Author Archives: John

April Fool’s Day 2020

 

 

Yesterday, Robbin and I began our 26th year together by making a loop through Greasy to look at the cows and calves, assess our feed conditions and put out salt and mineral. The cattle look great! We got an early start to the grass with November and December rains, but with a dry January and February, we lost our feed at our lower elevations on the south and west slopes. To date, we’ve only received three inches since the first of the year, but the grass at the higher elevations has just begun to grow.

A Border Collie at five months, it was Tessa’s first extended ride in the Kubota away from the house. Channeling her energy has been a challenge, but she’s smart and willing to please. It was good for her to be completely lost away from home and dependent on us for over four hours. Tired before she went to bed last night, she was sitting in the Kubota waiting for another ride.

Not much has changed for us, despite the Coronavirus pandemic. Normally, we do our best to stay out of town anyway. Before we have to get our Wagyu calves in for a second round of vaccinations, we’ve been preparing and planting our garden for the past couple of weeks—it’s what we do this time of year—that in turn will help us stay out of town later this spring.

However, we are not immune to the news as we try to imagine millions of people shut in their living quarters in a big city environment. Our hearts go out to them as we realize how fortunate we are to be free to move around the ranch to get our work done. Having something to do during this crisis is indeed a luxury.

 

ISOLATION BLUES

 

 

                                       To ease the pain of living.
                                       Everything else, drunken dumbshow.

                                            – Allen Ginsberg (“Memory Gardens”)

Chill in the dark,
the day before forever—
before eternity slips
into twinkling space.

Alone with ourselves,
we have no secrets left
to bury, only seeds to sow
for summer fruit.

Two owls are talking
across the yard:
emphatic hoots,
promises of spring.

Dogs bark at the scent
of coyotes near—
neither know, neither care
about tomorrow.

It is our moment
to find diversions
in search of awe,
the small and the majestic—

to do the work
to ease the pain of living.
All the rest
drunken dumbshow.

 

IN THE MIRROR

 

 

                              Not with a bang but a whimper.
                                   – T. S. Eliot (“The Hollow Men”)

A belly I may shed
before I leave this end—
my father wizened,
spending his before he died.

                              I yield to time,
                              to the absence
                              of reason.

I feel ambition
and all its diversions
wane in the soft dirt
of familiar trails:

habits I cling to
so as not to get lost
in the grandstands

to watch the war
and any hope for peace
expire until I leave

                              the poetry to others—
                              the exultant songs
                              of living things

we may finally become
with a little luck
to be among them.

 

FORTRESS AGAINST THE COLD

 

 

There is a knack to stacking wood
and wrapping packages in brown paper
you learn with time.

A metal pail for White King D
saved for picking blackberries
beyond the clothes line.

A drawer-full of safety pins,
balls of string with rubber bands
and paper clips held us together

in emergencies. She survived
the Spanish Flu of 1918
birthing my father, youngest daughter

of an Edinburgh schoolmaster,
arrived in Fresno to teach the Indians
English—and me the poetry of Keats.

 

CROP DUSTERS OUT OF MOTHBALLS

 

 

Strobe flash in time, all the big
plans for man shelved in the pantry
to be replaced by figures in white

with spray guns and hoses, back-packs
leaking disinfectant, sweeping vermin
from city streets and houses.

                              Orwell,
                              Burroughs,
                              Wells and
                              Heinlein

Crop dusters out of mothballs. We see ourselves
on huge screens, ever-watched and judged
by new rulers with clean hands in latex gloves
sipping nectar and ambrosia behind the veil of Oz.

Even the old duffers will learn to march in line
or hide like wild game, escape to the underground
tunnel leading to a sunlit, pastoral nirvana
that makes a living in nearly everyone’s mind.

New plane and playing field, we will learn to live
within ourselves without touching flesh-to-flesh,
without feeling the prolonged kiss that wanders
and explores new territory of an uncertain future.

 

THE SOUNDS OF NORMAL

 

 

                                   Gasoline makes game scarce.
                                                   – William Stafford (“From the Move to California”)

A honk in the dark under clouds,
a lost goose circles the canyon’s walls
as it listens for an answer,

               as I listen to the creek
               rush instead of gurgle
               since the rain.

Turkeys gobble over the rise
I cannot see, pausing like tree frogs
to join the chorus.

Not a car on the road
with headlights dancing
between posts and barbed wire—

there are no bounds to the black,
no interruption to the sounds
approaching normal

as if we and our machines
have abandoned this canyon
to its own devices.

 

IN THE SAN JOAQUIN

 

Orange Harvest Mural by Colleen Michell-Veyna—Exeter, CA

 

1.
The valley sinks with pumping
deeper and deeper
into investor’s pockets

before they take the write-off,
before they turn the ground
for a profit.

                              It’s a clean deal
                              with no hands dirty.

 

2.
We are the immigrants
from another time
growing closer to the soil,

dreaming still of rain, bumper crops
and markets high enough
to pay the bank off—

                              mom and pops
                              who stay the ground.

 

3.
The natives heard them coming,
saw the woodsmoke,
left rabbits on the doorstep

to keep the guns inside—
to not spook the game
that fed them before

                              the tule elk and
                              antelope were gone.

 

TWO SIDES TO LUCK

 

 

Mid-afternoon, after-rain beneath cottony cumulus
with sails set north trailing the long-awaited storm,

a lone coyote’s husky bark, cows and calves
across the creek frozen alertly upon the green—

I must assume the feral pigs now have had their fill
of the young bull I had to kill two weeks ago

with broken leg sunk deep into a squirrel hole
while sparring with his mates passing idle time

with unemployed testosterone awaiting the long,
hog-truck trip home to a feedlot in Idaho.

Stiff hide and disconnected bones don’t care
having filled the bellies of our sanitary engineers.

 

Food, Shelter and Clothing

 

Western Livestock Journal, March 2, 2020

 

Not good news from one of our best livestock publications, founded by Nelson Crow in 1922.

As supermarket shelves empty in the midst of our worldwide coronavirus pandemic, I am reminded of psychologist Abraham Maslow’s “Hierarchy of Needs”, a theory most often likened to a pyramid where food, shelter and clothing are the foundation necessary before fulfilling our innate human needs. Common sense to most people.

This is not the time to forget about American farmers and ranchers, many bankrupt or near bankruptcy as a result of the tariff wars with China and other countries. Furthermore, all of our normal distribution avenues are being disrupted by the virus. Instead, some of the $16 billion in tax dollars intended by Congress to bailout farmers and ranchers have been diverted to foreign countries, one of which is JBS SA of Brazil.

JBS SA

I pray for the sake of us all that USDA Secretary Sonny Perdue, Congress and the Trump Administration wake up and take a look at the bigger picture as they focus on the virus, because we all, rich or poor, have to eat.

 

IDES OF MARCH 2020

 

 

Reading this, you
have survived the wars
by wit or luck
to suffer more.
It is our nature
to endure

when nothing,
               that eternal dark emptiness,
remains the same—

when nothing
               escapes change.

Inside my rabbit hole:

               last spring’s late rains
               brought pneumonia
               killing quail chicks
               while turkeys thrived
               and multiplied.

               This spring dry
               beneath mostly
               empty clouds,
               a carpet of golden
               fiddleneck
               beneath hard hills
               turned brown.

Beyond my hide-away:

               a scuffling of men
               (and women, too)
               changing places in line—

               some running for election,
               some running for cover,
               some running in fear
               to empty shelves
               to stay alive.

It is our nature to endure.