In December’s amber light, the sun
stares beneath the limbs of trees aflame
again. And from long, crisp shadows,
a few wild gods dance with winter’s chill.
No call for calendars when every canyon
rings with the bellows of bulls looking
for work, or a fight, reducing fences to
barbed wire nightmares, splintered posts
with long excavations either side of tangles.
During nights of no moon, the big talk fires
testosterone and fence repair, purpose here
as the sweet fragrance of cows fills the air.
seemed so long, and weeks eternities
between recesses and vacations, lifetimes—
especially when ranch work replaced trouble.
Through the gate like cattle counted now,
they pass six or eight deep—heads, backs
and tails eclipsed and so blurred, we
might have missed one, or miscounted since
the beginning of time. There is a place, like
here, just after that, days had neither names
nor numbers, great herds grazing the planet,
eras when we might have lost a year or two
under endless skies guided by starlight.
…and yet God she’d scarcely got to know.
– Rainer Maria Rilke (“Eve”)
In our minds we have tried to recreate Eden:
worry-free and unabashed as we disrobe
and stride the creek, lounge with the beasts
and birds in harmony, grazing as we go.
And ever since the golden quince, we yearn
for ignorance, for distance from the news,
for the discarded leaf to hide beneath
during thunderstorms of more information.
All becomes a garden when the serpent
leaves deep portals to the underworld
to crawl among the sweet and sour berries,
as Tihpiknit’s right-hand man—to keep us
honest, dispatching the deceitful—where
rivers of fish, wild meat, bone and hide
fat with acorns see through the eyes of trees
and listen to the birds to forecast weather.
…we walk the bottom of an ocean we call sky.
– Jim Harrison (“River II”)
It is our nature to believe in more
beyond the surface—though we toil
for plenty here upon the ocean’s floor,
a hierarchy of bottom fish, both slim
and fat—wanting to believe in something
more attainable to all, a free place
for the spirit to try its wings in the light,
beyond the murky depths shadowed by
darker silhouettes of sharks and whales.
How deep the sky! Unnamed on maps,
near Coyote Pass, 10,000 feet above it all,
‘CRITES LAKE’ perforated with an ice pick
in the tin, square bottom of a five-gallon can
placed near the outlet jammed with dark
green backs of rainbow trout spawning,
every one a pound or more in those days.
Just before the moon rose and the granite
glowed like a lantern, there seemed no end
to the stars—far, tiny bubbles glinting
near the surface, our passenger jets
and sputniks streaking beneath them.
A short and easy fall between
summer and winter, oak trees
heavy, woodpeckers overstocked
for cold, every crack and post
full, a left over crop drops
in circles beneath the trees.
Briefly disrupted, coveys of quail
return to bob upon ripe, black
mats crushed along the back roads.
Dark rafts of wild pigeons
rake the sky between the ridges,
deer fat and blue. It seems easy
to adapt to plenty, larders of pocket
gophers packed and planted
for spring, dry oak and manzanita
stacked beneath the eaves. Like hawks
sequestered to leaves when it rains,
we’re ready for almost anything.
The world is not what we thought it was.
– Jim Harrison (“Suite of Unreason”)
Much done behind us, I listen in the dark
for predicted rain—like an old friend
I don’t expect to arrive on time, if at all—
wondering if this day is mine to spend
without the human dramas spawned
on flat land for sudden hillsides, or will I
retreat, once again, to cows and calves,
to the chain saw’s whine, go deeper under
the covers of this landscape to pray and
commiserate with my gods, those plural
and lower-cased forces at play that are
indeed the living wonders of this world:
groaking in the tops of gray oak trees,
scarlet hybrids, red-chested sapsuckers
none had seen this far south—bright
harbingers for a cold winter with the bumper
crop of acorns, black upon the ground—a
slim chance beyond that still makes sense.
Subject of several posts and some discussion last September (see: ‘coyote’ tagged below) while we were calving our first-calf heifers, we believe this skull is that of the big male coyote that killed at least one Wagyu-cross calf and ripped the ham of another.
Spencer Jensen (seen below flanking a calf, ‘Paregien 2011’) dispatched the coyote 10 days later, ending our calf losses to coyotes to date. Note the size of the canine teeth—over a ½ inch longer than the female coyote he shot on his way up the hill to help us brand. Thanks, Spencer, for all your help!
Posted in Photographs
No alarm clock here, we take turns
waking-up on the hour before the first
branding of the year, lists of implements,
food and vaccines checked in our sleep
before heading up the hill, leaving
convenience for the make-do miles
off the asphalt where anything can happen
despite best-laid plans. We should be
too old, too accustomed to this drill
to toss and turn—we should be sure
and secure with familiar faces and horses,
good hands and neighbors come to help,
like always. Grown old together, we
understand what we have lost—yet shake out
another loop just to grin into the sun.
Like try-outs for the lead,
it’s hard to tell
who’s not acting,
who’s not for real.
This cream risen:
the campaign trail—
and hateful insults
to endure. Bad karma
for hard times, we hope
who pulls the strings
does not lose interest
in the play.