Rising above the Smoke

 

 

The sun cleared the smoke at 8:00 a.m., ash as big as silver dollars everywhere with visibility less than 1/2 mile on Dry Creek. You can taste the wood smoke, but nothing compared to those like Robbin’s brother and my friend Peter Clarke, with evacuation warnings, frantically clearing brush and watering down roofs in the Oakhurst/Coarsegold areas of Madera County less than 100 miles away. Please be safe.

 

Sunset in Smoke

 

 

HEIFERS AND HORSES

 

 

No social distancing, evening conversation
centers on introductions as sorrel horses
welcome first-calf heifers coming to water:

no politics, no economic woes, just
domesticated souls touching nose-to-nose
before shadows crawl across the canyon.

We are enveloped for prolonged minutes
within their quiet reverie, forgetting
all the bad news they’ll never know.

 

Snake on the Sabbath

 

 

If it isn’t enough to worry about Covid-19, smoke in the canyon from over 500 fires in California, last week’s 110+° heat, or pre-election politics, we seem to have been visited by more rattlesnakes than normal, undoubtedly following the ground squirrels focused on the orchard and garden, even though I’ve trimmed the squirrel population around the house by 500 or so this year. Don’t despair squirrel lovers, 300 yards from the house, the ground continues to be alive with them, yet another hatch ready to move in.

Tessa, our 10 month-old Border Collie was tethered on the front deck to keep her out of trouble when she spotted this one near the orchard, herded by a single small bird to the back of the house, probably a house finch at the snake’s head. Hair up on her back, Tessa raised a serious ruckus. After spotting it, Robbin called me from the garden, retrieved the bird shot, and I dispatched the snake.

Typically in the summer, the older dogs retreat under the deck where we’ve killed two rattlesnakes this year, and another at the dog pens, all big. We wonder, of course, at how many we don’t see.

With the help of Ken McKee, we’ve been fine tuning our bird shot loads now that the factory loads, that used to be #9 shot, have become more of a home defense load with #4 shot. With such a poor pattern, the first snake under the deck required 5 shots of factory loads. We’ve been experimenting with #12 shot, but the .38 plastic shot shells are brittle and require a significant crimp to keep them in the case after recoil in revolvers. The significant crimp keeps the pattern small at six feet, the plastic shot shell acting more like a slug. After having one snake get away, and another that required four shots, I moved back to ten feet this morning. With still enough poop to penetrate the snake, I paralyzed him on the first shot.

Supervised by Jack, our 15 year-old Border Collie, I am removing this four-footer to the end of the driveway, my designated feed ground for the buzzards, to emulate roadkill.

 

RED DAWN

 

 

Eleven thousand
lightning strikes, three hundred fires:
smoke in the canyon.

 

MELTING TIME

 

 

I study rock landmarks,
look for tracks
to see if they have moved.

The pipe gate swells
in the heat. Now only
swings but one way.

Resident ground squirrels
and immigrant ring-neck doves
share the dogs’ food.

On brutal days
over 110°—
there are no rules.

Like Dali’s clocks,
time is part of the landscape,
like it or not.

 

Oak Titmouse

 

 

For the Birds

 

 

A pair of precocious little gray birds I’ve never noticed before have spent the summer with Robbin and me, drinking several times a day at the dog’s water on the deck. Smaller than our Western Flycatcher and with a slight crown like a Kingbird, we assumed they were juveniles. At 111 degrees they water more frequently now, arriving open beaked, the female seems shier and more bedraggled than the male. The best ID I can come up with is that they are Wood Pewees, but I defer to others more qualified.

Besides the livestock water troughs that are difficult for many birds to drink from, our inadvertent plumbing leaks draw a wide variety of birds from all around. Now that the spring Bird Wars are over, a territorial drama where the eggs and babies of one nest feed the babies of a larger species, they seem to have found peace in the shade of our yard. Woodpeckers cling to sprinkler heads to get a drop at a time, coveys of quail include a pipeline leak on their daily rounds and Towhees cool beneath the mist of our garden irrigation. It’s quite a show if you can stand to be outside.

 

NATIVE

 

 

You can almost smell them curled
asleep or stretched across smooth rocks,
shining shades of earth, charming

and deadly. They don’t want trouble,
come home each year to make a living,
to together stand above the grasses

wrapped in urgent procreation
as the dry seeds roll in painted gourds—
the dance begins, as they collapse

and rise again. To stay connected,
I’m told that the penis is shaped
like a T —barbs both sides— and

that she can draw upon the sperm
as needed for years. Generations
of brothers and sisters know

their way home. Grandmothers
carry the future and grandfathers watch
and listen, crawl into your mind

to know your secrets, to hear
your confessions to all the ridgeline
men long-gone before you.

 

More Ramblin’ Jack – “Diamond Joe”

 

 

“Diamond Joe”