a patient willing descent into the grass.
– Wendell Berry (“The Wish To Be Generous”)
Hemmed in silver moonlight, scattered
clouds linger over hills, no wet reflection
of the porch light. She has come and gone
without waking me with thunder, pellets
on the roof, not a leaky drip from the eave,
leaving nothing to remember her passing
by—not even her musty petrichor perfume
in the damp dark air to soothe my senses—
gone without a thought of waking me.
From a distance in the daylight, islands
of purple filaree look like dirt in graying
green, rolling dusty plumes follow cows
into water, yet they don’t seem to worry
into another winter without rain. Too
familiar, I read the signs with each synapse
shortened by the hard and dry. Too long
in the same place, I can see the weather
and the world have changed around me—
changed me as I retreat and try to adapt
like summer weed seed over time:
impervious to thirst and political herbicides.
I awake with chain saw eyes
measuring fallen trees:
to die of thirst,
dividends of drought
thick torsos with loose bark,
little brush to stack
to clear for grass,
to cover quail from hawks—
stove wood to haul and split
to hold the cold at bay
outside the door
into chimney smoke
and they are beautiful
in death, limbs reaching up
lengths cut clean
with sharp eyes
like people to heaven
begging notice, a chance
for purpose yet
and I am looking,
measuring like a tailor
around burls and forks—
old habits stumbling
with weak knees
in and out of dreams
Desk light inside, tree frogs hang on the screen door
stroked by the gentle damp breathing of a downcanyon
breeze, deep dark mouth clear to the mountain pines.
No stars, all black, we wait—anticipate cloudy daylight
together, a red sky dawn and rain, slow at first
approaching, its tiny footsteps soft upon dry leaves.
No new amazement, this cleansing of dust, this erasing
memories and tracks that leaves the ground fresh,
that may swell the seed to burst into green cotyledons,
open-handed to receive sky blessings, small miracles-
in-waiting—a chance, we dream. Wishing is not praying
yet among the bone-dry years, broken skeletons
of old oak trees flailing across hillsides in herds
just before Halloween, Buckeyes drip with bloody
leaves while goblins claim what we cannot see.
October 27, 2014
A slice of time incised from ranch
routines, an Indian poet-in-residence
for a week, Jack Kerouac on the wind
escaping Montana’s sub-zero to write
about dreams. He thinks in Crow,
undulating hands stroke the grace
between them, never touching speak,
pleasant sounds of rushing water gush
from his lips I almost understand.
I envy this bear of a man
who brings brightly painted ponies
and the Little Big Horn with him,
the feathered glory of reenactments
and contact with the old chiefs
that breathe past and present here
upon my skin. What a way to go out
to become one with time, turn the soul
loose and gather ‘round the fire
of mountain men, all the old cowboys
and pioneers, all the natives done with
trying to make a living on this ground.
for Henry Real Bird
Out of the southwest, wind
down the dry draw damp—
dust devils dance across
ground grown bare by cows
meeting near the water trough
with the run and buck of calves
finding all four legs to stir
hope for nothing certain:
this first chance of rain.
Time may seem to fly
now that we are older,
or plodding slower shade
to shade with less idleness
to fill with complaint—summer
long and hot, but shorter than
our partnership with drought.
Weekly Photo Challenge: ‘local’
Summer breezes comb
late spring rains of golden hair,
fine-stemmed wild oats ripened
in the rocks with a trace of lichen
rouge for looks—our sexy
centerfold to hang and frame
in the back of our minds,
our cluttered caves of thought,
to remember her by.
Terri Drewry photo
Long shadows on blond feed tall,
standing skeletons of oaks from drought,
the gray cow caught talking with an iPhone
to her new, silver-belly calf.
No audio, too far to catch the vocabulary
lesson, the inflection of each murmur
into song, the guttural beginnings of all words—
a universal language of basic sounds
with deep meanings that defy time
and cultures, that survive the latest plague
of progress and the genius of science—
no better teacher than a mother cow.
She knows now,
how to be a mother—
and sharp eye,
to the soft talk
upon each breath,
the language of cows:
the umbilical stretched
from the warm womb
to grow and graze
a dry and brittle world.
Born in a drought,
she can be a mother
in any kind of weather.
Even the oaks that are still alive are pruning themselves. This Valley Oak lost its top Saturday night into the Holdbrooks’ driveway, either side of their electric gate, missing the solar panel and keypad pedestal. As a direct result of the four-year drought, trees and limbs of trees are falling on fences and into access roads everywhere. We’ll be packing chainsaws as we go.
Twenty-plus inches of rain last winter and spring was not enough to save the oaks stressed by four years of drought, 30-50% of the trees, some 100 years old or more. Many Blue Oaks showed signs of recovering last spring, but now hang in limbo with a single limb of green as they face a hot summer and dry fall. Whole slopes of dead trees, such as the photo above on Dry Creek, are evident everywhere in our lower foothills, adding dry fuel to the potential of fire. Usually located on better moisture, the Live Oaks have fared worse.
The word ‘devastation’ comes to mind, new trees and limbs fallen on fences and roads, as a chain saw becomes necessary equipment to navigate the ranch. Devastation much more serious than that proclaimed by a young botanist where horses gathered and watered around a stockwater pond, years ago, when we were exploring a conservation easement. It may be centuries before the Blue Oaks recover.
We, and the ground around us, haven’t escaped the drought. Already, one hard rock well that supplied stockwater with a solar pump throughout the drought has failed despite our above average rainfall. The trend is dry as the hangover from the drought continues to tax the landscape.