Monthly Archives: October 2012


With a little luck, we become
a third person consumed with
plugging holes with acorns—

all sizes, an art perfected
in the fall, each picked ripe
from the tree. Of course,

there’s bickering for the prize,
flapping feathers in the oak—
but come the winter’s wet and cold,

who’s to say who filled the hole
in the post that holds the gate,
that keeps the barn upright?

Doe and Fawn

I ran up into Paregien’s yesterday to put mineral and salt out to the cows, plus look for the hay hook I lost somewhere the day before. Found these two instead along the road.

The coyotes are with the cows almost everywhere I went, waiting to catch a newborn calf alone. The cows told me where two of the three less were.


                    I arrived by air, by the light
                    of a million stars.

                                        – Quinton Duval (“The Aviator”)

Outside the day begins with dependable shoes,
a mental checklist wider now with lower heel
to meet uneven ground—each day another chance

to see a world surviving with damn few
humans in it. Perhaps a reverie at work, yet
unfurling, with so many eyes to see through.

‘Make it rich,’ Hal Spear said, early-on, each
moment open and elastic to fill the emptiness,
to jettison useless cargo. It works like a dream.


Our slice of earth, cobalt blue
beneath a dawning, loose clouds
pink as my mother’s nightgown.

Quiet in the canyon, calves
impressed in beds against
thin maternal dreams of hay.

It will not rain soon, but
it’s beautiful and cool
before we stir our dust—

hooves and wheels, a boiling
shroud for blatant bawling
deep within the turmoil,

big-eyed and insistent,
they plead not guilty.
Who is responsible

for feeding the world
what it needs, who cannot
go back to sleep?

The camera crews are ready.
Judge Judy has arrived.
All the cows are in their pews.


Certain rocks draw the eye
and speak a single word
we never learned—too far
removed from survival,
too addicted to science
searching to soothe us,
to accept as truth—
we have convenient homes
furnished in our minds.

Not far, a young boy sweats
behind deer skins hung
from a granite cave
where two boulders rest,
ceiling black with soot—
left to his naked self
in these rocks,
beneath this sky,
that speak.

I remember the first time
it caught in my throat—
a gasp, up close, looming
above me—white-faced
cows and calves winding by.
I am yet not old enough
to stay and stare too long,
to learn another language.


With the increasingly lower angle of the sun, October brings fiery color to the foothills, longer shadows crisp with contrast as well as a welcome relief from the summer heat, persisting, this year, with 90+° into its first week. As the angle of the sun also drops below the brim of my hat, I notice renewed impacts to my face.

But aesthetically, it’s one of the loveliest months of the year, and psychologically positive as it precedes our rainy season and the beginning of green grass through winter and spring. With rains too early, the new green fades with the heat before the next rain arrives. Typically, the first of November is ideal for our first rain, and our best chance this year, based on the Farmer’s Almanac and my own forecasting methods, looks to be the 11th or 12th of November.

But October is a tough month on cows, two-thirds of which have calved in the last sixty days. The flat ground, where we watch and keep our first-calf heifers is short, but with access to ample dry feed at the higher elevations. Supporting calves for sixty days draws the heifers down despite supplementing with alfalfa regularly. Even in our upper pastures, both young and old cows tend to be thin. Furthermore, everyone and everything is on the acorns including deer, bear, feral hogs, woodpeckers, turkeys, Mallards, Wood Ducks and quail, a diet that keeps cows thin, and changing, I suspect, the pH in their digestive system to make efficient conversion of the dry feed more difficult. Moreover, the acorns seem to have an addictive quality. Bottom line, October is not a month to show off your cows.

October is a month of tough choices, also. Whether to feed more hay, or not, as we make our rounds in the upper pastures, will require more physical work, more time and money, more fuel, and wear and tear on the 4-wheel drive. But supplementing after the cows have gotten thin is often too late, especially if the rains don’t arrive on time, so we watch the weather patterns closely. Anxiety can be high, but not near the panic level as in November and December without a start to our new feed.

October is a transition month in the Southern Sierras, and we are there.

Light Dusting

Alta Peak & Morro Rock- October 25, 2012

Just enough snow to see the elephant on Alta Peak (11,208′) with Moro Rock (6,735′) in the foreground, redwoods of Sequoia between them, from the Top in the Greasy Creek watershed @ approx. 2,000′.

More Color

Rabbit Flat – Top Greasy

Buckeyes – Rabbit Flat

Great Western Divide – October 24, 2012


                           I dress first putting on my socks,
                           Then my shirt—I need good habits.

                                               – Gary Soto (“Dr. Freud, Please”)

I never understood what drove him
to irrigate his grapes at sixty-eight.
We could set our watches to the minute

he passed by, mouthing new soliloquies
as another summer morning broke
in the shadow of the Sierras, or

at the end of vine rows, hoe in hand
at dusk, a silhouette with swashbuckling
overshoes titling at time, when

he could have paid a good man well
to do the job—until recently. Of all
the things I claimed I’d never be

like my father, I wear trails in the dirt
checking calves that don’t need me,
lest I forget my way—carving circles

in dreams that wake me to write
about how we got the harvest in the shed—
my young Gary Soto days bent beneath

a hazy San Joaquin Valley sun. Even
the old dog marks a track to encircle
the house and barks into the night.

Color of October

Dry Creek Canyon

Showy Milkweed – Greasy Creek

Big Yellow Mushrooms on Tree – Sulfur Shelf (Laetiporus sulphureus) – Dry Creek

Sulfur Shelf (Laetiporus sulphureus)

Spanish Flats

Robbin and I fed the bulls, plus the yearling, first and second-calf heifers this morning under a partially cloudy sky, hoping for rain tomorrow and/or Tuesday.