The mysteries, puzzled
pieces scattered, most missing
and decomposed by the moment
linger, shelved in the back room
for future reference
awaiting adhesive connections
that seldom take shape.
The ranch and its inhabitants,
the wild and tame, the unknowing
hands of man and the malicious,
the well-meaning touch
that turns terribly tragic--all
scattered, stacked one upon the other,
clues that only true detectives
note in the dusty swirl of ambiguity
left to settle with experience--
an illusive sense beyond the tangible
that this old ground evokes.
* * * *
Inspired by an article in the latest issue of Will Hearst's
A game since April, my presence, while irrigating, interrupts the daily routine of wading the edges of the pond for this Great Egret and Great Blue Heron. Usually one or the other, they generally fly when I get within a 100 yards of them to light a safe distance away on dry ground to watch and wait until I’m done. Sunday morning as the pipeline filled, they both circled to a secluded spot in the cattails instead, just barely within range of my camera lens.
During the past decade, the Great Blue Herons have become less tolerant of our presence, it seems, quicker to fly as we go about our normal routines of feeding and gathering cattle, or irrigating. In the 1950s, their rookery was in a stand of sycamores along Dry Creek, located a mile south of where we now live. It was not uncommon to ride beneath their rookery and not have them fly. The closest residence was three miles away.
Sometime in the 70s, they moved downstream two miles to another stand of sycamores along the creek between our irrigated pastures and closer to the recently abandoned gravel pits below Terminus Dam and Lake Kaweah. At that time, the Great Egrets began to appear on the ranch, but maintained their rookery elsewhere.
The Great Blues moved again in the mid-2000s to somewhere within the abandoned gravel pit area, about 100 acres of thick riparian at the confluence of Dry Creek and the Kaweah River, a ‘no-man’s land’ and home to deer and feral pigs, diverse raptors including Osprey, among other things.
I have encountered the heron above two or three times a week along the shore of our irrigation pond since spring. The comfortable space between us has decreased to about 100 yards now, down from 400 when our irrigating began. Whether thinking it was hidden in the cattails or getting used to me, this photograph with my Olympus point & shoot was closer longer.
The past two dry years have been tough on the Great Blue Herons here, resorting to year-round rodent hunting to sustain themselves. With a measureable flow for only 18 days this year, absorbed before it made it to the Kaweah River, Dry Creek peaked at 9 cfs on April 3rd, compared to the 2010-11 season when Dry Creek ran until September 4, 2011. It’s too late for the chance of showers (and thunderstorms) today and tonight to help our feed or the herons much other than settle the dust and temporarily change the smell of things with only 5.67” of rain since October 2013. Those are the numbers, but one look at our April feed conditions says it all.
An image branded in my brain during the devastating Drought of 1977 is that of a Great Blue Heron fishing from the concrete bank of the Friant-Kern Canal near Exeter that gave me hope, that demonstrated their adaptability to me. No wonder they have become our totems—now if we can just take their lead.
Down from the City (SF), my son and I take coffee outside early Easter morning. First light is blinding as it breaks over the Sierra foothills to highlight this Blue Heron’s back as he poses and seems to be grawking, “Top of the morning” to us.