Tag Archives: rain

MARCH GRAZING UPDATE

Despite the welcome 1.5” of rain this month, bringing our total rainfall for the season on Dry Creek to a meager 6”, our grass is short and thin, especially on the south and west slopes of our lower foothill country.  Unless we get some well-spaced rains in April, we will wean our calves early, probably weighing 50 lbs. lighter than usual.  With limited stockwater and no dry feed to carry our cows through summer, fall and to an unknown beginning of our rainy season, we will have cull our cow herd deeply.  A strong high pressure ridge, typical of La Niña, is blocking storm activity to California and the rest of the West. Furthermore, market returns for cattle producers are stuck in an unsustainable range, in part due to Covid-19.  

After a wonderfully fun day helping Kenny and Virginia McKee brand their calves in Woolley Canyon yesterday, Robbin and I are moving slowly as we recuperate by enjoying the colors of spring in the gathering fields around us. The lush appearance of the Fiddleneck and Popcorn Flowers in the photo below is deceptive as they have little nutritional value for cattle, but they do shade the ground and help hold what moisture we have. 

DULL ROAR

Dark rain in waves, 
an oscillation of applause upon the roof
that soothes and insulates the senses
 
from the distant discord of mankind,
the lucid transparency of public figures
that saddens the soul—
 
this narrow canyon lit across in gold,
blind flashes of humility,
the roll of thunder close.
 
The short-cropped green hangs on 
to naked clay hoping for heaven’s basket 
of spilt miracles to soften hillsides 
 
for roots—and cloven hooves
reaching for the ridgetops ripe 
for more level grazing.
 
Dark rain in waves
punctuated by the light—
relief for what we know.

DOLLARS AND SENSE

1.
We feed on numbers,
irrigate and harvest plans
with shaved efficiencies,
 
measure our well-being
by more or less
with what’s on paper
 
so easily burned
or suddenly erased—
we forget who we are.
 
 
2.
We share amounts of rain,
compare numbers
with the neighbors,
 
too often disappointed
with what we need most:
just enough moisture
 
to revive this ground—
this flesh and our more
common senses.


 

GENTLE MIRACLES

This old ground is on the move
and we have changed it
with our dreams of improvement
that humanity demands
 
to level mountains, harness rivers, 
pump valleys to collapse
with efficiency and startling success—
then we foul our surgeries. 
 
Beyond the road and fences,
these bare hillsides have begun to breathe 
since she spent the night, whispering 
upon dry leaves clinging to the last of life.
 
I am awakened, as if she never left,
wrapped in the soft applause of her arrival
bringing the gentle miracle of moisture
as this old ground comes back to life.

 

RED SKIES AT DAWN

Thin starts lay limp 
as green fades to gray
amid the brittle stalks 
of short-cropped dry
the cows have missed
 
as I open the gate
ahead of several storms
to search for Live Oak—
stove wood heat 
with little ash
 
prostrate since 
the 4-year drought
branded in my mind—
decomposing now
before my eyes.
 
Limbs ache with years
bent to this ground
chasing seasons of grass,
but red skies at dawn
reawakens the flesh.

Back When We Had Grass

(c) Neal Lett Photo

More than 2 months into our rainy season, less than 1/2″ thus far on Dry Creek. To give Neal Lett’s photograph justice, click image to enlarge.

BURNING SYCAMORES

Limbs dressed in flames,
they await the cloudburst
that will disrobe them
 
            to stand naked 
            and undulate
            along the creek 
            until it runs—
            until late spring.
 
Our chorus line of winter nymphs,
centuries rooted in the same place,
I stare into their fire and pray for rain.

0.29"

High Hopes

After a lifetime in the cattle business, 52 full-time years by my reckoning, I’ve maintained that there are three variables that determine our economic equilibrium: the market, the weather and politics.  When only one of these variables is unfavorable, we can usually get by for another season. But when all three are unfavorable, we’re in dire straights.

To make matters worse, 2020 has introduced another variable I never considered: an international pandemic that has bludgeoned the global economy, and here at home closed restaurants for all grades of beef.  We are not the only business impacted, further impacting us all.

At the moment, any realistic hopes of corralling Covid-19 to some sort of normalcy are six to nine months away.  But those hopes may encourage better beef markets at the end of spring 2021.  How the political impacts, stimulus packages and reduction of tariffs, etc., will ultimately shake out is anyone’s guess. 

Now two months into our rainy season with less than a half-inch of rain to date and no green grass, we are keenly focused on the weather while feeding lots of hay.  The Wagyu bulls have arrived and we must have our cows in shape to breed.  

Here on Dry Creek on Saturday, we only measured 0.16”, but our hopes hang on the latest forecast of 0.3” today and tonight and another 0.45” Wednesday and Thursday.  Always optimistic, the combination may be enough to get our grass seed germinated.  But like always, much can change in the next four days.  

DINNER





No rare, sixteen-ounce
Chile Verde Rib Eye
leftovers to box for home,
 
no Iceberg Old School
wedge with Blue Cheese 
crumbles, no red wine
 
bottle at twice the price
to finish before leaving
town—no spoiling us
these Covid days,
 
though we tire
of our own cooking,
of feeding hay without rain.
 
Bare acres, not a spear 
of feed half-way 
up the mountain,
 
these good cows wait 
with their calves
at the gate for dinner.

HALLOWEEN

Dark morning chill stirs the flesh
to welcome winter waiting
for flaming tongues 
to lick between
dry Manzanita branches
igniting Blue oak 
in the woodstove’s glow.
 
I recall storms, the floods
and endless downpours,
creek too high to cross
for thirty days and pray
for anything wet enough
to start the grass
for cows and calves—
 
for my sanity, something
akin to normal
in these crazy days
of politics and pandemic—
something to trust 
as right as rain—
something to believe in.