Tag Archives: age

Homer Cove

 

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A beautiful day for a branding at Steve and Jody Fuller’s place on Dry Creek. Just up the road, we arrived while the crew was sorting cows from calves, hoping to keep the day’s work light for Robbin’s horse Bart who has been off a year to heal torn tendons—one of those freak accidents incurred, we believe, while he was playing in the pasture—the horse she lets me brand on. Lately, she has been testing him with some easy days successfully, and it was time try him back in the branding pen.

When I was younger, I craved to go to brandings as much for the bravado and camaraderie of this community as to rope calves. But in recent years, as my knees have gotten worse, about the only time I’m horseback is to help the neighbors brand, my gesture to repay them for helping us mark our calves every year. At times, it got to be work I endured.

For the past six months, however, I have been dreaming of horses and my knees don’t hurt as much when I ride as when I walk. To feel Bart’s strength under me as we led that first calf out was exhilarating, and to be able to free my mind of his physical soundness and concentrate on the feel of my rope became so much fun that I felt young again. Much of the credit I give to Robbin’s horse, he fits me well—yet knowing, too, that much of it just plays pleasantly in an old man’s mind.

 

CLOUD OF SMOKE

 

Rough Fire - July 28, 2015

Rough Fire – July 28, 2015

 

                    The beauty of things—the beauty of transhuman things
                    Without which we are lost.

                         – Robinson Jeffers (“Granddaughter”)

I claim the disheveled refuge of age
addled by magic devices beyond
the amalgamation of basic elements,

the dirt and water, the living foundation
from which we spring and are akin,
intriguing as a relative to trees that dance

and rocks that talk about the past,
solid and lasting. A balancing act:
my slow retreat just short of the attic

I am promised, mercifully sequestered
‘Someday Soon’ with Ian’s tune.
I want blaring sing-alongs to leave upon!

                    I’d be down that road in a cloud of smoke
                    For some land that I ain’t bought bought bought

                         – Guy Clark (“L.A. Freeways”)

 

WAY OUT WEST, 2016

 

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Robbin and I know where we belong, that we have grown old while the world has changed around us. We think of our parents and grandparents, understand their frustrations with progress.

The Academy of Western Artists “seeks to preserve the traditional values associated with the cowboy image despite consolidation in the cattle industry and changes in contemporary society. The group hosts an annual awards show.”

Yesterday, with two of our cattle neighbors, we were headed to Forth Worth to meet my son who had flown in from San Francisco, where I was to receive the Buck Ramsey Cowboy Poet of the Year award and have some fun. This morning we’re on Dry Creek, he’s in Fort Worth.

                                        ~

We know the feeling of corrals
in airports, and prepare ourselves
to be bunched-up, to wait in lines
at every gate—to follow rules

for humans. We should have known
red fire trucks as an omen,
but we loaded-up, anyway,
found our seats and waited.

I was a mountain man in another life
dodging Indians and ole Ephraim,
knew them all and their stories
and started reading. About the time

Hugh Glass met the grizzly’s cubs,
the captain came on the intercom
to say it’ll be a short, or long, wait
to leave for Dallas, to find the trouble

with the engine gauge, maybe just
a loose wire. I am a slow reader,
but by the time they started patching
Hugh Glass’s bloody body up,

we deplaned to rebook our flight—
190 head, three hours in the lead-up
to be processed. No way to get
to Dallas and keep the four of us

together, no other plane to haul
the human cargo—no way to share
awards and ceremony. (They kill
the man
, anyway, Jeffers said.)

Way Out West beyond the claustrophobe,
we should be proud of plans
that we expect—that have to get—
the work done, where we depend

on few, but in the corrals, numb
humans herding humans used to
to corporate calculations failing—
we treat ourselves and cattle better.

                                          for Temple Grandin

 

‘Spry’

 

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JEG:

Despite January rains and El Nino prognostications, we’ve hit a typical winter dry stretch. Instead of 2 weeks warm and 2 weeks cold sometime in February,
the month has been warm, half the days thus far over 70 degrees. Relative perhaps, the trend is dry with expectations of an early and short spring. Stock water resources have nearly recovered, with more grass than cattle after four years dry, we should survive the coming summer and fall well, a familiar concern more normal than not for spring. Our country looks good, wildflowers spreading like wildfire upon the green, snow in the Sierras 1,000-1,500’ higher than we’d like to see. It will change quickly if the mid-70s, without rain for the next ten days, come to pass.

Garnered from branding photos, my ‘looking spry’ has connotations reserved for the old, the aging and antique that startle me, yet somewhat gratified that I can
still rope and ride. I was the old man in the branding pen yesterday with Brent Huntington’s uniformly big calves. Once untracked, I roped well, probably better than when I was younger worrying about how my horse and I would perform in the corral. Nowadays, the challenge is to be some help. On the way off the hill looking down on Three Rivers, Robbin and Terri compared my ‘style’ to that of the old timers, the generation before me, a compliment. To have an effective ‘style’ is beyond any expectations of the last forty-five years of branding calves, what has become more of a mindset apart from just catching that favors first the horse and calf.

