Category Archives: Ranch Journal

HERE TO HELP

 

 

Watching the corrals from a distance:
young men a horseback dancing in the sort
of cows from calves before branding

amid a discordant chorus, the same
plaintive song of years worn thin
that holds the heart in place as the eyes

fade and the mind wanders a far
ridge searching for the first split
in the trail that leads to this short

moment of chance and circumstance—
apart and beyond the world’s fear and all
the raw conflicts that feed it senseless.

A man rides by the seat of his pants,
pockets of memory that reach for the rhythm
of a horse collected, the singing twine.

 

My Birthday Branding

 

 

Through the cerise redbuds and wildflowers awaiting sunshine to fully bloom, our slow hour’s drive up Dry Creek, then descending a curvy 245 to the entrance of Woolley Canyon, we arrived to brand the last of Kenny and Virginia McKee’s calves yesterday, despite concerns of Covid-19. Social distancing is virtually impossible in the branding pen.

Virginia had soap and wipes available and Kenny had prepared a concoction of 90% alcohol and witch hazel to spray on our hands that I used several times. It took the dirt off as well. Though apprehension varied among us, there was none of the normal hugs or handshakes, most keeping a noticeable distance when possible. But when it came to the groundwork and vaccinations, the work was necessarily close.

My separate apprehension on my 72nd birthday centered on a horse that I had roped on only once before. Robbin and I have outlived our dependable mounts, and I have had to borrow horses to get through this year’s branding season. By the end of the day, “Twist” was beginning to overcome his cutting horse breeding and he and I were having fun. After a couple of more brandings next year, he’ll be reliable at brandings.

Though everyone was given the option of not participating, we were there to help our neighbors, a cultural exercise we all prescribed to despite the risks. Not unlike workers tending and harvesting crops, it’s what we do this time of year. Not branding is not a viable choice in Woolley Canyon.

Working together with neighbors for a few hours on a beautiful day was a luxurious diversion from the news as we await a forecast rain.

 

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.

 

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.

 

REPRIEVE

 

 

She didn’t stay long
or leave much in the way
of puddles,

her fine gray mist
to brighten green,
settle dust

and relieve the pain
of waiting
for a well-begged rain—

a sniff and taste
to lure us closer
toward our reward

like this cold dawn’s
chimney smoke,
flat to the ground,

drawn up-canyon
following her
discarded clouds.

 

     February 23, 2020
     0.15″

OUT OF DARKNESS

 

 

Alone in the dark
that shrouds anemic green
and short-stemmed fiddleneck
thinking February seed,

               the joyful gurgle
               of a shrinking creek
               gulps over cobbles

               to sit beside me
               on a cold and moist
               down-canyon breeze.

               Painted black,
               all sounds normal
               as if a sign.

Alone in the dark
I color hillsides leaking
beneath gray skies.

 

2nd Branding Greasy 2020

 

Despite warm temperatures and no rain for nearly 30 days, the calves have grown since we branded last in Greasy on January 9th.

 

Father and daughter, Garth and Audrey Maze pose before we start.

 

 

 

 

 

With a great crew, we made short work of big calves and were down the hill by noon. Thank you all.

 

FEBRUARY 2020

 

 

Another cold dry front
rests upon the tops of hills,
shapeless clouds, a haze
upon steep south slopes,
red clay like brick—
green pales to gray

               as we brand calves
               one by one
               we may sell early
               with their mothers.

I brace against the familiar
drama, growing numb

               as my stiff new rope
               slides through the palm
               of time’s softened hand,
               warming as it searches
               for my frayed
               wrapped-cotton horn.

               I quote my elders
               dead and gone
               as they visit
               the branding pen.

Don’t worry, Dofflemyer,
               E. J.’d say.
It’s gonna rain.

It takes years to get here
with cows we like—
unwritten contracts
they understand

               as we discuss
               our options
               of who goes first
               and who gets what’s left
               of hay.

Of the two of us,
I am the dreamer
and believer—

a luxury
you have allowed me
               facing facts
as I grow gray.

                              for Robbin

 

PURE LOVE

 

 

She was there
always for her kids
and theirs and theirs

with open wings—
quick to feed
and defend them.

Scrappy daughter
of the Dust Bowl,
rest in peace.

                    for Ila Jean Fry
    January 17, 1926 — January 17, 2020

 

Obituary