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.
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.
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.
Too wet for us to get off the road or cross the creek, but Kaweah Delta was back on Dry Creek cleaning the lower brush catchers this morning before the next storm starts about 4 p.m., forecast to bring 1.5 – 2” of rain through Thursday. Dry Creek: 236 cfs. Operator: Erik Avila.
Not quite the storm of the decade, Dry Creek peaked at 1,390 cfs early yesterday morning. As of this morning, accumulated rainfall since the first of the year on lower Dry Creek has been a little over 4 inches, with yet another storm forecast to bring about 1.5″ due midday tomorrow—all welcome.
The continual gray clouds and rain of late seems miraculous when contrasted with the bare hills and dust of the past four years that have been permanently imprinted in our minds as more normal than not. The drought changed our thought processes and how we operate the ranch. And despite the ample availability of water streaming in nearly every canyon, I have often caught myself still worrying about stockwater. It’s how we lived, day to day, for a long time.
It’s good to see the creek running, the literal lifeblood of the canyon, a psychological lift as we inhale the moist air and relax a little before addressing the work that waits ahead of us. We have calves to brand and watergaps to fix as soon as we can physically get to them, when the roads dry out and creek goes down, which probably won’t be until next week if tomorrow’s storm materializes.
Bred to be resilient, this earth
and all its faces, from stern to joyful,
offer sustenance to each of us
unequally. We find our place
into the fertile mulch of mankind
always ready for a storm.
Close to the ground, we trust
upon the old-time gods
to herd the winds our way
with young deities-in-training
to gather the renegades, black
clouds refusing to settle
against the Sierra’s jagged grin
to feed our rivers, creeks and streams—
myths more cryptic and credible
than today’s gadgetry designed to be
tomorrow’s useless obsolescence, yet
with the all the right apps
we can give-up on dreaming,
even believing in ourselves.
Never figured on a sunset,
children, grandchildren around
a smoky Live Oak fire,
the SoCal storm bleeding north
above a frost-bitten garden—
dry stem tomatoes
and peppers hanging
like ornamental gifts
I thought I escaped California in 1970
to ride back through time, didn’t think
I’d camp in one place this long.
Never figured on iPhone photos,
satellite dish for shade—
or planning for a future
that depends on water
It’s habitual, looking to the mountains for our future, the Kaweah Peaks over Remy Gap in the southern Sierra Nevada above, not completely dressed in snow from the last storm on December 16th— another forecast for the 23rd. Ideally, the snow is laid in while it’s cold enough to freeze before mid-January, then slow melt to feed our rivers and replenish the groundwater in the San Joaquin Valley, once the most productive agricultural region in the world, or so I was told in college.
Much has changed since the 60s when Visalia was a town of 16,000. Now a city populated by 124,000 people drawing on groundwater resources year-round. The growth of Valley towns has also displaced some of our best agricultural ground in a short span of fifty years. The implementation of flood control structures on nearly every river on the west slope of the Sierras since, regulating surface water flows, have also had a severe impact to groundwater levels in the Valley. Add the wild cards of drought and more deep wells, less low snow as the climate changes, ours is not a hand to bet on long.
Well-meaning, but onerous, water legislation will not create more water. Nor will the monies set aside to build more dams, especially since we haven’t filled the ones we have in years. But for us, and most foothill livestock producers, we look to the Sierra snowpack this time of year for our future summer stockwater, the small leaks in granite cracks that feed our springs providing water for cattle and wildlife.
Other worlds beyond,
beneath the canopies
of the woods gone wild
to shed their leaves,
naked near the Solstice,
unending limbs entwined
unseen unless I move
outside my cluttered mind—
ignored and warmed
by the murmured songs
of smaller gods
I sense when I am gone.
It is a mistake, you know,
to map your favorite fishing hole—
to let trout leap from photograph
to fire in the company
of hungry strangers. Best
leave your luck to the mystic
and the magic of cryptic poetry
felt before it’s understood.
I imagine a narrow wild rag,
your gift of Raijin thunder
and lightening coming—
an angry Japanese print
I might wear anywhere
outside to get attention
from stormy weather,
for the bladder full of water
slung over his shoulders
we might all profit by.
No wet redwood reflection, I look past black morning,
scan the radar for a chance the last forecast stalled
before it got away to who-cares-where into the future
on the other side of the Sierras, then search for stars beyond
the gray for an out-of-habit game plan between rains:
soft warm earth too wet to work too far from home.
Forty years ago I slowed, took the Fowler exit off
Highway 99 for Madam Sophia’s neon sign of things
to come my way from the landscape of my palm:
low range of callouses spilling into the deep canyon
of my heart—she read both hands and lit a candle,
saw lots of water in my future and I was glad.
Dawn is gray above the green and last year’s bleached
dry feed, chorus line of sycamores undress white limbs,
show flesh between their rosy leaves to tease a good
hard rain to bring the creek to sweep its cobbled bed
of four-years’ deadfall in a rush to wipe out water gaps:
fixing fences into a future that’s not quite guaranteed.