Ten days ago, I was bemoaning a warm and dry February and the prospect of weaning calves two months early. But within that time we have received over two inches of rain that has rescued our spring grass. Already our south slopes have recovered. To vacillate between the anxiety and dread of another tough year and our current relaxed gratefulness, in such a short time, might be alarming if this canyon didn’t look so good—it’s that overwhelming. And it’s not that we haven’t gotten rain this season, we’re above average, but with over half of the days in February above 70 degrees, the ground was dry and the grass was heading out.
Yesterday we went up to the Paregien Ranch to check the rain gauge, (2.27”), check the cattle and put out salt and mineral supplement, also taking a shovel and chain saw just in case. Cows looking great, it’s hard to believe that these same calves have grown so much since we branded three months ago. The time has flown. With more forecast for the end of the week, it seems El Niño is back on track and we have a chance for spring.
Somewhere upstream it rained hard on clay ground early Thursday morning, rainfall amounts varied drastically. We received 0.44” at the house. Two miles downstream received only 0.22”. Rain and hail three miles upstream amounted to 1.2” in this latest storm event. When the photo was taken around noon yesterday, Dry Creek was flowing at 28 cfs, a far cry from 542 cfs on January 31, 2016. No rain in the forecast until the end of this month.
According to El Niño experts, all the elements for a wet spring are still in place despite our dry and warmer than average February. Parts of California have fallen behind average rainfall amounts as the state hasn’t quite shaken the pattern set by four years of drought. Most of the Sierra snow below 7,000 feet that came at the end of January is gone with temperatures ranging in the mid-to-upper 70s this month.
What March and April will bring is anyone’s guess, but the current trend is dry. For those of us in the business of harvesting grass with cattle, it’s not so much about how much it rains, but when—timing is everything. Any accumulation of snow for Valley agricultural surface water users diminishes as we go forward with little or no significant increase in groundwater recharge.
At this point in time, El Niño has kept us alive, but hasn’t erased the impacts of four years of drought.
Malva neglecta, Common Mallow, Cheeseweed, doing well.
We, as well as all of our neighbors, are busy branding or gathering to brand before the next forecast wave of El Niño arrives in the middle of next week. Hampered by the good fortune of past rains, we’re behind schedule. The grass is growing, cows milking well, calves now range over 400 pounds that is tough on ground crews and horses, as well as the calves. Depending on one another’s help to brand takes planning with an unmistakable sense of urgency in the air to get the work done. We’re planning to brand Wednesday, but not before helping a neighbor brand on Tuesday so he and his ground crew can help us.
But we’ve got weeds. The Common Mallow loves disturbed ground, and a scourge in places where cattle gather and chew their cuds. Not surprisingly, Malva neglecta has a long history of medicinal uses. Friday, I encountered a healthy patch that obscured the road as I left Dry Creek to scout the Top before meeting Clarence and the girls in our gather. All but one cow gathered or accounted for as of yesterday, we hope they stay until Wednesday.
How ‘bout those Super Broncos? What an intense defense!!
Long on promises, she moves closer,
a slow seductive dance lightly touching,
barely brushing the roof before she leaves
in the dark. I am too old to chase
blindly, and wait instead for words
to fall upon the page when she returns—
or not. I believe she means business.
How she loves to tease the be-Jesus
right out of me. It makes her feel good
too see me uncomfortable, vulnerable
to her every gesture, the stormy look
of these hills wrapped in gray gossamer
dawn waits to unfold at first light
if I’m lucky—if I’m patient enough
to let her have her way with me.
With wild imagination, the sky
speaks in colors and contortions
before storms settle in the mountains,
as gray clouds scout a trail to camp,
a granite peak to rest upon,
run aground, snow and rain.
Three score years plus
of looking up—and away,
daydreaming fleeting poetry
even as a child out the window
of a forced nap—another tongue
with no letters in its language,
only colors and shapes
from every perspective,
no two the same.
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.
Looking over Dry Creek and Kaweah River watersheds to the Kaweah and Sawtooth Peaks on my way down from the Paregien Ranch with a Kubota load of oak after gathering cows and calves to brand on Tuesday. Beautiful Sunday, but accumulated snow is light. Talk of the long-awaited El Niño influence is sounding surer from local weathermen as they predict rain for Thursday-Friday and Sunday-Monday.
We have lots of choices to begin our branding season, but opted for the climb up the hill to the Paregien Ranch in case we get a series of rains that might make our road impassable. Here we go!
Pacific Southwest Summary:
Although the early part of the winter season will feature above normal rainfall, the drought will continue as rainy periods will diminish in the season’s second half and precipitation will be below-normal for the winter season as a whole, with below-normal mountain snows not helping ease the drought. The stormiest periods will be in mid- to late November, early to mid-December, early January, and early March. Overall, temperatures will be slightly cooler than normal. The coldest period will be in late December, with other cold periods in early and late January and mid-February.
April and May will be cooler and slightly rainier than normal.
Summer will be hotter than normal, with near-normal rainfall. The hottest periods will be in early June, early to mid- and late July, and early to mid- and late August.
September and October will be slightly cooler than normal, with near-normal rainfall.
Facing continued smoke from the Rough Fire and 110 degrees before week’s end, we’re looking forward to the end of summer.
The pair of eagles
returning early to ride
our foothill thermals
‘what do they know that we don’t?’
we agree to say.
No water, no place
to fish in a four-year drought—
it must be something.