Shaking hands with my former self
in these chaotic times
may not be progress. The clock
ticks backwards to dust clouds
and loud hurrahs, to whoops of youth
and muscles flexed to hold
the heroic buck and run
of someone else’s dreams—
a reckless swagger into smaller light.
I could have died several times
and learned nothing—my grip
to meet myself eye-to-eye.
On the other side,
all the current dangers rage
unseen that words cannot
assuage. Isolated here,
hands busy with simple
tasks, we cannot breathe.
On the other side,
an unknown future waits
to reshape us to survive.
Fifty years ago,
I was afraid
I would become proficient—
integrate guilt and hate
into my young soul
to become the best
at squeezing death
before a soldier’s
On the other side,
we pray for clarity—
for humble purpose.
It was impossible to make it through the tragedy
– Joy Harjo (“Becoming Seventy”)
This other world of cows and calves,
of motherhood exemplified, and bulls,
like men, trailing wire of down fences
is yet to be expected. A bumper crop
of rodents and snakes surround us,
the full moon coyote count of duets
and trios draws closer around us
in the half-light. The metaphors
and similes come easily to favor
humanity ‘midst the tragic chaos
where the latest issue of the truth
has come to be disbelieved.
© Victor J. Blue for The New York Times
Son, they all must be crazy out there.
– Michael Burton (“Night Rider’s Lament”)
We get the news as black or white,
reckless words that conceal the truth
reduced to red and blue enamel.
No sage advice from Washington,
no common sense to right the Ship
of State, and no one at the tiller
to face the tempest’s hate—too busy
painting enemies to blame
while adding anger to the storm.
We get your craziness in colors
with the rising smoke and flames
on a planet waging war
in the cloud of a pandemic
neither understood nor cured—
a collage of clashing colors
without a brushstroke for compassion,
discipline or pride lucrative enough
for the media to cover
with an appetite for anarchy
where only self-righteous ride.
“Night Rider’s Lament”
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.
To ease the pain of living.
Everything else, drunken dumbshow.
– Allen Ginsberg (“Memory Gardens”)
Chill in the dark,
the day before forever—
before eternity slips
into twinkling space.
Alone with ourselves,
we have no secrets left
to bury, only seeds to sow
for summer fruit.
Two owls are talking
across the yard:
promises of spring.
Dogs bark at the scent
of coyotes near—
neither know, neither care
It is our moment
to find diversions
in search of awe,
the small and the majestic—
to do the work
to ease the pain of living.
All the rest