I drove the Kubota with Allie early this morning to change the irrigation water, the first time I’ve been beyond the house since total knee replacement surgery three weeks ago. Good to get out and see our replacement heifers coming to greet us. Knee doing well, walking with and without a cane, a little progress every day.
Not everyone is an observer, and only a few have an unquenchable thirst for the truth, for how things work away from the asphalt. How Amy Auker sees her natural world in this collection of essays reads like poetry, and sounds like poetry as well. I was so delighted, and so subsequently exhausted with these detailed vignettes that I had to take tiny bites at first, 10 -15 pages at a time—not tired exhausted, but I was left so ethereally spent that I needed pause to percolate from my out-of-body state. Her writing engulfed me.
Auker cowboys the Spider Ranch north of Prescott, Arizona, a nearly inaccessible landscape except by foot or horseback. What she sees, what she shares is that rare glimpse of the wild she rides, and how her natural world flows around and within her inquisitive mind. This is a love story—a love for a man and for a place that are one in the same.
Among the strong contemporary women who are writing the West, she represents the cattle culture candidly, and so thoroughly, that one cannot help but scrap all the cowboy stereotypes for an unheralded ethic common to most ranching families shaped by the land they occupy. Ordinary Skin is perhaps the most beautiful and original prose I’ve read in years.
Currently the quail have the evening stage as Mother Nature usurps the garden and moves closer to the house as if we put the props in place for their entertainment. The quail have had an extraordinary hatch this year, hundreds of birds in dozens of coveys of various ages explore the yard in waves of gray.
Still housebound but rehabbing well, my photography is limited to what’s before me with the point-and-shoot, isolated snapshots that don’t fully portray the larger theme of the show. Accompanied and herded by attentive adults acting as sentinels, the young birds feed across the lawn to eventually let curiosity lead them a stray. One, then another follows, until half the young covey considers the latest discovery. Not one bird tried to drink from our ‘sip and dip’, knowing the water level too far to reach without falling, without flailing wet feathers and drowning.
Our yard: a classroom
for rural children come
out of granite rockpiles
and deadfall limbs woven
with blond, brittle grasses—
like a field trip to town,
a damp green and water
oasis they should know
when its 110 degrees.
Our yard: a classroom
for survival as Mother Nature
picks apples, apricots, peaches
and pears before they’re ripe,
before they’re sweet.
The ground squirrels know
our habits, when it’s best
to harvest, the sound of
footsteps on the gravel,
and the gunshot taken
for the team
we’ve not dissuaded.
Tail like a wagging semaphore
upon a rock, high-pitched chirps
penetrate my idle thoughts beyond
the flea-bitten ground squirrel
eyes trying to focus, mesmerized
by the slightest movement
of the approaching snake.
Not too old to remember,
I do not have to watch to know
what goes on in the world. We
either escape or make peace
with the snake over breakfast.
Fractured granite baked in clay,
drought-bare slopes now soft with grass
in waves of sun-bleached blond
await the eventide of shrinking light
as shadows climb, retreat into the black
of night as we raise a glass of wine
to gods returned and sigh—knowing
nothing will ever be the same again
in our minds, or how we pray for more
holidays of rain than we need
in this canyon envelope of heat
we graze from shade to shade.
Dawn waits beyond the black
robe that cloaks the undulating
ridgeline before we spin
into sunrise, most everyday
without clouds or rain
that we hope for, that we forgive
in our routines plodding toward
little change. Horses wait
for the screen door’s slap,
dogs rush to clear
the well-worn path,
quail scatter to start the day—
small details wait to be seen,
hide in the shrinking shadows
of unwritten scripts.
I’ve got no complaints,
but with all the details
the gods must attend to,
it’s not surprising that
some get overlooked.
Too good to be true,
the gods may be lazing
in a Max Parrish painting,
our fate more accident
than meant, but
still good to think
they’re paying attention.
Last Friday, I underwent knee replacement surgery. I was able to walk with a walker by Saturday. Rehabilitation will undoubtedly be slow and posts to the blog may be less frequent.
In the fenced and ungrazed barn lot
where water rests before it rises
when it rains to find the culvert,
a thatch of summer flowers tall
all face the dawn—a photograph
to match with Calflora—
I’ve learned the names
of most wild and local flowers
that have survived our occupation.
Fifth generation in the same place,
I don’t care that these are non-native,
these immigrants established
year after year, flashing color
‘midst the bland and blond dry grasses
as they chase the sun down.