I drove the Kubota with Allie early this morning to change the irrigation water, the first time I’ve been beyond the house since total knee replacement surgery three weeks ago. Good to get out and see our replacement heifers coming to greet us. Knee doing well, walking with and without a cane, a little progress every day.
On the edge of irrigated green
grazing toward morning shade,
she’s on vacation, calf gone
as another stirs in her belly
to fulfill the appetites of a reckless
race she’ll never know.
Behind the barbed wire, safe
beyond the thistles, she’s content
to gossip days with girlfriends,
to contemplate a moment
for undisturbed hours—perfecting
poetry within her heavy skull.
It was 63 degrees when we started in the dark yesterday to gather our replacement heifer candidates for processing, to meet the vet (Ken Fiser) for their Bangs vaccinations at 6:30 a.m. Cattle work goes smoother when it’s cool, but I can’t ignore the feminine influence of our cowgirls on our cattle.
I was raised in this business with a pretty good dose of testosterone, loud and wild, the camaraderie of men at a high lope in the brush and granite, tension and challenge, it seems, with every tick of a useless clock. It’s not surprising that our cattle were on the shy side. We didn’t know any better.
This photo says it all to me. Done with processing by 8:30 a.m., Robbin, Terri Drewry and Allie Fry are taking the cattle back to their pasture, just following really, as the girls spin their own brand of yarns. Most of these heifers have been away from their mothers for a month or less, yet they are relaxed because we treat every gather, every time we’re around them, as a positive training day. A pace that has slowed to one of cooperation, and I like it.
Always moments, nonetheless, when convincing with a little loud testosterone may be called for.
The days of busting brush
but polished stories, faded glories
washed by time upon this ground—
one-time mothers, the girls
remember, find their place
at feeders in the corral
where they were weaned,
to catch a ride uphill
to make homes for fall calves.
We have spoiled them, trained
for yet another moment
to work together. Too hot
to touch, the days blaze
soon after the shade of night
retreats in streaks of heat.
Robbin’s iPhone photo after following the girls into the corral. It’s been a warm week with temperatures over 110 degrees as we’ve weaned, processed and shipped our last load of bull calves to town. Polite and cooperative, these second-calf heifers hauled easily to Greasy while it was still cool. A smooth day—done before ten.
We dream of coasting
into a ripe green pasture
that wants for nothing.
My sister and I circled the mountain pasture behind the house in the Kubota after opening the gates to the flat below for the first-calf heifers and their Wagyu X calves before we drive the bunch to our scales and processing corrals next week. The calves need to be revaccinated before we ship them in May to Snake River Farms to be finished as American Kobe Beef. Not quite the same as gathering a horseback, she managed to see a lot of country where the cattle had been before we finally found them—a steep, rough ride nonetheless.
Gentle and Kubota-broke, our cows spend their first three years in our low country before graduating up the hill, and managing to gather them all was not a surprise, but offered an up-close look at the cows and calves for my city sister to see. Also, part of our purpose for gathering them a little early was to begin grazing the tall ripe feed around the house that will become a fire hazard this summer, despite the firebreak I’ve bladed with the skid steer.
Within a couple of hours, as if invited to Easter dinner, some of the cattle had gathered below our ‘sip ‘n’ dip’ for a visit.
We spoil them, I say—
give them everything they need
to breed, to become mothers
to their first calf—a chance
to prolong life facing nature
together, year after year
like us, and our neighbors—
like good maternal families
our future trails behind us.
I watch cows for affirmation
of living simply well without
those self-centered addictions
like bathing in milk, all the mirrored
poses dressed in wet white film
pure, all the grass or chopped alfalfa
rivers dripping tears of pearls
on the carpet, on the floor
in front of the hungry—without
that arrogance we are famous for
flaunting—as if the devil cared
about another soul crowded into hell.
Right after a rain, they know the grass
grows taller and stronger at the top
of these steep hills, pausing long to graze
between each step of their calm ascent.
Warm green December, grass ahead
of fewer cattle, young bulls work
at making friends in a perfect world
of tight fences and swinging gates
everyone respects for a little while.
On the uneasy edge of drought,
we will imitate fat calves lazing,
content to watch the show unfold
into the ordinary—nothing remarkable,
but with any luck a change for good.
I stumble out of an old dream panicked
about cattle I haven’t checked in months
on a hidden ranch I can’t place, connect
except they were not grazing vineyard rows
with no fences, not loose in town this time,
but on some hard-to-gather rolling ground
you can’t see from the pocked asphalt road
snaking through blond summer foothills.
Last time, they were OK, bull calves
too big to brand breeding sisters, but alive
on good feed and water. It may have been
the turkey dressing drenched in juices,
or the cranberries fermenting fear familiar
that I recognize more than this imagined place
to wait before saddling a horse, loading-up
asleep to tilt at impossible windmills.
I’ve been here before, rusty wire on redwood
posts askew, exploring canyons, finding old
rough-haired families too weak to be wild—
all the guilt and disappointment I need
to torture my subconscious. Too old for that,
I roll over to let my weak knees hang before
testing with a first step towards reality:
cigarette, coffee and a poem for Black Friday.