Tag Archives: rain

BEFORE GRASS

 

 

The scent of dampened dust
settling with the first fine drops
envelops us in wind gusts,

all the loose atoms of death
over eons of friction bonding,
fusing into new shapes of life

as we inhale and taste it, sip
like musty red wine begging
release—lungs and capillaries

surge to rejuvenate the flesh
with the promises of fresh
beginnings, another chance

to chase seasons of grass
with a new crop of calves
who’ve never seen rain,

never smelled the green.
Swept up grinning, we raise
a glass into the endless gray.

 

UNEVENING

 

 

Heavens begin to churn
with the first disturbance
of a new beginning,

fresh celestial friction
of an unknown season,
a fiery harbinger stirring

flesh and feather, coveys
bobbing home to bed
in brush piles, cows

collecting calves for cover
from wind gusts
in the ever-changing light—

these old bones giddy,
head spinning
from ridge to ridge

consuming purple skies
before the storm,
before the welcome war.

 

DAYS BEFORE RAIN

 

 

We wait with weathered totems
in the garden, the always happy
ceramic caricatures, for rain.

We search for sign on ridgelines
drawn nearer, the sky for wisps
of manes and tails as cows beg

at the fenceline, a cacophonous
crescendo, a chorus of hoarse chords
intensifies the canyon’s imperative

between feed days as if we were gods
for a moment—healers, soothers, pleasers,
or just hired hands late for work.

 

November

 

 

I’ll not forget the dust clouds boiling out of the canyons when the cattle came to hay in November of 2012 through 2016, while we fed and begged for rain, then had to sell half the cows. Nor will I forget last year’s too much rain, more disruptive to our operation than the four years of drought, unable to get to the bulk of our cattle in the high ground to brand our calves. Then sometime late last spring when the slick calves were approaching 600 pounds, exclaiming to anyone who might listen, ‘all we want is something close to normal’.

Though we’ve made significant advances in the cattle business in the past four decades with bigger and better quality calves and broodstock, the ground stays the same and has endured the ever-present variables of the weather and most of our mistakes. Glacial evidence in the canyon helps reinforce its permanence and durability, the one element in this enterprise that we can depend on.

We normally feed the young cows in the fall when the calves come, concurrently scanning the long-range forecasts for rain to start the grass and give us and the feed truck some relief. And after watching recent promises of an inch or more disintegrate before our eyes with nothing forecast into the future, and while seriously considering petitioning the gods for a little moisture, it’s beginning to feel normal, or close to normal, or so we hope and carry on just the same.

 

RED SKY DAWN

 

20170216-a40a3051

 

Tonight in California
I will read this in the rain
when I am full and fed-
up with the news—

and listen instead
to it storm upon the roof,
to the impromptu chorus
of croaking tree frogs,
to the ever-tumbling roar
of water gushing down
a muddy creek

if I’m smart.
It’s all runoff
saturated ground, yet
the uncontrollable sound
pleases the primeval place
I need for reassurance
beyond the posturing politics
of way-too many men.

Besides, when living
off grass, it’s sacrilege
to ever complain about a rain.

 

THE TROUBLE WITH DAMS

 

20170212-a40a3026

 

                                        A mind like compost.
                                             – Gary Snyder (“On Top”)

All the deep stuff
against the decomposing
granite, the rock beneath

a jillion moons of dirt,
of marginal soil—
our slanted earth

beneath the upright grass,
beneath the wildflowers,
beneath our feet

and hooves, horses,
cattle grazing—all
the deep stuff leaks

gently to the surface,
out from under
saturated ground

as if a cleansing,
as if a new recipe
in rivulets spreading

fundamental elements
into muddy creeks
downstream

to settle and collect
behind the structures
of dead architects.

 

Green

 

20170212-a40a2966

 

With nearly 20″ of rain here on Dry Creek, and more at the higher elevations of the ranch, we have green grass and even a few early wildflowers. Click to enlarge to see the cattle we have yet to gather and brand at the end of the ridge, slick slopes in every direction.

The ground is so saturated that the septic system for our guest house is working in reverse.

BADLY BIGLY

We believe that the cream
rises to the top,
but when it really rains
so does the shit.

