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February 25, 2008

Three Woman Week

Five days and well-over two inches of slow rain, hillsides leaking, every draw gurgling this morning. That I can actually see the creek from here indicates heavier amounts last night upstream. Short of the ‘Big One’ forecasted, we measured a little less than seven-tenths yesterday and last night. With another sixty days left in our ‘rainy season’, we’ve already accumulated more precipitation than last year. Sunny days and warming temperatures should really push the grass along with some early wildflowers. Ought to be some very pretty days this next week – time to get some work done.

February 23, 2008

Another Woman

Clouds hang in the foothills at first light, riding the ridges in a slow counter-clockwise movement. I hear the creek in the dark. With nearly an inch in the gauge, it began raining midday yesterday and gently through the night. It seems like years since the Central Valley foothills have been targeted by storms, this week’s series overlooked by the Old Farmers Almanac that has been fairly accurate thus far this season. As near as I can tell from NOAA, the ‘Big One’s’ due this afternoon.


She pounds the tin roof
to eagerly explain
her absence
& wakes me
from erotic dreams
to dance naked by the window
dripping in the sunless light.
She then sprints wildly to the creek
that begins to stretch
            as I stare
            past the last ridgeline
            that melts into the gray.

I ignore her wetness
            except for curious sideglances
            I steal
            She may excite me
            to forgiveness
            to some barbaric lovemaking
but I cannot forget
the drought.

                      from “Hung Out to Dry” (1992)

Hallmark/Westland Meat Packing Recall

I had hoped that even in the current environment of fear, political spins and misinformation about the food we eat, this latest incident would have simmered by now. Bill Maher’s latest lumping together of the beef and dairy business is disturbing even though most of 143 million pounds of hamburger subject to the recall has already been consumed (without any known ill-effects) over the past two years. It is a Class II recall, meaning that there is a “very, very remote possibility of adverse health consequences from consuming the product.”

At issue for me is the slaughter of ‘downer’ or ‘non-ambulatory’ cattle destined for the U.S. food supply. Disturbing video clips taken by a slaughterhouse employee depict dairy cows unable to travel on their own being dragged and moved by forklifts before slaughter. Apart from the inhumane practices depicted in the video clips, Federal regulations require that such ailing animals receive complete and proper inspection by Federal veterinarians. Health concerns, from my perspective, would be the amount of antibiotics in the ailing animals’ systems within the prescribed withdrawal periods before the much slighter chance of BSE (Mad Cow Disease).

But it’s time for the dairy industry to police its irresponsible practices. Though the meat packing plant is subject to the ‘voluntary’ recall, these animals did not become ‘non-ambulatory’ overnight, nor did they all become injured in the haul, some were undoubtedly loaded with forklifts. Unfortunately, this practice is all too common among frugal dairymen salvaging a few more milking days and a few more dollars from a ‘burnt-out’ dairy cow.

February 22, 2008


The fence over the hill goes on –
meets another at an oak tree near
the section corner you can’t see

from here. It’s not as old as the walls
of rock along the creek, or the granite
potholes worn into slabs by smooth

phallic pestles passed hand to hand
by generations of women. Dad and
Harvey built it in the 40s after

the atom bomb ended the war –
mushroomed in the dreams
of everyman. It kept us honest

for awhile, and left unpressed
the cattle stayed at home
and the neighbors got along.

Joe Bruce calls to say it’s a 'woman
rain' he’s driving through somewhere
near Colorado Springs, soft drops

on his windshield, his wipers clear
a heavy mist in six-second sweeps –
yesterday’s same sweet tenderness

that lingers now in iridescent greens.
Yet the fence over the hill goes on
and on within the minds of men.

February 21, 2008

All-Day Rain

Rain started early yesterday a.m. to finish up with 3/4s of an inch last night. More slated for this evening and a ‘big one’ promised for the weekend. The grass has really freshened-up, cattle scattered, cows and calves filling up – life looks good!

