Within the wild grapes and willows,
a world become tame
Yesterday, I finished reclaiming our water resources at Ragle Springs, after cementing a galvanized pipe in one of the holes of the concrete tank, constructed, I believe, by Earl Mckee and Lee Maloy who packed cement and sand by mule from the Kaweah River in the 1940s, some 2,500 feet and four miles below. The stock water pond constructed by Earl McKee, Jr. in the 1980s collected the overflow, but has been dry for several weeks and the leaky tank has been running into a quagmire where our cattle have had to drink, hock high, from cow tracks. Fortunately, they have had access to other springs and troughs elsewhere in the pasture.
When Terri and I fed last Wednesday, she asked about the yellow birds flying out of the tank that I missed seeing. But when I looked into the tank, a pair of Pine Siskins (Goldfinches in camouflage) flew off a floating board. With the board removed Saturday, the birds have had to improvise. The first and last photos are Goldfinches in winter plumage, Pine Siskins and an unknown in between, but I defer to Avian 101 or other authority to verify the identity of both species.
Whether domestic or wild, every drop counts.
In response to this link sent to Earl McKee, Jr. for verification, he sent this additional information:
Hello again John,
My father Earl A McKee Sr. started packing the material to build a series of concrete water storage tanks and troughs up into Greasy Cove in 1938, to this old “Greasy Ranch” he had purchased in 1937. At that time he had been in the mule packing business since 1910 and had quite a herd of mules and horses to pack dudes and gear into the Sierras.
Lee Maloy, Jim Kindred, Loren Finch and my Dad did the work moving all the sand material, form lumber and the sacks of cement to each site. There were 5 different sites. The first was Sulphur Spring at the old “Huntley House”. 2 more in the Sulphur Mountain pasture, Ragle Spring and one other up on the south west side of Sulphur Creek Section. The next one was built up on the Oat Ridge field’s North West corner, about a quarter mile North of the Eagle Rock. The last one was built on the East side of Section 9. This watershed was Manikin Creek falling off to the North Fork of the Kaweah River.
When packing the material, sand was the biggest item, because of the volume needed. And because my Dad owned the numbers of mules and outfits, he would use about 20 to 25 head of mules each trip. Most of these spring improvement jobs would load up the mules in a sand bar at Belle Point above Terminus Beach on the Kaweah River. And used the old Greasy Creek to Manikin Flat wagon Road that passed by Spoon Rock.
An interesting side of loading each mule with sand was, as the mules were saddled, first came the mule blanket and pad. Next came a mantie that covered the mule’s body, then came the pack saddle and after he was cinched up the kayaks or rag ends or leather ends were hung on the saddle with card board or wood boxes inside. The mule was then led down into the sand bar and a man on each side tossed sand into the boxes while counting the shovel loads to balance the load till it weighed about 90 lbs. on each side and was tied off and turned loose to wait till they were all loaded. As you can imagine the mantie being placed above the mule blankets allowed for misjudged shovel loads of sand could roll off the mule without getting sand under the saddle blanket and keep it from sore backing the mule.
As the form lumber was packed in, a mortar box with handles on each end and tapered ends to pour, was packed on top of one of the loads to mix the concrete with shovels and a hoe and water buckets. The spring box on the east side of Section 9 was packed in from a sand bar at Ken (Skinny) Savages Ranch on the North Fork of the Kaweah River. And packed by trail up through the Old Craig Thorn Sr. Ranch.
The date of each of these should still have the date of completion marked in the concrete with the three brands of the three registered brands at that time. The year, 1938 the brands were LEE (Lee Maloy); T Triangle (Jim Kindred): Bar O (Earl McKee Sr).
This is about the way it all happened, a long time ago.
All The Best, Earl
Naked slopes, steep manzanita red
with rock and leafless oaks, fall
into the slow Kaweah and reach
into the blue from the headstones
of pioneers, terraced family plots
facing west, all looking up
as generations gather, heads bowed.
How many times has Earl sung
to this timeless skyline, how many
of his cattle calls still reverberate
in these canyons? No cowboy song,
he picks “School Days” for her childhood
chums, gray octogenarians recalling
the twinkle beneath jet-black hair.
Simple sendoff with simple words,
everyone of us believing she will be
welcomed “In the Garden”—everyone of us
converted for a good, long moment.
for Barbara Brewer Ainley
Our weather has been delightful this past week since it tried to rain, three days of clouds stacked against the Sierras, some thick and dark shrouding our bare foothills but bringing little moisture. For two months we’ve been discussing signs of an early fall, though not convinced that the sycamores may be turning early due to the drought or that Dry Creek ran only 30 days last season, peaking a 12 cfs on April 27th, not enough to contribute to the Kaweah River three miles downstream.
Moods have lifted with the change in temperature as we look for signs of encouragement. The Rock Wrens are back, debugging the window screens. The first Pin Tails and Mallards have arrived on our irrigation ponds. Quail and Bobcats move closer to the house. It’s a perfect time of year for the outdoor shower as the sun dips behind the ridge leaving a wild assortment of yellows between the long shadows of our fruit trees.
