Monthly Archives: January 2013


Earl McKee Photos 5

This gallery contains 3 photos.


Earl McKee Photos 4

This gallery contains 5 photos.


Earl McKee Photos 3

This gallery contains 6 photos.


Earl McKee Photos 2

This gallery contains 7 photos.

Earl A. McKee, Jr. Photos

Earl & Pinky

Earl & Pinky


It’s nearly impossible to discuss the Greasy Creek watershed, or even the history of Dry Creek, without mentioning longtime cowman, Earl McKee. Going four-score strong, he’s been my neighbor for over forty years as well as a surrogate father from time to time.

Among his many activities, like playing the tuba in the well-traveled High Sierra Jazz Band, he’s been photographing brandings for many years now, focusing on the lariat loop. In coming days, we will be sharing some of these.


After a good rain high, a hazy heaven claims
the foothills, bare oaks reach out of the gray
like skeletons of hobgoblins when all the wild

cats and dogs, the greater and lesser gods,
come close to our fires. It’s like a holiday—
their day-off to play any games they want,

anywhere beyond our eyes. Sometimes
they stray and fall out of the fog, or you
hear fuzzy pieces of their gleeful gatherings,

and it is comforting to know they thrive
like cattle in these many shades of gray.
How often have I felt a presence where

this canyon narrows, beyond your house
and hospitality in all seasons? By the fire
outside, you tell me how you and Baby came

in your leathers on your Harleys from the coast
twenty years ago and parked. You point
to a stand of young naked oak trees rooted

across the road, peeking from the moving
edge of heaven that is now hovering,
hanging ready to engulf us. I imagine

afternoon passion as you say, ‘over there
is the ground we wanted so to build
a home, but this is close enough.’


                         we ordinary beings can cling to the earth and love
                         where we are, sturdy for common things.

                                        – William Stafford (“Allegiances”)

Nothing fancy holds cattle to the hillside
to make their clans and homes as they graze
without holidays, as seasons change

their habits, often plodding through time
on the same uneven ground as their mothers—
the earth they know. There are times

to envy such simplicity, let ill winds blow
the unnecessary free from we ordinary beings—
times to take stock in who we truly are

before proclamations seize our souls,
freeze our feeling for comfort into fear
to haunt our most pastoral dreams.


                         Words are for those with promises to keep.
                                    – W. H. Auden (“Their Lonely Betters”)

No better than what we say we’ll do,
our words, our bond with gods and you
that only death may overlook—
unless you print them in a book

of poetry. O’ sweet Jesus, why utter
sounds so cacophonous, or mutter
more than the rest of us can stand
to hear in seasoned rhymes like canned

hams that once were pigs—grunting,
rooting in their gruel, always wanting
more? And you, just your slice of pork
rewarmed, quiet on your fork.

Who then do we keep promise to,
the wilds, our gods, the fickle muse?
What then do we repeat in words
to hold more than refrains from birds?


                               Preserving the remnants while I stitch new days.
                               As usual, I’ll be following the Thread.

                                          – Jessica Spichalova (“Remnants”)

Funny that I am writing about landmarks
where the muses reside on this ground
as my daughter blogs about a white
wedding dress and shirt hanging in a closet,
clean and ready, with some life left in Kauai.

Oh, you skeptics—so great a leap across
the Pacific for some muse to make, that mental
space you cannot measure mathematically,
that stellar alignment, that genetic trace
we cannot prove! I believe what I want,

fortunately, and don’t need endorsement
for the existence of a place where voices
other than our own can be heard, collecting
remnants on separate landscapes, gathering
what seems to have gotten away from most.

                                                                 for Jess




Our email discussion of “Agriculture and the Creative Muse” with Linda Hussa and Sean Sexton continues. My contribution this morning as follows:

I awoke this morning telling myself that we mustn’t forget the landmarks, those places where the memories are held, so that when we pass by them, our stories are triggered, remembered and retold. And if as proof, when they are removed to accommodate some notion of progress, the stories and history of a place become easily forgotten.

Whether truly one of the muses or just a phenomenon of living in a place for a long time may be an academic question, but I remember my feeling of personal loss when a portion of the Sycamore Alluvial Woodland on Dry Creek was felled for a rock and gravel operation—that place I walked along the creek, Easter Break on my birthday in 1969, contemplating Canada or Viet Nam; that place I roped my first cow to doctor by myself; that place I played and swam with my sister and brother, catching and bringing tadpoles home in a bucket to watch grow legs to become bullfrogs.

It’s such a short leap for me to feel the spirits of this place where I’ve spent my life, goddesses, muses or past lives seeking a voice, triggered by certain rock piles and oak trees, especially among the evidence of old homesteads and native habitation well before me, all waiting around every corner of this ranch to enrich my history, my sense of place.

Logically, landmarks come with the landscape, and it could be argued that this muse is specific to our culture of grazing and herding livestock, even small scale farming, that once becomes corporate seems to clean the slate and erase a place’s history. I hear the voice of my father on this ground, all the old cowmen neighbors I learned from, as well as their dead fathers, remembering the stories and sayings. I feel their presence here, everyday. What more fertile ground to write from!

It does, of course, become part of our spirituality, but in the scope of ‘prompting’ a poem, or any art for that matter, our muses reside in these landmarks.


                                                            all the arts lose virtue
                        Against the essential reality
                        Of creatures going about their business among the equally
                        Earnest elements of nature.

                                                  – Robinson Jeffers (“Boats in a Fog”)

Early on, we trace small hands to paper
that look like everyone else’s, never knowing
just how these flat lines might reach

to hold or touch, grasp or caress our desire—
never imagining the scars they will collect
as we go about our business—that they may

grow into routines of feeding others, saving
and taking lives away from pain as if
we were gods and the world was ours.

At dusk around the fire you rekindled
with a gum wrapper, we watch the meat cook
with glass in hand, reliving routines

as quail come to roost with a heavy fluttering
above our heads, claiming their place in a tree
with imperative tittering, as someone

coasted off-course, hollers: ‘Where are you?
Where are you?’ And another answers,
‘Over here. Over here.’ As we talk.

By our hand, they understand our passion,
the earnest elements of our nature. But we
are family, this covey come to share our fire.