Monthly Archives: December 2011


No smoke, no bright Hudson Bay
colored stripes, stirring flames,
we look outside to gray silhouettes

of ridges hazed away, still dry
and waiting for any kind of rain.
Oak leaves and twigs in the dark,

split cordwood aflame, you kept
the coals alive for a week, ready
for warm words anytime of day.

You are forever exposed there
in the camera of our minds—
huddled together stirring flames.

                                              for Jess & Bodhi


I fall asleep assembling lines
I can’t remember, nod off content,
refusing to memorize the moment
ever-changing in the distance.

We began our thank yous
with apologies, with petals open
to brighten a cold day when ashes
had cooled on the mountain, branding
irons put away. And it could have been
warm food and whiskey infiltrating
our hard cores and callused truths,
blaze to blaze on trees, we see the light
on the edge of the forest and the fleeting
silhouettes of our wild gods giggling
with their latest game of circumstance—
and purpose—thank God for that!

                                                            for Clarence and Frances


Link to a pleasing, parallel poem from my daughter that independently touches the same moment:

“Traveling the Seam”


Restless after family come together for the holidays,
I can see the top wire stretched and sagging near
the gate we hung, still green and shiny in the Blue Oaks

between Sulphur and the Top—look into this morning’s
black, eager to repair. Or the down gate, Live Oak post
slipping its loop between the Top and Buckeye—

the balancing of bulls, renegotiating reasons for
a breeding plan, mixing and stirring cows and calves.
Or the stretch of down wire below Railroad, leaking

cattle last time gathered, and the leafless Live Oak
grown naked in the fence at the Turtle Pond—all
need my attention, chain saw, hay and a little luck

packed into the Kubota—off to get something done
before the Doctor reads the results of last week’s tests.
My best work in the dark, my face can’t take the sun.

                                                                                for Bob

Christmas 2011

Jessica Dofflemyer photo

The days have been pretty and dry: pretty dry! No trouble finding a kid to drive.

Cutler and Bodhi helped grandpa split and load the Kubota with oak for the cook fire, one of those ‘hands-on’ instructional activities grandfathers think might make a difference some day. On ranches throughout the West, there’s always a little lost between generations, but now that most kids live away from the common experiences of the ranch, American society is losing its common sense…

Amanda Bauscher Photo

…and opportunities for discovery in the natural world, even in a round of oak—and hence any kind of basic understanding of how to live and survive on the land we all inhabit.

Amanda Bauscher Photo

The knoll, a short walk from the house that kept my children occupied years ago, intrigues them more now as we discuss it was once a women’s sacred healing place for the 300 natives that occupied this part of Dry Creek less than two centuries ago. Interesting that the ground supports less than 20 of us now. Of course, the Wukchumni triblet of the Yokuts didn’t have big screen TVs, HBO subscriptions, or any other places they needed to be. Above, Cutler is exploring the depths of a grinding hole.

Amanda Bauscher Photo

What was intended as a daughter/son project became a father/daughter exercise as Amanda and I constructed a washtub bass for Cutler. It’ll be a year or two, however, before he’s strong enough to keep tension on the string. Nevertheless, Robbin and I had fun strumming it around the fire.

The lines of last year’s post have echoed throughout the weekend, almost déjà vu, a richer and encouraging instant replay for me, still true as I reassess my role as a grandparent surrounded by family.


                                                                                    The dead,
                        too, denying their graves, haunt
                        the places they were known in and knew,
                        field and barn, riverbank and woods.
– Wendell Berry (“2008, X.”)

Even now the headstones claim
little flats beneath nameless draws
either side of the house, rough

granite boulders set at the head
of deep holes filled for horse and dog –
where the deer lay down to shade

when I was a boy, and women healed
the spirit, burning sage, chanting
until they fell asleep. Hollow ground

to horses’ hooves where my children
played pretend, those great imaginings
that beg to fly – now walk their sons,

listening – feet wet in grass.
To come home for Christmas can be
a gift – so many voices welcoming.


Robbin and I wish you a Merry Christmas from Dry Creek!


Lots of young men wanted to be cowboys, ride
with legends, dance down ridges, wear spurs and hat,
loiter at the local watering hole come sundown,
like on TV to paw and fight, get a foot hung over
some young heifer on the other side of the barbed wire—
a tangled and exciting life.

Branding a little bunch of calves in even a smaller pen
tucked in the Blue Oaks up the East Fork,
Homer picked one of them to bully in abstentia, one who
needed two hours to dress himself and his horse in the morning—
rode him hard, by God, preaching to a quiet choir
bent to calves we worked one at a time when I finally
interrupted lamely, thinking kindly, feeling guilty,
‘but his heart’s in the right place.’

Knife in hand, Homer stammered, his eyes flashing up at me,
‘You know, John, in this business there ain’t much call for heart.’

