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.
photo: Bodhi Rouse
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.
Wind bangs against the mountains,
cold on warm rips and tears
cracks in air as crooked fingers
touch the ground with ‘lectric
yellow light to spark a roar
upon the metal roof in panting
pulses beneath soft gray
as if the gods were making love
in a bass drum, small canyon room
upstairs spawning muddy rivulets
towards a dry creek bed between
wet sycamores undressing
long white limbs suggestively
spilling November tans and browns
upon the green to stand naked
before an eager flow gathering
rafts of clothes upstream—
or as angry as the 60s
marching to make love
instead of war, or vice versa—
or with the best intentions
for all we’ve done today,
come to wash the dirty laundry,
our tracks and waste away.
1.81″ @ 7:30 a.m.
I stumble out of an old dream panicked
about cattle I haven’t checked in months
on a hidden ranch I can’t place, connect
except they were not grazing vineyard rows
with no fences, not loose in town this time,
but on some hard-to-gather rolling ground
you can’t see from the pocked asphalt road
snaking through blond summer foothills.
Last time, they were OK, bull calves
too big to brand breeding sisters, but alive
on good feed and water. It may have been
the turkey dressing drenched in juices,
or the cranberries fermenting fear familiar
that I recognize more than this imagined place
to wait before saddling a horse, loading-up
asleep to tilt at impossible windmills.
I’ve been here before, rusty wire on redwood
posts askew, exploring canyons, finding old
rough-haired families too weak to be wild—
all the guilt and disappointment I need
to torture my subconscious. Too old for that,
I roll over to let my weak knees hang before
testing with a first step towards reality:
cigarette, coffee and a poem for Black Friday.
Lake Kaweah, July 4, 2015
It was swamp between the rivers and creeks
of melted snow, men claiming ground by boat,
a century of floods and drought before the dam
slowed the river down to fit furrows and ditches
to feed the world, the course of water left in crops
we farmed with mules before the teams of tractors
grew so big and smart as not to need a man
to guide them. We made towns look like cities
with cool conditioned air, still digging deeper
for pockets of water where no river flows.
Someday, she will take her ground back
from the idols and graven images of rock star
convenience. Someday we may balance joy
with work instead of wages, find eyes to see
the obvious is less than what we think we need.
Within a week of late October rains, a forest
of green blades twisting, chasing warm
golden light between canyon horizons,
reaching while we sleep to a waxing moon
sailing south across black starlit seas—
a germination thick as hair on a dog’s back.
Hard clay turned soft underfoot, under cloven
hooves, out of the bleached and brittle rubble
of last year’s feed, a spreading miracle of green
as the earth stirs with another birth of grass.
And we are tied to it, mentally shackled
and physically restrained to work within her
moody generosity, daring not with word
or thought to piss her off—we have our gods
and goddesses we adore, stealing glimpses
every chance we get outside to pause
and praise them. All our totems, the bird
and animal people of the Yokuts know
our names, know our habits, show us the way
this canyon was designed to support life,
here and beyond us, with a crop of grass.
Weekly Photo Challenge: “Chaos”
Posted in Photographs, Poems 2016, Ranch Journal
Tagged birds, cattle, grass, photography, poetry, rain, water, weather, weekly-photo-challenge, wildlife, Yokuts
December 10, 2015
Small at first, rivers spill
High Sierra snowmelt,
water pure as it will ever be
falling to the call of gravity
and time’s relentless roar
over granite smooth, worn
by cataracts and cascades
dressed in rainbow mists
ascending to the whispers
among a million pines—
a timbered mat of arrows
headed to the sky.
We have been there
in our perfect innocence
before our courses
changed the world
as it changed us.
I think it was the waiting
for the war I never served
that made me see that
spilling the blood of boys
could not kill ideas
or forever eliminate
a differing philosophy.
Like water pooled
I am damned again
in someone else’s business
at the whims of men
I’ll never understand
beyond their lust for power
and their addiction to greed
while dancing to the tune
of men and women working
with their heads and hands.
I stay the slope and cling
to the sound of the river
chasing lyrics on paper
since the war—poor poetry
released like mist ascending
to the muse that must
report my plodding progress
to goddesses and gods.