Tag Archives: Drought

TWENTY DAYS (part 2)

2.

Drought and dust,

pandemic and the masks

we need to breathe and feed—

 

day’s end cloaked in smoke

and gin—how tough are we

and every living thing

 

looking to escape

to a Li Po poem

and Chinese tapestry?

Fire and Smoke, Twins and Coyotes

Three days ago, this second-calf heifer (9061) was fighting two coyotes off her newborn Wagyu X twins.  I got a call from a neighbor who saw the action from the road, but I was 15 minutes away checking our first-calf heifers.  I called Robbin who was getting ready to leave for a dentist appointment.  She jumped into the Kubota and sent them packing.

Usually twin calves for a young cow is a curse, wherein most cases she abandons the weaker one.  If she tries to raise them both, it typically taxes her so much that her poor shape keeps her from cycling to breed back.  By themselves near the house this morning, I took out some alfalfa while the rest of the cows were still on the hill.  Here the calves are playing while she has an early breakfast in our fourteenth straight day of smoke from the KNP Complex fire in Sequoia National Park and Forest.

I think they’ll make it now.

OAK TITMOUSE

During hot and dry times

the little birds gather

around the house—

 

around water

leaks and irrigation—

more dependable

 

than humans:

woodpeckers clinging

to rainbirds,

 

bushtits flocking

to timed misters

at six o’clock,

 

quail rolling to a stop

at the water trough,

and swallows plunging

 

into the ‘sip and dip’.

But the thirstiest of all,

the nervous Oak Titmouse

 

at the dog’s dish,

one drop at a time

all day long.

AUGUST MONSOONS

Out of the Gulf to rest upon the spine

of the Sierras, run aground on the Kaweahs,

animal shapes spill overboard

 

after marking months of blazing days

since April showers, we watch clouds

and wonder if it rained on Arizona friends,

 

or if it’s pouring now on the Kings

or in the Roaring River Canyon, Rowell

Meadow darkened beneath them.

 

Despite hot monsoon gusts that lift

and twist the dust across the pasture,

pregnant cows sequestered to the shade,

 

we dare to breathe relief as the sun slides

south—split redwood and Manzanita

waiting ready near the woodstove.

IDES OF AUGUST 2021

Dust trails behind

plodding black cows off the hills

to water, bellies stretched with calf,

while we drink coffee—

 

and we are proud of these cows

who grazed uphill to bed

while we drank Tangueray and tonic,

slice of grapefruit instead of lime.

 

An acquired taste, raising cattle

through years of drought—

a bittersweet love affair

with the ground that sustains us.

 

We know her every crease

and wrinkle, and which leak water—

all of her magic spots

forever branded in our brains.

DAMN DAMS

I still call it “the Swamp”

where thirsty Valley Oaks

centuries-old shed their limbs

among barkless skeletons,

bleached bones like flesh

waiting to fall into the next life.

 

Half-mile across on Christmas Eve,

1955, the Kaweah flowed to the doors

of our ’53 Buick—headlights

diving into oncoming wakes

like Captain Nemo’s submarine.

 

Not free to run when it wants,

we have held the river up

in the hills for sixty winters,

only to let it run all at once

across the Valley to irrigate

orchards and summer crops—

no kids fishing from shady banks

a lazy river recharging wells.

 

We can’t fill the dams we have,

yet cotton trailer billboards suggest

that dams can make more water

without looking to the sky.

Bulls to Water

Our country is dry and short.  We’ve pulled the bulls off the irrigated pasture to make room for our bred heifers due to begin calving by the middle of September.  We will have to feed the bulls in this pasture where Allie and Terri were driving a few to water last week.  Even though we’ve sold 25% of our cows, we continue to step up the amount of hay we’re feeding with no idea of when it will end or whether it will pay for itself in the long run.  But if we have to sell more cows, we just don’t want them to be thin.    

HOT AND DRY

Cooper’s Hawk

under a rainbird’s shower,

yellow eyes

 

mermaid and frog

before taking a drink

at the ‘sip and dip’.

 

Too hot to hurry

in the heat

we all grow tame.

In the Weaning Pen

The calves will have spent a week here while getting over being separated from their mothers. This second bunch to be weaned will head to town on Wednesday, both steers and heifers, as we haven’t enough feed to hold on to any replacements. We’ve already begun cutting deeply into our cowherd, as the summer looks grim.

Drought of 2020-21

Even though I haven’t been in the mood to post anything, I would be remiss not to journal one of the worst drought years in my lifetime, less rainfall (6.19”) than we received in 2013-14 (7.78”) during our 4-year drought of 2012-2016.  After feeding hay all summer long into the fall in 2013, we finally had to sell half of our cowherd in 2015.

Currently, all that our steep hillsides have to offer is a short blond fuzz of dry grass that will soon be dust.  I remember the drought of ’77 when the cows licked the grass seed to augment what hay we fed them.  Knowing what’s ahead, we’ve begun gathering to wean early and have already sent a bunch of good cows to the kill plant, many of which had calves in their bellies. Due to the lack of snow in the Sierras, there’s little irrigation water to grow hay and the price is high, while cows aren’t bringing much money. Furthermore, stockwater from our natural springs in the upper country will be in short supply by fall——a perfect storm.

As we cull our cowherd, we’re focusing on a young nucleus as we realize that we’ll not get the money we’ll spend on hay this year with next year’s calf crop. Nevertheless, we’re plodding ahead: leaning forward as we take another step and praying for early rains this fall.