Tag Archives: spring




The rafters rain with dry debris of nests
under construction, as finches dance
with crimson breasts upon the railing

crooning springtime love songs.
Hillsides splashed with islands
of Golden Poppies burn together

engulfing green, white skiffs claim
the flats with gilded fiddleneck as
the tender and translucent leaves

of oaks test unsettled weather
gusting within all living flesh
flushed with a mix of urgency and awe.

Killdeer claim the gravel drive, guard
speckled eggs that look like granite
as the crow pair cruise the layered

limbs of trees for homes, their own
secreted away in canyon Blue Oaks
as burnished eagles sweep the grasses

at feeding time—a great and brutal cry
fills the eyes as this troubled earth
awakens with unrelenting passion.





From creek to ridge alive with spring,
churned and feathered urgencies abloom,
from pink to purple petals opening

to the sky, to its great white ships
passing after a sunlit shower’s rainbow.
Perfumes stirred inhaled, this canyon’s

air is shared with two golden eagles
hunting for hungry hatchlings high
in granite outcrops, sailing low

to snag sunning ground squirrels
more frequently now, imagining
young yellow beaks in sticks

open to the sky. It is the beginning
of the end, the ripening of the seed—
the dramatic performance of scripts

with fresh actors little changed
in my life, in my flesh—dependable
feelings somewhat akin to love.





‘On the make,’ my mother’d say
of springtime sojourns, the lone tom
between gobbles of rafters a strut,

the fan and drag as damp earth warms
to steam the green to flower skiffs of color,
to dress the oaks in tender iridescence

while finches softly fall aflitter, giddy
with the fun of it stirred within the air
we breathe, inhale into our flesh.

Like quail paired, couples nested
near the creek in the old days, empty
cars parked along this quiet road

like Do Not Disturb signs, lovers drawn
by April’s pounding drum to taste the wild
just beyond the sagging barbed wire.





Upon redbud bloom, the earth
awakens, windblown pollen
stirs the flesh anew, colored

petals dress the drab decay
of summer’s dehydration
brightly, bring bees to work

and birds to play
house, raise young families
and sing—it is this time.






In the cattails, long leaves
like a thatch of swords
after a war, hem the water in—

veil the mud hens putzing
close to shore where bullfrogs
freeze in the sun

waiting for something good
to come along this irrigation pond
trying to go wild. I have come

to love their god-awful birdsong
like rusty hinges on a pipe gate
yodeling in the tight places,

musical cascades turned loose
to lyrics I still don’t understand.
I say I think they’re courting

because its spring, because
you and I have stopped
to watch them sing.



McKee Branding 2016

This gallery contains 14 photos.

A Chance for Spring




Ten days ago, I was bemoaning a warm and dry February and the prospect of weaning calves two months early. But within that time we have received over two inches of rain that has rescued our spring grass. Already our south slopes have recovered. To vacillate between the anxiety and dread of another tough year and our current relaxed gratefulness, in such a short time, might be alarming if this canyon didn’t look so good—it’s that overwhelming. And it’s not that we haven’t gotten rain this season, we’re above average, but with over half of the days in February above 70 degrees, the ground was dry and the grass was heading out.

Yesterday we went up to the Paregien Ranch to check the rain gauge, (2.27”), check the cattle and put out salt and mineral supplement, also taking a shovel and chain saw just in case. Cows looking great, it’s hard to believe that these same calves have grown so much since we branded three months ago. The time has flown. With more forecast for the end of the week, it seems El Niño is back on track and we have a chance for spring.


Stellar Jays




Well out of their territory, a pair of Stellar Jays moved in late last fall to spend the winter. Like the bears, drought conditions at the higher elevations have probably brought them here looking for food. These two are not as humanized as what can be found around High Sierra campsites where they can be a squawking nuisance, literally taking food right off your plate. With others on the ranch, I’ve never seen Stellar Jays this low before.

Our mornings are a flutter of birds getting breakfast, the usual finches, sparrows, killdeer and quail scouting nesting sites, blackbirds and phoebes busy in leafless trees. It’s not quite spring yet, but with urgency in the air. Taking coffee with my camera as the sun breaks over the ridge presents some tough lighting, and I’m learning that photographing birds is a bit more of challenge than wildflowers that only move when the wind is blowing.






On the semi-arid edge of jet streams,
already rattlesnakes and dust in the road
framed in rusty Fiddlenecks and green
filaree, lush as lettuce. Hard shell of clay
and granite bring us off the mountain
through the bluff of fractured boulders,
blue lupine spears in pockets of golden
poppies grinning, open to the sun.

I forget the year, but it was March 3rd
I killed two below the den beside
the steep and rocky draw to Buckeye,
that waterfalls after a good long rain—
the earliest ever, sunning in warm dirt.
They have no calendar, no date circled
to leave the medusa tangle, brittle rattles
brush in a black hole. No fan of fear
fogging climate change—another sign,
a new extreme for snakes: more days
to make a living between shorter vacations.

We add the signs, the trend is dry, despite
El Niño late to work as south slopes turn
summer blonde and brown. Two months
early to be thinking: weaning calves—
we take instruction from grass and water.
We may be sipping the last of spring.

February 25, 2015







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’.