Low snow up canyon, cold
rain at dawn, vernal pools
in the pasture stand full
waiting for Wood Ducks,
waiting for spring.
Sycamores stripped naked,
their white limbs wave
from across the creek
upon these ponds of water
in the evening sun.
Headlights slash the darkness,
a caravan of jeeps
and 4-wheel drives
whine down canyon—
weary songs back home.
Dry cordwood stacked, I crave
unpredictable clouds of change,
the cold and ice, the hail and rain
and the look of snow-capped green,
black cattle grazing an angry gray—
fancy whiskey in a glass with you
inside, woodstove sucking air to flame.
No matter what the pundits say,
it doesn’t change a thing.
Light dusting this afternoon down to 2,500′ on Dry Creek. Exceeding the forecast, just shy of an inch of rain overnight and this morning. It’s wet out there.
Robbin and I have been crossing the Great Basin from Tonopah to Carlin in January for twenty years, choosing the longer route to Elko instead of I-99 towards Sacramento congestion and Donner Pass. Once known as the World’s Loneliest Highway, going home we met only a couple of vehicles on Highway 278 towards Eureka, Monday morning February 1st, after Sunday’s storm.
Twenty years ago, everyone waved a passing hello when meeting a vehicle on these back roads, but the habit seems to have waned in the past few years. I never fail to wonder about the first wagon crossings, the weeks it took to overcome this high desert expanse, the people, their courage and endurance, as they made the trek. How many of us today would have done as well, invested the patience and dedication to get to a place, presumably California, that they’d never seen?
Temperatures in the single digits, we left blowing snow outside Tonopah a week ago in Nevada’s Great Basin. Since we have gathered our last bunch of cows and calves to brand this morning to a forecast high of 76°. Here the hillsides are green, spattered with early patches of golden poppies and fiddleneck, as white popcorn flowers begin to creep up the lower slopes. The visual and mental contrasts from Elko to Dry Creek are startling, two different worlds either side of the Great Western Divide within a week’s time.
Robbin and I have made the trek to the National Cowboy Poetry Gathering in Elko, Nevada, where we were married twenty years ago, so many times that it seems like Groundhog’s Day. We split the 720 mile trip into two days, laying over in Bishop, stopping at the same places for gas and a snack or a meal, the same motel, right down to virtually the same heavy coats and winter shoes. One almost instant replay after another.
Yet always something new, some detail or happenstance to change the course of events, to make every Gathering a little different, a little richer. This year the weather was a player.
On the wind beyond the window,
snowflakes sideways, the street
streams with white waves, riffles
on gusts colliding with vehicles
to swirl like dust on a black
river of asphalt. I am no snow man
and imagine small covies of quail
before the shotgun, before
the bobcat, before taking flight.
Feathers fly with each collision,
gather and flee downstream
as if running for their lives.
Sunday evening, pickup loads of snow
file down the road to town: snowmen
for Visalia, Exeter, Farmersville front yards
to melt and soak into drought-brown lawns
no one’s mowed in years—a hurried
shortcut from mountains to Valley
upon a crumbling blacktop channel—
water that these oaks and sycamores
see only as lumps of white passing at fifty.
The west and south slopes fill-in
with green, purple patches of frost-bitten
filaree that looked like bare dirt,
softly embrace us now as if we were cattle.
Too wet for work that waits outside,
we slowly release winters of urgency
camped at the door and ease into the
vaguely familiar—reacquaint ourselves
with mud and rain, with one another.
Overnight rain, wind, hail and a light dusting of snow down to 2,000 feet for our Christmas present on Dry Creek. Fairly rare, especially during the last four years.
Whole family here jamming into the late night hours (10:00 p.m., 3 hours past my bedtime), Robbin and Bob with guitars, Jaro and I with harmonicas, all singing what lyrics we knew.
All good, beautiful morning, Christmas 2015!
Bagels and lochs on the deck.
Sulphur – December 11, 2014
No father or mother left to leave
a Christmas gift under the tree—
even the child in us understands.
An ever-ready substitute, the old
Hereford bull plods along the fence
looking past the asphalt, gutturally
conversing with the neighbor’s
registered Angus mothers
while his younger brethren work
the steep brush and rock,
gather families in the wild
from last year’s seed.
Kept another year, just in case
someone gets hurt, we become
the extras for the gods—
walk the sidelines
lending words to the old songs
‘lest the world forgets
the melodies of Christmas
when it rains, or snows low
leaving only grass under trees.
Posted in Photographs, Poems 2014, Ranch Journal
Tagged Blue Oak, bulls, Calves, Christmas, cows, grass, Greasy Creek, old songs, photographs, poetry, rain, snow, Sulphur Peak, weather, writing