The foothill poppies are beginning to show on our south slopes as temperatures hover near 70 degrees. The white popcorn flowers and orange fiddlenecks have begun to claim the gentler ground in what appears to be the beginning of a colorful wildflower year with the ample moisture (Atmospheric River) we received last month.
Beginning this evening, forecasts vary as temperatures drop into the low thirties with a cold front that will engulf California. Weathermen are predicting snow down to 1,000 feet, nearly 1,000 feet below this photograph. There is even some talk of fourteen inches of snow in Three Rivers. Furthermore, Weather Underground predicts rain on all but one day for the next two weeks.
The road to the Paregien ranch has just dried out and cleared of fallen trees, but we still haven’t been able to get to the calves to brand up there. We lost a month in time to the Atmospheric River in January, but two weeks of predicted rain with a week to dry out puts that branding into the middle of March at the soonest and our calves are almost too BIG to handle.
Nothing is certain in this business, but as a weather dependent livelihood we’ll have to be ready to adapt. (Cut another load of dead-standing Manzanita and Blue Oak yesterday, at least we should be warm).
With so little rain, it’s not been much of a wildflower year—even the most common Fiddleneck and Brodiaea are scarce and on short stems. But we began yesterday with these Purple Chinese Houses (Collinsia heterophylla), a wild gather as we collected the last of the Wagyu X calves for their EID tags and second round of vaccinations before shipping to Snake River Farms.
Through the cerise redbuds and wildflowers awaiting sunshine to fully bloom, our slow hour’s drive up Dry Creek, then descending a curvy 245 to the entrance of Woolley Canyon, we arrived to brand the last of Kenny and Virginia McKee’s calves yesterday, despite concerns of Covid-19. Social distancing is virtually impossible in the branding pen.
Virginia had soap and wipes available and Kenny had prepared a concoction of 90% alcohol and witch hazel to spray on our hands that I used several times. It took the dirt off as well. Though apprehension varied among us, there was none of the normal hugs or handshakes, most keeping a noticeable distance when possible. But when it came to the groundwork and vaccinations, the work was necessarily close.
My separate apprehension on my 72nd birthday centered on a horse that I had roped on only once before. Robbin and I have outlived our dependable mounts, and I have had to borrow horses to get through this year’s branding season. By the end of the day, “Twist” was beginning to overcome his cutting horse breeding and he and I were having fun. After a couple of more brandings next year, he’ll be reliable at brandings.
Though everyone was given the option of not participating, we were there to help our neighbors, a cultural exercise we all prescribed to despite the risks. Not unlike workers tending and harvesting crops, it’s what we do this time of year. Not branding is not a viable choice in Woolley Canyon.
Working together with neighbors for a few hours on a beautiful day was a luxurious diversion from the news as we await a forecast rain.
Yesterday, Robbin and I began our 26th year together by making a loop through Greasy to look at the cows and calves, assess our feed conditions and put out salt and mineral. The cattle look great! We got an early start to the grass with November and December rains, but with a dry January and February, we lost our feed at our lower elevations on the south and west slopes. To date, we’ve only received three inches since the first of the year, but the grass at the higher elevations has just begun to grow.
A Border Collie at five months, it was Tessa’s first extended ride in the Kubota away from the house. Channeling her energy has been a challenge, but she’s smart and willing to please. It was good for her to be completely lost away from home and dependent on us for over four hours. Tired before she went to bed last night, she was sitting in the Kubota waiting for another ride.
Not much has changed for us, despite the Coronavirus pandemic. Normally, we do our best to stay out of town anyway. Before we have to get our Wagyu calves in for a second round of vaccinations, we’ve been preparing and planting our garden for the past couple of weeks—it’s what we do this time of year—that in turn will help us stay out of town later this spring.
However, we are not immune to the news as we try to imagine millions of people shut in their living quarters in a big city environment. Our hearts go out to them as we realize how fortunate we are to be free to move around the ranch to get our work done. Having something to do during this crisis is indeed a luxury.
Ran across this striking perennial earlier this week after loading some dry cows to go to town. Apparently common, I have never seen Silverleaf Nightshade, so I went back this morning to photograph it. Related to the tomato, potato and many other garden vegetables, it is poisonous with narcotic properties. And like many nightshades, natives prepared concoctions with the fruit to address headaches, sore throats, etc. Also the root was chewed before sucking rattlesnake venom from a bite. I continue to wonder how the natives knew when to pick the berries and how much of their preparations to ingest. All in the realm of the medicine keepers, I suspect it was not just trial and error.