One of the Central Valley’s most prolific writers, died at 84.
The valley sinks with pumping
deeper and deeper
into investor’s pockets
before they take the write-off,
before they turn the ground
for a profit.
It’s a clean deal
with no hands dirty.
We are the immigrants
from another time
growing closer to the soil,
dreaming still of rain, bumper crops
and markets high enough
to pay the bank off—
mom and pops
who stay the ground.
The natives heard them coming,
saw the woodsmoke,
left rabbits on the doorstep
to keep the guns inside—
to not spook the game
that fed them before
the tule elk and
antelope were gone.
Now in the quiet I stand
and look at her a long time, glad
to have recovered what is lost
in the exchange of something for money.
– Wendell Berry (“The Sorrel Filly”)
Looming closer, a swirling darkness just beyond
the thought of summer’s water that is not
frozen deep in the Sierras to feed our rivers
and canyon leaks—of brittle fall and cattle
gathered at an empty trough. The creek dries back
and sinks in March, lifted to new canopies
of sycamores dressing. Skeletons of old oaks
stand out between greening survivors, some
wearing only clumps of yellow mistletoe
hanging like reasons, raisons—like raisins
clinging to a leafless vine. Each season
spins the same dry song, yet we find our place,
harmonize and sing along, lifted like precious
moisture to tender leaves, a basic ascension not
available in the big box stores, unrecorded
in the history of our presence. This may be
the new normal for old people—that daze
of amazement we have been working towards.
Posted in Poems 2015, Ranch Journal
Tagged "The Sorrel Filly", Blue Oak, cattle, Drought, Dry Creek, Kaweah, Kaweah River, poetry, rain, San Joaquin Valley, water, weather, Wendell Berry
The big dogs are drilling deeper,
pumping the last of a million years
of underground water, each river
dammed into furrows to farm
the empty Laguna de Tache.
Sixty years ago, when red lights
stopped in every railroad town,
colorful cornucopias spilled
from billboards onto Highway 99
bragging fruit or vegetable capitals
of another world, and huge Big Oranges
squeezed juice every ten miles.
On the semi-arid edge of change,
we beg for rain and dream of floods
to take this Valley back in time.
* * *
Wiki: Laguna de Tache, Tulare Lake
Posted in Poems 2015
Tagged Drought, Kaweah River, Laguna de Tache, poetry, rain, San Joaquin Valley, Tulare Lake, underground water, water, weather, well drilling, wells
How easily she could say,
‘it’s all in your mind—’
deny, dismiss what she knew
could be true, if we let it
when we were children
pretending to be grown up—
with our imaginations,
mornings drumming music
on eucalyptus roots
before the school bus stopped
our spontaneous chants.
With rusty tools and sticks,
horse drawn relics
and Model T wrecks
we took off for town—
took turns driving
wild steeds or hot rod cars
depending on time—just
as much as we wanted
to get there.
Posted in Photographs, Poems 2015
Tagged Coast Range, Elderwood, imagination, Paregien Ranch, photographs, poetry, San Joaquin Valley, Serenity, weekly-photo-challenge
It’s rare to see across the San Joaquin Valley to the California Coast Range anymore, over the small community of Elderwood, from the Paregien Ranch, then look east to the Kaweah Peaks of the Great Western Divide, and Moro Rock in Sequoia National Park — a good air day!
The wells run deeper now
past the Pleistocene and into salt
at half a million bucks a pop
for the last of the water
as the Valley collapses
under the weight
of farming investors
for the moment
leaving Mom and Pop
and forty acres
high and dry
with one last roll
one last extraction
from a thirsty future.
No dirt farmers left
to turn the earth,
make sweet love
and pruning sheers
for a crop to harvest,
wobbly wagon loads
to railroad towns
grown bright and urban
in a couple of lifetimes
farming the future.
Posted in Photographs, Poems 2014
Tagged agribusiness, birds, Drought, farming, groundwater, photographs, poetry, Red Tail Hawk, San Joaquin Valley, water, weather, wells, wildlife
Bad air from the Bay
trapped beneath the warm
sunshine and new grass growing.
Posted in Photographs, Poems 2014, Ranch Journal
Tagged haiku, Paregien Ranch, photographs, poetry, rain, San Joaquin Valley, weather, weekly-photo-challenge
Dawn bears down early,
sears flesh exposed,
blinds eye and mind
into a fuzzy daze,
fiery-white as hell
must be. We plod
slowly with heads bowed
to mantras of water
keeping the living alive.
Like cattle, we bed with
welcome breezes moving
shade to shade.
Posted in Photographs, Poems 2014
Tagged Dry Creek, photographs, poetry, San Joaquin Valley, Sulphur Peak, summer, sunrise, weather
Now I carry those days in a tiny box
wherever I go.
– William Stafford (“Remembering”)
I feel for pocket-knife, keys and wallet,
handkerchief, cigarettes and lighter
before I pull on my boots, find my glasses
and pick which hat to meet the day’s
surprises, but this tiny box is always
with me. Before daylight, I crack the lid
to see what wants out on paper: a river,
a lake or Sierra pass take shape, pine smoke
curls through cedar boughs and I am
there with coffee before an eager fire
on another cold morning. Here money
buys nothing, and no more than paper
to ignite wet kindling after a thunderstorm,
all other urgencies are washed away, shed
downstream to mix and pool in the Valley—
like the Christmas flood of ‘67, when
they shipped food and freight into Visalia
by boat in May. We think we have
seen extremes, but the San Joaquin
has always been changing—begun
in the mountains, days above it all away.
Posted in Poems 2012