How could we know
the plans of goddesses and gods
with so much going on, busy
saving and taking lives,
amid this Covid,
while tilting the West
out of range
of the good storms—
bare acres everywhere you go.
If even a shower
could bring some green,
cattle market’s gone to hell.
With everybody begging
for change, the pipeline may be
plugged with prayer overload,
or perhaps our deities
are just teaching a lesson.
Even a rattlesnake
knows when to retreat—
at his mental fingertips.
Who wants to know
the latest detail
of the same old news,
only to recognize ourselves
in Chekhov’s mirror?
Soap opera or box,
all the bad actors
stage left and right
look like possums
in the headlights.
Weary-washed with waves
of news, a man could drown
and sink to the bottom—
but even a rattlesnake
knows how to swim.
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.
Through the cerise redbuds and wildflowers awaiting sunshine to fully bloom, our slow hour’s drive up Dry Creek, then descending a curvy 245 to the entrance of Woolley Canyon, we arrived to brand the last of Kenny and Virginia McKee’s calves yesterday, despite concerns of Covid-19. Social distancing is virtually impossible in the branding pen.
Virginia had soap and wipes available and Kenny had prepared a concoction of 90% alcohol and witch hazel to spray on our hands that I used several times. It took the dirt off as well. Though apprehension varied among us, there was none of the normal hugs or handshakes, most keeping a noticeable distance when possible. But when it came to the groundwork and vaccinations, the work was necessarily close.
My separate apprehension on my 72nd birthday centered on a horse that I had roped on only once before. Robbin and I have outlived our dependable mounts, and I have had to borrow horses to get through this year’s branding season. By the end of the day, “Twist” was beginning to overcome his cutting horse breeding and he and I were having fun. After a couple of more brandings next year, he’ll be reliable at brandings.
Though everyone was given the option of not participating, we were there to help our neighbors, a cultural exercise we all prescribed to despite the risks. Not unlike workers tending and harvesting crops, it’s what we do this time of year. Not branding is not a viable choice in Woolley Canyon.
Working together with neighbors for a few hours on a beautiful day was a luxurious diversion from the news as we await a forecast rain.
I am traveling with a crowd on foot,
steep country new to me.
Arriving at the summit early
I follow the long ridge east
before returning to see the group has left.
I track them west to catch up
in a strange new world of wonders
where they are eating in a huge room,
cafeteria-style, but with glittering celebration,
streamers and bunting.
Across the room I see a familiar face
I thought was long dead
and hurry towards him, a short man
more full of energy than I remember.
He wants to show me around
and I follow, dazzled by all I see—
landscapes carved with care, misty
waterfalls and rivers running trout.
Growing weary, I can’t keep up,
and see him last descend a cliff
of loose dirt, brush and rock
like a young buck. I am afraid
and choose the long way ‘round
until I’m lost in the expanse
of a modern metropolis
of gray skyscrapers and elevated
thoroughfares from one horizon
to another. I stop blank-faced strangers
to ask directions to the place
where we first arrived, to family
and friends, to where I met him.
When I awake panicked, I am full
of his energy, stepping lightly
on the carpet instead of plodding
in the dark, tossing another stick
into the woodstove without pain.
Yesterday, Robbin and I began our 26th year together by making a loop through Greasy to look at the cows and calves, assess our feed conditions and put out salt and mineral. The cattle look great! We got an early start to the grass with November and December rains, but with a dry January and February, we lost our feed at our lower elevations on the south and west slopes. To date, we’ve only received three inches since the first of the year, but the grass at the higher elevations has just begun to grow.
A Border Collie at five months, it was Tessa’s first extended ride in the Kubota away from the house. Channeling her energy has been a challenge, but she’s smart and willing to please. It was good for her to be completely lost away from home and dependent on us for over four hours. Tired before she went to bed last night, she was sitting in the Kubota waiting for another ride.
Not much has changed for us, despite the Coronavirus pandemic. Normally, we do our best to stay out of town anyway. Before we have to get our Wagyu calves in for a second round of vaccinations, we’ve been preparing and planting our garden for the past couple of weeks—it’s what we do this time of year—that in turn will help us stay out of town later this spring.
However, we are not immune to the news as we try to imagine millions of people shut in their living quarters in a big city environment. Our hearts go out to them as we realize how fortunate we are to be free to move around the ranch to get our work done. Having something to do during this crisis is indeed a luxury.