Monthly Archives: October 2016

Welcome Rain




A delightful four days of rain, the ground accumulating nearly an inch and a half of warm moisture here on Dry Creek, enough to start the grass and get our season under way. We fill our lungs, exhale and sigh, satisfied. Despite the dry winter forecast from multiple sources, we trust the excess old feed will help hold the moisture on the hillsides between rains, adding cover for the new grass to grow within.

“Mountains, Mules and Memories” by Bill DeCarteret




Few of us know what it’s like to fall in love with the mountains, the backcountry of the High Sierras, and fewer yet who can put that feeling into words, but Bill DeCarteret has humbly woven a lifetime’s love of its rivers and rugged terrain with the mules, horses and the ‘kids’ who worked for him at Wolverton and Mineral King Pack Stations from 1958 through 1982. Over fifty years ago, I was lucky enough to be one of those kids.

Bill became acquainted with the High Sierras as a Boy Scout in 1941 as he wrangled his way to his first job as a packer for Vaud Cunningham in 1945 near Huntington Lake. In 1947, he packed out of Mineral King for Ray Buckman from whom he later bought the pack station in 1958 with a $12,000 loan from Adolph Gill. As the author unwinds his stories in chronological order, it becomes apparent from the outset that they could never happen again, that his experiences were limited to a slice of time that will never be repeated. In this regard, “Mountains, Mules and Memories” becomes a part of our local history.

The author’s voice on the page is consistent with the man I know, replete with his understated humor as he relates his stories, especially his observations and compassion for his horses and his mules—a must read for animal rights advocates, DeCarteret was light years ahead of most. Like so many outfits in the business of packing people on horses and mules, anything can happen anytime and usually did. It’s from the stories that we not only learn about the man, and his wife Marilyn, but what it took to keep their summer enterprise afloat for twenty-five years.

Perhaps the most important thing I took away from this book was the impact that Bill and Marilyn’s business had on so many lives, affording many their first glimpse of the Sierras, cooking on a wood fire, catching fish in mountain streams and lakes in the middle of miles of untarnished landscapes, and all the degrees of awe that must have inspired them. The 83 ‘kids’, mostly teenagers at the time who worked for him in those twenty-five years, had to know how to work, often long hours, and to take responsibility because he couldn’t be with them on the pack trips—his business depended on it. Many are involved in the stories he tells as they became packers ‘his way’, safety first, learning to observe and read horses and mules—and most of all, how to reach inside for something more they didn’t know they had. Thank you, Bill.



Saturday, October 29th
Noon to 4 p.m.
Courthouse Gallery and Museum
125 S. ‘B’ St.
Exeter, CA

% Bill DeCarteret
758 Sherwood St.
Exeter, CA 93221
(559) 592-2878
349 pp. $21.95





I heard a rumor
that this world is much bigger
than we imagined.






Desk light inside, tree frogs hang on the screen door
stroked by the gentle damp breathing of a downcanyon
breeze, deep dark mouth clear to the mountain pines.

No stars, all black, we wait—anticipate cloudy daylight
together, a red sky dawn and rain, slow at first
approaching, its tiny footsteps soft upon dry leaves.

No new amazement, this cleansing of dust, this erasing
memories and tracks that leaves the ground fresh,
that may swell the seed to burst into green cotyledons,

open-handed to receive sky blessings, small miracles-
in-waiting—a chance, we dream. Wishing is not praying
yet among the bone-dry years, broken skeletons

of old oak trees flailing across hillsides in herds
just before Halloween, Buckeyes drip with bloody
leaves while goblins claim what we cannot see.




October 27, 2014

October 27, 2014


A slice of time incised from ranch
routines, an Indian poet-in-residence
for a week, Jack Kerouac on the wind

escaping Montana’s sub-zero to write
about dreams. He thinks in Crow,
undulating hands stroke the grace

between them, never touching speak,
pleasant sounds of rushing water gush
from his lips I almost understand.

I envy this bear of a man
who brings brightly painted ponies
and the Little Big Horn with him,

the feathered glory of reenactments
and contact with the old chiefs
that breathe past and present here

upon my skin. What a way to go out
to become one with time, turn the soul
loose and gather ‘round the fire

of mountain men, all the old cowboys
and pioneers, all the natives done with
trying to make a living on this ground.

                                                 for Henry Real Bird




February 12, 2015

February 12, 2015


A black and white macro of weathered wood,
corrals and hills beyond, old guitar song
and chiseled men follow smoke to the ridgeline

and back to the fire and branding iron. A ringing
cell phone colors riders, a black calf stretched
between two sorrels—blue denim action

of men and women, old neighbors dancing,
each genuflecting to a moment on the ground.
“We’re branding calves,” a limp loop

answers from the corner, looking down
canyon past hazy orchards, somewhere town
as if he could see the caller, the papered desk,

stretch the thirty miles. A guy with a drone
reports, “We got ’em all.” Empty white tables
and chair legs licked by green tongues wait

with meat, bread and beans on an oak fire, ice chest
beer below a towel, soap and water, plastic glasses
and fresh jug of whiskey ready on a tailgate.

Close again, the chatter of visiting face to face,
gossip, stories and mysteries unveiled, fading
with cows with calves strung up the canyon home.






There is no urgency,
no destination worthy
ignorance along the way—

even on the familiar
road, nothing stays
as it was—and probing

eyes never quite the same.
All the assumptions,
short-cuts to conclusions

we claimed as instinct
that never were:
laziness and wishful

thinking, yet
we blaze away,
unload both barrels

trying to eliminate
our smoky confusion.
We will get there

soon enough. Make
each moment rich
as a Chinese poet.

                    I venture no more than a low whisper,
                    afraid I’ll startle the people of heaven.

                         – Li Po (“Inscribed on a Wall at Summit-Top Temple”)




Weekly Photo Challenge: ‘Shine’




December 10, 2015

December 10, 2015


Small at first, rivers spill
High Sierra snowmelt,
water pure as it will ever be

falling to the call of gravity
and time’s relentless roar
over granite smooth, worn

by cataracts and cascades
dressed in rainbow mists
ascending to the whispers

among a million pines—
a timbered mat of arrows
headed to the sky.

We have been there
in our perfect innocence
before our courses

changed the world
as it changed us.
I think it was the waiting

for the war I never served
that made me see that
spilling the blood of boys

could not kill ideas
or forever eliminate
a differing philosophy.

Like water pooled
I am damned again
in someone else’s business

at the whims of men
I’ll never understand
beyond their lust for power

and their addiction to greed
while dancing to the tune
of men and women working

with their heads and hands.
I stay the slope and cling
to the sound of the river

chasing lyrics on paper
since the war—poor poetry
released like mist ascending

to the muse that must
report my plodding progress
to goddesses and gods.






                            another heaven and earth, nowhere people know.
                                   – Li Po (“Mountain Dialogue”)

We are the nowhere people blessed
in nameless places where waves of gold
glint off grasses beyond long shadows

that stream downhill at dawn and dusk,
beyond the instant politic of greed
that lusts for more power over

humanity: all the great hearts secreted
away, shared in private moments as if
outlaws. We are the nowhere people

living an ever-changing dream
of the old ways practiced season
after season, as easily forgotten

as fading chimney smoke—
our ascension from this earth
that flesh cannot escape.


Wordless Wednesday


Neal Lett Photo

Neal Lett Photo