And the Tarantulas are moving, beginning to dodge traffic on Dry Creek Road. They have become totems of sorts to most ranchers, precursors to rain. Short of reverence, we reserve a special place for them on our list of wild things, swerve around them on the road. Even shower with them, if need be, rather than disturb them.
Naked before her, I found it interesting with my eyes closed, rinsing the shampoo lather from my hair, that I worried more about stepping on her than any other contact, as if she could leave her perch beneath the soap dish and get underfoot in just a few seconds of my not-seeing. Thinking, I suspect, she was hidden, she didn’t budge, and after the stress of two dry years, none of us is looking for trouble these days.
During the past decade, the Great Blue Herons have become less tolerant of our presence, it seems, quicker to fly as we go about our normal routines of feeding and gathering cattle, or irrigating. In the 1950s, their rookery was in a stand of sycamores along Dry Creek, located a mile south of where we now live. It was not uncommon to ride beneath their rookery and not have them fly. The closest residence was three miles away.
Sometime in the 70s, they moved downstream two miles to another stand of sycamores along the creek between our irrigated pastures and closer to the recently abandoned gravel pits below Terminus Dam and Lake Kaweah. At that time, the Great Egrets began to appear on the ranch, but maintained their rookery elsewhere.
The Great Blues moved again in the mid-2000s to somewhere within the abandoned gravel pit area, about 100 acres of thick riparian at the confluence of Dry Creek and the Kaweah River, a ‘no-man’s land’ and home to deer and feral pigs, diverse raptors including Osprey, among other things.
I have encountered the heron above two or three times a week along the shore of our irrigation pond since spring. The comfortable space between us has decreased to about 100 yards now, down from 400 when our irrigating began. Whether thinking it was hidden in the cattails or getting used to me, this photograph with my Olympus point & shoot was closer longer.
Early morning gather,
we occupy the foreground
close to corrals, the road,
a truck—short April grass.
Sort cows from calves—
weigh, wean and load
for fifty years since
they dammed the Kaweah
with another layer of man
we no longer notice
as we adapt like livestock
to the landscape.
The past two dry years have been tough on the Great Blue Herons here, resorting to year-round rodent hunting to sustain themselves. With a measureable flow for only 18 days this year, absorbed before it made it to the Kaweah River, Dry Creek peaked at 9 cfs on April 3rd, compared to the 2010-11 season when Dry Creek ran until September 4, 2011. It’s too late for the chance of showers (and thunderstorms) today and tonight to help our feed or the herons much other than settle the dust and temporarily change the smell of things with only 5.67” of rain since October 2013. Those are the numbers, but one look at our April feed conditions says it all.
An image branded in my brain during the devastating Drought of 1977 is that of a Great Blue Heron fishing from the concrete bank of the Friant-Kern Canal near Exeter that gave me hope, that demonstrated their adaptability to me. No wonder they have become our totems—now if we can just take their lead.
This is the story of the last assembly of the old-time bird and animal people. After the meeting at Wuknaw, they went to live as we see them today.
When the bird and animal people had all gone to their new places, Tro’-khud, the Eagle, and Wee-hay’-sit, the Mountain Lion, went in a Tule house to talk about Mi’-eh, the new kind of people they were ready to make.
“How are we going to make these new people?” asked Wee-hay’-sit.
“I have a plan. I believe I can do it,” answered Tro’-khud.
Then Tro’-khud began. He took some dirt from the floor of the house and made a shape like the Indians are today, except that he made paws like Ki’-yoo’s, the Coyote, for hands and feet.
When Tro’-khud had finished making the dirt man it was almost night. He said, “Now we must set fire to the house.” Wee-hay’-sit took a brand from the fireplace in the house and set fire to the tules.
The house blazed high and made a dark smoke. As this smoke rose to the sky it began to rain. Tro’-khud and Wee-hay’-sit sought shelter under an overhanging rock.
Before morning the fire had burned out. The baked dirt man lay in cold wet ashes. “Now,” said Tro’-khud, “it is time to give this man a heart.”
“I can do that,” said Wee-hay’-sit.
“All right,” said Tro’-khud.
Wee-hay’-sit breathed on the man’s face and said, “Heh-deh.” The clay figure arose. It walked about and became the first Indian.
“Now,” said Tro’khud, “we must have a mate for the man.” They took a piece of the man and put it in a basket. They covered the basket with a Ki-o’-to, flat tray, and set it by the spring at Sho-no’-yoo. In the morning, as Tow-ahn’-itch, the Morning Star, was beginning to fade, Tro’-khud and Wee-hay’-sit looked in the basket. There they saw the first woman.
The first child of the man and his mate became the Wuk-chum’-nee tribe of Indians. They stayed around Ti-up’-in-ish and Sho-no’-yoo and along the Kaweah River in Lemon Cove Valley. They are our people.
