There is comfort here among dear friends,
despite the drought, despite the news,
despite a virus that grips the world
somewhere below these old corrals
where we brand calves—our common
religion around Christmastime
that we wrap ourselves within—
a joyous insulation from despair
where we can lend a hand.
Limbs dressed in flames,
they await the cloudburst
that will disrobe them
to stand naked
along the creek
until it runs—
until late spring.
Our chorus line of winter nymphs,
centuries rooted in the same place,
I stare into their fire and pray for rain.
After a lifetime in the cattle business, 52 full-time years by my reckoning, I’ve maintained that there are three variables that determine our economic equilibrium: the market, the weather and politics. When only one of these variables is unfavorable, we can usually get by for another season. But when all three are unfavorable, we’re in dire straights.
To make matters worse, 2020 has introduced another variable I never considered: an international pandemic that has bludgeoned the global economy, and here at home closed restaurants for all grades of beef. We are not the only business impacted, further impacting us all.
At the moment, any realistic hopes of corralling Covid-19 to some sort of normalcy are six to nine months away. But those hopes may encourage better beef markets at the end of spring 2021. How the political impacts, stimulus packages and reduction of tariffs, etc., will ultimately shake out is anyone’s guess.
Now two months into our rainy season with less than a half-inch of rain to date and no green grass, we are keenly focused on the weather while feeding lots of hay. The Wagyu bulls have arrived and we must have our cows in shape to breed.
Here on Dry Creek on Saturday, we only measured 0.16”, but our hopes hang on the latest forecast of 0.3” today and tonight and another 0.45” Wednesday and Thursday. Always optimistic, the combination may be enough to get our grass seed germinated. But like always, much can change in the next four days.
The skid-steer bucket chatters
against the clay and decomposing
granite baked like concrete,
inching deeper into my mind
to the great bay horse dressed pink
and white with long-stemmed Centuary,
scattered wild petals I covered
with dirt—each shovelful a memory
for over an hour. Another hole
and granite headstone, we are surrounded
by the old and faithful we have survived—
another hole, hearts perforated
with each dear soul lost that now arrives
to attend this moment to make us whole.
Quick and painless after fourteen years
of alert devotion, I steal fine ground squirrel
tailings smoothed for the ‘good dog Jack’—
a winter blanket to sow for flowers.
In these hills, a man finds space that feels
familiar and friendly, and it must ask
in ways where we hang empty words
like ribbon just to find our way back - but
we stay a moment and let our horses blow.
They feel it - perhaps they feel it first
and do the asking of the place, or perhaps
it is the shards of light diffused at dawn
upon the many-legged oaks standing
knee-deep in grasses on the near ridge
that shield us from man’s square creations,
his cubic thinking. Perhaps the sensual grace
of limb or slope, or granite worn to look
inside our minds, but there are places
that ask nothing else of us but to breathe
and taste the air, inhale with our eyes
and drink with our flesh for just a moment.
Once dared, it becomes ever-easier to be
enveloped with the wild, an addictive peace
that embraces awe as eagerly as a child
might love - where a man can ride beyond
his time and station, beyond the tracks of those
before him: spaces that beg a moment’s notice
where both grand and simple revelations
are left and learned and lived in place.
Allie and Terri coming out of Sulphur after driving the bulls with Robbin to Ragle Springs. The sycamores are turning, brief yellows and oranges before settling on a rusty brown, the leaves will cling until the first good storm—but nothing in sight, feeding more hay.
No rare, sixteen-ounce
Chile Verde Rib Eye
leftovers to box for home,
no Iceberg Old School
wedge with Blue Cheese
crumbles, no red wine
bottle at twice the price
to finish before leaving
town—no spoiling us
these Covid days,
though we tire
of our own cooking,
of feeding hay without rain.
Bare acres, not a spear
of feed half-way
up the mountain,
these good cows wait
with their calves
at the gate for dinner.
The real old boys who found their weather in the stars,
within explosive storms on the sun, years in advance—
would be dismayed with how we farm today.
My father’s shadow, I followed disc and tractor straining
to turn the earth, blackbirds diving like swarming sea gulls
behind us, as we broke clods in lace-up boots to test the soil.
Trading energy, no one cultivates today to turn green weeds
and stinging nitrogen back into the ground—no one marks-out
furrows in sandy loam, no one irrigates with a hoe.
We spray chemicals (‘herbicides’ sounds nice and friendly)
in the naked space between the trunks of vines and trees.
We run trillions of miles of black plastic for a sip in drips
to save water for more crops we can seldom sell at a profit.
Still the perpetual motion of new money: each depreciation
offsetting taxes for urban investors on the next farm
they sell to one another like summer homes and yachts.
Why bother to predict tomorrow’s weather when farms
change hands in a swirl of smoke and yellow steel?
Hope rises from dark despair,
the jagged edge of acrimony
hurriedly honed in fear—
a pause to lay swords down,
for the blood to crust
and contemplate alternatives.
Are we conscripted warriors
for opposing forces,
or free to reclaim our sanity,
to nurture and heal
with the real work
the sun awaits?
Well, while I’m, here I’ll do the work— And what’s the work?To ease the pain of living. Everything else, drunken dumbshow.
- Allen Ginsberg (“Memory Gardens”)