A single pod of seeds, the bare
redbud volunteer, come spring,
will obscure my view of the road;
the world beyond this black morning—
beyond the owl in the oaks above me;
the cobbled mumbles of the creek.
With the hillside chorus of coyotes
and canyon’s replies, the ridgeline
holds-up heaven’s brilliance
in a sky of stars—unabashed
and unafraid of any circumstance
that may engulf us all.
Despite warm temperatures and no rain for nearly 30 days, the calves have grown since we branded last in Greasy on January 9th.
Father and daughter, Garth and Audrey Maze pose before we start.
With a great crew, we made short work of big calves and were down the hill by noon. Thank you all.
Another cold dry front
rests upon the tops of hills,
shapeless clouds, a haze
upon steep south slopes,
red clay like brick—
green pales to gray
as we brand calves
one by one
we may sell early
with their mothers.
I brace against the familiar
drama, growing numb
as my stiff new rope
slides through the palm
of time’s softened hand,
warming as it searches
for my frayed
I quote my elders
dead and gone
as they visit
the branding pen.
Don’t worry, Dofflemyer,
E. J.’d say.
It’s gonna rain.
It takes years to get here
with cows we like—
as we discuss
of who goes first
and who gets what’s left
Of the two of us,
I am the dreamer
you have allowed me
as I grow gray.
On our way to gather the cows and calves for branding last Friday, we ran across two turkeys fighting within a rafter of twenty or so young toms along the creek.
(Click to enlarge)
It was a quiet combat for dominance, yet none of the rest seemed disturbed nor cared about the outcome.
But as I began to photograph the battle with my point and shoot, the group slowly dispersed to leave the two toms battling alone.
It’s that time of year, I suppose.
On our way home from the National Cowboy Poetry Gathering in Elko, Nevada, Robbin and I replay a collage of meaningful moments, fragments of conversations, poetry and music as we cross the Great Basin. Avoiding I-80 and Donner, taking the longer, southern route over Tehachapi instead, it has become like Groundhog Day, both coming and going over the years as we cross the pastel sagebrush expanse of the high desert.
Since 1989, I’ve watched the Gathering evolve from strictly traditional recitations to more contemporary expression rooted in a hands-on, rural ethic of the livestock culture where a man’s word is still his bond, where neighbors trade labor and the land offers a living for those tough enough to endure the whims of the weather. With more hugs than handshakes, it has become a reunion where respect remains high, but we’ve lost a few of the best along the way.
With many new faces, an obvious effort to inject some youth into the offering, it was invigorating and inspirational. Included in a great session with poets Forest VonTuyl from Oregon, Jonathon Odermann from North Dakota and singer-songwriter Tracy Morrison from Idaho, I was assured that the National Cowboy Poetry Gathering will survive with renewed energy and originality. My kudos to the staff for locating so much young talent residing in the West.
I always look forward to visiting and reading with one of my favorites, Patricia Frolander, past-Poet Laureate of Wyoming, pictured above. Robbin and I will continue to replay the moments as we get down to the business of branding calves. It’s good to be home.
leaks a little
there is no
stopping the flow.
– Gary Snyder (“Fixing the System”)
I worried once
about wasting water,
at the trough,
at the hose bib,
at the gate valve
gathering tree frogs,
snakes and cottontails.
Raining crystal drops
rising with Greenheads
from the tailwater
of the irrigated pasture
on a Sabbath
with my father
instead of church:
he spoke into the clouds.
With the gravity
that holds us close
to this earth,
always a little
to remind us.
The old granite stones, those are my people;
Hard heads and stiff wits but faithful, not fools, not chatterers;
And the place where they stand today they will stand also tomorrow.
– Robinson Jeffers (“The Old Stonemason”)
Some like headstones thrust into the earth,
or weather-carved phallic outposts
natives knew by name, those are my people,
my landmarks nodding now as I pass.
They have grown cold and taken shape
from the fires of molten violence—
cracked and fractured piles, wisdom
scattered in the grip of gravity at rest
to hum as homes for rodents and reptiles,
a tunneled settling of colonies to feed
a wilder world. Some pulse with life,
dress with thick green moss, after rain.
But those tattooed with colored lichen
first draw the eye to unravel art,
question what they seem to say—
all good listeners, patient to a fault.
I once dreamed I might have been
a mountain man in another life,
trapped cats and coyotes
instead of beaver—
learned to view the world
through untamed eyes
assessing sign as I became
the prize and placed my twigs
and scents accordingly.
I sifted dirt
to hide the jaws
while writing poetry:
from a fishing filament
still fascinates me.
On the edge of fog, we’ve been gathering Greasy to brand Thursday, while the forecast for rain varies from from a few hundredths to a quarter-inch from a half-dozen Internet weather sites. Above the fog, we shed all the jackets it took to get there, a true inversion layer. Time to fish or cut bait.
Five Western Bluebirds
at the local water hole
after the fog lifts.