They hunt together,
leapfrog one another
in a low, slow glide
to stir a squirrel
out of the grass
early every morning.
Perched on fenceposts
they follow me
with their eyes.
If a man had time,
feed a little in the lean
and gain a bird’s brain
he could become one,
like falconers of old—
even send them
like high-tech drones
to scout ahead,
For tomorrow’s heifers, steers
and bulls: I count bales in the dark,
add them to the flatbed dropped
from the top of the stack—
a vertical, class two-dump
hook over hook ascent, each bite
deep beneath colored hay string,
toeholds loose, inching-up
like a spider to belly over
under rafters coated
with old dust and pigeon shit
in space too tight to stand—
to breathe so far from the ground.
My diamond plate target is dished
between the rectangular tubing
spaced to create shallow lakes
when and if it rains, cross members
too far apart to catch very many
and keep its shape. I need eighteen
to haul and feed, yet envision
two broken and five bales on the ground
before I fall asleep—two trips at least
up and down the barn’s new stack—
inhaling its fresh alfalfa face.
It seems that the juvenile Red Tails become fairly tame and trusting this time of year at the corrals, waiting for young ground squirrels to come out of their burrows at first light. This pair met us Tuesday morning as we arrived to gather and process our steer calves, wondering, I suspect, what kind of entertainment we were bringing as they retreated to a nearby sycamore to watch. They probably would have stayed closer longer if I hadn’t needed the flash on the little camera, but they’ll be back.
It could have been Saturday
when the pump quit,
cattle standing quizzically,
leaves in the garden limp
or a hundred and ten
in the shade with no breeze
to allow your thoughts to ride,
escape to a snowmelt stream
to sit beside instead.
Running water is a luxury
in the middle of all this dry,
a blond and brittle sea of grass
on clay and granite baked
beneath, radiating heat—
each canyon an oven
even the natives left
in the summertime.
So much for progress,
but when we were younger
we all knew how
to prime a pump.
Not wanting to under-romanticize rural living with my recent rants about natural pests, we also acquire new members to our household from time to time. Like my bathroom tree frog that accommodated me each morning by leaping from the basin overflow to a hanging towel and watched me brush my teeth—a fond attachment ending flat-tragic in the door jam with only green, flipper fingers showing. Ahh!
We become such saps when nature favors us with her trust. And almost always, it is the machinery of our progress that leads to their demise. Identifiable by his drooping right wing, Wy-lee arrived with this year’s hatch of roadrunners, claiming the garden and immediate yard as his. Fearless and trusting, he’s after the snails, bashing them senseless and shell-less against anything hard with his beak before consuming our escargot. Predictably, he arrives from somewhere when we’re in the garden. Robbin followed him around yesterday evening with her camera.
Too much of a good thing
has a hatch of gophers
behaving like humans
tunneling earth and orchard roots
with interconnecting subway lines
that conveniently stop at pear,
pomegranate and peach trees
with special dead-end spurs
to tomatoes, peppers and squash.
The city council voted yesterday,
to expand the underground
to meet the transportation needs
of triple population growth
now that the hippest coyotes
prefer feral pork and veal
and slink beyond the range
of a .223.
One dissenting member warned
of a complete collapse
with so much tunneling
and no solid support
for the vegetables and trees
we need to survive.
On high alert, reports
of gopher bombs downtown,
steel traps in new construction zones,
and rumors of farmers and gardeners
resorting to raisins and grain soaked
in poison, we have rallied the troops
and made our political alliances
with the woodpeckers and ground squirrels
to drive the humans out—
or at the very least,
find a balanced peace
and milk them
like California’s happy cows.
The spring loosens its ratchet grip
to let a cog slide in the gloaming
of this adventure, as I look back
to softer faces and see the bright
and vulnerable lights flicker still—
despite fifty years of turbulence.
One triggers another around the fire,
half-lit silhouettes showing erosion,
an age that dares that same naiveté
endured among classmates—sweet
indulgence for old preppies, we harken
to the start of our circumambulation.
Ranch hand, irrigator, feeder of hay
wrestling stacks with Egyptian
engineering, I hear no call to arms,
no impossible gather without me—
all the young bucks risking and riding
good horses have that corner covered.
Following the old hands, I know cows,
like people, would rather be led
than driven with whoops and hollers.
I was met at the gate after feeding the calves and changing my water this morning by this young Red Tail, hanging around and close to the ground, presumably, in case I might kick a squirrel out into the open.
Evening horses hipshot
talk through pipe rails
this side of the road
and new double-yellow line,
Dry Creek’s gauging station
in a canopy of sycamores,
along the red-post fence
Bob and Chuck built—
green posts driven
by Satero and son.
We are in the picture
somewhere, but it seems
like yesterday’s horses still
standing in the same place.