Another bunch of calves branded for Ken & Virginia McKee in Wooly Canyon yesterday, the culmination of a 4-day gather of tough country by younger men than I, all good hands on good horses with good dogs. Much has changed since I first branded my own calves in 1968. Gooseneck trailers have replaced bob-tailed trucks, pipe instead of board pens, women in the branding pen, but the ground remains pretty much the same.
Robbin, Bob, Terri and I went to help our dear friends and neighbors get their calves marked as we’ve done for years. It’s a 45-minute drive up Dry Creek Road to the Mountain House and curvy decline down 245 to the corrals, a green, E-ticket ride of crimson redbud blooming and piles of wildflowers spilled like gold coins around every turn in road as the sun breaches the ridgelines—almost a fantasy.
And was I relieved to see them parting cows from calves when we arrived thirty minutes earlier than normal, but mostly to know I’d be in the branding pen with cowboys I’ve watched mature into cowmen with talents with a rope I strived for, but never quite attained, to watch my back. The cattle culture in this part of Tulare County is in good hands.
I don’t expect to see
in the same way now
and I’m not the wise
old man I wanted to be—
after all, this new ground
hasn’t changed much,
the rain still drains
down the same canyons
in my brain, a ruffled
landscape come alive
in my skull that I must
work around, it seems.
The rafters rain with dry debris of nests
under construction, as finches dance
with crimson breasts upon the railing
crooning springtime love songs.
Hillsides splashed with islands
of Golden Poppies burn together
engulfing green, white skiffs claim
the flats with gilded fiddleneck as
the tender and translucent leaves
of oaks test unsettled weather
gusting within all living flesh
flushed with a mix of urgency and awe.
Killdeer claim the gravel drive, guard
speckled eggs that look like granite
as the crow pair cruise the layered
limbs of trees for homes, their own
secreted away in canyon Blue Oaks
as burnished eagles sweep the grasses
at feeding time—a great and brutal cry
fills the eyes as this troubled earth
awakens with unrelenting passion.
Our Merry Christmas weekend—to utilize our time around the Christmas and New Year’s holidays for branding calves and/or feeding, we have moved our family get-together to the springtime. The weather is warmer, travel is less hectic, most of our cattle work is done while Dry Creek is usually colorful instead of gray. Though unconventional, it makes perfect sense to us.
The solace of ridges
I cannot reach
but with my eyes,
I have shared
with generations here
put to rest before me—
while the lower ground
churns with the business
of getting bigger,
milking the earth
for all she’s worth,
building fortunes and cities.
We are not prepared
to go hungry, thirst
without water to irrigate
a meal. We must learn
to look beyond ourselves
to see our children’s
future, work together
to shape a world
that’s not a living hell.
Back to basics with the loss of power that lasted until late this morning due to an isolated thunderstorm yesterday afternoon bringing nearly 3 inches in an hour or so. Robbin and I got the dominos and candles out.
Cattle people trying
to manage grass
in the West
dare not cuss the rain
or otherwise risk
pissing-off the gods
that might be related
to the ones who care
for the ill and dying.
all the basic elements
to continue living.
A wonderful couple days with our dear Canadian friends, Denise Withnell and David Wilke of Cowboy Celtic as wildflowers bloom like paint spilled, growing puddles of color everywhere you look.
Thank you, Maureen Sudlow, for making me aware that some people have not seen our Golden Poppies up close. This photo is from March 26, 2010.
It was difficult navigating Dry Creek Road over the weekend for all the photographers parked in this narrow thoroughfare. I have a feeling that the conflagration is just beginning.