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July 29, 2009

HAY TRUCK GODS

Uplifted faces keep
track of the truck
up and down the road
in each pasture –
everywhere it goes.

They would follow
the diesel’s purr
            into forever.
            Empowered so
with such blind trust,
            a mortal must
            be careful not
to believe everything
            he thinks
            he knows.

Taken for granted,
he’ll discover disciples
with minds of their own.

July 28, 2009

TOWARDS FALL

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1.

Off the hill behind the house, their home
since spring, sleek black heifers mill about
from under trees upon bleached feed

come evening. Talk around the trough
is brief with easy gestures, expectant mothers
fill with water, graze lazily and wait.

Together since calves, they mirror change
and remember in gazes – fire within
as they move, chatting idly about nothing.


2.

A coyote crosses in the distance,
not unseen as pups upcanyon practice
yips and yodeling. Lichened boulders

hold to the mountain, fractured stacks
of granite waiting for the decade, the
century to let go. A trail of baby quail

stir the dust, a gray hawk’s quiet glide
between oaks. Easy voices on the road
peddle down the creek towards home.


3.

And the dark swallows all. Tonight
lying naked in our bed exposed
to the sweet breath of a mowed lawn

upon our skins, to all the sounds
outside that find a part to play
in dreams, we close our eyes and

trust in the dog’s bark, the cow’s
bawl and the sun’s hot passion
to come and go again ‘til gone.

July 26, 2009

NO VIREO

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I am hiding here on paper,
away from the news, from
conjecture and its endless
implications. I’d rather be
in the heart of an oak tree
and keep my distance –
keep my sanity providing
shade and listening
to the gossip of cows.

I’ve heard enough
from too many made-up
faces (botoxed to boot)
to buy their advertising
selling crisis and fear
to endure much more.

Bushtits flit by dozens
come evening when
we sprinkle the garden,
gray, small and busy
little bastards after bugs
I have to Google
to identify – quick
queries to busy people –
watching the real news.


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Psaltriparus minimus

July 23, 2009

Blue Dawn

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July 22, 2009

Western Folklife Center

Revisiting Elko 20-some years ago, I remember half-a-dozen books on a folding table in the middle of the Convention Center during the poetry gathering while Jeremiah Watt and a few other gearmakers hawked bits, macates and bosals between sessions. It was a tentative beginning to what has become home to the rebirth of a contemporary Western culture, magical times for many of us isolated on scattered ranches to find that we were not forgotten or alone.

For horse and cattle families, Elko became the place to connect with stories, poetry and song, a place to share experiences. And not surprisingly, the foundation of traditional poetry and classic cowboy songs has spawned a wide variety of contemporary art and expression that now fills two bookstores during the Gathering and offers unique exhibits at the Wiegand Gallery and the Northeastern Nevada Museum, as well as stage plays at the Great Basin College. As if suppressed for a generation, this evolution has rekindled interest beyond the cowboy West to connect with other livestock cultures, drawing people to Elko from the world over.

Ours is a hands-on culture that celebrates experience, vast landscapes and communities within which an ethic of dependability and accountability leaves no one anonymous, a cooperative culture that can overlook foibles and eccentricities as long as a contribution to the whole can be maintained – a place for character, and characters, to flourish.

Considering the times, I can think of no other place that engenders the art and ethic of this lifestyle, no other place that celebrates the creative expression from such common roots. I’ve been wracking my brain for projects to benefit the Western Folklife Center, but most of my ideas will cost as much as they’ll generate. Now is the time for even the smallest donation, the WFC needs our help.

July 19, 2009

112 in the Shade - Record High Today

Weeks of heat over 100 degrees in the Central Valley extract their toll in various ways after a while, sapping energy and derailing good intentions not essential to family and cattle. [Hence, no posts here for the past week.] After a very pleasant end of May and most of June, it’s turned predictability hot, nights now near eighty degrees as the clay hillsides retain our all-day blaze. In the canyons along the foothills we have fairly steady breezes, but in Visalia, it’s still and stifling, noticeably warmer with asphalt, concrete and buildings radiating warmth well after dark.

