Monthly Archives: March 2012

Just Two Weeks Ago…

Now two weeks into spring, Dry Creek canyon looks fairly normal, and though the creek isn’t running much, it’s enough for the colorful Wood Ducks to gather and discuss their futures on its banks. Skiffs of popcorn flowers and orange patches of fiddleneck claim our pastures along the road, green and growing since we moved the cattle higher-up the hill a month ago, back when the Sierra snow pack stood at 26% of normal, hoping to save whatever feed our low ground might produce until later in the season. The Blue Oaks are leafing out, the quail are pairing-up, the House Finches are making a mess beneath the rafters—it’s really spring again.

But two weeks ago, it looked pretty bleak on Dry Creek with less than 7 inches of rain since October, with sixty days of no precipitation in December and January, short grass and stressed cows. Two weeks ago we were discussing which cows or replacement heifers we might have to sell, as high-dollar alfalfa hay to carry them, for who knows how long, was well-beyond consideration. I found myself reciting ‘drought of seventy seven’ in my head as I made my rounds to check the cows, calves and grass.

                              it was dry in the fall of seventy-six
                              and the cows were a calvin’ in the dust.
                              nothin’ to see but acres of chips,
                              a drought year where cowmen went bust

                              their hides were rough ‘n just cover’d bone,
                              ‘n ribs caught most of your eye,
                              spindly calves seemed to wander alone,
                              as if lookin’ for a place to die.

                              cows were bringin’ two-bits a pound,
                              a hundred bucks less than the spring,
                              all ya could do was throw hay on the ground,
                              and pray to God it would rain.

                              their toes would clack like castanets
                              in the cloud that’d boil ‘round your truck,
                              the bawlin’ skeletons and weak silhouettes
                              would bring tears to the drought of good luck.

                              reckon ma nature’s showed me who’s boss
                              as she’ll do some time and again,
                              but she’s never caused me half of the loss
                              that politicians create with a pen.

                                                                                          (Dry Creek Rhymes, 1989.)

Not much of a memorizer, it’s fortunate that I can’t ever remember all of the vivid stanzas, but with such real visions and memories branded indelibly in one’s brain, conditions and circumstances that look similar make the bleak look bleaker—like the opposite of ‘ignorance is bliss’. Though a nightmare with impacts to our calf crops for years after, I’ve considered myself lucky to be exposed to the Drought of 1977 early in my career, having seen some of the worst and survived it. Nevertheless, I also know how bad things can get.

But with the miracle of rain, it’s remarkable how resilient this ground is. Even with three and half inches, we’re still short of our normal precipitation, but for a week either side of the vernal equinox, it’s brought this ground back to life, and into such a heady spring fever for everything alive, we’ve nearly forgotten how tentative our future looked just two weeks ago.


Somehow, we’ve lost it—
farmed-out the feeling
to new immigrants
and the less fortunate
at minimum wage, or to
more eager hands overseas.

We have forgotten that
we came from the fields
before horsepower spit fire,
and from the characters
bent dawn ‘til dusk
to get the harvest in—

all the monotonous
that fed the livestock
and themselves, back
when calloused hands
moved on their own
and our minds ran free.


I can tell you now, the future will take
a shape you won’t recognize—and you may,
as well, become someone caught in the current
far from here. These things are what they are,

but the ground is real, these hills and trees,
these fractured rocks in piles that haven’t
moved much, some with more speckled red
and yellow lichen laughing fire at the sun,

canyons running water when it rains, tree frogs
in spring. It is another world when you turn
uphill, turn your back on the dramas playing
to every face in town, plots distorted still.

At the mouth of every canyon, a Redtail
will glide quietly over you, feathers upturned,
land in an oak to read who you are. Ground
squirrels will still be chasing one another

in the grass—so many stems and flowers.
Buckeyes and sycamores, never giving-up,
old oaks like moss clinging to the north
slopes—acorns claiming space to survive

apart from it all, a ring at a time until
they become hollow homes for bugs and birds.
You will need to be familiar with what’s real
to find who you are when you go there.

Deltoid Balsamroot

Deltoid Balsamroot (Chuchupate) - Dry Ceek

With recent moisture and short feed, wildflowers are beginning to show. See more Wildflowers > March Bloom 2012.


Some get along
better than others
pressed into feedlots,
onto the highways
and into trucks—

they seem to adjust
to more in less space,
drawn closer
into tighter communities:
hot breath and smells

of food and waste.
Some know no better,
always raised on hay
and grain, and wait
in lines to be fed.

And some get along
better than others
left mostly alone
with the real work—
feeding themselves.


Overnight, an iridescent, lime green
overwhelms hillsides and canyons
with tender leaves, feathers flushed
upon the gnarled limbs and boney twigs

of Blue Oaks pulsing with spring—
with life reborn, fresh as garden salads,
tropical pockets of overlapping greens
where armies of gray skeletons stood

anchored in the hard clay and granite
with centuries of faith in a rain.
Overnight, we are saved—believers
in storms from heaven, once again.


I admire the quest of mathematics
its one right answer to fit every occasion,
its audacity to forecast the future
with percentages, like the weather,
but question its utility when predicting
human nature in its race with science.

One might hope we regress to spurn
speed and comfort their diversions,
make each step count for something
solid, as each immeasurable moment
takes the shape of living truth—always
starting or finishing for someone.


They have lived here,
come evenings to listen
to our cocktail conversations
from the water trough and well—
distant silhouettes leaning
like lovers on the pipe rail,
totems we have mistaken
for ravens for years, until
their closer inspection:

lifting off at near dark,
he in the lead, feathers
shining blacker than night,
and she, grayer, trailing
for a closer look
at the two of us
watching this gesture
and wondering.

They are in love
atop the skeleton
of the once Live Oak
growing out of the knoll
when women came
for healing—upon
the highest branch,
she preens his back
                with her beak,
nuzzles his shiny breast
                with her head
as he crows—moans

March 18, 2012

First Winter Day

Sulphur Peak and Saddlehorses


We stay busy and believe
in rain to save the grass—

                 if we work hard,
                 keep our fences up
                 and cattle home.

Only the native and naïve
keep these gods pleased,

                 investing lifetimes
                 without contracts
                 or guarantees.

We know no better,
no other way for us all

                 to stay alive—
                 and still believe
                 rain will survive.