God created men and Sam Colt made them Equal.
– Old West Adage (March 5, 1836)
Gunslinger, quick draw myth we cherish,
the West is wound with dreams
come through the centuries like a mist
hanging on a bare branch, prismed droplets
clinging, sparkling with our inheritance—
now we are rich with missiles and rockets
aimed to kill and maim, to keep the peace
with fear in this overcrowded town—
the dark shroud that shields us equally.
All between a cow and daylight,
she broke your collarbone,
a long bumpy ride on a dirt road
to the asphalt, to Emergency—
and we sink pipe and steel
for tomorrow’s taste for beef.
It could be a moonscape,
bacon-frying buzz of welding rod,
family of oak trees frightened,
unable to run. Well-scattered
somewhere near, we will watch
the future learn to work together
in these corrals: cattle, horses,
men and women—branding calves
far-removed from this crazy world.
I graduated from the 60s
with a broken heart
for a world at war,
but I had known love
and lust and peace
were easy to come by—
and with my anger
dug postholes deep,
tamped railroad ties
to last a lifetime
holding barbed wire up
tuned guitar tight.
Rusty fences sag
and leak in places now,
braces lean with
the constant conflicts
beyond these pastures—
none so sure or secure.
I have an aversion to using someone else’s labels, especially when they are bantered about in the political arena, but wildflowers here at the first of February are unusually early. Temperatures for the past 10 days have been over 70 degrees, no rain in sight.
We are half-way through our rainy season with slightly over 3 inches of precipitation to date when our annual rainfall averages over 15 inches. Four of the last five years have been declared droughts by the USDA, and this season is off to the slowest start since record-keeping began. Sierra snowpack is 14% of normal. Regardless of what you want to call it, our weather, our climate, has become extremely volatile and it is changing.
Blame is a useless exercise at this juncture, I believe, because we must deal with the impacts, whatever and wherever they are, now and adapt—we’re all in this together, like it or not. From a cattleman’s perspective, green grass is short or non-existent, hay extremely hard to find. Water for farmers in the San Joaquin Valley will be expensive or unavailable this coming growing season. The price of food will increase for everyone.
I want to thank freelance journalist Carson Vaughan for bringing the topic of ‘Climate Change’ to the foreground as he interviewed people at the recent National Cowboy Poetry Gathering in Elko, Nevada. I predicted that 7 out of 10 would be in denial. I truly hope I was wrong!
clumped like campfires
on gray days,
gopher snake sunning
in a dirt road,
no snow in Elko,
no rain at home—
‘Climate change,’ you say,
‘is tree hugger poppycock
leveraged to slow production
and change our ways.’
feathered in tender green,
turkey hens leaving sororities
cruising the creek to nest
adapt to the propaganda
as we scuttle normal
with options for cattle
without rain, grass to graze.
Nothing stays the same, only
nothing—the wild balance
scrambles for survival.
Living on the road my friend,
Is gonna keep you free and clean
Townes Van Zandt (“Poncho and Lefty”)
Early morning south of Bishop,
US 395 at seventy, murders
of crows or ravens like old men
gathered at the coffee shop
lift from a smear of hair
imbedded in the asphalt.
How the jack rabbit
laid his ears back,
found another gear!
The early birds get the night kill
living on and off the road.
O’ Darwin, how could you know?
Around me, wild shapes and sounds
alive—some begging rain, some
angling for continued dry—and I,
these old bones and softening flesh,
stand ready for the worst of it
as January green turns gray.
Beside sun-glint spirals, long chrome
lug nuts spinning, Mack truck rumbling
off Tehachapi into an exhaust cloud
trapped at the end of the San Joaquin,
we submerge like aquatic bugs
beneath the moss of a water trough
as we listen to the chattering news:
the muffled lines of script
for the multi-dramas beyond us.
We have been away and forgotten
what home looks like, what fence
beneath drought-killed oaks
needs attention first, which cows
most need hay—a murky purpose,
but we are ready for the worst of it.
Good to see Ernie Sites entertaining at the Red Lion lounge last night before the National Cowboy Poetry Gathering officially gets underway. Though pleasant for this time of year, it has been unseasonably warm, high 20s to low 50s. We’ll try to keep posting from the cell phone.