Monthly Archives: June 2012

Back to the Top

We took the cows from the Top in Greasy back home this morning after weaning and hauling their calves down the mountain on Monday, or rather they took us, chugging up the hill non-stop behind the Kubota. Having homes, the cows are ready to get back to normal after getting over the loss of their calves. I’m sure the prospects of being independent on a two-month vacation is also appealing.

Saddling at 5:30 a.m. to beat the warmer weather (forecast 94° today), Clarence, Robbin and Zach were coming off the hill by 8:00. Not bad!


He will be hard to ship,
push up the chute, sun
glinting off the aluminum

some early morning soon—
to prod with whistles,
pokes and hollers,

confused for the first time
since he was a calf.
He wants to be

our pet forever, all
eight hundred pounds
within his blue roan hide.

More Calves

June 23, 3012

After six days in the pen, these weaned calves from our Paregien Ranch know how to eat out of a feeder. After a long haul and first night weaned from their mothers, this bunch averaged 724 lbs.–probably our biggest calves overall.

We started gathering to wean on May 22nd and plan on hauling the last big bunch out of Greasy tomorrow. Over a month of gathering and weaning with a week of preg-checking our 2nd-calf heifers and putting them out into the hills before that, we’ve really never been sure what day it is. But we’ll still be getting up a 3:00 a.m. for another two weeks, just out of habit.

With neither sympathy nor time for complaints, Clarence, Zach, Robbin and I are now ready for a little break. But there’s still plenty to do like processing the bigger steer calves with EID tags and vaccinations for the Internet auction and shipping a couple of weeks after that, plus finding the lighter calves a new zip code. With a little light at the end of my tunnel vision, Clarence, at 73 years young, has been an inspiration for us all. My hero when I was 7, he still is 57 years later. Amazing!

This morning he and I left at daylight to get four calves and a cow we missed in Friday’s gather, out of the brush and rock down into the gathering field in Greasy. Then off the mountain to the corrals to sort the calves above: steers, potential replacement heifers and lighter calves to make it back to unsaddle by 10:00 a.m., leaving time to address our most pressing chores. A beautiful day, the weather cool.

Whitaker Forest Prescribed Burn

June 23, 2012 – 5:15 a.m.

Sequoia & Kings Canyon Current Fires

We at last struck a trail that has recently been cut for the purpose of bringing in cattle. We came to camp here by a little meadow…It is at an altitude of 7,800 feet. Here is a succession of grassy meadows – one called Big Meadow is several miles in extent – and some men have cut a trail in and have driven up a few hundred cattle that were starving on the plains.
                    – William H. Brewer, 18 June 1864

As early as the 1860s, my mother’s great-grandfather John Cutler drove his cattle from Visalia through Whitaker Forest over Redwood Mountain on his way to Big Meadows for summer grazing. My grandfather John F. Cutler continued the practice as late as the 1950s. I’ve been told that in the early days the vaqueros would set fire to the brush after the last cattle were gathered before the winter snows.


Beginning on the 31st of May, we’re gathering our last big bunch of calves in Greasy to wean today. As part of their preconditioning, we try to keep a few bites of alfalfa in front of the weaned calves as they acclimate to the irrigated pasture, for a little roughage and to check them daily. These steers will make up a load to be offered for sale on the Internet weighing 750-800 lbs. to be delivered in July.

Meanwhile, another bunch of steers and heifers is on its third day without mama, more curious about this ‘brave new world’ outside the pen than hungry. We’ll probably sort and turn them out on Sunday. Sprinklers run for a couple of hours daily to control the dust while I feed and irrigate.

Forecast cooler into the weekend.



They come to recognize me now,
weaned calves around the feeder
as I unfold bales of leafy alfalfa,

watching busy hands and the attitude
of my hat, slowly lifting downcast
eyes to ask, ‘How’re we doing?’

Startling at first, this all-inclusive
‘we’—the clouds of grasshoppers,
swarms of bugs, the late spring rains.



                    I slip off in 100-degree heat
                    with a Kubota-load
                    to change my water
                    on the pasture
                    because we can’t
                    do it all when it’s cool.

                    Gray Whiskers.
                    Old Scaly Face,
                    layer after layer
                    of new peels away

                                        in that zone
                                        near delirium

                    where we ignore the sun,
                    they like statues crowded
                    ‘round Old Shirttail Out—

                                        gravity, always
                                        gravity pushing
                                        my pants down,
                                        pulling at my flesh,
                                        wanting it back.



If they were people,
I’d tidy-up,
unbuckle and unbutton,
start over again,
but this is how they see me:


consistent and congruent
they can trust
since losing mamas
they have forgotten
in this brave new world.

Summer Evening


                                        It was the sky bled red,
                                        all the storms and wars
                                        recalled in clouds at sunset—

                                        daily prey to fang and claw
                                        remembered for an instant,
                                        on parade before our infinite

                                        and deep blue space—
                                        a quick and steamy splash
                                        in a flame-fed frying pan

                                        in the pines around a fire,
                                        snowmelt tumbling,
                                        grumbling from the sky.

                                        We transport ourselves
                                        as bundles of hair triggers,
                                        each follicle reaching out

                                        to defy time and distance,
                                        to escape the righteous, taste
                                        the air and remain alive.


                                                             Suddenly they turn.
                    I stop. They come back toward me,
                    my window open to the glorious smell of horses.
                    I’m asking the gods to see them home.

                                        – Jim Harrison (“Night Creatures”)

Busy—Lord knows the gods stay busy in the wild,
or on the edge of it down country roads, day or night,
saving a snake or feeding a squirrel to black buzzards.

They tend to favor believers and seldom look
for converts with hands already full, and some
will work against you when you lose your compassion.

Sometime last night waiting for cars to pass,
a Barn Owl left his fencepost too late for an illuminated
mouse, swooped too low, too close to the lights

headed down the road. It’s a game, you know,
taking advantage of humans, and the gods love it—
love leaving little lessons like owl feathers.


In the dark, the raccoons have taken a page
from the coyote’s book: one to lead the dog off
to bark farther in the distance, while the rest

dine in the fruit trees. The news from Wall Street
is not unique when it interrupts our sweet dreams
of an apricot pie—just before we go back to sleep.


                                    I have been over the water
                                    and lived there all alone.

                                            – William Stafford (“Looking Across the River”)

Perhaps it was Ike Clark, decades
after he stepped off the train
in Exeter from Tennessee,

barefoot in bibs looking for work—
or the shack he shared with goats
and chickens, roosters crowing

in the citrus grove he earned.
I never saw a woman, though
he had grandkids that sometimes

waited with us at the stop sign
for the school bus, where he’d pass
early on his way home, alone

in his green, ‘52 Chevy heaped
with vegetables from the alley
behind the red brick Safeway

to feed his menagerie, horse, pigs
and a milk cow in makeshift pens
you could barely see from the road.

Millionaire hermit, he may as well
lived across the river, his flock
of guinea sentries scratching

beneath his orange trees,
the hollow and empty sounds
of peacocks crying at dawn.