Monthly Archives: February 2014


We are well done—
too long on the fire,
too long grinning at the gods

through clenched teeth.
Rocks shine on naked slopes,
dirt and dust have risen

in search of rain. We wear
circles in dry earth
back and forth to water

feeding hay, meet each other
plodding in a daze.
We are well done,

too long laughing
at old age, too long wondering
how tomorrow will look

backwards on today.
We raise another glass
to all this, anyway.


She looks into my eyes
exploring behind them
through darkened lenses—

caution and wonder wrinkle
her brow, she hesitates
to wander far.

Others graze the hay truck
like a manger as we stare
at open range

we share. Moments become
minutes, salutations
among hungry girls.


WPC – Threes




The topic for this week’s photo challenge is “threes” WPC. With the help of our neighbors, gathering calves to brand is fairly routine, few words are spoken—an order where everyone has a job to do. We usually brand one calf at a time, going ‘old people slow’, trying to make it as easy on the calf as we can.


Your name was a song
on a young mother’s tongue
for many years after,

her diaphanous dream
of a world as it should be—

Chance or circumstance,
you bathed my naked flesh
with Japanese concepts

whispering yet. A soft
longing melody
on an old woman’s tongue.

                                            for Evelynne Matsumoto

Branding Greasy II, 2014






Cows thin, dry as hell, but everyone roped well. It seemed like such an easy day among good neighbors and friends.


                                        We hear way off approaching sounds
                                        Of rain on leaves and on the river:
                                        O blessed rain, bring up the grass
                                        To the tongues of the hungry cattle.

                                                  – Wendell Berry (“Sabbaths 2000, VIII”)

Perhaps the old trees grounded in granite
feel it flutter first, out of the southwest—
or the windmill that never lied, spinning

pointing, pumping water. We await
the screaming crescendo of wind rising
on the corner of cedar log ends to be sure—

the Siren’s song that can draw dry souls
from the flesh to fly with the first drops
sounding on the roof, the leaves, the earth.

No finer miracle than that moist moment
of redemption, inhaled and absorbed at once,
bringing grass to the tongues of hungry cattle.



A ‘promising chance’ is bantered about among local news and weather commentators for next Thursday, Friday and Saturday.


What we keep in our heart
is etched in our faces—
refined over time

it changes, and changes
us a little. That is
the adventure—holding

on and letting go—
finding a sharp knife
for the carving.

Ranch Update, February 18, 2014

March 14, 2008

Pogue Canyon – March 14, 2008

With no rain in sight through the end of the month, we keep the chance of rain alive with images of spring stored in our minds, recalling full calves in tall green grass, cows milking well, hills colored with wildflowers, slopes covered with skiffs of snowdrops, golden poppies on peaks—lush and verdant memories that begin to seem so unreal now, we tend to doubt ourselves.

May 1, 2010

May 1, 2010

There are no programs, no operational plans for the worst drought since California began keeping records. Apart from reducing cowherds, some neighbors have weaned their calves three months early to save their cows, foregone branding and the normal 200-pound gain through May to reduce the cost of supplemental feeding.

April 14, 2011

April 14, 2011

The south and west slopes may not recover this year, unable to germinate seed in the steep clay, absorbing every drop of very little rain before we see a cotyledon. After stacking two dry years on top of one another, the demands of the soil are great with less than 3 inches of rain since May 2013, and less that 10 inches in the year prior—12.25 inches of moisture spread over 32 months. The impact of the resulting lack of surface water to the San Joaquin Valley will be devastating to cities and farmers alike, to its culture, to California’s economy and the cost of food around the world. Drilling more and deeper wells in the Valley’s retreating groundwater is not a sustainable solution.

I’ve a dozen branding poems celebrating the rites of spring, of a community of foothill ranch families working, sharing stories and a meal together as the earth begins to bloom around and despite us. We keep going just like we had a brain—perhaps ingrained in our DNA.

April 20, 2011

White Mariposa – April 20, 2011


Hard pull on a slow Sabbath,
the gooseneck rattles over boulders
cobbled in the canyon bottom

beneath the torsos of sycamores—
long tunnel of bare white limbs
over the quiet stream and track up

to brand calves, four crow miles
and a hoard of long-gone faces
waiting to climb aboard

on each curve, in every draw.
Memories stacked like pages torn
from a bigger book, we inch

as fast as you can walk, you say
at 76, breaking a long pause
since someone’s last sentence.

This is not Nevada, yet
this wild canyon craves
the company of humans,

the chance to etch another rattle
in our machinery, in the minds
of this annual procession

of neighbors with other lives
during the week. This is not
church, but it could be heaven.

Good Year for Hawks


Despite the drought, it’s been a good year for hawks with an explosion of rodents last spring and very little dry feed for them to hide in. This time of year, a wide variety of birds of prey are busy everywhere, some migrant like the Prairie and Peregrine Falcons and Harris Hawk, and many natives like the Cooper’s and Red Tails. Soon the Red Tail nest in the sycamore above will be completely hidden in leaves, along with other hawk nests now waiting in the tops of Blue Oaks.