After five and a half years of fairly religious blogging, I must entertain the question of why do we still believe that our efforts to communicate this ranch life worthwhile, why do I feel compelled to share this perspective, and my poetry, and Robbin’s photographic eye with those beyond this miniscule canyon, but a tiny wrinkle in the Sierra Nevada foothills. We claim no special expertise, no unusual prowess as cattle people, but while striving to make this ranch sustainable, our bottom line is dependent on its long-term health and production of grass. We are recording our activities, our improvements as well as our mistakes. Every ranch in these foothills is comprised of different landscape features and slopes, differing stock water resources, and subsequently each must be operated differently to maximize its sustainability. There are few pat answers.
As part of the function of a journal, we can enjoy our progress towards better cows by revisiting our archives. Rainfall and weather records help bolster our aging memories, for after forty years of blurring seasonal cycles and cattle work, it’s helpful to corral the uncertain facts. This blog is about the ranch, one of many in the Dry Creek Canyon – it’s about its welfare, its biological diversity, its uniqueness. Hopefully our personal recordkeeping may be important to someone someday, to those that follow us perhaps, but why blog?
Ours is an alternative lifestyle, a rural activity dependent upon three variables: weather, market and politics – a chancy occupation at best. As we watch the news, the ad-driven media, we realize that our priorities, and our perspectives, are apparently different than most of the majority, and that we feel safer here, little impacted by the dramas from the outside world. Furthermore, we are familiar with solving basic problems, with repairs and maintenance, with raising food, besides beef – we are fairly independent and self-sufficient, finding great joy and rich satisfaction with the often mundane work we do. We hope by sharing that our perspective may be educational, an alternative lifestyle worth consideration.
About 1966, when I was packing mules out of Mineral King for Bill DeCarteret, I was introduced to ‘Riprap and Cold Mountain Poems’, the early poetry of Gary Snyder. I’d moved the trail crew at the head of the Little Kern, wrestling a 200-pound tarp onto a mule by myself. It was already dark when I came back over Farewell Gap, hours away from the corrals. Katie Doctor, whom I barely knew, made coffee when I got in and we took turns reading Snyder by lantern light. How we got to the subject of poetry, I don’t remember, but I had been thoroughly exposed in prep school – and written a little too. Perhaps I thought my interest in poetry might impress her.
I’ve failed often trying to describe the impact of Snyder’s hands-on vernacular that late evening in the Mineral King Valley. Admittedly I was tired and vulnerable, and found his bare bones style fit me, and the very Sierra trails I rode, well–illuminating majestic places that I’d seen in simple, expansive ways, making exhilarating leaps in minimal light. As each word struck fully, I dreamed then that I might, that I could with my background, perhaps someday write about this landscape that has filled me so with awe. Snyder’s respect for the work and the workingman sounded a familiar chord that I grew up with as a boy among remnants of the Dust Bowl Okies, but set in the Sierras. I had met the legendary trail crew foremen in his poems. His celebration of survival tools and a commonality, a humanity among men, still inspires me to celebrate that increasingly rare fullness that this outdoor life offers.
Robbin and I share this lifestyle, this ranch, fairly freely, and as it becomes part of the public domain, it’s also an access of sorts to the land for more than recreation. In so doing, we hope to gain a greater appreciation for all that grazing ground can provide. For to change the land use from ranch to ranchettes, to reshape the landscape with lasting impacts, is inevitably easy – but to sustain it and ourselves, harvest the grass with cattle that are converted to food for others will always be a constant, ever-changing challenge. In so doing, we leave far too many maps to our favorite fishing hole and sacrifice some privacy in order to record what we have learned by our experience – yet hopefully this blog may be of interest and of value to others beyond this canyon.