February 19, 2008

Sawtooth from Greasy Creek

February 18, 2008

An interesting aspect of the Great Western Divide looking through Remy Gap that separates the Kaweah River from the Greasy Creek watershed. On the left is Sawtooth Peak (12,343 ft.), Mineral Peak (11,404 ft.) middle and (I defer to Matt Rangel) Rainbow Mountain? (12,034 ft.).

Sawtooth is the backdrop for Mineral King Valley at 7,500 feet, once the short-lived mining town of Beulah. The area was also projected as a ski resort to be developed by Walt Disney in the late 1950s and 60s, but it is now a Wilderness Area as part of Sequoia National Park.

February 16, 2008


With crystal drops, the frost rains off
the roof at dawn – shadows reach
across the canyon, red-chested finches

flirt in a thatch of leafless twigs,
buds ablaze in silence – sweet silence.
There is no other news to know

except for the felling of an acorn swelled
four hundred years or more ago
in a manner of minutes. Chisel teeth

gush sawdust with certain ceremony
of wedges and angles – crack after crack
into the gunshot’s last snap of oak.

The Castros undercut the five foot trunk
that held eagles up above us all, laid
the dead gently down when out of the dark

cavity of broken limb, a snow white owl
leaps for open air like a dove released
in the morning’s deep blue horizon.

Its gray mate rides the timber clear
to crunching ground. We buck it up and
talk respectfully of trees along the creek –

old sycamores and the Valley Oak Dad saved
in ’59 when they built the dam, of the pirate
Drake in for repairs when this was

a landmark for Charlie’s distant relatives.
Like a bear cub in the thick of limbs,
I hear him say how he shook acorns

onto a tarp for native women in Yosemite –
these two strong, tree-climbing sons
doing what they’ve done for centuries.

                        for Charlie, Gene & Butch

One might consider this poem a companion to “Bull Pen,” posted in January 2007 and included in “Poems from Dry Creek” – physical and symbolic closure perhaps regarding my father. I’d like to break clear of the redundancy of theme however, but my obvious respect for that minority of hands-on folks ‘doing what they’ve done for centuries’ remains in the forefront of my consciousness. The practical mindset is still a dependable retreat from the ‘news’ to have incorporated into this almost ‘out-of-the-way’ lifestyle. Fresh, it’s subject to online editing.

If we manage to slab and cure a part of the trunk for a tabletop, a third poem may be in the offing.

February 15, 2008


            How could I have expected
            that after a long life I would
            understand no more than to wake up
            at night and to repeat: strange,
            strange, strange, o how strange, how
            strange. O how funny and strange.

                                - Czeslaw Milosz

Leaving the ranch to darkness, to
the half-moon and sparkling starlight
pressing to see through black February –

leaving it all alone to listen inside
to the TV news, the pusillanimous
and picayune for Enlightenment

this Election year. Lost my hearing
at the Shrine in ‘69 and lost my
patriotism in May 1970 – but still

I remember the long-haired revolution
that forever changed foreign affairs.
Children then, waiting for our M-16s

at graduation. Have you forgotten
how it was and why we’ll not have
another Draft – nor draft dodgers,

draft card burners, protests, peace
candidates and more than enough
love to go round a couple of times?

Spin of wind, terror and the weather –
fear upon fear the night outside ignores
as it adjusts to a Mayan calendar

helps sell new drugs with the catchiest
nomenclature – and legal enough
to stone us all the way to the grave.

February 14, 2008

Great Western Divide

Reconnaissance, From the Foothills to the Sierra © Matthew Rangle

We’re setting aside a separate category to include expression from the Kaweah River watershed. Matthew Rangel, San Joaquin Valley native and graduate student at the University of Alberta in Edmonton, has begun preparations for a transect walk from his home in Dinuba to the Kaweah Peaks in conjunction with a grant from the Kings & Sequoia National Parks. For the artist’s statement and examples of his unique artwork: [copy & paste link]

John Spivey’s new book, “The Great Western Divide, A History with Crow, Coyote, Chaos and God” offers original and insightful perspectives on his journey through family generations to the source of the watershed. Concurrently, John is also working with experts towards reclamation of the Tulare Lake Basin, bottom of the watershed, as a template for health and spiritual healing.