Now sorted-off with the elders in this business, what did I have to impart over steak sandwiches and beer instead of politics yesterday? Be grateful that you don’t have to punch someone’s time clock in town, or commute to work, or have to listen to the noise of human neighbors, sirens, traffic. How much of the politics of the world actually touch us here in these hills, change how we have lived and worked over the years? This is another world, a forgotten world we adapt to, and no matter what the majority decides, what laws it passes, it has to eat.

So yes, I have been granted a little luck, to ‘look pretty spry whether tossing a loop or wielding an iron’.

J

 

DECOMPOSITION

 

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                                    I’m below the snowline
                                    biodegradable as hell.

                                          – Red Shuttleworth (“Cafe With Slot Machines”)

When the taxman finds us,
there’s always the argument
over appraisal of this and that

accomplishment, certain failures turned
skyward to face floating white cumulus
with hopes of a more productive afterlife.

The news is too much, poor excuse
for children’s stories peddling common sense.
No Aesop, not even the Brothers Grimm

can keep the future in bread crumbs—
no little red hens to do the dirty work,
no hands-on tools for grindstones.

When he comes, we may be out in the barn
with friends, dusty antiques with loose screws
he may overlook if the dogs don’t

give us away, so far from the house,
trying to freeze time by supposing
we might have made a difference.

 

APPLE ORCHARD BRANDING 2016

 

Like the old days, hillsides
slick and wet, we brand
between rains, hurried loops

neighbor-to-neighbor, each
bunch a hard-won victory
for work-worn bones.

Morning Advil or Aleve
for squeaky hinges
lubricated with a plastic cup

of Crown, hot meal grinning
with good company.
For a moment we are young again,

but with muted bravado—understand
Tony’s deadpan disappointment:
tonight’s storm retreating north.

Not quite the coup to drink whiskey to,
we want more sore evenings
by the fire, just to hear it pour.

 

2015 CHRISTMAS LETTER TO PAUL ZARZYSKI

 

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Dear Paul, the sycamores are undressing
long white limbs, a slow strip tease of fiery leaves
along the creek, my chorus line of dancing nymphs
all these years awaiting storms—but hills are green,
cordwood stacked and banked in thick dry rounds
beside the splitter, hay in the barn, meat in the freezer.
We will be warm with family this Christmas,
come hell or high water—grandpa free
to be a gap-toothed troll if need be.
We come of age all-of-a-sudden, spur
or spurn propriety in slow-motion rides,
get our kicks and licks in where and while we can.

The grizzled old natives never left this ground,
never quite made it past the ridgelines
we rode together busting wild cattle
off rock-piled chemise into the open places
we’ll always gather, build a fire and camp
for eternity—for as long as I remember,
become this ground that claims my flesh.
Slow-sipped days, a joyous plodding now
from moment to moment navigating rains
and grass, old neighbors branding calves
one at a time to stay to see a perfect season—
or as close as we can get, it’s how we make it.
Merry Christmas. John

P.S. Thanks for Montana Quarterly—a luxury
to fish during California’s Dust Bowl—a godsend.

 

FOR RAIN

 

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Look to the sky:
bare oaks branched
upon uneven ridgelines
filigreed against
the promise beyond.

In the shadows
faces forgotten
re-inspect the man
I cannot change
from this distance.

Black and white,
dark and light
contrast youth
with age. The trail
is never straight

up the mountain—
granite rip-rap
and switchbacks
beside cold creeks
swept into rivers.

I believe the gods
ignore the pleas
of certain men,
prayers of the sure
and careless.

Look to the sky
for the wet gray rain
to wash this moment
before we start over
and over again.

 

 

1.45″

 

Present and Accounted For

 

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It’s been hard for me to accept that I’ve worn my body out, always able to do any job on the ranch, feeling secure with the strength of my arms, back and legs. I’ve been lucky, but my knees, among other things, are gone. In the past 45 years, I’ve probably handled, loaded and fed, 15,000 tons of hay with Robbin’s help, but looking back, it was the 500 tons in 2013 that did the real damage.

It’s been a blessing having Lee Loverin and Terri Blanke feed for the past two seasons, as well as fix and build fence, help gather and work our cattle. They know the ranch and our routine and take it seriously.

Cropped and shot with a Canon 100-400mm zoom, I should have known the girls were separately counting cows and calves to make sure everyone was present and accounted for—it’s part of our job when we feed. But at 300 yards away, I took the photo for a different aesthetic. With the photo enlarged, imagine my pride, and my relief, knowing the girls are getting the job done right, and that the ranch can get along fine without me being a part of every single thing. Now that’s a treat.

 

Weekly Photo Challenge (2): “Treat”

 

ANOTHER SURVIVOR

 

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Gun in the scabbard,
shooting with a camera,
the world stays the same.