OAK TITMOUSE

During hot and dry times

the little birds gather

around the house—

 

around water

leaks and irrigation—

more dependable

 

than humans:

woodpeckers clinging

to rainbirds,

 

bushtits flocking

to timed misters

at six o’clock,

 

quail rolling to a stop

at the water trough,

and swallows plunging

 

into the ‘sip and dip’.

But the thirstiest of all,

the nervous Oak Titmouse

 

at the dog’s dish,

one drop at a time

all day long.

BOOKENDS

Twenty years of stories,

her Fairlea boys,

each chapter

a partnership,

 

a melding of flesh

and eye,

muscles rippling

like ocean waves

 

to action—

to make the cut—

then whisper a nicker

of approval.

AUGUST MONSOONS

Out of the Gulf to rest upon the spine

of the Sierras, run aground on the Kaweahs,

animal shapes spill overboard

 

after marking months of blazing days

since April showers, we watch clouds

and wonder if it rained on Arizona friends,

 

or if it’s pouring now on the Kings

or in the Roaring River Canyon, Rowell

Meadow darkened beneath them.

 

Despite hot monsoon gusts that lift

and twist the dust across the pasture,

pregnant cows sequestered to the shade,

 

we dare to breathe relief as the sun slides

south—split redwood and Manzanita

waiting ready near the woodstove.

IDES OF AUGUST 2021

Dust trails behind

plodding black cows off the hills

to water, bellies stretched with calf,

while we drink coffee—

 

and we are proud of these cows

who grazed uphill to bed

while we drank Tangueray and tonic,

slice of grapefruit instead of lime.

 

An acquired taste, raising cattle

through years of drought—

a bittersweet love affair

with the ground that sustains us.

 

We know her every crease

and wrinkle, and which leak water—

all of her magic spots

forever branded in our brains.

DAMN DAMS

I still call it “the Swamp”

where thirsty Valley Oaks

centuries-old shed their limbs

among barkless skeletons,

bleached bones like flesh

waiting to fall into the next life.

 

Half-mile across on Christmas Eve,

1955, the Kaweah flowed to the doors

of our ’53 Buick—headlights

diving into oncoming wakes

like Captain Nemo’s submarine.

 

Not free to run when it wants,

we have held the river up

in the hills for sixty winters,

only to let it run all at once

across the Valley to irrigate

orchards and summer crops—

no kids fishing from shady banks

a lazy river recharging wells.

 

We can’t fill the dams we have,

yet cotton trailer billboards suggest

that dams can make more water

without looking to the sky.

Second Life

Robbin brought in and armload of (4) Striped Armenian Cucumbers early this morning that neither the rabbits nor squirrels have bothered this summer.  More work, of course.  This will be her umpteenth batch of crunchy dill pickles.  The Bombay bottle has found a second life, filled with citronella now to deter the flies.

THE RUB

Forgive the fruit flies

their penchant for wine,

their bitter taste

 

and I

for defying nature

with a lid.

 

There is no end to it,

the assault

to comfort and convenience.

Bulls to Water

Our country is dry and short.  We’ve pulled the bulls off the irrigated pasture to make room for our bred heifers due to begin calving by the middle of September.  We will have to feed the bulls in this pasture where Allie and Terri were driving a few to water last week.  Even though we’ve sold 25% of our cows, we continue to step up the amount of hay we’re feeding with no idea of when it will end or whether it will pay for itself in the long run.  But if we have to sell more cows, we just don’t want them to be thin.    

HOT AND DRY

Cooper’s Hawk

under a rainbird’s shower,

yellow eyes

 

mermaid and frog

before taking a drink

at the ‘sip and dip’.

 

Too hot to hurry

in the heat

we all grow tame.

JULY EVENING

Four-thirty and it’s cooled down

from 115—black cows are leaving

sycamore shade for the water trough,

>

plodding several hundred yards of hard clay

and short blond fuzz to drink,

not like last night’s forceful mob,

>

but one-by-one, the order established

over years of living together—uphill 

two hundred more to shady Blue Oaks

>

to gather and decide which way to go.

The heat has slowed their rhythm

only slightly, they are bound to graze

>

what’s left on the slopes behind us:

take the steep trail to the top of the ridge

or the long pull only part-way to the sky.