Last week we were pleased with how our steer calves weighed when we shipped Thursday, averaging 750 pounds gross – a first for us, but testifying mostly to an exceptional feed year. We have a load of cows headed to the bred-cow sale tomorrow, and another load of steers to ship Tuesday. In between, we’re feeding yearlings and bulls, pumping stockwater and trying to stay cool.

The cow/calf business in our vicinity has changed dramatically over the past decade. Whether Electronic Identification (EID) tags, vaccination programs, Internet and video sales, gone are the carefree days of getting to the work when we want. The difference is money. Having cattle for sale that meet the requirements of buyers you don’t know, uniform truckload lots to any Western state might mean $50-100/head as opposed to hauling them to the local sales barn when you get around to it.

All new ground for us as we try to gear-up to satisfy a broader market, selling natural beef when we can. Forty years ago we held our calves over for a second grass season, selling them at 18-20 months and aiming for 8-weight steers. Today on the same ground, our calves are sold with a 45-day wean at 10 months of age. Most of the difference is genetics and hay.

Though pleased with the results, it’s a lot more physical work than it used to be. Add-in the heat and one always wonders if this is the direction a man over sixty ought to be going. But still beats the hell out of punching a clock!

July 12, 2009

THE SHED - JULY 4, 1954

Our cousins would come
from Visalia to swim
in the summer heat, play

baseball against a barn door
backstop, grape canes waving
fresh green leaves beyond

the charred corrals my sister
and I damn-near burned down.
Howling sirens, engines ending

in Granddad’s yard. In the dark
I heard talk: my father’s voice
among the firemen, my mother’s

look I didn’t answer. We played
hard and waved the flag, sliced
cold red melon, cranked peach

ice cream in the evening
after hot dogs and potato salad,
then climbed to the shed roof

that leaked long beams of floating
dust when we took turns urging
the manure spreader’s wooden

tongue to talk, engaging brake
and gears as we imagined freedom.
On the shed’s shingled peak,

we’d jockey for position –
lookout for nails and splinters!
and beside trays of drying raisins,

watch rockets pop and shower
colored fire over orchards
from deep within dim lights of town.

July 11, 2009

Yellow Starthistle

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Yellow Starthistle (Baranby's Thistle)
Dry Creek
July 11, 2009

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Yellow Starthistle (Baranby's Thistle)
Dry Creek
July 11, 2009


Technically not a native, Yellow Starthistle was introduced to the West Coast from Eurasia in the 1860s and currently infests 800,000,000 acres in California alone, 8 times the acreage since 1958. Each plant can produce 150,000 seeds. Poisonous to horses. Bad stuff.

July 7, 2009

UNDER OAKS

It comes to me only now
with roots too deep to be
transplanted without shock
        that I wear the dust
        of where I’ve been
        upon my flesh
        and in my lungs
already – we are the one clod
that we inhabit and nurture
through drought, flood and time.

It comes to me only now
that we have worked quite well
together, our ebb and flow
        allowances as
        longtime lovers
        learn that they
        are part of the same
landscape – this fold of dirt
where the shine from ice on granite
is honeycombed with holes.

It comes to me only now
that time is short for natives
unless you are an oak
        making shade and acorns
        for the future
        adding more than
        you take away
from this earth – this tilted plain
of clay and rock – sacred places
under oaks where we can talk.

July 6, 2009

Cooper's Hawks

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July 6, 2009

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July 6, 2009

Morning and dusk the past two weeks has been filled with cries of several Cooper’s Hawks, darting beneath the canopies of the trees in the yard – one against the window yesterday. We first suspected that our quadruple-bumper crop of kittens brought them closer to the house. And though the kittens are getting shier, we haven’t lost a one yet.

