Tag Archives: Drought

State of the Oaks




Twenty-plus inches of rain last winter and spring was not enough to save the oaks stressed by four years of drought, 30-50% of the trees, some 100 years old or more. Many Blue Oaks showed signs of recovering last spring, but now hang in limbo with a single limb of green as they face a hot summer and dry fall. Whole slopes of dead trees, such as the photo above on Dry Creek, are evident everywhere in our lower foothills, adding dry fuel to the potential of fire. Usually located on better moisture, the Live Oaks have fared worse.

The word ‘devastation’ comes to mind, new trees and limbs fallen on fences and roads, as a chain saw becomes necessary equipment to navigate the ranch. Devastation much more serious than that proclaimed by a young botanist where horses gathered and watered around a stockwater pond, years ago, when we were exploring a conservation easement. It may be centuries before the Blue Oaks recover.

We, and the ground around us, haven’t escaped the drought. Already, one hard rock well that supplied stockwater with a solar pump throughout the drought has failed despite our above average rainfall. The trend is dry as the hangover from the drought continues to tax the landscape.






Bright color in the thin shade
of dry casualties: proud skeletons
of fathers and grandfathers,

generations of Blue Oaks standing
stoically against the sky, against
time as the earth comes alive.

Each silent prayer is a short nod
in passing—too many decomposing
monuments for long eulogies

no one will remember—
we dance past death
as the last obstacle to life.






Funny how I can’t remember
just how the Lupine looked
like a brand-new town,

the crowded Gilia, white heads
bowed without a photograph
for proof. All the pretty faces

gone, I have a crush on spring—
as my mother, her coffee cup
beside me, would often say

of my impetuousness—I fall hard,
all ill feelings squeezed
from the inside out, swept away.

But etched in my skin, in the walls
of my brain, I can’t forget the dust,
every particle I inhaled of drought.


From Alta Peak to Sawtooth


April 2, 2016

April 2, 2016


Despite hopes that El Niño conditions would erase the impact of four years drought in California, the Sierra snowpack fell short of normal for April 1st. Even though this winter’s storm track targeted the northern Sierra Nevada, the region still measured only 97% of normal, while the southern Sierra measured only 72% of normal water content.

If rainfall amounts on the ranch are indicative of the southern Sierra Nevada foothills, we are currently above average for the season with the month of April yet to contribute, 18-20 inches thus far as opposed to our 14-15 inch average. However, the San Joaquin Valley floor didn’t fare as well, the town of Hanford still an inch below normal. Typically this year’s northern storm track stacked against the Sierras, bleeding south with rain, but missed much of the Valley floor.

Here on the ranch, it’s been a great grass year where most springs and stockwater resources have recovered. The south and west slopes have already turned as spring temperatures have been running well-above average. Still green in the flats and on the north slopes, we’ll be weaning some fat calves in 30 days.


more California weather info




Our hills are turning,
lost the iridescence
that made us squint at dawn,

to just plain green—emerald
clumps of something yet
to bloom as poppies burn

holes in slopes, spreading fire
trimmed in ash-white skiffs
of popcorn flowers

on the steep emptying
into the branding pen
with big bawling calves.

Warm, ten days after
a two-inch rain, old eyes
detect the dry, see

faint yellowing
and don’t believe
in perfect springs,

don’t believe in perfect
anything, this side
of a four-year drought.






We leave winter’s ice and snow
on the other side of the Sierras,
find spring colors waiting,

poppies and lupine in canyons,
yellow mustard claiming gentle
slopes of green, green grass.

How we worry with the bloom,
feel the leer of summer peeking
already to forget the drought.






Bumper crop of acorns,
warm monsoon rains.
The redbud bloomed

confused, drawing butterflies
for weeks—the season’s
last hatch of Monarchs

swarming crimson, orange
and black-trimmed fairies
to the front door.

All a sign of something
unusual, uniquely beautiful—
that superfluous imbalance

charged to an unknown
future—a fleeting gift
to remember the gods

before leaving us
four years dry and begging
for something normal.



Weekly Photo Challenge: “Weightless” Monarchs


Weather Journal 2011-12

Rainfall History




October 5, 2013

October 5, 2013


The ground swells with the storm,
penetrates to granite rock
leaking rivulets in predictable places

and I want more to flood memory
of the dry years, smooth their track
chiseled in the walls of my skull, yet

outside myself: a perfect miracle
as the earth takes slow swallows first.
I am this place despite my selfishness,

my impatience and vengeful desire
to forever purge this drought
as my flesh comes slowly back to life.






No frost, morning warm—
flotilla of round clouds,
a raft of ships scouting

for a dark fleet, big guns
on the horizon. A welcome
invasion of the flesh:

earth, roots, bark, blade
and mind’s eye open—yet
now afraid of a real rain,

to be drunk with it—
to let go and be ravaged
at last, to turn loose the dry

and dusty lines of poetry,
my plodding momentum tied
to bare dirt and empty skies—

afraid to howl, to learn
the language of the gods,
to speak in tongues

and dance with trees
far from my secure delirium,
these years of drought.






Eight inches gentle rain, yet
the creek shrinks up canyon,
drawn back by thirsty ground.

Hills slick in shadows stretched
up draws, yet not a trickle
leaks to cobbled beds.

Slow sips, four dry years
not yet quenched, the gods
have been merciful—

brought dusty flesh
back to life with grass
green between the feet

of dancing naked trees
along the creek. Our hearts
pump with its flow—

though nearly idle soaking now—
pound with its raging
promises of spring reflections:

Wood Ducks courting
beneath long-limbed canopies
of sycamores dressing.

I yearn ahead, scout
the moving parts
we’ve yet to play

as I write this
moment’s gift
of today.