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Sunday, October 24, 2010

Irruption of Migrants

On October 21 a low pressure area moved in from the Pacific. The moon was 48 hours short of fullness. For a half hour on either side of 3:30 PM these migrating birds bathed at the font:

20 yellow-rumped warblers
8 cedar waxwings
4 western bluebirds
1 bush tit
1 Wilson's warbler
1 hermit thrush
3 golden crowned sparrows
1 white crowned sparrow

This abundance in its comings and goings resembled on a miniaturized scale the activities at a water hole at Etosha Pan, Namibia. Each species appeared to defer to the other as they arrived and departed in shifts. Each animal seemed aware of the ripeness of the unfolding moment. Time itself seemed newly palpable as embodied in this awareness.

In Etosha, a last refuge for megafauna, the animal population visiting water within a half hour might typically be comprised of gemsbok, endemic black-faced impala, greater kudu, zebra, eland, giraffe, springbok, warthog, lion, elephant, banded mongoose, jackal, sand grouse, and ringed doves.

At night serval, caracal, hyena, and black rhino might share the same water hole.

On October 22 a skein of perhaps 200 Canada honkers winged their way south about 2,000 feet above the ranch.

The hedgerow of native plants is well established in its sixth year. It includes toyon, coffee berry, ceanothus, manzanita, coyote brush, redbud, gooseberry, and flannel bush. On what was bare tilled earth there is now food and cover for quail, jackrabbits and others.

The ever growing slash pile is a redoubt for quail, fence lizards, gopher snakes, alligator lizards, sparrows, ground squirrels and hares.

This week I planted more natives - buckwheat, sages, and penstemon, among others.

Settler families with roots in the East may have harbored nostalgia for high-color autumns. Their descendants planted Eastern trees such as sweet gum in the West. Lake County as a whole is still a place dominated by native plants in sharp contrast to counties such as Sonoma and Marin with their large tracts of eucalyptus, along with palms, acacia, and many other aliens.

This year's relatively short growing season for vegetables and fruit is winding down.

Saturday, October 16, 2010

Fall in Big Valley

Signs of the local economy appear from pillar to post in Big Valley.

A walnut processing shed in the Northern California architectural vernacular - corrugated sheet metal. The whirring of the walnut driers can be heard throughout the valley.

Fenton hugged an oak ten times his own age, a tree which was young when Fenton's great great great great great great great great great great grandfather was alive. The tree may predate the voyage of Columbus. Think of that and the events that may have transpired in its shade, the generations of Pomo acorn gatherers, the slough-full of hitch, and the foraging grizzlies.

Fenton brought a bottle of Makers Mark bourbon along, a product of his home state of Kentucky. We toasted to new friends and to the impending backpacking trek at the Lost Coast on which Al, Will and I were about to set out. The Lost Coast, not really all that far North by Northwest of Lake County, proved to have a sort of spooky, ragged quality haunted by Roosevelt elk rather than our local Tule elk and by the shadows of Sasquatch who seems to have supplanted Ishi in the California imagination.

Standing on one of the small pocket beaches locally called dog hole ports by the loggers, one is warned not to turn one's back on the ocean. Its rogue waves are not to be underestimated. Each beach, at the mouth of its own canyon, is separated from the next by a jagged, forested ridge mounted by dauntingly steep trails, which in some cases followed old skid roads and lacked switch backs. Big-leafed maples mixed in with redwoods, tanoaks, bays, and douglas firs on the canyon flanks. Spoor of elk, bear, cougar, fisher, fox and coyote littered the trail. Stellars jays were heard often but remained hidden.

Where the Mayacamas Range meets Big Valley you might notice, in case it slipped your mind, that you are in the Golden State.

Honey bees negotiated breeze-blown sunflowers.

The four-year-old fuji apple tree bears its first crop.

Virginia creeper came West and climbed the tool shed.

Sweet gum from the other end of the continent.