…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.
Keeping track of the two young Red Tails waiting for a squirrel. For a couple of days, one was accompanied by by a Black Vulture nearby, ostensibly waiting to take over a kill.
Our dilemma back in March after so much rain was whether we wanted to brand our calves that were averaging over 500 lbs. With only 45-60 days left of our grass season, we knew that castrating and working the bull calves would set them back for at least two weeks as they recovered from the branding pen, two weeks of no gains in weight plus always the risk of losing one or two in the process. A live bull is better than a dead steer.
A big part of our consideration was the neighbors we needed to get the job done, most old riding older horses if we could put together a younger ground crew. In the bigger picture, we trade labor, so most of us were facing the same dilemma, all trying to get our calves branded at the same time.
As the steer calves bring more money per pound than the bulls, we had to project the sale weights and difference in price to calculate the net return for each. We figured a discount of $15/cwt, or 15 cents/pound, on 750 lbs. bulls against 700 lbs. steer calves as a place to start. Then we had to calculate the cost of branding, the vaccine, the gather and hired labor, etc. I came up with $44/head and ran the figures by one of neighbors to see if we were being realistic.
We decided not to brand our calves, but had a few steers that we branded with our Wagyu X calves in our first load of bulls that we sent to town three weeks ago, encouraged that the bulls brought as much money as the steers because they weighed more. Not branding your calves is tricky business, but our neighbors are all honest.
The bulls and heifers in the photographs are from the Paregien Ranch, the biggest calves we have. Most of these heifers will be replacements in our cow herd. After a 5-day wean, the bulls sell today and will average around 800 lbs., heavier than the buyers will want. But we can’t go back, yet satisfied that we made the right decision. Half-way through weaning and harvesting our crop of calves, we have another bunch gathered ready to haul off the mountain on Thursday.
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.
I’m happy that the class of 2017 has graduated from high school, glad that their proud parents and families got to attend the commencement exercises, but when are we going to quit celebrating every damn occasion with mylar balloons without a thought of what goes up is going to come down somewhere—shiny objects collecting in oak trees and brush, tangled in fences—littering the landscape. They ought to be illegal.
Instead, I challenge the Class of 2018, especially those young people who claim to care about our environment, to dispense with turning any balloons loose at their graduations. I challenge parents celebrating their children’s birthdays and wedding planners to think as well about how long the short moment of the balloons’ ascension will last upon the landscape.
I’ve had this rant before. Maybe I’m getting too old to call it anything else but thoughtless—but just plain stupid.
It is not care
nor compassion for the earth
that has nurtured generations
of all things
that drives the train
of speculation and suspicion.
High up in June,
the ground we gather
is still green and damp in places
crawling with baby bullfrogs,
bogs in the draws where streams
begin at the end of fingers
to join a canyon with a name
on some maps.
Microcosmic creation place
to feed a world where life
blooms before trickling down,
we harvest calves—big bulls
and thick-waisted heifers
because of rain—slick
ultra-naturals without a brand
or vaccination for the world
There is no immunization
for the news that sells
and sells and sells…
it is not care
nor compassion for the earth
or for humanity
that drives the train.
A young Red Tail waits,
his nest mate on another
set of braces, mother
in a sycamore,
for a fresh batch
of baby ground squirrels—
eyes just open now,
but naïve to being
at the bottom
of the food chain.
Eggs and feathers
come early for hawks,
learning to hunt soon after
young rodents are born
full of innocence.
He has never seen a man before
and eyes me curiously, carefully
and will stay the summer
securing the ground around
the corrals dining on squirrels.
Grasses dry, the empty heads
of wild oats bow to a breeze,
rip gut and foxtails cling
for traveling—the hills are blond
come June. With coming summer
sun, tender lilies bloom
reaching for a short life
and the 100-degree sky.