(one of our deck poems)

All eyes will be on the Oroville Dam as seven days of Pineapple Expresses are forecast for the Feather River watershed, 70 miles north of Sacramento.

 

SEQUESTERED

 

20170212-a40a2904

 

                           And I ain’t seen the sunshine since I don’t know when
                                – Johnny Cash (“Folsom Prison Blues”)

We’ve essentially been sequestered to the house since returning from Elko, gray and rainy days—water leaking, standing, running around us, creek, once again, too high to cross in the Kubotas, nowhere for a pickup to go without tearing up the roads or getting stuck. But yesterday, the sun illuminated hillsides so green that you had to squint for a while before completely opening them. Glorious, indeed.

While inside, I’ve been trading emails with Andy Wilkinson as we work on publication of the keynote speech that he delivered at the 33rd National Cowboy Poetry Gathering, the entirety of which was his long poem “Storyline”. Perhaps it’s my hearing that tends to settle on a rhyme before the intended word, but I’ve almost always preferred poetry on the page, its presentation without distraction, words you can chew on before moving on. Listening Thursday morning in the Elko Convention Center auditorium, Andy was small and far away at the podium, the rhythm of his delivery was so musically mesmerizing, I knew I was missing words, yet caught up with his multi-faceted approach to ‘story’, the theme at Elko this year, as it related to time, science and us, but I managed to keep up with the keynote.

Downstairs from the offices of the Western Folklife Center, I ran into Andy at the Pioneer Saloon, the setting for his “Muriel Rukeyser and the Story-Time Continuum”, an essay that appeared in the Gathering’s program booklet that I hadn’t read yet. I asked Andy if would send me the text of “Storyline”—we even discussed having Dry Crik publish it.

The poem and the essay arrived Wednesday and I went to work, like a kid eager for sweet reward, on the layout, exchanging emails with Andy in Lubbock, Texas until yesterday about noon, sunshine everywhere green instead of gray. The banter of our communication was truly a dance as we discussed punctuation and space on the page, the poem and its presentation for four and a half days.

Our labor of love in the hands of cyberspace, I could stay inside no longer—grabbed the camera, got in the Kubota, and carefully traveled the pasture adjacent to the house, trying catch the freshness of the remaining spring-like day without getting stuck. Forecast for another week of rain begins Thursday. This is something!

 

From Benton, CA

 

20170206-img_5944

 

Heading into Bishop on our way home from Elko, Monday afternoon, the east side of the Great Western Divide shimmered with luxurious snow while it was storming on the other side, against the western slope of the Sierra Nevada mountains and foothills. By the time we made it home on Tuesday, the rain was finishing up, 1.22″ in the gauge as the creek was gaining momentum from the four-plus inches upstream, from its low-elevation headwaters less than 20 miles away. The foothills are saturated, every crease and crevice now collecting every drop of rain to send downstream. Roads are closed, creeks and streams flooding, dams failing.

Fast-forward to Thursday night, another warm, pineapple express will arrive here, forecast to bring another 1.5″ of rain, and who knows how much precipitation at the higher elevations that may also reduce our existing snowpack. This is not a part of our historic 4-year drought; the pendulum has swung to the other extreme.

“Story” was the story, the theme at Elko this year, kicked off by Andy Wilkinson’s spellbinding, poetic keynote address last Thursday morning entitled “Storyline”. With offerings more diverse than ever before, audio, video and all forms of visual art blended well with the poetry and music. I’ve maintained for years that the keynote address sets the tone for the Gathering, but never more true than this year. Currently sequestered inside with current weather conditions and the near-term wet forecast, Dry Crik Press is working with Andy Wilkinson to reprint “Storyline” in chapbook form.

Meanwhile back at the ranch it’s a warm 72 degrees as we batten down the hatches in preparation for Thursday.

 

Across Dry Creek

 

20170127-a40a2886

 

I thought it appropriate to offer a ‘before and after’ photo of the same hillside that’s on the cover of my ‘Best of the Dry Years’ (at the top of the column on the right) taken in September 2013. There was no improvement in feed conditions until the spring of 2016.