Golden hours before the haze
rises from the Valley, all shades
of yellow and brown without green
blaze beneath a deep blue,
cloudless sky—old horses hesitate
to notice, find remarkable, shuffling
the same words day after day.
No one listens to the forecast
over coffee anymore. Dusty hills
wait for a plan. You suggest
we brand some calves—best chance
we’ve ever had to bring a rain.
Since 1894, when California began keeping rainfall records, this past year has been the driest yet. The year, as opposed to the grass or rainy season, runs January through December.
During the 2012-13 grass season, October 2012 through April 2013, Dry Creek received less than 10” of rain when the average precipitation during this period is around 16”, ( 8-year average ) leaving very little dry feed to sustain cattle during the summer months. To date for the 2013-14 grass season, Dry Creek has only received an inch. Less than eleven inches for the two seasons combined, leaving only four months in a grass season that has yet to begin.
Impacts to California, the richest agricultural region in the world, have only just begun. Typically, snowfall in the Sierra Nevada range freezes during December and January to provide a slow release of water to meet demands from agriculture and metropolitan areas during the year. With what little snow that stuck earlier this month, all but melted, the Great Western Divide shows mostly granite. Heavy late snows increase the chance for flood.
No matter what happens, the stage is set for what we’ve never seen before.
Remember when it used to rain
for days, too wet to plow
or leave the asphalt? In 1983,
every rig around was stuck
in the yard: one horse truck,
two fuel trucks, three tow trucks
and a dozer making chocolate
soup of the driveway, neighbors
huddled in the dark rain,
commiserating. The creek
will rise again and again,
spill its banks, cut new channels
to old sycamores and oaks
waiting centuries for a good drink.
Remember when we cried
with glee waiting for a raft
of leaves pushed down its dry,
cobbled bed, raindrops streaming
our faces, holding hands
in ecstasy? Remember when
we believed in miracles?
Your joy is your sorrow unmasked.
And the selfsame well from which your laughter rises was oftentimes filled with your tears.
And how else can it be?
The deeper that sorrow carves into your being, the more joy you
– Kahlil Gibran (“On Joy and Sorrow”)
I continue to find new splendor to color our current drought apart from its impact to our cattle and bank account. Not only is the determination of Nature exhilarating, but with it comes a rare glimpse of beauty in these bare hills.
This is not the end, of course—
we promise ourselves another day
when earthen hills turn wild with color,
cattle fat. We search photographs
for details begging to come alive again.
We circle back to bring them with us.
This dusty trail goes on and on,
and yet there are places the earth grins
defiantly in the draws and north slopes
thin with spears of green, curled by frost,
reaching gleefully for the warm Solstice—
unafraid of the future, unafraid of us.
Sing me a dry song, something
somewhere else you learned to chant
under your breath. Mesmerizing,
they stand half-dressed in morning light
in a pool of golden leaves, Solstice
peeking low under the door, showing just
enough bark that I forget the words to this
chorus of sycamores, my dancing winter
nymphs trying-on new outfits—posing,
having fun showing me what I have not seen.
Sing me your dry song, share the mantra
of the plodding before they prove:
a drought can be beautiful and soothing.
But better yet, bring me a hard rain, so
we can get naked and start over again.
Jars of ocean water brought to Dry Creek from the north shore of Kauai, from Monterey and and San Francisco Bays for the ceremony this morning at the Native Women’s Healing Place where my three children spent hours playing, thirty years ago. Three generations speaking to the goddess in their own way, sprinkling salt water from the Pacific to this dry ground, making a wish.