I once dreamed I might have been
a mountain man in another life,
trapped cats and coyotes
instead of beaver—
learned to view the world
through untamed eyes
assessing sign as I became
the prize and placed my twigs
and scents accordingly.
I sifted dirt
to hide the jaws
while writing poetry:
from a fishing filament
still fascinates me.
Daytime buzzards circle gunshots
and the dogs bark at three in the morning
when the pups arrive to consume
my pruning of a bumper crop
of ground squirrels, squads that raid
garden and orchard to harvest fruit
before it’s ripe, leaving nothing to glean.
In sixty days, the heifers will be calving
for the first time, confused and alone
licking a wobbly, wet calf clean
of the scent that draws the coyotes
who watch and know the habits
of all of us in a world
without crimes or rules.
Perhaps it’s only those
who pay attention
– Linda M. Hasselstrom (“Coyote Song”)
“He looks, but just don’t see,”
Tom Homer’d tell of a part-time cowboy
when my father learned the mantra
of established cowmen after brandings,
when the work was done.
I heard it often.
Out here, one can lollygag himself
to death, early on—before he sees
the snake in the trail, before he sees
the coyote watching him.
Deaf to the gun but only once,
we improve the breed,
fine tune scent and sight
into long lives of good teachers—
always a coyote’s song.
She was not thrilled to have twin Angus calves, but we’ve been watching 3024 since they were born ten days ago, having gone so far as to make arrangements for bottle feeding one of them if necessary. As it turns out, the calf on the left was the one roused by two coyotes in our post of September 17th, when hours old and left in the middle of the pasture. It’s not unusual for a cow with twins to abandon the weakest, but now this cow seems to have acquiesced to her plight, both calves healthy and much stronger than they were. Whether she is keeping better track of them both, or the weaker calf is keeping better track of her is another question. She has plenty of milk and if she can raise them both, she’ll do a better job than we can do.
One would think that after 46 years of calving first-calf heifers, we’d be more relaxed about such a natural process where maternal instincts usually insure a successful calf crop. But I confess our anxiety is high this time of year, perhaps in part because we’ve seen all different kinds of failures from coyote kill to breach births to heifers more social than maternal who leave their calves alone too long to gossip with the other girls.
This morning before checking the first-calf heifers bred to Wagyu bulls, I drove up the road to see two coyotes taking turns trying to hamstring a brand new Angus calf belonging to one of the third-calf cows who was nowhere around. My shot that missed sent them off in different directions, but they’ll be back. While checking the calf, its mother showed up, looking to take me as I rolled it over to make sure it was OK.
Not far away, a first-calf heifer across the fence was down in labor, two feet showing when she stood up. I left her to check the rest of the first-calf heifers. About an hour later I returned as 5176 was licking off our first Wagyu X calf of the season.
In the road with last night’s
road-kill raccoon, he videos
an eagle light from pole
to fence post, the coyote
hesitate in the pasture
before ambling off
and he asks who would win
if he wasn’t parked
with his parents watching.
When do we lose our eye,
not recognize the shy retreat
from our presence, our history?
Two thousand moons ago
the natives left
rabbits upon our doorstep
to keep us and our guns
inside. What gods
would blind us so?
Checking water, hillside springs
plumbed to troughs, a coyote pup,
on the lope and looking back
as if heading home, is common.
Beyond the den, this is his home,
this is his water—we are
unknown intruders, enigmas
making rounds in these hills,
following trails to waterholes
where wild waits
as it shrinks into August.
With our eye, we measure
flow at the end of rusty pipe—
with our lungs, blow water
backwards to the spring box
to clear debris and sediment,
seldom clean. Yesterday,
I got to be giant
with two tree frogs dancing
on my tongue.
We, like the coyote, think
we know the habits of this world:
death and taxes with certain diversions
that make predictable politics
like foreplay for Wall Street
eager to screw the future
into submission. Coyotes
make their living on the details
overlooked and discarded,
keeping to the periphery
and singing into darkness
while everyone’s asleep.
So bare, this pasture, you can
see a ground squirrel running
at 300 yards, just ahead
of his light-brown dust trail
streaming to join the dirty air.
Much fewer now with no grass
since their bumper crop last spring,
no place to hide but in a hole
from coyotes, bobcats and hawks.
So bare, these hillsides rising
in dawn’s first light, silhouettes
of cows and calves in clouds
walking off the tops of ridges,
ambling from the high stubble
towards the only water
for a mile along the creekbed
of dry sand and cobbles, sycamores
dressing early for Halloween.
Sixty years ago, an old man
with dirty hands and hat,
bib overalls and grease
whittled a willow-fork
to show me how and where
he was going to drill.
Posted in Poems 2014, Ranch Journal
Tagged Calves, cows, coyote, dirty air, Drought, Dry Creek, ground squirrel, poetry, water, weather, wildlife
Newborn calves are vulnerable to a variety of predators, so cows instinctively consume the afterbirth after cleaning up the calf as it struggles to stand and nurse. After resting briefly, the calf above (middle) is finding its wobbly legs to nurse again as its concerned mother (2110) looks on. This second-calf mother finds little privacy near our irrigated pasture, as two other curious calves become part of the drama in the Valley Oak shade.
We are extremely pleased with so many early calves on the ground after two dry years of little feed. Calving forty days now, about 60% of our younger cows and 50% of our older cows have calves at their sides. The calves seem bigger and healthier this year that we attribute to all the loads of hay, fed last August through April, while the cows raised last year’s calf. Additionally, when we weaned those calves last May, we sent the marginal and late calving cows to town, reducing our cowherd substantially. In this respect, our cowherd as a whole has benefitted from the drought. Whether or not we can make the reduced numbers work economically remains to be seen, dependent mostly on the weather and our coming grass year.
Clouds and a slight chance of rain are predicted for the middle of next week, but probably not enough to start the grass. Our own thirty-day forecast indicates that we have a fair chance of rain on the 19th and a better chance of rain on the 28th.
Meanwhile, we’re still feeding somewhere everyday, trying to keep the cows in shape to raise their calves and cycle when we put the bulls out in December, hopefully on some green grass that we can’t quite imagine anymore.