I woke up Sunday morning to a cold room. I started the electric fireplace, plugged in the Christmas tree and let the dogs out the front door on the west side of the house. It was cold, so they returned quickly. I turned from the door, still rubbing the sleep from my eyes and put the kettle on for tea. My husband emerged from his slumber in our room, stretched, yawned, looked outside to the east and said, “Is that a cow inside the fence?” I was opposite of him, with my view to the southeast. I only saw cattle up against the fence, but safely on the other side. I told him, “No.”, but in a split second, I scanned the other direction. Sure enough a cow was inside our enclosure – the enclosure that provides protection for over 100 butterfly plants.
Instead of panicking, I jumped into my boots and and thew my jacket on all the while David telling me to stay calm, that we could replant is she ate the plants. I more rapidly sashayed than ran outside. The cold was palpable since I was still in my shorty pajamas. There is a distinctive smell to the cold. If only there was more moisture and a little colder temperature, we would have had snow. The first frost of the season was on the ground, and the crunch of my step was audible as I carefully navigated the cow out of the enclosure. She was lively and not pleased about being asked to leave the prime, untouched (by cow) grass. I had to be very delicate. She was easily pressured and responded to even a wide berth being given. When you move cattle around, you get a sense for what level of distance will elicit movement and how far in one direction or another will result in the cow moving the direction you want her to go. It is a precise calculation done more by feel and observation than numbers in your head.
I had opened the east gate before herding her, so was able to move her through that gate. She stopped just on the other side of the gate, looked back at me and began to run down the hill with one buck of her back legs sending a clear communication of her complete displeasure. After closing the gate, I had to walk the fence line to see where the heck she had gotten in. All the other gates were closed. I found the breech not too far a distance from the east gate. It was at the southeast corner – a weak point that had been fixed one or two times before.
The break does not look like much, but it may shock you how agile a full grown 1,300lb cow can be – especially when there is new grass available. I asked David to fix the fence while I checked all the plants. Fortunately, it appeared as though she was only in for a short while and chose to head north from the break. Had she gone the other way, it would have been doom for my butterfly plants. Everything was intact and healthy. I let out a sigh of relief. On a ranch, there is always something.
Xerces Biologist Visits
As I have mentioned many times, I am incredibly grateful for the expertise I have had available to me by many individuals and agencies. The Xerces Society has been a remarkable partner. Deedee Soto is a biologist with Xerces. Her expertise on plants is beyond comprehension for me as a mere mortal. She has provided helpful advice on where to plant, how to plant, and what to plant. She has also been extremely helpful in working with the NRCS on my project.
When she asked if she could use a place on the ranch to conduct a study of milkweed rhizomes, I did not hesitate to say “yes”. Last week, she showed up with equipment and a number of overstock plants from a native nursery for my project and two others in Mariposa. I was happy to take them. We walked around the hedgerow plants from the Xerces grant discussing the successes and the rough transfer of one toyon. This woman knows her stuff! I finally let her get on with her work, and I went back inside to go begin my work day. Below are photos of her rhizome project, which I hiked to this Sunday to take a look.
The recent storms did not drop much water here. Between the two, we received 1.25 inches. We did have some areas of standing water on the road, but the arroyos and the pond and much of the creek were still dry. The only water on the northern most side of the ranch are from the two springs – one on the spring creek and the other on Odom Creek. Fortunately, we have had dew most of the days this week. It has provided enough additional moisture to keep the grass growing. Poppies have also sprouted, which seems early.
Butterfly habitats do not occur in a vacuum. They, like everything else, are interdependent upon a healthy system. With every choice I make, I very much try to think about my impacts. Even modest shifts in the climate are devastating for many species, and we are seeing this now with the monarchs. Although I already have a solar array, I have been wanting to expand it so I can contribute more clean energy to the grid (and offset my own use). Fortunately, I have a “hook-up” in the family. My nephew works in the business. He and his colleague did my work as a side job. David and I handled getting the permit and completing the PG&E application. We saved some money by doing it this way. The panels are up, gorgeous and already producing clean energy. Thank you Ashtin and Rodney! Thanks to David for helping prep the panels and pass them up to the team.
Solar is not the only choice we all can make for a cleaner, healthier world. Saying “no” to plastic shopping bags, consuming less of everything, not using herbicides or pesticides, and planting native milkweed are all low to no cost activities that can help our incredible planet.
Besides the near disaster with the cow and the panel installation, things have been quiet. My back has had a break, and I have enjoyed walking the ranch, checking water and fence and dreaming of next year. I am looking forward to the planet alignment on Monday 12/21, the Solstice star. The raptors have been amazing. I am grateful to live here with my love, fur-babies, and all the wild creatures. To all of you out there who have been reading my blog, I wish you a beautiful holiday season filled with light and love – even if it has to be from a distance over Zoom – it is still love.