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Wednesday, July 21, 2010

The Creek Runs Dry

Many thousands of hitch fry were stranded in fast-shrinking pools as the creek dried up this week. The mud surrounding some of the pools was densely laced with duck tracks, likely a sign of mergansers seeking the tiny fish.

In a matter of hours the swimming multitudes were lodged in the mud, dead. If the creek is ever restored to its year-round flow, hitch numbers should increase exponentially. Bullfrog tadpoles, too, died in significant numbers. These amphibians, introduced here from East of the Rockies, are not well adapted to creeks which dry up suddenly in mid summer. They require a longer transition period from egg through tadpole to frog. Still, far too many of them do survive in more permanent waters to out-compete native frog species.

The gravel bed of the creek is preferred habitat for dozens of crying killdeers desperate to get away from man. Green herons haunted the last puddles in the shade of alien tamarisk.

There was time enough this year for most of the Western toad and Pacific tree frog tadpoles to mature. Pudgy toadlets dispersed in all directions, many successful at finding congenial habitats, where irrigation regularly moistened earthen edges of planted areas.

Now that this stretch of creek is dry, a road crew bulldozed and graded a ford across the creek renewing Renfro Crossing.
Nearby, ospreys watched disconsolately from their new nest atop the Granite Construction gravel elevator.

In 1922 the Bensons planted a fig tree. Eighty-eight years later this mother fig is comprised of many trunks and an immense canopy, which meets the ground. To be beneath it on a hot day is to be relieved of blinding glare and bathed in green light and pungent smells of fruit and earth.

Yet another cat devoured yet another bird in the shelter of the fig tree.

A noisy frenzy of mobbing starlings alerted me to the ripeness of the season's first figs.

In the field, shaggy now, American goldfinches clambered about on seed heads.

A monarch butterfly sipped the nectar of a buddlea.

Thursday, July 8, 2010

Living Things Head For The Shade

There were a couple of hot days in late June including a day when the thermometer at the ranch reached 100 degrees.
Some cattle retired to the dense shade of a fig tree in the midst of a walnut grove.

The St. John's wort does not bloom for long. It is at its best for St. John's Day, which roughly coincides with the Summer Solstice. Ten years ago on June 24 I arrived unwittingly on the very night of St. John's Day on the island of Itaparica, Bahia, Brazil. Large bonfires blazed in the middle of the narrow roads. Silhouetted and shiny-skinned figures danced, tossed firecrackers and drank beer from liter bottles. Singers and musicians filled the night with Samba. I joined the islanders in celebrating the Festa of Sao Joa, corresponding to their Winter Solstice in the Southern Hemisphere.

Hollyhocks reseed themselves returning in slightly different configurations from year to year. They seem to be appropriate companions to the 88-year-old ranch house.

Nineteen friends from the city came up to Two Bucks Ranch for the Fourth of July Weekend. They mostly laid around, talked, read and napped in the shade. Al's brain needed frequent rest from his readings in philosophy. Later he emailed me a link to an article about the fad in Japan for "forest bathing", which is not unlike our weekends in the country in its healthful effect.
It seems that being in close proximity to trees has many measurable health benefits.

During the night the ranch house collects cool air. In the morning we close the windows, doors and curtains to capture the relative coolness as the outside temperature climbs.