Author Archives: John

THE BOTTLE

Before my time

an empty bottle cast

where there was no road,

 

pink with a lifetime

of blistering sunlight

and I wonder who

 

a horseback threw it

now in the short grass—

legends in these hills,

 

weathered men,

drinkers all

coping with the times—

 

with bankers and buyers

betting on the market

and little chance of rain.

 

Or what couple when

lay naked then

in wildflower sunshine.

 

Not much has changed

except for the price

of a cheap bottle of wine.

JUST IN TIME

Gray silver rain,

burnished coins

upon the green—

first leaves of filaree

like faces waiting,

hands open expectantly.

 

The ground sighs

just in time and we,

with wood stacked,

breathe freely now

 

as cows down from ridgetops

collect babies waiting

for breakfast

and old enough to listen

for their mother’s voice.

 

She slipped easily away

under clouds like these.

I hear phrases now—

her knowing

and all her demons

haunt me delightfully,

words that fit

and suddenly

become my own.

 

She would be pleased for us,

gray silver rain

upon the green.

LIKE ALWAYS

Beneath clouds

the forecast rain peters out

to a light mist, heavy dew, a sip

to hold greening hills a week—

like always, I’m disappointed

wanting more

security for cows.

 

Today, we’ll cut skeletons

of brittle manzanita

into woodstove lengths

to bring Blue Oak coals

to flame each morning.

 

We’ll take the dog,

put out salt,

check cows and calves—

stack the brush

load the Kubota

and let her sit between us

all the way home.

 

Through the years

we have worn cow trails of our own.

Like always, we’ll see something

we’ve never seen before.

Stampede

A week after our 2” rain event, everyone is feeling pretty good. Yesterday as Robbin and I began scattering hay to our first-calf heifers, their Wagyu X calves busted loose across the Flat.  The iPhone photo is but a portion of the 60+ head on their return trip to mama and the feed grounds. 

PRAYING MANTIS

Ever respectful

in the presence of preying,

or praying out loud.

1.97″

After nearly 2 inches of rain, everything is clean, having traded dust and smoke for mud and puddles, we’re delighted and relieved.  Though we’ll be feeding hay for another 3 weeks or so, we expect our hills to be green this week.  Though it feels like a drought-buster, long-term forecasts point to a developing La Niña with only a 10% chance of this year’s rainy season being wetter than last.

 

WATER

                                    Around here all the gods live in trees.

                                                – Jim Harrison (“The Whisper”)

 

It’s been tough on the woodpeckers: dry year,

no acorns in the oaks, yet

they still flap and squabble over bugs in the bark.

 

I can’t see the owls in the dark of dawn

as I wait for the black to disappear, yet

their mournful presence is good company.

 

Robbin likes the flock of little bushtits

flitting tree to tree, or washing-up at six o’clock

when the timer sprays the Mexican Sage.

 

Above it all, they’re smarter than the rest of us

to fly where they want—or most needed.

But around here we irrigate the trees.

TWENTY DAYS (part 2)

2.

Drought and dust,

pandemic and the masks

we need to breathe and feed—

 

day’s end cloaked in smoke

and gin—how tough are we

and every living thing

 

looking to escape

to a Li Po poem

and Chinese tapestry?

TWENTY DAYS

1.

I can taste the pines and cedars when I awake

to fuzzy black to search for stars

beyond, hoping for a clear day.

 

Choking smoke with my coffee,

with feeding cows and first-calf heifers

calving, faded coyotes close.

 

Ash falls like snow, skiffs light and dirty.

In this haze, it’s easy to get lost at home.

I track my steps to where I’m from.

Fire and Smoke, Twins and Coyotes

Three days ago, this second-calf heifer (9061) was fighting two coyotes off her newborn Wagyu X twins.  I got a call from a neighbor who saw the action from the road, but I was 15 minutes away checking our first-calf heifers.  I called Robbin who was getting ready to leave for a dentist appointment.  She jumped into the Kubota and sent them packing.

Usually twin calves for a young cow is a curse, wherein most cases she abandons the weaker one.  If she tries to raise them both, it typically taxes her so much that her poor shape keeps her from cycling to breed back.  By themselves near the house this morning, I took out some alfalfa while the rest of the cows were still on the hill.  Here the calves are playing while she has an early breakfast in our fourteenth straight day of smoke from the KNP Complex fire in Sequoia National Park and Forest.

I think they’ll make it now.