Off to the north, on the mossy, shady side
of the planet, storms brew—churn with wet
energy stirred by gods yearning for the flesh,
or so I imagine in the wider ranges
of possibility, offering what science cannot
seem to find: practical solace for an open mind.
Ruled by the light, they have no clocks to punch,
no place especially to be except in the pulsing
heart of life, in the action they cannot feel
without flesh. We stay on their good side,
think positively as they dash from tree
to leafless tree, work and wait for a cloudy day.
O ye, of little faith.
– Matthew 8:26
We look up and out into a gray blur at dawn,
hear the chatter upon the roof and look in disbelief—
embraced by old friend rain. Religions hope to lift
the earthly spirit so, to settle dust, enlist legions, yet
this relief is personal, even if insufficient to start
the seed, turn hills green. Old cowmen know
Apollo’s course after tens of thousands of dawnings
and pray with dusty cough and desperate gasp—
wait for the weight to rise between wet pellets of rain.
Jagged edge of earth
that begins and ends
our days, separates
our brains—where hope
hangs at dusk and dawn.
Robbin and I are trying to pace ourselves and grin our way through these dry times begun last grass season with less than ten inches of rain, about 60% of average. With only dry fuzz for forage, our cows are holding-up remarkably well as they calve, due in large part to the truckloads of hay we’ve provided since the middle of August.
We may be luckier than most, like the cattlemen on the Coast Range who’ve had to liquidate their cowherds after additional tough years for forage. In the next couple of weeks we’ll begin reducing our number of replacement heifers when we get them in for their round of shots before we put the Wagyu bulls out December 1st. Then onto the cow pastures to send the late-calvers to town.
It takes years to build a nice herd of young cows and only a couple of dry ones to undo decades of work. But trying to find a silver lining, we hope this culling process will ultimately improve the genetics of our cows into the future. Fortunately the market’s fairly strong and Congress has left Washington for home.
Good hatch of hawks,
and ground squirrels
for a dry spring.
No acorns to hide
after a blistering summer,
no dry feed by fall—
just bare dirt
where squirrels become
out of burrows
for a sky-full of hawks—
easy to spot
at the head
of a streaming
trail of dust.
Across the dry creek bed, a girl is busy
trying to find her calf in the dark.
They talk long distance as she falls
from the dim silhouette of the ridge.
Her voice wavers in jolts as front hooves
find the mountain underneath the dust.
In the deep black silence that follows
it presses against her warm belly
I cannot see—sucks each quarter flat.
Some things we know without proof,
without science or light—
basic things of always truth.
…leathery past-gone settlers
wait for a miracle.
– Red Shuttleworth (“Let Fall Soundless”)
The primitive hangs in dust boiling-over
our heads—a heavy coat of wild generations
ground fine-enough to be inhaled, ingested
again—we keep busy waiting for a change:
for rain, for grass to hold the past
in check. Become green feed, then seed.
Hay dust floats from the barn roof,
green haze of dry alfalfa leaf
sticks in the back of my throat
I can’t cough loose—through barbed wire
young cows count each bale
onto the truck, plead with babies.
Grit gathering in the corners of every eye,
hearts anesthetized, we think of them
as people, weigh the whole and wonder
if our tribe has been overlooked.
Behind us, plodding rises into the sky,
a prayer that begs to settle dust and despair.
Those that survive
will talk about the ‘Drought
after damn-little rain
before the summer:
day after day,
an ascension, our
of the flesh flushed,
we sweat like beasts—
let the unimportant run
down our hocks.
October now is brown,
dust dulls autumn leaves
and the dirt shows
all the way to the top
of every hill and mountain.
Not just the ground
around shrinking waterholes
pounded fine by pad and hoof
she called ‘devastation’,
but the whole nine yards
of foothills from Fresno
to Bakersfield—we are
smack-dab in the middle
of our own damn Dust Bowl.
No dark clouds,
no silver linings
each weatherman grins
with his gift
of clear skies
for the next two weeks
while the pickup groans
and haystacks shrink.
We plod like cows
inhaling dust clouds
to strings of hay,
make mental sorts
who goes to town.
Grounded now, we
pray in short-breaths
rather than cuss the gods
that own us.