After a rain, everything is clean,
summer dust washed from leaves,
from the hides of cows and calves
gathered for church in shady shelters
to pray for the sweet scent of green.
We begin again to watch the sky,
look to heaven for perfect storms
and wait—dream of thunder
and draws of muddy water—
leaning forward into the future.
Our small part of the world is almost perfect with last week’s rain as cotyledons break the duff and dirt, a magic time that California natives, men and beasts, eagerly anticipate. Albeit a bit early, our beginning of grass will need another rain soon, but with plenty of old feed to protect the new, that window is open longer.
My niece and family have been visiting once a month to help us deal with the Kaweah River watershed’s implementation of the Groundwater Stabilization Act, 2014 legislation designed to improve water quality and sustainability in California. As a more interesting outing, Robbin and I took them up to the Paregien ranch yesterday as we checked on our cattle.
Her husband Neal is a videographer who is always looking for room to fly his drone. Though I’ve often thought of applications for a drone on the ranch, such as checking fences and looking for missing cattle, I wasn’t quite ready for the visual reality.
Robbin’s ready to record barking dogs and other assorted cowboy sounds to help us in the gather.
Not much to do for the past three days but watch it rain, over four inches in the past ten days.
It’s a warm, 67 degrees with another half-inch in the gauge since this morning, bringing our total rainfall to over six inches for the month of March. Prior to February 26th, rainfall was 25% of normal. More due tonight.
Our end of February-beginning of March rains, two and a half inches overall interspersed with some 70 degree days, have been a game changer. Nearly doubling our seasonal precipitation totals, the ground and rejuvenated green absorbed the moisture and then offered dust in a matter of days only to be settled by another quarter inch on Sunday. Remarkable.
We scrambled in-between getting our Wagyu bulls together for their trip back to Caldwell, Idaho, on Friday, having addressed their work here since December 15th. As part of our contract with Snake River Farms, we rent their bulls for about a tenth of what a 2-year old Angus bull would cost, plus we don’t have feed them while they’re drawing unemployment nor are we fixing fence behind them. But last minute coordination of a health certificate from our vet, a brand inspector and a truck before we had them gathered was chancy as the cattle had already moved up the slopes to the taller grass on the ridges.
With more rain forecast for most of the next 10 days, Terri and I and burned several years of downed Valley Oak limbs and trees yesterday around our shipping corrals. Casualties of the 2012-2016 drought, it was a challenge to get them to the burn pile, but not without a touch of melancholy as a 400-year old tree, once a regular roost for Bald Eagles, went up in smoke.
Daylight dressed Sulphur Peak (3,477’) with another dusting of snow after five days of measurable precipitation that totaled 2.56”, almost half of this season’s rainfall (5.73”) since September. Though well-short of the average for this time of year, the transformation of our hillsides has begun.
As noticeable is the transformation in our outlook and attitudes, the exhilaration we are experiencing with the present prospect of a grass season, albeit short. It is magical as green becomes the predominate color: instant grass, just add water.
“Will the hills turn green again?” She asks.
Flat on my back, my tongue dodges
dental utensils: mirror, suction
and cavitron finding a nerve
as I turn my wince into a grin
and gargle, “Yes, they just need rain.”
This old dry flesh and all its crumbling
skeletons shedding bark and limbs
await our ballyhooed first
winter storm on the first of March.
Ricocheting between extremes,
nothing is normal, our only certainty:
rebirth, rejuvenation, the miracle
of earth and water. To her I wink,
“We may even have flowers.”
It was an all-night, slow rain and low snow with no runoff, 0.60” that was absorbed, no puddles at first light as winter finally arrived at the end of February—a game changer as our options were narrowing.
Though we considered buying some heifers last fall to augment our cow herd culled heavily after four years of drought, after last year’s record rainfall and ample feed, we are grateful that we’ve been understocked through one of the driest beginnings to our rainy season, ‘that time of year when it might rain’. Because we are understocked in our upper country, this season’s grass has been protected by last year’s old feed and our cows and calves are doing well. However, we’ve been feeding hay to our younger cows since August in our lower country as the grass has all but disappeared. With temperatures near-freezing for the past two weeks and only 0.20” of precipitation in the preceding 30 days, it’s been too cold and dry for the grass to grow.
But we know how resilient this ground can be, another storm set to arrive late this evening and last through Saturday, we have hope for a decent grass season yet and enough moisture to get us to the first of April as temperatures warm. Believers are made of such miracles.
To date, we have 3.17″ of precipitation since September 21, 2017.
We’ve been watching the 10-day weather developments for today’s forecast rain that seems to have intensified slightly in both probability and amount, temporarily opening the storm door for a larger event by late week. For those interested, a more comprehensive assessment of North America’s weather is available at Daniel Swain’s weather blog. We’ll be dancing tonight.
Not quite the answer
to a thousand prayers,
for weeks of dry cold,
green grass graying
and crispy filaree
dirt-brown at a distance—
the red sky afire
startles the senses
and rattles the leaves
of sycamores flaming
before dawn’s light
along the creek, all
waiting to undress,
to bare white limbs
reaching for a hard rain.
Though still understocked from the drought, we’ve been a busy gathering this week, patching fences, feeding hay. We’d have gladly postponed this morning’s branding if yesterday’s rain had measured more and the road too slick to get up into Greasy. But the 0.11” was a pleasant change and rejuvenated the color of the surviving green, if nothing more. The bulls have been busy trading places, demolishing fences around the Gathering Field. We’ve got our fingers crossed that the cattle will be there when we and our crew of good neighbors arrive this morning.