It was an all-night, slow rain and low snow with no runoff, 0.60” that was absorbed, no puddles at first light as winter finally arrived at the end of February—a game changer as our options were narrowing.
Though we considered buying some heifers last fall to augment our cow herd culled heavily after four years of drought, after last year’s record rainfall and ample feed, we are grateful that we’ve been understocked through one of the driest beginnings to our rainy season, ‘that time of year when it might rain’. Because we are understocked in our upper country, this season’s grass has been protected by last year’s old feed and our cows and calves are doing well. However, we’ve been feeding hay to our younger cows since August in our lower country as the grass has all but disappeared. With temperatures near-freezing for the past two weeks and only 0.20” of precipitation in the preceding 30 days, it’s been too cold and dry for the grass to grow.
But we know how resilient this ground can be, another storm set to arrive late this evening and last through Saturday, we have hope for a decent grass season yet and enough moisture to get us to the first of April as temperatures warm. Believers are made of such miracles.
I think we should keep
some of this, in case God comes back
to see what we did with it.
– William Stafford (“The Whole Thing”)
He’s been away, it seems, left His lackeys
asleep on the ridge, or dressing up, waving
their diaphanous sleeves before the polished
window glass of town. We could have used
some help, some rain to inspire more Glory
in our eyes, our minds, our flesh—this grass
refreshed. Busy it seems, hands full
with despots and tyrants beyond our horizons,
this dry ground forgotten to endure with our own
small labors. Now we are the found strays
coming into hay we taste on wet nostrils,
ready to follow through any open gate.
To date, we have 3.17″ of precipitation since September 21, 2017.
We’ve been watching the 10-day weather developments for today’s forecast rain that seems to have intensified slightly in both probability and amount, temporarily opening the storm door for a larger event by late week. For those interested, a more comprehensive assessment of North America’s weather is available at Daniel Swain’s weather blog. We’ll be dancing tonight.
Upon the ridge between
Ragle and Live Oak Canyons,
a mile or more three miles away,
sun and moon seasons slide
Solstice to Solstice
when there is no way
to measure time exactly—
days without names
a different tree
to diffuse the light
for a moment
and I am blind, lost to this world,
refreshed—each new day
sliding between the canyons.
It takes dry wood to keep the fire
going, cutting, splitting and the timely
delivery to glowing coals to stay warm—
the archaic rituals of individualists:
the harvests of backyard gardens,
the battles with weeds and pests
that win eventually. We choose
the hard way to save a dime, we say,
spend two-bits for a nickel raise.
Throwbacks to the old ways:
shovel, hoe and axe—hand-to-hand
combat with this earth, this dirt.
Small accomplishments that will
not change the world. We grow wild
to live among the foes we know
in this life and the next. Cordwood
warming moments, fruit wood
tasting of independence.
Not far from here, wet-haired calves
wake beside their mothers, bellies dry
where they’ve warmed the earth
and they will nurse before the bunch
grazes the tops of ridges, damp clay
hillsides soft between their toes.
We didn’t ask for much more
than a heavy dew after a month of dry
to keep the grass alive, didn’t beg
or pray or dance before our gods—
but waited stoically as dead-standing
oaks reflected in our eyes.
Old children with hardened hides,
we have been disciplined by years
of drought and disappointment,
we wait and weigh our options
with rain enough to last a week—
hope enough to last a lifetime.
Determined, the creek runs steady yet without rain,
last season leaking through cracks of granite joined,
braided currents turning small bellies up to flash and flare
in the mottled sunlight—passing clouds, dry storms.
It streams a canyon of skeletons, barkless half-trunks
corralled by windrows of fallen limbs, oak trees
crumbling, to deliver its addled chants, mumbled news
to thirsty orchard rows of certain death upstream.
West slopes wear last year’s feed, palomino tufts
dappled with strongminded green graying daily,
deep-rooted seed of filaree, its crimson leaves
turn purple before baring the crisp color of dirt.
Like the trees and grasses, we may melt down
to dust, be blown away to stick in wetter places.
But like good dogs sure, we pray for a change
in the weather—if it hasn’t already, for the worse.
It was 22 degrees along the creek early yesterday morning, unusually dry and dusty, a gathering of friends and neighbors as we branded the last of our Wagyu X Calves.
God created men and Sam Colt made them Equal.
– Old West Adage (March 5, 1836)
Gunslinger, quick draw myth we cherish,
the West is wound with dreams
come through the centuries like a mist
hanging on a bare branch, prismed droplets
clinging, sparkling with our inheritance—
now we are rich with missiles and rockets
aimed to kill and maim, to keep the peace
with fear in this overcrowded town—
the dark shroud that shields us equally.
All between a cow and daylight,
she broke your collarbone,
a long bumpy ride on a dirt road
to the asphalt, to Emergency—
and we sink pipe and steel
for tomorrow’s taste for beef.
It could be a moonscape,
bacon-frying buzz of welding rod,
family of oak trees frightened,
unable to run. Well-scattered
somewhere near, we will watch
the future learn to work together
in these corrals: cattle, horses,
men and women—branding calves
far-removed from this crazy world.