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.
Look to the sky:
bare oaks branched
upon uneven ridgelines
the promise beyond.
In the shadows
re-inspect the man
I cannot change
from this distance.
Black and white,
dark and light
with age. The trail
is never straight
up the mountain—
beside cold creeks
swept into rivers.
I believe the gods
ignore the pleas
of certain men,
prayers of the sure
Look to the sky
for the wet gray rain
to wash this moment
before we start over
and over again.
Posted in Photographs, Poems 2015, Ranch Journal
Tagged age, black, clean, dark, gray, light, rain, wash, white
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”
Gun in the scabbard,
shooting with a camera,
the world stays the same.
Blurs that stir the heart
banked in brush without a shot
for another day.
Yearning is an easy look
backwards, a slow-moving canvas
colored to taste, shaded by habit.
Our war whoops but echoes
fading in canyons on trails of broken
brush long-overgrown, mocking
our wild-eyed blindness
since sharpened and tempered
by scars upon scars and time.
Now is the moment we begin
to be all we can—to revel
in its rich accomplishment.
When we quit questioning,
when darkness falls
upon the wilderness of wonder,
are we afraid
of our imagination,
of other possibilities
among the night songs?
How full and fresh the child
that asks and asks, that sees
the disconnected weave
a vibrant tapestry!
How stale is he
that wears the answers
chiseled in a cave
to recite by braille.
Never a straight line, we bend
with the channel of the creek
with or without water, jobs
shouting at every turn, begging
for attention. I love it now,
seasoned and with purpose,
place after place to pour my soul,
to get it right. Chances are
my fence repairs will outlast me,
gates will swing, troughs hold water
out of respect for the ground—
for the cattle and those around me.
Never a straight line, cows cut trails
on perfect grades, leave soft dust
to plod tomorrow without thinking,
make beds in shade for generations
they will never know. In the end
it becomes our nature to make
living easier on the uneven,
on the unpredictable and the harsh
that will eventually absorb us.
Chances are, no one will notice,
no applause for our best effort—
only the knowing a job well done.
WPC(2) — “Doors”
I am growing downward,
smaller, one among the grasses.
– Wendell Berry (“Thirty More Years”)
I knew when I was young
and proud, I had found my place
on this ground—my limbs
could support me for as long
as they were sound—living
where the work was hard.
I was not afraid of time
and grinned at gravity,
rode the edges of ridges down
behind cattle, shaping me
to fit the landscape
eventually or die.
I scratch among the grasses now,
learn the language of birds
and flowers, the expression
of horses and families of cattle—
all the tattered glories of youth
bent closer to what counts.
The clichés rained
when I was young
like hollow outlines
I was destined to fill
with real details—
sayings tested with
bullets with agility
and dumb luck
to get old enough
to speak at funerals
of a few good friends
who rode with me,
or saw it all
from a distance:
no straight track
in the senses. But
no longer hackneyed
hints for youth,
they become fresh,
reborn with answers
at our fingertips.
Posted in Poems 2015
Tagged age, life, youth