A light rain arrived before daylight and continued through yesterday morning, 0.12”, not much, but enough to brighten-up the grass while the girls fed and I fixed fence around the bull pen, trapping the last of the bulls at large for the past week in the riparian along Dry Creek—beyond which our replacement heifers selected for Wagyu bulls are only a narrow pasture away—all the usual testosterone tension and shenanigans that’s hard on fences as the calendars in their bullheads suggest re-establishing the pecking order before it’s time to go to work on December 1st. We will acquiesce, as we did last year, choosing to put them to work a little early rather than fix fence until our target date.
A decade or so ago at the Visalia Livestock Market ‘Off the Grass Sale’, I was admiring some Angus eight-weight steer calves in the ring that belonged to Art Tarbell, perhaps the best calves offered that day. Retired as the local brand inspector, I’d known Art all my life, a kind and honest man. I asked him when he put his bulls out, suspecting that his calves might be a little older than ours. He chuckled saying, “Oh, they sorta put themselves out!”
So much for trying to manage bulls by the numbers.
More rain has begun to appear from several sources in the forecast for Friday and Sunday after Thanksgiving, no gulleywashers, but hope for a little more moisture to add to our meager 1.50” so far this season. Our own unscientific forecast has storms arriving Sunday through Tuesday, close enough and reassuring. Nothing I’ve seen or read indicates that this will be anything but another dry year for the southern two-thirds of California and the United States.
More disturbing news from Daniel Swain’s ‘The California Weather Blog’ http://weatherwest.com/archives/author/thunder: “Over the past few weeks, a truly extraordinary “heat wave” has been taking place at a time of year when temperatures should be plummeting to bitterly cold values after the onset of “Polar Night.” Near the North Pole, surface temperatures have been at or near the freezing point for an extended period of time–around 35 degrees F above average, and not cold enough to allow for the formation of sea ice. This extreme warmth, combined with unusual wind patterns, have combined to produce record-low sea ice extent across much of the Arctic Ocean basin. In fact, (apparently) for the first time in the observational record, significant multi-day sea ice losses have occurred during the peak freeze-up season. Meanwhile, in Northern Siberia, extreme cold and incredibly deep snowfalls have been observed–itself likely a consequence of the lack of sea ice to the North. This has led to a rather incredible atmospheric setup where actual temperatures currently increase as one goes north from Eurasia to the North Pole.”
That’s the latest, we gird our loins, but ever thankful for what we have.
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.