Monthly Archives: February 2016





On the semi-arid edge of jet streams,
already rattlesnakes and dust in the road
framed in rusty Fiddlenecks and green
filaree, lush as lettuce. Hard shell of clay
and granite bring us off the mountain
through the bluff of fractured boulders,
blue lupine spears in pockets of golden
poppies grinning, open to the sun.

I forget the year, but it was March 3rd
I killed two below the den beside
the steep and rocky draw to Buckeye,
that waterfalls after a good long rain—
the earliest ever, sunning in warm dirt.
They have no calendar, no date circled
to leave the medusa tangle, brittle rattles
brush in a black hole. No fan of fear
fogging climate change—another sign,
a new extreme for snakes: more days
to make a living between shorter vacations.

We add the signs, the trend is dry, despite
El Niño late to work as south slopes turn
summer blonde and brown. Two months
early to be thinking: weaning calves—
we take instruction from grass and water.
We may be sipping the last of spring.

February 25, 2015




California Jewelflower, Caulanthus californicus

California Jewelflower, Caulanthus coulteri



Like hay to cows,
we bank good fortune
in the ground

building fences
and pipe corrals
as if always

there will be cattle
grazing grass above
our scattered ashes.


Our gods and fickle
goddesses rest among

and we with them—
have no legions
to wage wars,

and promise not
to new converts
what they already have.


We are the dirt
we’re rooted in,
look to the skies

for any kind of rain
and granite cracks
of snowmelt leaking

to stay alive—
to give good fortune
back to this ground.


Earl McKee Photos: Greasy Branding III


February 10, 2016, 75°, big calves, great crew. Thank you, Earl!






The Roadrunner’s cry like a hawk
has changed to deep flute songs
calling spring like Kokopelli

in poppies on Sulphur Ridge,
wildfires spread across the green
where snows have lain.

Always his drawing in my mind,
these golden slopes he climbed—
the poem wrote before he died

too young, thirty-five years ago.
Sulphur sings his song today,
remembering all we can’t forget.







Despite January rains and El Nino prognostications, we’ve hit a typical winter dry stretch. Instead of 2 weeks warm and 2 weeks cold sometime in February,
the month has been warm, half the days thus far over 70 degrees. Relative perhaps, the trend is dry with expectations of an early and short spring. Stock water resources have nearly recovered, with more grass than cattle after four years dry, we should survive the coming summer and fall well, a familiar concern more normal than not for spring. Our country looks good, wildflowers spreading like wildfire upon the green, snow in the Sierras 1,000-1,500’ higher than we’d like to see. It will change quickly if the mid-70s, without rain for the next ten days, come to pass.

Garnered from branding photos, my ‘looking spry’ has connotations reserved for the old, the aging and antique that startle me, yet somewhat gratified that I can
still rope and ride. I was the old man in the branding pen yesterday with Brent Huntington’s uniformly big calves. Once untracked, I roped well, probably better than when I was younger worrying about how my horse and I would perform in the corral. Nowadays, the challenge is to be some help. On the way off the hill looking down on Three Rivers, Robbin and Terri compared my ‘style’ to that of the old timers, the generation before me, a compliment. To have an effective ‘style’ is beyond any expectations of the last forty-five years of branding calves, what has become more of a mindset apart from just catching that favors first the horse and calf.

Now sorted-off with the elders in this business, what did I have to impart over steak sandwiches and beer instead of politics yesterday? Be grateful that you don’t have to punch someone’s time clock in town, or commute to work, or have to listen to the noise of human neighbors, sirens, traffic. How much of the politics of the world actually touch us here in these hills, change how we have lived and worked over the years? This is another world, a forgotten world we adapt to, and no matter what the majority decides, what laws it passes, it has to eat.

So yes, I have been granted a little luck, to ‘look pretty spry whether tossing a loop or wielding an iron’.







How many years have I
to wait for spring’s deep green,
the damp and dew, tender cotyledons

fresh as nested bird beaks open
drinking sun before they rise
in waves upon a breeze—

and flowers, like bright paint spilled
upon them. Ubiquitous Fiddleneck,
molten brass between the oak trees,

white skiffs of popcorn flowers,
splashes of red wine mallow,
the purple haze of lupine

and wild onion to rise like steam
on the horizons, colonies of poppies
in pockets out of reach to burn

like wildfire blind the eye
at a distance. The pale and delicate
families of Pretty Faces pose

for photographs, petals and stamen
of pink and purple mountain garland
twist in ecstasy before they fade.

Younger, I yearned for everlasting
spring, something almost heavenly—
yet nothing without the dry.


Earl McKee Photos: Greasy Creek Branding II


February 10, 2016, 75°, big calves, great crew. Thank you, Earl!


Earl McKee Photos: Greasy Creek Branding I


February 10, 2016, 75°, big calves, great crew. Thank you, Earl!






We grow wild beneath
the Red Tail’s cry
for company, beside

the dragging sound
of snake bellies
on well-drained dirt.

We fold our petals, sleep
to insistent tree frog songs
as the moon dances

upon the rippling creek,
mumbling constantly
of where it comes from.

And when we bloom,
we draw bugs as lovers
to inspire seed, clusters

of small town colors
beneath the Red Tail’s cry
for company.






We, all of you with me,
travel miles of spring saved
by a thunderstorm—Jeffers’

old violence not too old
to beget new values

blinding splotches of gold,

bright pancake poppies
a squinted eye can’t absorb.
We are rich, wealthy in places

we cannot spend away
from here, yet want to take,
steal with a camera

to share with the poor
punching clocks, chasing dollars
in corrals they have built.