The second child became the Pahd-wih’-she tribe. They went up the Kaweah River and lived in what is now Sequoia National Park around Pah’din, the Hospital Rock, and at Camp Potwishi. Their old village at Pah’-din was called Pahd-wih’-she. In the summer they went to Giant Forest to live among the many Toos-pung’-ish, the Big Trees.
The third child went North to live and became the Wuk-sah’-she tribe of Indians.
The fourth child went down the Kaweah River and became the Ta’-dum-nee tribe of Indians. Their old beginning village of Ta’-dum-nee was where the city of Visalia is now.
The fifth child went South to Tule River and became Ko-yet’-ee tribe of Indians. Their old beginning village of Cho-ko-wee’ was above Porterville where the Monache Golf Links are now.
The rest of the children of Mi-eh, the first man and woman, went out into the world and became the other tribes of Indians. In that way all the tribes of Indians came into the world.
Soon after the first child was born to the first man and woman and became the Wuk-chum’-nee tribe of Indians, Tro’-khud and Wee-hay’-sit saw that there was going to be trouble. The new Indians had paws like Ki’-yoo and began digging in the side of Ti-up’-in-ish, the mountain at Lemon Cove.
They dug a big hole. They dug another hole at Colvin Point.
“This will never do,” said Wee-hay’-sit. “They will eat up the world. We must change that.”
So Tro’-khud decided that after all, hands like Kah’-cha Choo’-wuh, Small Gray Lizard, would be best. He changed their paws to hands and the Indians have had hands ever since.
Tro’-khud said, “We must keep all these people alive. We must not have them die.”
“How are you going to do that?” said Wee-hay’-sit.
“Well, when they die we will take them up to Awp-maw’-new, the old-time spring at Mankins Flats. We will dip them in the water and turn them over and over. Then they will all be young people again.”
“That will not be very good. We ought to have a Do-nee’-wish dance for the dead people once a year. If there are no dead people we have no chance for Do-nee’-wish. If somebody dies we can bring up our friends, Hoosh-min’-in, Northerners, Home-tin’-in, Southerners, Dahts-wun’-in, Westerners and Dum-tin’-in, Mountaineers.
“They can stay one week. We can kill plenty of meat and have a big meeting. We can have two Ah-ha’nitch singers and everyone can bring Cha’-wik, Indian money. That is the best way. Let them die and have Do-nee’wish dance for the dead people.”
Now Ki’-yoo had finished eating Po’-hut, the Squirrel, and he came over to where Tro’-khud and Wee-hay’-sit were talking. He said, “What are you talking about?”
“We were talking about Mi’-eh, the new people. Wee-hay’sit says to let them die and I want them to live.”
Ki’-yoo was pretty smart. He said, “No, it is not good to have them all live! They would fill this whole valley. Then what would we do when there is no place for us to go. They would kill Hoey’, the Deer, Po’-hut, kill me. Then, no more Ki’-yoo. How are you going to feed that many people?”
Tro’-khud, the Eagle, said, “We will fix that. They won’t need much to eat. We will give them a little piece of acorn bread and they must only eat a little bite. They can put it away and when they want another bite it will be big again. It will never get any smaller.
“We will give them a basket of acorn mush and when they eat some, it will get full again. We can fix that. It will work all right.”
“No, no,” said Ki’-yoo. “You let them die, then they can feed themselves.”
So Tro’-khud, the Eagle, and Wee-hay’-sit, the Mountain Lion, decided to let the new people die when they got old. That is why the Indians must die now and can’t live always.
– F.F. Latta (“California Indian Folklore”)
And in the center, greenheads rising
from the cattails into Sabbath skies
with no starched sermons, but instead
a winged ascension from the tailwater
pulling hard for heaven. Just white sand left
by the Kaweah after the Flood of Fifty-five.
Within a year, Dad had two hundred pairs
on pasture, pumping water every summer.
Mountains of white sand and empty pits
where the gravel miners quit pulling
the last dollar out of ground we irrigated
for thirty years, when it cost too much to dig.
Unleveled and abandoned now, nothing
left to grow but willows, cottonwoods
and blackberries so tangled and thick
that only the wild can make a living.
All gone before my feet, the gray Kaweah raging foam
to the rumble of boulders underwater, scent of sulphur
above the cutbank, 1955. A black & white photograph
of lightbulb strings above the dance floor walled by sad,
round eyes of dark cars with real fenders, simple grins and
children, secured in my mind before washing downstream.
A temporary place deposited along the river, croaking cattails
with bullfrogs, fuzzy moonshine shadows, smell of slow water,
gasp of lovers steaming on a warm breeze beyond the fiddling
and motion glowing within a black and buggy summer night,
I imagine I might have liked before the war changed everything,
and nothing, at the same time. The rumble of certain words
resonates beneath the surface, slow roll and grind, a winnowing
of cobbles and sand suspended in floods of feeling – when chunks
of cold, molten mountains remade the riverbed before the dam.