The Sierra’s Spine

 

 

Snow accumulation is just short of ‘normal’ for this time of year as we head into four days of forecast rain. Going up the hill to help the neighbors get one more bunch branded while we can still get to Mankins Flat, just on the other side of the near ridge.

 

California Weather Blog: “Wet and stormy week ahead for all of California”

 

STAPLES, POSTS AND WIRE

 

 

A long wire gate
in a steep spot
has heard replacement

swinging from pipe braces,
moving the fence,
for twenty-five years—

hears us laughing at the hole
it sometimes takes both to close—
about a list longer than our lifetimes.

On the slick hillside,
reminders realized, open
to pastoral light as I rejoice:

relieved from my word
to myself, to one another,
and to these staples, posts and wire.

 

BURNING BUSH

 

 

Prolonged moment before the all-day rain
quit, evening light pressed into the gray
reflects the mist within like a lantern glowing

separate from the sinking sun, blinding colors
rage around me, superfluous extremes burning
wildly with possibilities that beg me to yield,

to gratefully acquiesce and unfence my mind.
Rooted in a woodstove ash dump, heavy
with seed pods after twenty years—Redbud

in flames, tongues of fire hanging brightly
to taste the damp air fresh with a thousand
new beginnings we’ve yet to speak of.

 

THAT TIME OF YEAR

 

 

Believe it or not, there are thirteen, or parts of thirteen, people in this photograph taken at Jody Fuller’s branding on December 15th—two calves are down. One of the things that has changed dramatically since I was a boy about the size of the two, (can you find them?) in the photo, is the processing at branding when the only vaccination we gave back then was a two-way clostridial. Everyone in this photo has a job.

The youngest boy with the purple glove has the pine tar to apply to the area of castration, the other has a syringe of Enforce 3 to apply in each nostril. Their mother, outside the pen, is keeping track of tag numbers (yes, there’s a tagger) and the sexes of the calves. Additionally, modified live vaccines to ward of respiratory illnesses and a broad spectrum of clostridial illnesses are given to each calf, plus a separate dewormer. Jody also gives her calves an injection of vitamins.

Because of the concern for antibiotics in beef, vaccines have been developed to limit the necessity for antibiotics in feedlots, essentially placing that responsibility, and cost, on the producer. The media is currently focused on the residue of antibiotics in most all the major hamburger outlets—old cows and bulls. A very small percentage of BEEF cows and bulls ever get an injection of antibiotics.

As neighbors, most of us are used to working together as we brand one another’s calves, but I think it’s remarkable that the job goes so smoothly, especially with two, unpredictable live calves on the ground.

 

HAPPY NEW YEAR!

 

 

Another circle ‘round the sun—
                    fractured dawns
                    ride the ridgeline
                    to blind my eyes.

I am not the center of the cosmos,
                    just a passenger
                    on the planet
                    for a moment.

Green shadows reach into the Buckeyes
                    to bluing skies beyond
                    these dance hall girls
                    warming-up—

half-dressed sycamores
                    flashing flesh,
                    spilling leaves
                    awaiting sunshine.

Another circle ‘round the sun
                    between miracles of rain:
                    instant grass, instant future—
                    HAPPY NEW YEAR!

 

LAMENT FOR YESTERDAY

 

 

                              I’m an old time smugglin’ man and I know just what to do
                              I sell guns to the Arabs
                              I sell dynamite to the Jews

                                        – Tim Hardin (“Smugglin’ Man”) Verve 1966

Sometimes, the old songs ring true—
clever genius festering a tune
we can sing to our children
before we send them off to war.

Business explodes in the cities
of strangers, in jungles and deserts
we must liberate before we extract
our pound of flesh for the fallen—

and here at home, Dearly Beloved,
just outside the door, down the street
around the corner of the future,
nothing is secure anymore—

not the dollar, not the truth.
I want my old job back: weeding
flowerbeds for two-bits an hour—
knees deep into the rich damp dirt.

 

THE UNDRESSING

 

 

Crawling between the cobbles,
the creek begins to run again
lifting a discarded cover of leaves

into fragile rafts downstream
in the prolonged undressing
awaiting a freeze. White flesh

shows on some, bare limbs
reaching outward like flashers
in open russet trench coats

having shed their blush of crimson
weeks ago—slow and deliberate
provocations for hundreds of years

here, of frolicking sycamores, naked
nymphs dancing across the creek
when no one is looking.

 

Merry Christmas

 

 

IN THE FIFTIES

 

 

It was colder at the Solstice
when I was a boy, my father,
like a bear before the fire

between rounds snoring,
checking temperatures,
starting the Ford flat-head

wind machines, igniting
smudge pots for oranges—
lids thrown back for flaming

helmets, a nighttime line
of soldiers on every road
guarding orchards, crystalized

stars twinkling frantically.
A black cloud stayed
all day over the Valley,

soot invaded the houses
and went to school
on the faces of children—

mother’s party dress
protected in plastic
for yet another Christmas.

 

Greasy Branding 1

 

 

Though we weaned our calves last spring in these pipe pens, we branded our first bunch of calves here yesterday. Earl McKee began construction nearly 20 years ago, and only with my sister’s help could we finish the job. In the upper pen, it feels as if we’re working on top of the world. With the camera on the table, multiple photo credits go to Audrey Maze, Allie Fry, Terri Blanke, Maggie Loverin and Robbin.

 

 

 

 

To make the handling process easier on the calves, we incorporated a head pen.