Monthly Archives: July 2019




Out of the black insides of a cow,
the crooked line of dawn’s horizon
reorients my place in the world

as a coyote draws the dogs’ bark—
a constant game without me.
By day, the overflow spills up the road,

herds of top-packed SUVs
following cops on a pot bust,
military-style: well-spaced, single file

like prairie schooners. Old eyes
search the darkness for the familiar
ground that has yet to change.


Wildfire Risks in California



After the recent wildfires in 2017 and 2018, PG&E, the utility company that has been found responsible for 17 of the blazes and facing liability for as much as $30 billion is likely to file Chapter 11. Since 2017, Southern California Edison, SCE, one of the other California electrical utility companies, has been extremely busy replacing poles, transformers and placing spacers between their high voltage transmission lines so as not to spark a fire during high wind conditions. Furthermore, SCE has placed a weather station on Dry Creek to report temperature, humidity and wind conditions. Though it seems unclear what the guidelines are if these conditions prove too risky, SCE has the power (no pun intended) to shut the transmission lines down.

Our practice over the years has been to blade a two-mile firebreak between our dry feed, barns and houses and Dry Creek Road. Most arson fires are ignited from the road and the SCE transmission lines that serve our pumps and houses follow the same road. Also, our barns and houses are inspected annually by Calfire prior to each fire season. About half of the fire incidents over the past 50 years have been subdued or contained by our ranching neighbors, but without electricity we are unable to pump water, hence our effectiveness to fight fire would be substantially reduced.

My neighbor a mile up the road just had the insurance policy on his house canceled because he lives in a ‘high-risk’ fire area based of a draft of the new maps that have painted about half of the State of California in red. Rumors that insurance companies are using the fire maps to cancel homeowners’ insurance taste a little like a conspiracy when other insurance companies assume the risk with increased premiums of 200-300%—all of this, it’s assumed, to partially offset their losses and legal costs of the 2018 fire season in Northern California. More to come, I’m sure.


Add to the wildfire risk recent California legislation, AB 711, a total ban on hunting with lead ammunition that went into effect on July 1, 2019. Recent tests indicate that copper jacketed lead core bullets have the lowest probability of igniting fires (almost nil). Bullet substitutes like solid copper, steel core and steel jacked, lead core and steel jacketed and steel core copper jacketed have a much higher probability of starting fires. The stage is now set for hunting season.





for Mark Arax

The ground is sinking
to where the water used to be
all across the San Joaquin,

agriculture’s deficit spending
leveraged into fortunes
for California’s kings.

This side of the Sierra divide,
it’s always been ‘boom or bust’,
flood or drought,

nothing normal
in between
to bank on

but drill more wells for nuts:
almonds and pistachios,
another million humans

to farm like cattle,
corral in cubicles
they can’t afford.

With the nature of California,
paradox or conundrum,
a constant battle.





The crows know what time
the maids come to clean—
leave their cart of sheets and towels,

TP and soap, coffee and especially
creamers unattended.
They wait on the roof.

Black fledglings watch the plastic peal,
peck when they can to help,
nothing’s spilt.

It’s part of the price
to stay on the coast
where no one seems to notice.





Daytime buzzards circle gunshots
and the dogs bark at three in the morning
when the pups arrive to consume
my pruning of a bumper crop
of ground squirrels, squads that raid
garden and orchard to harvest fruit
before it’s ripe, leaving nothing to glean.

In sixty days, the heifers will be calving
for the first time, confused and alone
licking a wobbly, wet calf clean
of the scent that draws the coyotes
who watch and know the habits
of all of us in a world
without crimes or rules.


Early Morning Light


It was an easy gather this morning. Bob’s presence on this part of the ranch while irrigating and feeding with his Kubota has made these gentle heifer calves even more trusting and curious. I arrived by Kubota headlights with a couple of bales of hay ahead of the cowboys, Robbin, Terri, Allie and Bob, and had the bunch mostly gathered when the horses arrived to escort them to the corrals.


© Terri Blanke


© Terri Blanke


© Terri Blanke

Currently, female cattle can not leave California unless they have been vaccinated for Brucellosis, also known as Bang’s Disease. As a matter of course, we vaccinate our heifer calves to enhance the health of our cattle and the herds of our community and State. Hence, vaccinated cattle are more salable and presumably more valuable.

The presence of brucellosis in free-ranging bison and elk in the Greater Yellowstone Area (GYA), Yellowstone National Parkland, Grand Teton National Park and the area around those parks, threatens the brucellosis status of the surrounding States and the health of their cattle and domestic bison herds, which are free of the disease. (Brucellosis link above)

The calves must be vaccinated by an accredited veterinarian who also places a tattoo inside the calf’s right ear and an individual metal ID tag in the same ear. Because we want to limit the stress of cattle-handling on the calves, we use this procedure to revaccinate,  a booster to help protect against respiratory and clostridial problems. And while in the squeeze chute they also get a dewormer and a shot of minerals.


© Terri Blanke


© Terri Blanke

Robbin and I are placing a patch over an eye to keep the sunlight out to reduce the pain and to help it heal with a little Neosporin.


© Terri Blanke

And in this instance, the calf got a shot of antibiotics to speed the eye’s recovery.


© Terri Blanke

Dr. Ken Fiser applying the individual metal ID tag.


© Terri Blanke


© Terri Blanke

Lots of hands and lots of syringes and applicators with less than a minute in the Silencer hydraulic chute.


All went smoothly, the processed heifer calves on hay and no worse for wear. What a crew–what a day!





I’ve heard stories I don’t remember
embellished into local myths
no longer true, no longer claimed

as I age, as memory fades
as it should from the far context
of most outdoor youths.

Oh, how we howled like a pack
of coyotes in these canyons—
louder yet in towns avoided now.

But a man learns not to dwell
on guilt, what can’t be helped
to please the righteous—

evolutions of imperfection
honed into an existence
we’ll soon live without.




© Terri Blanke


Bred to Angus bulls, we’ve hauled the rest of our third-calf cows up the hill, this time into Greasy. These girls have had three Wagyu X calves down low along the creek and close to the barns and house. Part of our contract with Snake River Farms requires Electronic Identification (EID) Tags and a second round of respiratory and clostridial vaccinations two weeks prior to shipping when we wean the calves from the cows. Because of these requirements, and because the heifers are young, we keep them close to the corrals for the extra processing.
It’s always special to turn them out into our upper country where we hope they’ll be productive as they live out the rest of their lives.

Lots of early mornings and saddlings in the dark for our fine crew as we near the end of a busy two months of gathering, weaning and preg-checking. We’ll be able to relax a little after we process and vaccinate this year’s replacement heifers for brucellosis on Tuesday. All good!





Hot early—
pack water,
perspire more,

find a breeze
to face
with a distant grin

and measure
the daylight left
until you’re done.





                  When I got a little older, I changed.
                                    Maria Lisa Eastman (“War Bridle”)

Summer winds breathe fire
with a bouquet of hollow wild oats
bent on chance and luck—
but we cannot look away
or ever dream relaxed.

One would think with age
and long experience, a man
would become emboldened
with skid-steer-bladed
firebreaks and phoschex

that always help, but time
has proven reason often
beyond the comprehension
of some of us who wait
for the smell of smoke.