We are extremely fortunate to have an excellent crew of neighbors to help us mark our calves. Yesterday was a beautiful day to brand our second bunch of Wagyu X calves, though pretty dusty near the end of the work. Even though the hills are green, the grass is terribly short with only 4.31” of rain on Dry Creek thus far this year with only two months left of our rainy season. Furthermore, the spring forecast https://weatherwest.com/archives/8382 is quite disturbing.
Feeding hay since August, some neighbors have already begun to sell their cows into this down market. Ideally, the cull cows will attain their heaviest weights by mid-April, however most everyone’s cows are now stressed as short feed and growing calves have kept them thin. With little rain and a minimal snowpack, summer irrigation water will be in short supply, which translates to higher water prices in the San Joaquin Valley. Likewise, one can be assured that with fewer cuttings, the price of hay will also be high.
The south slopes have already dried up, offering only a month of green this year. Without any moisture in the next week, the west slopes will follow suit. Not necessarily the amount of rain, but the timing is always the crucial variable for native feed. We carry on as if by some miracle we can keep our cows together, but time is running out for the Southern Sierra foothills.
I know where the grass grows first,
fresh and tender where raindrops linger
above the road and creek below.
I can feel wild spirits talk,
dewless tracks where they walk,
stepping lightly to lay beside me
and my calf. From here we shed
the claustrophobe of fence and gate,
far away from the human race.
Dark rain in waves,
an oscillation of applause upon the roof
that soothes and insulates the senses
from the distant discord of mankind,
the lucid transparency of public figures
that saddens the soul—
this narrow canyon lit across in gold,
blind flashes of humility,
the roll of thunder close.
The short-cropped green hangs on
to naked clay hoping for heaven’s basket
of spilt miracles to soften hillsides
for roots—and cloven hooves
reaching for the ridgetops ripe
for more level grazing.
Dark rain in waves
punctuated by the light—
relief for what we know.
Some believe that even skeletons
communicate with one another
through entangled fiber optic roots,
the drought’s dead-standing oaks
shedding dry limbs and bark
in random piles at their feet.
Sometimes I hear them screaming
in the evening of day and night
as gravity pulls at sagging arms
of decomposing silhouettes
frozen with fright—a slow agony
I am too old to ignore.
We feed on numbers,
irrigate and harvest plans
with shaved efficiencies,
measure our well-being
by more or less
with what’s on paper
so easily burned
or suddenly erased—
we forget who we are.
We share amounts of rain,
with the neighbors,
too often disappointed
with what we need most:
just enough moisture
to revive this ground—
this flesh and our more
This old ground is on the move
and we have changed it
with our dreams of improvement
that humanity demands
to level mountains, harness rivers,
pump valleys to collapse
with efficiency and startling success—
then we foul our surgeries.
Beyond the road and fences,
these bare hillsides have begun to breathe
since she spent the night, whispering
upon dry leaves clinging to the last of life.
I am awakened, as if she never left,
wrapped in the soft applause of her arrival
bringing the gentle miracle of moisture
as this old ground comes back to life.
Thin starts lay limp
as green fades to gray
amid the brittle stalks
of short-cropped dry
the cows have missed
as I open the gate
ahead of several storms
to search for Live Oak—
stove wood heat
with little ash
the 4-year drought
branded in my mind—
before my eyes.
Limbs ache with years
bent to this ground
chasing seasons of grass,
but red skies at dawn
reawakens the flesh.
Before the surplus oilfield pipe
replaced the split redwood posts
and creosoted oak railroad ties,
we remember the old board pens,
acorns tucked twixt crack and plank,
fiery lichen on the backside
of weather-worn 2 x 8s:
old saws saved
that we exchange,
each triggering the next
underhanded head loop loosed
to hang for an instant,
we snare memories
like calves to brand—lifetimes
stretched from hand to hand.