Not far from Wuknaw,
where Bird and Animal people
molded man from this clay ground,
the landscape’s changed: pipe
pens and power lines, first Angus cows
driven weeks from Mexico—
it seems I’ve been here always,
neighbors helping neighbors
brand calves, become friends.
It’s a slow dance horseback
sorting drys from wet mothers
and their calves, few words
spoken, mostly looks and space
at the gate—all the stuff
you could never tell a younger man.
* * * *
Yesterday, Robbin and I helped Tony Rabb brand his calves on the Perkins. So simple and brilliant to maintain the name of a previous owner for a place or a ranch to preserve our common ground and history, more normal than not around here. The Perkins family descended from T. H. Davis who drove forty Angus cows from Mexico to Woodlake in 1853. So much has changed. Forty-five years ago I helped Tom and Gary Davis ship 3 year-old, 1,200 pound Angus steers off this ranch.
First time horseback since knee surgery went well, but a little rusty roping. This is Robbin’s striking iPhone photo before we got started.
Though no two years the same,
some are similar: December
begging rain, feeding hay
to hungry cows with calves
to raise and brand before
they grow to be a handful.
But cattle don’t worry
about the weather or how
to graze the day away
in new directions—for every
time they hear the diesel labor
up the hill, it’s just like Christmas.
In sand and cobbles,
on eight-foot centers
I thought would last forever—
160 pounds of oak
and greasy creosote
sunk 30 years ago
for 2 x 10 Doug Fir
have been abandoned.
Three centuries old,
the sycamore keeps
dropping limbs and shade
in forgotten pens
and waits for a storm
to strip its fiery leaves,
to dance without restraint.
Within dry clay hills,
shades of yellow linger—
certain that this year’s gift
of rain will be delivered.
Much like cattle,
the sounds we make
speak more than words
that often skirt the truth—
that cannot release
the real stress like
the intonations of
a moan or groan.
and when surprised
or truly overjoyed,
a melody of accents—
sweet poetry that will
never grace a page.
Cover of wild oats, blond empty heads
and hollow stems, high on the ridges—
leftovers from last year’s incessant storms
that fed dark blankets of acorns
beneath the oak survivors of drought
that turned deer hair a healthy blue—
and shade this season’s thirsty green
waiting, waiting for a rain. Each year
a perfect season for someone, something
adaptable, generations in the same place.
When I was too busy being a loud cowboy,
I inhaled the wild without caring why,
without tasting the difference between
being alive and lasting for a longer time—
still learning to sip instead of guzzling wine.
Though little went according to plan, we marked our second bunch of calves in Greasy yesterday. The cows and calves had been separated into two bunches based on the pasture they were gathered from, but when we arrived, the bulls had flattened the fence between them and most of the cattle were in one gathering field. We branded and turned them all out together leaving the gates open to their respective home pastures, just as we had done during the drought years to ensure that all the cattle had access to water.
To expect perfection is a silly notion with livestock in this terrain, but with the help of good and understanding neighbors, we got the job done with little time lost. Our objective was to have the calves in Greasy marked before the welders came to finish the pipe pens that Earl McKee started a decade or so ago, so that neither we or the welding crew would be in one another’s way. Too dry and flammable to begin yet, all we need is some ample rain. Thank you all.
Not quite the answer
to a thousand prayers,
for weeks of dry cold,
green grass graying
and crispy filaree
dirt-brown at a distance—
the red sky afire
startles the senses
and rattles the leaves
of sycamores flaming
before dawn’s light
along the creek, all
waiting to undress,
to bare white limbs
reaching for a hard rain.
Though still understocked from the drought, we’ve been a busy gathering this week, patching fences, feeding hay. We’d have gladly postponed this morning’s branding if yesterday’s rain had measured more and the road too slick to get up into Greasy. But the 0.11” was a pleasant change and rejuvenated the color of the surviving green, if nothing more. The bulls have been busy trading places, demolishing fences around the Gathering Field. We’ve got our fingers crossed that the cattle will be there when we and our crew of good neighbors arrive this morning.
In a younger, other life,
I cached my plews along the Siskadee
and boiled my traps in melted snow
waiting for spring to run wild.
Like the boney remnant of a tail,
a dangling DNA that spurns tight spaces
and authority, polite or otherwise
caged to submit to the majority,
my paternal and maternal predecessors
escaped West generations ago—
all odd ducks, genetic nonconformities
shaped by landscapes they learned
to adore. Apart from town, each
shrinking piece of ground has a history
of families adapting to progressive changes
in realities: fickle weather and faddish
politics without ethic or philosophies
that value truth or humanity.
I cache my plews along the Siskadee
and boil my traps in melted snow.
A handsome fellow, the bulls arrived Saturday after a long trip from Caldwell, Idaho to go to work producing American Kobe Beef for Snake River Farms, a subsidiary of Agri Beef.
The green is gone.
No need to say
we need a rain
under our breaths—
to write to,
too busy with politics
Gather to brand.
It’s all normal.