Despite daily care of the plants, I have not felt like writing. In addition to the death of my beloved cat of 16 years, Andromeda, on September 4th, my brain has been suffocated in hazardous levels of smoke. In the last two weeks, every particulate in the region has passed through Hornitos. My days have been spent inside greedily hording oxygen molecules, constantly monitoring air quality for just the right time I can rush out and perform my chores. The weight of the smoke on my chest was matched only in the urgency I felt to complete the fence work around Sites 7 and 8. I got a text from Tom the cattleman that the cows would be back last week. Normally, I get a bit more notice, so I asked if it was at all possible to delay their arrival. It was, and the count down began.
It was a huge mistake for me to delay building the fence. Although I could not have predicted this long lasting hazardous level of smoke, more than in any other year I have been alive, I certainly knew it could be hot, or that something else may have conflicted with the time. It was a mistake to not have pushed myself to learn more about electric fences and just install it. Ok – moving on.
Doing things last minute inevitably results in a less efficient design and corners being cut. Ideally, I had wanted to fence off a larger section of the spring creek. Keeping the cows from munching the flowers and grasses butterflies and other pollinators depend on was the goal. With my husband unavailable due to another project, I really needed some help. My neighbor, Ric Wetzel, had offered several times in the past to do watering if needed. I never want to take advantage of anyone – so I just said “thank you; I have it covered.” This time, I asked if he could bring his quad and help me pull some downed branches into an organic barrier around the creek. He said “yes” – but he ended up helping with everything. Thank you Ric!!!
I loaded up all the supplies into my truck earlier in the week, so when the smoke lifted a little, I could jump in and get to work. I wore my N95 mask as I hauled tools, t-posts and wire from where the truck was parked to the sites. What I decided to do was create a cone around the milkweed and loop barbed wire around the structure. Jesse, one of the biologists with whom I consult, recommended that we use downed branches to create an additional barrier between the structure and the animal. The idea is to push the animal out, create more space, so there is not the ability to browse on the plant even a little. The final structure is pictured below.
The branches are not secured. This will be a test to see if the cattle will push on them or if the optics are enough to keep them moving along.
Unfortunately, I ended up sick from working in the smoke. When I say sick, I mean lay down and sleep sick. I was outside hauling and pounding t-posts for several hours over two days. I did not realize I was that sensitive and that my N95 would not protect me as much as I thought. Fortunately, my neighbor was not as sensitive and stayed well. I lost Sunday afternoon through Wednesday. All I could do was water a handful of plants on my patio. On Thursday evening, a storm came through. On Friday September 18th, we got a miracle reprieve – rain, wind and clean air!
I immediately got out to work. Breakfast would have to come later. I did not know how long the clean air would last. After hauling water, I set out for Site 7 to work on the structures for protecting the deer grass and hillside. I installed 14 t-posts, and set up all the materials for the afternoon. Ric arrived later that day and began building a gorgeous wooden fence from downed branches. I joined him a little later and we installed the barbed wire. It was nearly dark when we concluded the day – still not finished with the site.
Although there was still more to do, I was exhausted. I called in reinforcements – my nephew Ashtin and his finance Desiree. I was grateful when they said they did not have any real plans and could help. Together, we sawed, hauled, dragged and placed branches across cow trails, in front of the deer grass structures, and along and across the banks of the creek. I had to concede defeat for my ideal. We were not going to be able to wall off the section of creek I wanted, so I settled for just a small portion.
The clean air and smell of Fall was a huge jolt for me. I so appreciated the efforts of my neighbor and family – a million thank yous. We will see if this works to keep the cows out.
Smoke Clears – Butterflies (not monarchs) and Bees Return
The smoke dampened everything, from animal activity to my spirit. It was eerily quiet – few bird calls, no native bees, few honey bees, no butterflies. After the storm, all of the sudden there were little white butterflies, speckled butterflies, native bees, pollinator flies and lizards. The birds started singing again. Fortunately, more of the nectar plants had begun to bloom, welcoming these cherished visitors.
Today, after watering, I went back to the spring creek to do a little more work. I had spied a few oak starts and wanted to protect them from cattle grazing. I picked up smaller downed branches and sticks and covered the seedlings – ensuring that sunshine could still penetrate. We will see if these small brush piles work as a deterrent.
The days are getting shorter and the tarantulas are out. It is just about Autumn. All the monarchs should be tucked into their overwintering site by October. The chance of me having a sighting here is getting less and less. I understand from my monarch class that the monarchs have already begun arriving on the coast. There have been the fewest sightings since stats have been captured along their migration path. It would truly be a shock if any were to stop by. Is my project too late to help them? I comfort myself with the eternal phrase, “There is always next year.” I will have more plants and more mature plants to provide respite on their journey north. Maybe they will stop by.