREGIEN PLACE

 

 

The Valley fog has risen
to high-ground hillsides
leaving light on peaks,

warm islands enflamed
to cord limb wood
for branding and cook fires,

and a load of Manzanita
through a layer of gray
to the woodstove below—

as the generator pumps
tank and troughs full.
Up here, we’ve been rained

and snowed upon,
sorted cows from calves
in fog so thick

you couldn’t see
across the corral.
Up here, you brand

as soon as you can
with a crew of neighbors
who’ve been here before.

 

WELCOME WINTER

 

 

How I welcome winter now
as the sun slides south
towards Arizona,
towards old friends
that graze red rockpiles
we will meet in Nevada—
too far away to worry,
livestock on its own.

I can hear the harmonies
reverberate, cat gut
atop thin slices of spruce
from Canada—I feel
my heart lift away
from the maladies
our fears and guilt have made
insurmountable.

How I welcome winter’s
gathering, branding smoke
on weather-slick roads,
bull-stretched fences
and dear neighbors
gearing up-for one last holler
to all the gods
that have sustained us.

 

Home

 

 

I’m fasting before I have to brave the dark, foggy drive into Visalia this morning to have some blood drawn. I woke at midnight on the 9th of November with excruciating abdominal pain that put me in the hospital for a week with an infected gallbladder, an errant gallstone stuck somewhere in my plumbing beneath my sternum.

At my age, ambulance paramedics and emergency personnel are trained to assume chest and abdominal pains are likely to be a heart attack. Despite X-ray and a CT-scan, the correct diagnosis required two trips to Emergency before beginning a regime of antibiotics and pain killers. Too infected for surgery at the time, we’re currently working towards a date to remove my gall bladder, a month or so away at best.

Meanwhile, back at the ranch, we got rain, the grass is coming, the Angus bulls are out and the Wagyu bulls arrive next week—it’s time to brand, our annual dance around the weather with the help of our neighbors. It’s good to be back home.

 

BARE GROUND GREEN

 

 

After a good rain, the cows have left
the feed grounds greening, grabbed their calves
and headed for the ridgetops where raindrops

slowly settled to weave fast growing
blades between the matted hollow stems
to make a mouthful, a musty bit of old

with the fresher taste of a new beginning.
We feel the same searching hillsides
for black dots of grazing pairs, oblivious

to the feed truck’s throaty idle,
way down in the flats, close to the hay barn,
now wearing a dark empty hole.

 

Cowboy Crossroads, Podcast 41

 

A recent podcast from the landmark series of interviews recorded and edited by Andy Hedges, Cowboy Crossroads,Episode 41: John Dofflemyer

Nicely done, Andy. Thank you.