I can’t shake loose my need for truth
these days, always
skeptical of the latest news
sandwiched between advertisements
hawking sex and drugs to humans—
I sip the scandalous like wine,
leave to light the barbecue,
and let my unfocused stare
inhale the browning hillside
leaking five-months’ rainfall
behind the house to stream
along the gravel driveway,
past the pickup parked
where a rock wren pair
rebuild their home of stones—
Tor House in a tailpipe—
I need to see the truth.
Always mysteries on the ranch, we look for clues, search for signs of the inexplicable.
Utilizing the Kubotas to get around the past five months, my pickup has been parked most of the time. A month or so ago, we noticed its exhaust pipes were full of gravel from the driveway. Removing the gravel with a long spoon, we found a loose nest where the two pipes join. We also a noticed a pack rat nest in the frame at the same time, started, we assume, while I spent several hours trying to drain the runoff from our corrals in early March, a nest that included a surveyor’s lath, marking the location of a nearby power pole, as it’s foundation. Because we found them both at the same time, we assumed the same culprit.
Though we removed the pack rat nest, gravel continued to build up in the exhaust pipes, and another nest removed that contained an egg and eggshell remains. Beginning cattle work, I often leave the gooseneck hooked-up to my pickup and park it elsewhere for several days in a row. We then noticed that exhaust pipe of Robbin’s car was acquiring several gravel stones of its own.
After Googling ‘nest in exhaust pipe’, the best suspect was a Eurasian Bushtit, a pretty tiny bird, but not native to this continent. I assumed the gravel was placed by its plainer relative, the Bushtit, of which we have many, but none observed around my pickup. But considering the size of the egg and that of the Bushtit, not much bigger than a thumb, I was beginning to have doubts as the gravel continued to accumulate in the tailpipes.
We enjoy watching the fairly tame Rock Wrens bob around the yard, collecting bugs, extricating spiders from under tables and chairs, cleaning window screens. Yesterday, one hopped out from under my pickup. Once again, I went online to find some interesting facts.
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.
Sigh no more, ladies.
Time is male
and in his cups drinks to the fair.
– Adrienne Rich (“Sanpshots of a Daughter-in-Law”)
The women here wear leaves,
offer shade and dance in place
of plans to clear the unimproved—
or they bear children, populate
with coyote pups that learn
to clean the plates of men
girls fill with grass, raising
cows for heifer calves—
women teaching women.
The hawks are nesting, almost
everything on the wind
is a feminine production—
no passing fad for a buck.
I’ll raise my glass, bet
our future on the women.
Rare harmony, the grays and greens
spill off the hills like stringed music
in the gloaming, naked oaks in granite,
cows and calves bent to new grass
step slowly mowing earth and rain
at work in the bright of day and night.
Like sea tides rising, each blade eager
twists towards the moon in cool darkness,
drawn to listen to heaven’s basic chords.
A wild sound is playing now outside
while waiting for a cloud, for the strum
of winter storms to prolong the song.
And note this, dear dead doctor:
When we sleep, our legs twitch,
And not from the hunt
But from trying to run away.
– Gary Soto (“Dr. Freud, Please”)
A Red Tail pair in Blue Oak tops, buff breasts bared
glow at first light, watch over their dark shoulders
as I feed hay, speak to horses, winter mornings
to wonder about the everyday routines that tie us
to animals, to a place and time by the sun. The deer
would lay down where the barn stands now
over a shrinking stack of bales, a short walk
to metal mangers as I look back through the eyes
of the house to see you moving to the woodstove,
curls of Manzanita smoke disappear into the gray.
We have camped in the trail between canyons of wild
pad and hoof, claimed the space they walk around
and would take back should we be gone for long
without our habits holding what we’ve done together,
together—for this moment we hold our ground.
Hide-outs saved for sane
discussions, always listening
between short sentences
for advances within the dry
and brittle skeletons of spring—
we could forever be nervous
deer on the rebound, come back
to ricochet within a shrinking
wild that we have helped consume.
On the outskirts, perhaps
we feel it now approaching, wind
the scent of human arrogance
surrounding us, that we succumb to
out of necessity knowing
we’re headed in the wrong direction.
As recollections fade, I’m careful not to claim the recent as the biggest or the best of anything, but this past week’s germination of grass is as thick as any I can recall. How well it will endure the above-average temperatures predicted to push 80 degrees for the next ten days remains to be seen—no rain in sight.
Yesterday, Robbin and I made the Kubota trip to the Paregien Ranch with salt, mineral and the last protein lick until next summer while checking the cows, calves, and the rain gauge: 1.44”. More like spring than fall, our new green grass, even at a higher elevation of 2,200 feet, has begun to usurp our ample old feed. Cow numbers light due to the heavy culling during the drought, we haven’t had to supplement these cows with alfalfa yet this year—a good thing. It will take two or three ‘normal’ seasons before we get our cow numbers close to a sustainable capacity again, unwilling to buy non-native cows that take at least two years to finally acclimate to this ranch and cycle regularly.
Checking cattle once a week, the Kubota has become so familiar on the Paregien Ranch that wildlife are seldom startled. With tall feed and cover, we haven’t seen many deer in the past six months. It was reassuring to see that the Blacktail buck above had survived hunting season, now in rut and somewhat oblivious to our presence. With a doe and fawn grazing acorns, he was more content to rest in the shade than leave.
Early mornings cool and talking firewood earlier in the week, we came off the hill with a load of dry Manzanita.