Category Archives: Ranch Journal

Blue Oak Casualties

 

 

Oftentimes during a year of stress, some Blue Oaks shut down, loose their leaves, only to come back to life the following season. But our 4-year drought was too much and too long for whole slopes of oaks, despite above-average rainfall this season. Now, as the survivors begin to leaf-out, the casualties are fairly easy to distinguish. Most, it seems, are below 2,000 feet in elevation on north to west-facing hillsides. As these trees have been here all my life, I’m guessing they are over 100 years old, but most have probably been here less than 200 years. Usually at the top of these slopes is an older tree, or remnants of an older tree, a grandfather oak that provided the acorns.

(Facebook viewers can enlarge the photo by linking to the blog)

 

Vernal Equinox, 2017

 

 

Not a normal spring, Robbin and I made the loop of Greasy Creek yesterday with 750 lbs. of salt and mineral. We’ve not seen the cows and calves since before we left for Elko at the end of January, due to high water in Dry Creek, a huge rock on the Mankin Flat Fire Road, and overall conditions too wet to travel.

We flirted with having to walk home before we reached the corrals where I emptied 6.85” from the rain gauge, a total to date for the season of 24.03”. Not unlike the Paregien Ranch, we can’t get to the corrals with a pickup or gooseneck, so branding the rest of our calves is not a consideration. Furthermore, we’re too late in our grass season for our 500 lbs. bull calves to effectively recover to then continue to gain weight again.

Our dilemma as delineated in the March 11th post is moot at this point, wet roads and weather having made the decision for us. More storms forecast with unsettled weather for the next 10-12 days, with all the colors of spring waiting to unfold. These toms were courting the hens on Greasy Creek yesterday, finding a bare spot in the road to fan their tails, drag their wings and gobble in unison, as the heads of hens watched from the tall grass.

 

Picnic

 

 

We’ve been sharing ranch life with our dear Canadian friends Denise Withnell and David Wilke from Cowboy Celtic for the past few days, exhausted as they head home to Victoria. Like kids, we’ve been having way too much fun while getting very little work done. Taking them on a tour of the Paregien ranch to put out salt and mineral while assessing the practicality of branding our bull calves, we found roads still too wet in places for a pickup or gooseneck.

 

 

With two saved from oak tree entanglements, they had to endure my rant about why mylar balloons ought to be illegal.

 

 

Thank you, dear friends for helping to prove that you’re never too old for a picnic.

 

KAWEAH PEAKS

 

 

Summer water banked
above thirteen thousand feet
to leak as needed.

 

GIRLS ACROSS THE CREEK

 

 

Behind the barn and horses
grazing evening time, beyond
our chorus line of sycamores

locking hands gleefully,
young mothers pepper green,
return home to fresh feed

with branded calves—slope bare
for years without rain.
Breathing deeply, we inhale

all before our eyes—
herd and family without
the scattering sort of bulls,

they glean the sweetest first
before working
up the mountain gradually.

We want to freeze the feeling
in a photograph forever,
knowing we cannot.

 

Call of the Wild

 

 

It is our habit to watch the sunset with a glass of wine, replay the day and plan the next as the shadow of the ridge behind us crawls up the slope across the canyon until dark. Our conversation is almost always interrupted by someone, a coyote crossing in the pasture, crow mates preening one another, hawks and eagles, or our finger-pointing quiet pause last night as a covey of quail moved through the yard on their way to the lemon tree to roost. Nearly hidden in the darkness, it was serious business, an alert rear guard spaced behind the rest, then double-time to catch up—it’s organized, almost military. Then I’m off on a rant, “Don’t tell me that they can’t think.”

A few tree frogs have been utilizing the dogs’ water dish by day, protected by the metal hood over the plastic float that regulates the flow of water that Robbin has had to remove because the weight of three or four frogs opens the valve and overflows the dish on to the deck. We’re trying to talk, our conversation rudely interrupted by poorly punctuated, air-cracking croaks from the dish. Robbin gets up to inspect the source to see the frog’s vocal throat sac inflated. Then slips off on a humorously detailed rant about maleness.

Catching the inflated vocal sac in a photograph is tricky in low light, finding an f-stop to allow auto-focus between croaks when you can barely see the tree frog and hold the camera still takes lots of shots. Furthermore, the photographer must keep his distance or the subject goes quiet with stage fright.

And what else could we expect this close to the vernal equinox, the night before the full worm moon, buckeyes dressing leaves, redbuds about to bloom, finches assessing last year’s nests—it’s damn-near spring!

 

Drying Out

 

 

With temperatures rising into the 70s, the ground is beginning to dry out in places, still boggy in others. The creek is down to 100 csf despite last weekend’s 0.75” rain and we were able to get the rest of our Wagyu X calves across the creek to brand. With Brent and Sid to augment our aging crew, we got the job done yesterday.

Until now, it’s been too wet to see the rest of our cattle in the hills. Robbin and I need to get around to see how big the bull calves have gotten and then decide whether to gather and work them or not. Considering the shock and recovery time as steers with only 60 days left of our grass season, it may be better to wean them early as bull calves. The steers will bring more money/lb., but the bulls this late in the season will weigh more. After four years of drought, we never imagined the problems of too much rain.

 

NOWHERE PEOPLE 3

 

20170304-img_6167

 

We replay the day
of branding calves, glad
your horse has healed
beneath me strong—
the feel of the rope
remembered as our eyes

follow the eagle’s flight
low across the green
trolling for ground squirrels
busy with housekeeping,
absorbing the sun
after months of rain.

He stops mid-air
on his second pass,
falls back and plunges
into the grass, wings
shielding warmth within
his taloned grasp

as we talk and share
binoculars, checking on
life in this canyon—
of going nowhere
like the eagle
already home.

 

Homer Cove

 

20170304-img_6111

 

A beautiful day for a branding at Steve and Jody Fuller’s place on Dry Creek. Just up the road, we arrived while the crew was sorting cows from calves, hoping to keep the day’s work light for Robbin’s horse Bart who has been off a year to heal torn tendons—one of those freak accidents incurred, we believe, while he was playing in the pasture—the horse she lets me brand on. Lately, she has been testing him with some easy days successfully, and it was time try him back in the branding pen.

When I was younger, I craved to go to brandings as much for the bravado and camaraderie of this community as to rope calves. But in recent years, as my knees have gotten worse, about the only time I’m horseback is to help the neighbors brand, my gesture to repay them for helping us mark our calves every year. At times, it got to be work I endured.

For the past six months, however, I have been dreaming of horses and my knees don’t hurt as much when I ride as when I walk. To feel Bart’s strength under me as we led that first calf out was exhilarating, and to be able to free my mind of his physical soundness and concentrate on the feel of my rope became so much fun that I felt young again. Much of the credit I give to Robbin’s horse, he fits me well—yet knowing, too, that much of it just plays pleasantly in an old man’s mind.

 

First Wagyu Branding

 

20170302-img_6006

 

Though the cattle appreciate going ‘old people slow’, it makes for a long day, especially when the calves have grown past the ideal time to brand them due to our ninety days of rain since Thanksgiving. As the ground begins to dry out, all our neighbors, whom we depend on for help, are busy trying to get their calves gathered and marked as well.

 

20170302-img_6028

 

Fortunately we were able to enlist some youth to help get the calves on the ground, without which the day would have been much longer. Thank you Brett Moody, Tell Blanke and Nate. Special thanks to all the old timers, our friends and neighbors, who like us, are trying to hang on to this way of life.

 

20170302-img_6100