It was colder at the Solstice
when I was a boy, my father,
like a bear before the fire
between rounds snoring,
starting the Ford flat-head
wind machines, igniting
smudge pots for oranges—
lids thrown back for flaming
helmets, a nighttime line
of soldiers on every road
guarding orchards, crystalized
stars twinkling frantically.
A black cloud stayed
all day over the Valley,
soot invaded the houses
and went to school
on the faces of children—
mother’s party dress
protected in plastic
for yet another Christmas.
It could be Climate Change
or a changing of the guard,
an East Coast winter without end—
a sky full of harbingers,
floating clips of recycled news
fishing for the self-righteous
with seasoned bits of drama.
In one hand we hold Chekhov’s
mirror on our modern world.
Or are the clouds obfuscation,
each changing shape
of our imagination: our addiction?
I have an aversion to using someone else’s labels, especially when they are bantered about in the political arena, but wildflowers here at the first of February are unusually early. Temperatures for the past 10 days have been over 70 degrees, no rain in sight.
We are half-way through our rainy season with slightly over 3 inches of precipitation to date when our annual rainfall averages over 15 inches. Four of the last five years have been declared droughts by the USDA, and this season is off to the slowest start since record-keeping began. Sierra snowpack is 14% of normal. Regardless of what you want to call it, our weather, our climate, has become extremely volatile and it is changing.
Blame is a useless exercise at this juncture, I believe, because we must deal with the impacts, whatever and wherever they are, now and adapt—we’re all in this together, like it or not. From a cattleman’s perspective, green grass is short or non-existent, hay extremely hard to find. Water for farmers in the San Joaquin Valley will be expensive or unavailable this coming growing season. The price of food will increase for everyone.
I want to thank freelance journalist Carson Vaughan for bringing the topic of ‘Climate Change’ to the foreground as he interviewed people at the recent National Cowboy Poetry Gathering in Elko, Nevada. I predicted that 7 out of 10 would be in denial. I truly hope I was wrong!
On the semi-arid edge of jet streams,
already rattlesnakes and dust in the road
framed in rusty Fiddlenecks and green
filaree, lush as lettuce. Hard shell of clay
and granite bring us off the mountain
through the bluff of fractured boulders,
blue lupine spears in pockets of golden
poppies grinning, open to the sun.
I forget the year, but it was March 3rd
I killed two below the den beside
the steep and rocky draw to Buckeye,
that waterfalls after a good long rain—
the earliest ever, sunning in warm dirt.
They have no calendar, no date circled
to leave the medusa tangle, brittle rattles
brush in a black hole. No fan of fear
fogging climate change—another sign,
a new extreme for snakes: more days
to make a living between shorter vacations.
We add the signs, the trend is dry, despite
El Niño late to work as south slopes turn
summer blonde and brown. Two months
early to be thinking: weaning calves—
we take instruction from grass and water.
We may be sipping the last of spring.
February 25, 2015