He said it all: boiled life down to a phrase—
made the distinction between enthusiasm
and try, make-believe and perseverance.


                                                            Age brings hard burdens,
                    But at worst cools hot blood and sets men free
                    From the sexual compulsions that madden youth.

                                        – Robinson Jeffers (“Oysters”)

In those days, it was important to be included—
all the Kaweah’s loud cowboy sons of pioneers
shaking hardened hands, raising glasses before plastic
deadened the rattle of ice and whiskey, before
two divorces and twenty years of my crazed youth—
one more young one pacing the barbed wire.

Homer’s summer nut feed after the calves were marked,
he on the third or fourth of eight wives wed, gold
teeth winking, right-up to his last breath bragging
how he horned the young bulls off—our legend
and proof of the power of oysters to intensify,
to get high and go clear blind on testosterone.

It doesn’t matter now that he is gone, damn-near all
of them grazing other dimensions to yet hear the hollers
up and down this old watershed without the biscuits,
without the gravy, without the frittered golden brown
warm and melting on the tongue. Pass the salt and pepper.
A pagan feast of cowmen come to beat their drums.

                                                            for Forrest Homer


I reach for a cold river to feel its urgency—
my esoteric metaphor for the force within
life off the flat ground, believing Newton
surrendered to numbers to quantify

the forces that drive us, the elastic thread
that tugs and stretches, floods and trickles
ever off the mountain where trees reach
desperately from the depths of well-worn

canyons, pine and cedar, smooth boulders
under the guttural roar of waterfalls, deep
pools, riffles of fish with water ouzels
skipping upstream—to feel rejuvenated.

                                                                        for JEG


                    “Now Ed: listen here: I haven’t an ounce of poetry
                           in all my body. It’s cows we’re after.”

                                        – Robinson Jeffers (“The Wind-Struck Music”)

A bone or two to pluck like harp strings
beneath the petals of tiger-lily skies at sunrise
over sharp ridgelines, men still ride in awe—
words float and poetry rolls off their tongues.

And they dare not whine, dare not succumb
to freezing rain, or none at all, until the work
is done—calving after calving, brandings,
yearlings gathered on the hoof to ship

in circles ‘round the sun to somewhere,
out there. ‘It’s cows we’re after’ savored:
moments stolen with herds in rhythm:
a cow, horse and the hearts of horsemen

pause that acknowledges the wild gods—
all pleased to have arrived in harmony
beyond the corrals and loading chutes
waiting at the end of roads in these hills.

Time for Courting

Looking Ahead

The Kubota is a godsend to grandfathers with aging knees, and always looking to kill a couple of birds with one stone, these rounds will warm several times over—twice already and they’re yet to be split, hauled in the house, burned in the woodstove or the ashes hauled out. Our eldest grandson is eight, and judging by photos from Kauai, he’s grown long and lanky, and perhaps beyond the busy work of splitting wood with grandpa to keep him occupied after he and Jessica arrive for Christmas on the ‘red-eye’ Saturday, but we’re ready.

It was a nice tree, a dead-standing Blue Oak that tipped over in last year’s wet weather. A Kubota-load of limbwood already hauled down the hill, another left to haul, these rounds are pushing 200 pounds each, over twelve hundred pounds judging by the back tires, and no, I didn’t load them by myself.

As a silly side note, the San Joaquin Valley traps perhaps the worst air quality in California, and as a result, burning wood to heat your home on bad air days is prohibited in town, turning neighbor against neighbor to tattletale to the SJVAPCD (San Joaquin Valley Air Pollution Control District). I understand that a second offense carries a $5,000 fine.

In the ‘Valley of a Thousand Smokes’*, it is, of course, courageous to try to clean up our air, polluted primarily from the populated and industrialized areas of the SF Bay and Sacramento Delta. With the work of cutting and hauling, and/or the cost of firewood, I wonder just how much Valley fireplaces now would really add to the mix. And in a good many cases, it is the poorer families utilizing orchard prunings to reduce the cost of using fossil fuels to heat their homes that are most penalized, none of who could afford the fine.

Like gathering acorns for winter, cutting firewood is a practical, cultural event for farmers, cattlemen and others in rural areas. Nothing heats like a fire, certainly not central air when you work outside in the winter, the fire has always been a place for people to gather. Our trend away from common sense, doing for oneself, becomes plain to see.

That our weekend rain didn’t materialize is no surprise, but sorely disappointing as we await an unforecast, wild card storm out of the Pacific. Here at 2,000 feet, our grass is holding in the granitic soil, but sparse and gray in the adobe along Dry Creek. We’ve begun feeding high-dollar alfalfa again to hold our heifers and young cows with first calves together during breeding season as low temperatures hover around 30º.

* disclaimer: this anecdotal, native name for the San Joaquin Valley may not be accurate, but you see how the stories go.