Our temperatures have been peaking about 5:00 p.m. as thunderheads roll up the Great Western Divide. In line with Big Meadows and Cedar Grove on the Kings River, yesterday’s cell built and lasted about 30 minutes while we baked in 111 degrees on Dry Creek. Forecasters promise more of the same through the weekend. After a heat spell like this one, we usually begin to acclimate well-enough to look forward to 100. But at the Solstice, it seems forever for the sun to go down.
From Valley heat
great white ships rise
and ride the ridges,
buck canyons up
to pound with thunder
and dump with rain—
I can smell
in the pines
and cedar duff
sixty miles away.
Wild bull calves we never knew
well-enough to brand
with months of rain,
creek too high to cross,
roads too wet to travel,
all gone to town now—
big enough to breed
their sisters yet to be
marked and aborted.
We thought the drought
was bad. But all the politics
and manipulated markets
yield to the variables
of Mother Nature’s bronc ride,
every jump, kick and surprise
without warning, never boring
when the weather gets her head
between her front legs.
As she warms up
to 113 degrees, we’ll see
what we’re made of.
We’re now on Mexican time: up at daylight and inside by eleven for lunch and a siesta. I am amazed how well the cattle, and especially the calves in the weaning pens, have managed to deal with the heat. Our ‘sip and dip’ has gotten plenty of use this past week, cools our flesh to the bone. Thank you Canadian Joe Hertz, fiddler for Cowboy Celtic, for your stone mason work!
Helping Earl meant bring your best
horse to stay ahead of trouble,
especially in Sulphur, a mount
that could cross the brushy draws
and stand up in scree, I’d imagine
the night before my young dreams—
a bay gelding who could read
the minds of renegades at 200 yards,
or the boot-tough brown mare
from Rudnick’s broncs before him.
They spent their lives making me
more helpful than I was, in or out
of the corrals. It was always Western
and I’d wake to saddle in the dark,
to be on time for wild adventure, enough
for all spread across the watershed—
simultaneous, far-flung accounts
polished in the shade for future poetry.
On and off the trail
they’ve learned to work together
and with us as well.
a universal language,
a curious vocabulary
cattle gather at water
and visit with horses
before darkness falls.
Till and seed,
irrigate and weed,
feed Br’er Rabbit.
Plant and prune,
spray and fertilize,
feed Br’er Squirrel.
Drawn to a summer storm
built out of blue clouds
at dusk, I am swept up
into the gusts before
the dark sky cracks
with jagged light
all around touching down—
distant rumbles roaring
closer by as the earth
shakes. I am alive within
it and myself, perhaps
afraid, but exhilarated
to have escaped
the latest episode
to miss the evening news.
…what an enskyment; what a life after death.
– Robinson Jeffers (“Vulture”)
One never knows the vehicle of our transformation,
our transportation to nether or aether realms
dispatched perhaps on a buzzard’s back.
Jeffers feigning death
teased it close enough to be
eye-to-eye with a glorious ascension
upon black sails in the sea light
veering over his rugged,
On my boyhood, cow trail hunts
for squirrels and rattlesnakes,
I had in tow my wake of vultures
riding foothill thermals—Nature’s keen
garbage men keeping the earth clean—
I asked my father once,
‘how could they find death
hidden in weeds
from so high up?’
‘Perhaps,’ he said,
‘it is their sense of smell.’
Wild gods behind clouds too thin to rain
linger at dusk in brilliant sprays of sun,
stir the senses yet as the first wave
of one more, dark armada shades tomorrow
and the next day—our reprieve from the heat
of another summer in the San Joaquin.
The earth has turned all shades of brown,
of faded blooms and brittle ripeness,
of longer days grazed at dawn and dusk—
we gather at water to get the news
before we retreat from summer sun—
over and over, near the Solstice.