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Wednesday, March 25, 2009

Winter Into Spring

By March 7 the pruning of the pear orchard was about complete, the ospreys were back on their nest atop the old tower and the tree swallows had returned from points South.

The winter was mild and relatively dry with little of the carnage of other winters. A dead pit bull was an exception, attracting five vultures near the Renfrew Crossing.

Depending on the timing of the rains, the vagaries of temperature and other mysterious factors, the whole character of our
surrounding fields changes from Spring to Spring. One year is dominated by miner's lettuce, while vetch or grasses may hold sway in other years. This time mustard did well under the native black walnuts at Shady Rock Ranch.

In the bunkhouse I found a couple of old ranch manuals, which reminded me of the constant effort of imagination it takes to wring a living from the land.

Remnant groves of Valley Oaks (quercus lobata) have miraculously survived into the present century in Big Valley. They call to mind the idyllic 19th Century paintings of Thomas Moran and Albert Bierstadt. A grove along Gaddy Lane thrives on the margins of a vernal pool. The pool was not in evidence on March 7 this year, but in other years it can persist well into April.

The manzanitas I planted at the ranch were in full bloom in early March, as were the heirloom daffodils.

Barn owlets have hatched by this time of year. The species seems common in Big Valley. Various ranch and vinyard owners have erected owl nesting boxes, which supplement the old buildings traditionally favored as nest sites.