Despite the welcome 1.5” of rain this month, bringing our total rainfall for the season on Dry Creek to a meager 6”, our grass is short and thin, especially on the south and west slopes of our lower foothill country. Unless we get some well-spaced rains in April, we will wean our calves early, probably weighing 50 lbs. lighter than usual. With limited stockwater and no dry feed to carry our cows through summer, fall and to an unknown beginning of our rainy season, we will have cull our cow herd deeply. A strong high pressure ridge, typical of La Niña, is blocking storm activity to California and the rest of the West. Furthermore, market returns for cattle producers are stuck in an unsustainable range, in part due to Covid-19.
After a wonderfully fun day helping Kenny and Virginia McKee brand their calves in Woolley Canyon yesterday, Robbin and I are moving slowly as we recuperate by enjoying the colors of spring in the gathering fields around us. The lush appearance of the Fiddleneck and Popcorn Flowers in the photo below is deceptive as they have little nutritional value for cattle, but they do shade the ground and help hold what moisture we have.
When I was young I wished
for longer springs and hillsides
painted with wildflowers,
grass belly-high and every canyon
running water—livestock grazing
pastoral notions, heavenly eternal.
I may have to stand in line
on the trail to mountain pastures
when I shed this human coil,
but hope to hell that the majority
of souls will be waiting
at the Pearly Gates instead.
Dark rain in waves,
an oscillation of applause upon the roof
that soothes and insulates the senses
from the distant discord of mankind,
the lucid transparency of public figures
that saddens the soul—
this narrow canyon lit across in gold,
blind flashes of humility,
the roll of thunder close.
The short-cropped green hangs on
to naked clay hoping for heaven’s basket
of spilt miracles to soften hillsides
for roots—and cloven hooves
reaching for the ridgetops ripe
for more level grazing.
Dark rain in waves
punctuated by the light—
relief for what we know.
Thanksgiving seems a long ways away, doubling-up the feeding before and after, as the new grass greens, trying to keep the cows in shape to breed back, most with calves at their sides. We’ve also been busy getting the bulls out in our upper country.
We have a good start on our grass with nearly ¾” on November 17th, followed by a week of 70 degree weather and then another 0.60”—an ideal beginning as high-temperatures now steady in the mid-60s. The older cows are headed to the tops of the ridges where the soaked-in rain gets the most exposure from the sun, some changing pastures where drought-stricken oaks continue to fall on fences. Our emphasis now is getting them all together and exposed to the bulls as we think about branding.
Amid the political chaos, we’re thankful we have a job to do in a separate place where we must concentrate our minds and energy on what we hope to be productive. This business, as I’ve said many times, is dependent on three variables: the weather, the market and the politics—none of which have we any control of. In many respects, we’ve gotten used to it. Despite what appears to be global uncertainty, we carry on with all we know to do.
On a personal note, I haven’t had any inclination to write poetry or take photographs with anything more than iPhone. What poetry I’ve posted seems more of an exercise than fresh inspiration, while feeling that my art, for lack of a better word, may be on the cusp of something new and different. At any rate, I’m not holding my breath, too busy leaning toward the work before us, essentially distancing myself from any old habits or poetic styles, but rather immersing myself in the activities from where my poetry has come.
Green blades and stems reach
beneath the dry turned gray
with recent rains—mildewed
protection from the cold holds
moisture before decomposing,
relinquishing steep and rocky
promises to tender chance, to
the next generation of grasses
to become heir to this ground
as we come off the mountain
with Manzanita loaded,
chain saw lashed, descending
slowly, talking about nothing
but what rumbles in our heads
and hearts—our December
ceremony saving, spending,
banking energy the old way.