Author Archives: John




Killdeer have their hands full
with children born on the run
teaching intonations of language

while training safe habits—
four bird brains headed
in different directions

after an intense defense
of speckled granite clutches
for four long weeks

from nest-robbing crows
and snakes fresh from hibernation
with wants of their own.

In the crushed gravel drive
their feigned broken wings
flash grit and passion.





New leaves, new shade
as flowers fade to seed
               the future

                              shiny-hided heifers
                              with babies in their bellies
                              claim the oak trees,
                              gossip and commiserate
                              about the unknown

               after sex
with bulls, bugs and bees.





The landmark peak connecting
watersheds and neighbors here
and gone blazes with a rainbow

at sunset illuminating faces and stories
gathered to replay in places
to leave no track but in my thoughts—

my short history on this ground,
the tragic and the magic banked
at the center of my small universe.





Wild colors fade, the grass turns
in the sand and shallow ground
on south slopes as Killdeer defend

their gravel nests and Blackbirds
scout the sky like fighter pilots
patrolling air space—an urgency

to plant seed and protect babies
before spring’s dreaded deadline—
before it gets too late to rain.


Earl McKee RIP


Trudy Johnson Photography



Robert Frost never built a fence
between a neighbor as fine as mine,
who shared more than his cow sense
on both sides of the line.

He helped a shaggy-headed kid
whose ignorance could fill a book
and kept his impatience mostly hid
‘less I took a second look—

and then he knew, I knew the pain
and like a son, he worked with me
and tell a joke to keep me sane,
so frustrated I couldn’t see.

In time, I’d be working the gate,
he damn-sure had me looking sharp,
working ’round my each mistake—
the cattle easy to part.

Whenever I call, he’ll be there,
saving most of his work for last.
He helped me ship ’em on Easter,
a drought year gone past.

A slick calf could cause discussion,
he’d always argue it was mine.
I debate for his possession,
losing most of the time.

And when he’d weigh out justice,
you’d find his thumb upon the scale,
but on your side of the balance,
your logic to no avail.

So before you go building fences
and stretching brand-new barbed wire,
there’s one gone beyond common senses
and made Bobby Frost a liar.

If you ever find a pattern cut
that’d be suitable for me,
reckon you’d be hard-pressed put
using other than Earl Mckee.

            – John Dofflemyer (Dry Creek Rhymes, 1989)





Knee-deep in filaree,
fiddleneck,and foxtails
with wild oats coming

on a precipice
where there is no trail
to the bottom

of Lake Kaweah—
posing for a drone,
for a documentary

as a cowman, as a poet.
I’ve poured concrete,
plumbed galvanized pipe

and electrified a pump
this week, and still
have work to do.





Beyond the snowline,
roofless remains of rock houses,
high desert sage, pastel willows

and old cottonwoods
that surround Olancha—
fifty miles due east of green,

five hours by car,
five days a foot,
no short cuts.





Not to be weaned after years
of grazing cattle between her breasts,
we know the warm shelter of her flesh
apart from unkind men and women
striving for inane advantage

and choose to stay long after death,
stirred and interred between the rocks
where the native midden rests,
where horses hang their heavy heads
awaiting work, where all the gods

have been welcome. The eagle
on the skyline knows our minds,
deciphers gestures, understands
what few humans he’ll ever know
as witness to our wishes.





What sweet perfection, this planet blessed
to feed itself, whose wildness beckons men
to tame her, to milk her flesh for comfort,

for the glory of brief accomplishments—
lost cultures and civilizations, our crumbling
emulations of rocky crags with razor teeth

scraping stormy skies as man’s connection
to heaven. We have been fruitful, hungry
for her bounties hobbled by ignorance,

arrogance and greed. Mother to us all,
she is a stranger to our children, a far cry
from the hard and generous woman

she once was—her distant whine
on the wind from town begs relief
and a certain change in direction.


American White Pelicans


(click to enlarge)


While photographing the wildflowers in Greasy last Sunday, I noticed the shadow of birds dancing on a patch of poppies. We found and watched them wheel and circle well above Sulphur Peak (3,400 feet) for ten or fifteen minutes, glinting in the sunlight. They are apparently migrating to the Northern Plains and Canada. During the latter part of the recent four-year drought, there were nearly a hundred in the gravel pits below Lake Kaweah, and from what I’m told, on the lake as well. Audubon Field Guide