Our rainfall fared better than the Coast Range and Southern California last season (October through April), breaking a four-year drought for the Southern Sierra Nevada foothills with some good spring rains that have left us a legacy of ample dry feed as we approach the fall. The sun was just breaking the ridge (to the right of the photo) this morning, the base of Davis Mountain and Dry Creek still in shadow.
Followers of this blog know that August is our indicator month, a thirty-day cycle yet to be confirmed in September, as a layman’s forecast of our weather in October and November, the beginning of our rainy season. As the Emperor Grape season often went well into October, my father depended on this approach for getting his grapes picked before the rains.
From the Solstice to August 25th, we’ve had only three days here with highs below 100°— warmer than average, though I suspect our morning lows have been cooler than average. Discounting monsoonal flows that were nearly nonexistent this summer, we are now experiencing our first indication of a weather change. A cursory look at our weather journal, yet to be confirmed in September, indicates a fairly stable pattern with little rain. The Old Farmer’s Almanac and other early prognostications call for a drier than normal fall and winter that may translate into a trend towards more dry times.
Climate Change has become a political argument stretched to unreasonable extremes, but from our vantage point, hot and dry are the current reality, regardless of causes, that we must live with and adapt to in this business. The much-ballyhooed El Niño failed to relieve much of California, defying all weather models. Assuming the extreme weather conditions all over the planet, that have impacted more than just agricultural interests, have also defied most patterns, I’m guessing a whole new set of computer models are being developed.
We are engaged in a weather-dependent way of life we call a business, and console ourselves by conferring a feminine gender to our weather, repeating our mantra, often in awe, by saying “she can do whatever she wants, whenever she wants.” With the bulk of summer behind us, we have enjoyed pleasant evenings and mornings for most of August.
Hot days fade early,
black breathes cool upon thin skin
as old men leave town’s comforts
to drive the canyon, narrow
road and sharp curves gone
straight in ’68, leaving legends
on slopes of scree
where the Model T coup
teetered on two wheels
in high school, you asking
where you could have died
This ground has not forgotten,
each rock removed exposes
of our dead history
into a landslide
of stories hidden
and turned loose on our tongues—
old men exploring
where they’ve come from.
I received this advertisement from Progressive Rancher, one of the many free publications put out by drug and animal health corporations:
I was thinking about ordering 400 cow suits when I noticed the holes in the helmet for horns, a flaw to be sure for moon-grazing where oxygen can leak out, and then not all of our cows have horns and none grow the same. We could dehorn the cows and plug the holes with corks.
Closer inspection also reveals no air pack, no oxygen, just hoses recirculating cud breath and methane, perhaps a walking bomb for the military. But the real flaw, and I remember as a boy the woman who suggested to my father that we put pants on our cattle to cover their private parts, is that there are no zippers for defecation, urination, procreation or for nursing calves.
All of this is mute on the moon, of course, where there’s nothing to graze anyway, even if the helmet was configured to allow it. From the Amazon of another time, I’ll order mine from Mother Goose:
Hey, diddle, diddle,
The cat and the fiddle,
The cow jumped over the moon;
The little dog laughed
To see such sport,
And the dish ran away with the spoon.
Language without words
across the hillsides floating
anyone can read.
From a small puddle,
beyond too huge to compute
or be frightened by.
She does not know
we plugged the leak
for cattle, does not care
we watch her drink
when the tank is full
and the generator’s purr
has quit to draw her
clean water at noon—
a tune she can dance to.
Too much in the sun
by early morning, tiptoe—
don’t wake the big boys!
Though warm temperatures persist, the days are noticeably shorter as the sun slides south down the ridge before it rises a little later each morning. We’re a couple of weeks to 30 days away from calving, depending on when we put the bulls out, trying last winter to keep our newborns out of September 1st heat by turning the bulls out two weeks later.
But to tweak our program slightly requires more than agreement between Robbin and I. The bulls have their own calendar, and we only wire fences to enforce our management decisions. Around Thanksgiving of last year, the bulls were ready to go to work. We were retrieving bulls and fixing fences daily, so we had to put a few out around the first of December to keep them away from the neighbor’s heifers that were to be bred to Wagyu bulls.
At 8:00 a.m., this Mark Beck bull cools down before retreating to oak tree shade.
You ask why I’ve settled in these emerald mountains:
I smile, mind of itself perfectly idle, and say nothing.
Peach blossoms drift streamwater away deep in mystery
here, another heaven and earth, nowhere people know.
– Li Po (“Mountain Dialogue”)
To and from their peach tree roost
the quail trail in at dawn and dusk
like heavy heifers on parade
from shade to water trough
before they graze the waves of dry,
blond hillsides bent to a breeze.
An evening tree frog leaves a centerpiece
of succulents at six o’clock, short hops
to table’s edge and leaps for misters
on timers, scales the green swords of iris
for the wet scent of lavender and more—
crawls back at dawn like a drunk home.
We meet the mystery of nowhere
in a slow dance of seasonal cycles
returning new over and over again.
The weeks take wing and flutter
like coveys of quail to safety,
seasons spin into one another
as the dawn rides up and down,
north and south, upon the ridgeline,
never resting in the same place twice
no matter the year—this moment
unique. And these old eyes
still sharp at a distance, see more
than they used to—know the details
to look for. I am learning how
to talk with my eyes, conversations
accompanied with words:
reverberating murmurs in my chest
from a gentle land we understand.