I’m an old time smugglin’ man and I know just what to do
I sell guns to the Arabs
I sell dynamite to the Jews
– Tim Hardin (“Smugglin’ Man”) Verve 1966
Sometimes, the old songs ring true—
clever genius festering a tune
we can sing to our children
before we send them off to war.
Business explodes in the cities
of strangers, in jungles and deserts
we must liberate before we extract
our pound of flesh for the fallen—
and here at home, Dearly Beloved,
just outside the door, down the street
around the corner of the future,
nothing is secure anymore—
not the dollar, not the truth.
I want my old job back: weeding
flowerbeds for two-bits an hour—
knees deep into the rich damp dirt.
On a cool day in hell
they’re sipping lemonade,
holding court, declaring
God to blame for their sins—
for imperfections of soul,
its hollow room filled
with mirrors of themselves
they took too seriously.
The angels rest uneasily
beside Max Parrish pools
looking down on the ground,
even the old cowmen on the ridge
look away from the wreck,
the collision of words, the cloud
of dust that obfuscates the truth
only time will settle.
How long can we be entertained
by delusion, the dissolution
of civility, of compassion
as the planet prepares
for the business of war—
already overstocked with corrals
of houses stacked upon
the fading fruited plains?
The foundation crumbles—
the red, white and blue
states of dysfunction
for another victory,
chip away at truth and honor
just to play in the District
of Columbia. Poll-driven
word games, big dollars
for coffers drive the train—
O’ Casey Jones
watch your speed!
Unbelievably, only one wire is broken beneath the top of this Blue Oak, a victim of the drought and the high winds from the last storm on the Paregien Ranch. Kubota only, the roads are wet, water running in every crease. It will take at least a week without rain before we can get back in a pickup at about 2,400’, or before gathering horseback. The long-range forecast is for more rain at the end of next week.
Not a business to schedule by the calendar, the three major variables we must contend with are the weather, the market and politics. After four years of drought, we’ve found new extremes to our adaptability, thinking well outside the box of past-experience. Just how we will adapt will be interesting. Furthermore, the cattle market is off about a third of the prices received three years ago, and most producers have had to cull their cow herds so deeply that reduced calf-crops may not cover costs.
No one knows the impact of the current politics, other than markets for almost every commodity will probably not be stable. Additionally, much of the domestic beef business depends on exports, of late reduced by a stronger dollar. With existing global trade agreements under fire, there is perhaps less certainty about the market for beef since the fiasco of the first Dairy-Out Program nearly 40 years ago.
We have plenty of places to busy our hands and occupy our minds as we develop a near-term plan around all three variables of this business. Even though we are at the mercy of the weather, the market and politics, we do have job security, for a while.
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.
After awhile in a place, the trees we plant,
fertilize and irrigate for summer shade
and privacy need to be pruned to see
the pasture between us and the road,
as cows and calves become autumn’s
evening entertainment waiting
for a rain beneath a waxing moon
and the ridgeline’s jagged shadow
cast across a canyon greening—
the phone rings inside
lamenting the election
and everything it means:
no more robot recordings begging money
and votes four times a day for candidates
and propositions I know nothing about,
yet sure of another set of rules and taxes
to pay for agencies and enforcement
to make the majority feel better
about this crazy world. I need to raise
the curtain, cut another limb to sooner
see who or what’s coming up the road.
I turn away, blinded by November’s
first light, Redbud hearts enflamed
with last season’s feed on green
burning yellows between dark shadows
with the news, with disbelief.
I retreat to calm counsel with cattle:
scattered pairs, calves fresh with life
finding legs to fly—buck and run
figure-eights without direction always
circling back, showing off for mom.
We will work the heifers anyway—
give them everything we can
to make them attractive to Wagyu,
their first bulls. And we will wait,
as we always do, for rainy days.
Campaigning for V.P.
of the Student Council
in the fifth grade:
I claimed to be half-horse,
half-alligator and a little attached
with snapping turtle
and have the fastest horse,
prettiest sister, the surest rifle
I promised to pay attention
and do the best I could. Enough,
in those days, to get elected.
Despite January rains and El Nino prognostications, we’ve hit a typical winter dry stretch. Instead of 2 weeks warm and 2 weeks cold sometime in February,
the month has been warm, half the days thus far over 70 degrees. Relative perhaps, the trend is dry with expectations of an early and short spring. Stock water resources have nearly recovered, with more grass than cattle after four years dry, we should survive the coming summer and fall well, a familiar concern more normal than not for spring. Our country looks good, wildflowers spreading like wildfire upon the green, snow in the Sierras 1,000-1,500’ higher than we’d like to see. It will change quickly if the mid-70s, without rain for the next ten days, come to pass.
Garnered from branding photos, my ‘looking spry’ has connotations reserved for the old, the aging and antique that startle me, yet somewhat gratified that I can
still rope and ride. I was the old man in the branding pen yesterday with Brent Huntington’s uniformly big calves. Once untracked, I roped well, probably better than when I was younger worrying about how my horse and I would perform in the corral. Nowadays, the challenge is to be some help. On the way off the hill looking down on Three Rivers, Robbin and Terri compared my ‘style’ to that of the old timers, the generation before me, a compliment. To have an effective ‘style’ is beyond any expectations of the last forty-five years of branding calves, what has become more of a mindset apart from just catching that favors first the horse and calf.
Now sorted-off with the elders in this business, what did I have to impart over steak sandwiches and beer instead of politics yesterday? Be grateful that you don’t have to punch someone’s time clock in town, or commute to work, or have to listen to the noise of human neighbors, sirens, traffic. How much of the politics of the world actually touch us here in these hills, change how we have lived and worked over the years? This is another world, a forgotten world we adapt to, and no matter what the majority decides, what laws it passes, it has to eat.
So yes, I have been granted a little luck, to ‘look pretty spry whether tossing a loop or wielding an iron’.
My other voice just beneath the skin,
its echoes muffled by convention
and chained from reason’s reach
to speak only to me, quickly and quietly—
my unholy voice of blatant honesty
I can neither temper nor ignore,
telling more than I truly comprehend,
amazes me: a brief non-sequitur
with a keen edge, blade like a mirror.
I have grown deaf to crowds chanting
simple mantras as demigods tremble—
I’ll keep my counsel with my wonderment.