Outside the door this morning, I caught what appears to be a young bird tearing into a mouse. It later hopped onto the branch and cried until a second young bird finished the remains, while an adult circled, crying encouragingly.

July 5, 2009

Bird in the Wire

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July 5, 2009

Fire started beneath Southern Califonia Edison's transmisson lines on the ridge west of Horse Creek, south of Lake Kaweah.

July 4, 2009

“Stick Horses and Other Stories of Ranch Life” by Wallace McRae

In early April we received a copy signed by Wally before our Oklahoma trip and packed his collection of short stories with us to read. I was tickled to be included on his list, even though neither Robbin nor I had time to crack its covers while we were gone. I wanted to write Wally to thank him, but because I hadn’t read a sentence, it would have been a very empty ‘thank-you’ despite any promises to get back to him when I got around to his book. I know him well enough to know he would have wanted, and expected, more.

Upon our return nearly two weeks later, the Post Office had two bushels of accumulated mail, within which was another signed copy of “Stick Horses”. Though doubly blessed, I felt twice the guilt for not responding. Our following six weeks were spent weaning calves.

We left for the coast last Sunday with two copies of “Stick Horses”, two typewritten manuscripts and a copy of “Close Range” by Annie Proulx among several other books we had earmarked to read. Heyday Press is publishing the delightful children’s book, “Blue Jay Girl” by Sylvia Ross, a myth-like story of a Yokuts girl learning to live with her bold nature. Once an illustrator for Disney, Sylvia’s artwork is also quite vivid and unique. Perhaps what struck me most was that this story is magically universal, a Native American allegory, for all kids and all times.

Robbin was midway through the second manuscript “Rightful Place” by Amy Auker, so I grabbed-up Annie Proulx while she finished. Though Proulx reads to me as more of an observer than a native of Wyoming, she’s a very powerful and talented writer. Though I don’t pretend to know Wyoming, one or two of her short stories seemed a bit postured, a bit too condensed in the minimalist sense, but overall, riveting community cameos on an unforgiving landscape. And after reading the last short story of the collection, I concluded that the over-heralded movie version of “Brokeback Mountain” missed much of the art of the original text.

However unlike Proulx, Amy Auker reads from the ground up. Her love for the land and culture of Texas ranch families is rich with detail that only a native can reveal and share openly. Let’s hope it’s available soon.

By the time I got to Wally's marble sorting with cousin Carol in “All the World’s a Stage”, as surf pounded the gray California coastline, I realized that we, all of us ranch families, actually have a culture full of contemporary writers – not a few cowboys reciting someone else’s poetry – quite remarkable, if you’d been there twenty-some odd years ago at Elko. Pride, perhaps, is what I feel most reading these short stories. I’m proud for Wally’s work and storytelling accomplishment, proud of his hardscrabble Montana family and community, and though his are uniquely entertaining and insightful, I’m also proud of my own neck of the woods. Storytelling is a lost art for many obvious reasons, but these valuable antidotes tell who we are by where we’ve come from. These tales are full of common sense and a once common rural ethic that has been lost to most all of us with progress. And though this collection may be a window to understanding for outsiders, a glimpse of our culture, these stories are really written for us. Not unlike his poetry, his line is precise and firm, but with the art that only great storytellers possess.

Thank you, Wally.

Get this one, now:
$19.99 cloth. 168 pp. Gibbs Smith Publishers, P.O. Box 667, Layton, UT 84041
www.gibbs-smith.com

July 1, 2009

Moonstone Beach

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It was 110 degrees when we passed the Jack Ranch Café in Cholame last Sunday, heading for Cambria to celebrate Robbin’s birthday. The temperature began dropping in Paso Robles, but we were grinning ear to ear as we started down Green Canyon into a lovely sea of fog where the car’s thermometer finally settled on 61. Less than three hours from home, it was a luxury to have nothing to do but eat, read and sleep.

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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