The Exeter Book Garden and Bear State Books will begin readings this spring from John to complement this small town’s enlightened direction. Likewise, the intent of this category is to include local landmarks with art, story and poetry to enhance and enrich living within the Kaweah River watershed.

February 10, 2008

Homer Cove Revisited

Steve & Jody Fuller

Waitin' on Chad

Leather, Smoke & Steel


Javier & Jaime

Javier Horseback

Allie, Katie & Sam

Joe and Jody

February 6, 2008

Elko 2008

The weather verged on miserable, snow daily with 10-20 degree wind chills brought evenings down into the minus numbers, conditions that seemed to impact attendance. Donner Pass was closed on and off throughout the Gathering, and driving in from the north was fraught with blowing snow white-outs as was I-80 from Salt Lake City on Wednesday. You had to really want to be there.

Check-out the cybercasts and other offerings by clicking the WFC homepage.

As always, my personal ‘high-notes’ weren’t on the program – wonderful slices of time that Elko makes possible:

Sarah, the little girl with curly blond hair I caught from the corner of my eye going through my chapbooks, randomly reading from each while I autographed others at the table nearby. She might have been 12. Fifteen or twenty minutes later she was standing before me with “Poems from Dry Creek”. With such a special aura as we talked, I was not surprised to learn that she wrote poetry. Daughter of a master boat maker in Sausalito, it felt good to shake her father's hand, one rougher than most horseshoers. A magnificent moment, really, and it turns out that she is a friend of a friend of mine.

Down at the Stray Dog, Mike Beck brought electric ‘back-up’, having had to struggle over beer-drinking conversation in past years with only his acoustic guitar. Somehow he managed to get drums, bass and 12-string Rickenbacher in the corner with him to blast the inattentive out into the alley. Great selection of songs. Lost my hearing in 1969, but got it back Friday night.

At the Star Restaurant, Lost Weekend played western swing from the coat closet for whatever fell into their hat. With a lively and unique sound, Robbin bought several CDs. Joined by Kenny Maines, we caught them later upstairs at the Stockman’s Saturday night – a wonderful crystalline sound, both vocals and instrumentals.

Replacing Michael Martin Murphy at the last minute as a relative unknown, Andy Wilkinson and his group did the show at the Stockman’s. We caught two of his three shows. Most songs were Wilkinson originals, solid, well-written pieces with researched backgrounds, Texas history saved in song.

Though I never saw Ernie Sites this year, I know he was playing across from the Red Lion. Also, there had to be 3 or 4 gear and art shows.

It seems so healthy to have such a diversity of music ‘happening’ unofficially on the periphery of the Gathering, essentially competing with the ticketed night shows. Perhaps true validation occurs when a genre attracts these outside influences and the whole becomes enhanced by them, as was the case this year. For me, it demonstrates a sense of security for both artists and audiences that may have been undermined by stricter or more judgmental definitions in years past.

Unfortunately, I spent Sunday bundled-up with a God-awful fever that stayed with me all the way home. I don't remember ever being so sick - walking pnemonia, no doubt, with so little lung capacity I couldn't get a cigarette lit. With no appetite, coffee and tobacco tasting awful, I've pretty much done without.

Nearly 2.5 inches of rain while we were gone. Nothing like the green, green grass of home.

The opinions expressed in the Western Folklife Center's Deep West online journals are those of the online journal participants and not the Western Folklife Center. The Western Folklife Center does not moderate these journals and as such does not guarantee the veracity, reliability or completeness of any information provided in the journals or in any hyperlink appearing within them.

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