Stretched across the creek
for looks like herding humans,
not stampedes or floods.
Down from the Cedar Grove Pack Station, we’re glad to have Lee Loverin back on the ranch. To have her spell my knees and back bucking bales and feeding hay is a godsend. Light since August, we’ve gradually increased the amount of hay to our first-calf heifers to help them raise month-old calves with growing appetites, and to our replacement heifers to insure they are in shape and cycling when the Wagyu bulls arrive in December. Trying to stay ahead of the game, our philosophy has always been that it’s cheaper to keep the weight on cattle than it is to put it back on after they get thin.
The huge Pacific storm that targeted the Northwest left only a trace of moisture here, not quite enough to even settle the dust. Nothing much in the extended forecast, meanwhile we’ll be feeding hay to our younger girls.
One would think that after 46 years of calving first-calf heifers, we’d be more relaxed about such a natural process where maternal instincts usually insure a successful calf crop. But I confess our anxiety is high this time of year, perhaps in part because we’ve seen all different kinds of failures from coyote kill to breach births to heifers more social than maternal who leave their calves alone too long to gossip with the other girls.
This morning before checking the first-calf heifers bred to Wagyu bulls, I drove up the road to see two coyotes taking turns trying to hamstring a brand new Angus calf belonging to one of the third-calf cows who was nowhere around. My shot that missed sent them off in different directions, but they’ll be back. While checking the calf, its mother showed up, looking to take me as I rolled it over to make sure it was OK.
Not far away, a first-calf heifer across the fence was down in labor, two feet showing when she stood up. I left her to check the rest of the first-calf heifers. About an hour later I returned as 5176 was licking off our first Wagyu X calf of the season.
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.
We track circles on the same ground
through brush and granite rock,
over mountains and down canyons
patched with spooky skeletons
of trees, broken limbs at their feet.
Last year’s blond and brittle feed
folds into dust under foot, under wheel
into decent firebreaks swirling around us
as we check springs and clean water troughs
measured with our eye. We carry hay,
fat cows come running six to the bale
once a week, fresh calves knocking
at the door of a new and wobbly world—
waiting to inhale one hundred degree heat.
Too soon to rain, we plod like cows
in dusty circles, all soft trails
lead to water and shade, or to the hum
of solar pumps in abandoned wells.
The impact of three years of drought on the Blue Oaks shows up well as the trees that have survived begin to leaf out. (Click to enlarge) These Blue Oaks are across the creek from our house, on a north slope at the 1,200-foot elevation. No rain in sight, the grass has turned 30 days earlier than normal as we prepare to head into an early summer.
After a brief visit last spring, our count of Eurasian Collared Doves increased to four yesterday, including what appears (above) to be a juvenile, in just a matter of weeks. In order of appearance, the first pair began breeding and nest building almost immediately, followed by another male, then yesterday’s juvenile.
Pretty birds bigger than a Mourning Dove and slightly smaller than a Rock Pigeon, we’re not sure their presence is a blessing. Time will tell whether the most invasive species in Texas will become as big a nuisance as the Rock Pigeons, who thankfully disappeared last fall as their numbers dwindled through the summer.
The Collared Dove makes what has become an annoying two-syllable cooing sound just before it lands in a tree or on the ground where it feeds, that I can only describe as a distant baby crying, like the 1950s dolls that cried when you tipped them. Wiki notes that the species is ‘not wary’, that has connotations of stupidity for me, but I’d agree they’re fairly tame and unafraid, but observant enough to find our bird feeders immediately. The bird has many unique and interesting characteristics described in the links included here.
What gift of light
have I to offer
the coyote’s howl,
of stars reflecting suns
above the ridgeline
of her body sleeping,
breathing beside us
in this canyon apart
from the news
of mortal men
and women staged
to sell consumption
to the enslaved—
before I fail
to be so generous
in the daylight?
Hollow pipe songs at first light
pierce the darkness, own the dawn
with answered calls from oak trees
and granite piles of fractured rock
balanced on the edge of time
frozen around me. Early morning
solos grow into a chorus of chants
on the other side of the door,
a primitive awakening to greet me,
to ignore my circle of chores.
We’ve become part of the landscape
they return to, generations born
near cattle, horses and water troughs.
After these dry years, a colony—
a reunion of Roadrunners nesting.