Hazard Branches. Grasshopper Death March. Washington Post Comes a Calling.

The dangling branch is dropped. Two other dangerous branches to go.

Is anything ever really dead? Despite the leafless, withered nature of this grand blue oak killed in the last drought, it was crushing for me to watch its dismemberment. It was more bitter than I imagined it would be. I have so much respect for even the hulking remains of this once glorious tree. Its body still provides places for acorns to be stored, an ocular perch for birds, living quarters for all types of creatures, and even some shade over the creek. So, is it dead if it provide so much life?

Tim Desandres took a careful and thoughtful approach to ensure his safety and that of the t-posts already in place. It was almost magical how every branch drop avoided crushing any of my infrastructure. I had him leave several logs in the creek where they landed since I have plans to create a beaver dam analog. In the end, the tree still stands and my safety, as well as those who work with me near this beautiful sentinel, are now guarded.

Without the cattle in the creek, so many plants are making a come-back. There are more yellow and purple flowers blooming, interesting grasses and broad leafed plants are popping up everywhere. I am excited about the possibility of what this creek can look like and what pollinators it will support once it is fenced off. One looming shadow is the drought. Overnight, the heatwave dried up the standing lagoon adjacent to the fence. It began to dry up the creek bed nearest the flat lagoon area as well. My heart broke a little since that is where I had planned to plant some of the showy milkweeds. I thought the spring had dried too. After investigating, I found that the spring is still producing, but it is the constant, unmitigated heat battling daily with the spring to dry things up. I am rooting for the spring.

Hoppers Eating Everything and Still Want the Seedpods

Grasshoppers attempting to breach the Xerces mesh bags

The A. Californica is nearly gone. Most plants are completely removed from the landscape. Some are shriveled stalks laying on the ground. The grasshoppers leave almost nothing behind. Fortunately, the seedpods still remain protected. I check them every morning and evening looking for signs of breach, which would initiate a rapid cutting of all pods to save them for propagation. I am happy to report that the bags are still holding them off. The longer, the better so the pods can get as much nutrients as possible for the seeds to mature. Even though the pods I took early have opened and revealed healthy seeds, it is best to give the pods as much of what nature intended as possible.

Wowza! The Washington Post Called

It was shocking when I got the call. This storied newspaper, probably known best for breaking the Nixon Watergate scandal, was going to run a story on the effort to save the monarchs – and wanted to include the work I was doing. They had received my information from the Xerces Society as one of the land stewards doing something to help the monarch migration. Xerces provided a number of other individuals as well – other land stewards, scientists, programs. Melina Mara, an award winning photojournalist, called to learn more about my project. She was calling a number of the contacts to determine how the story would flow and who would be included. That was over a month ago, and so I thought Walappu’ ‘Uuchuthuu was not going to be a part of the story. After all, there are so many other people doing much more than me – and with greater success. If you read this blog more than once, you will know at least that much about this project. So it was a huge surprise when I received another call saying she would be in my area in a few days. I was certainly honored to be included in the story.

Melina showed up in her hybrid jeep with two cameras and five lenses. She definitely looked just as one might imagine – an adventurous, experienced journalist traveler with a mystique of cool (Now I know what I will dress as for Halloween this year!). She has traveled the world and covered extremely important topics. I am grateful she will be helping amplify this critical issue, which is related to an even larger issue – climate change and our unhealthy relationship to this planet.

I had to go into Sacramento for work, and when I showed up, she immediately began taking photos. It was a strange to be followed around by someone taking photos. Not something a country girl from Groveland, formerly population 300, is used to, but Melina was kind and made me feel like she was an old friend as we chatted and drove all over the ranch with me completing my butterfly chores. I thought sarcastically, “How riveting. Who wants to see this?”, but then again – I am not an award winning Washington Post storyteller. She probably knows what she is doing (sarcasm intended)!

She documented my work for a couple days. A dear young friend, Irene Vasquez (Mi-wuk), messaged me that she saw a monarch in Yosemite Valley. So Melina and I were off to go see if we could find any monarchs. We visited a dear elder friend, Bill Tucker (Paiute/Mi-wuk), who showed us some historic butterfly areas along the Merced River. What an adventure. Bill is like a 25 year old and out-walked me everywhere! In the end, we saw two bald eagles, lots of dragon flies, frogs and five or six species of butterflies, but no monarchs. As Bill said, there used to be thousands of them in these places, but we could not find one.

Odds and Ends

Bee gathering water from the seedling starter tray

Everything is still thirsty and hot. I continue to keep all the water vessels filled each day. The amount of time I can stay outdoors is limited. There are only about 1.5 hours at the beginning and end of each day when it is cool enough for me to work. I am not a hot weather person. It really takes a toll on me. With so many days in a row of 100+ degree temperatures, the cumulative effect is enough to hurt even those that are accustomed and acclimatized to the heat. People are experiencing sudden death all over the world where it is hot. It is worth it to be careful.

Over this past weekend, Mariposa County held its Butterfly Festival. It was exciting to be able to go out to a festival again — and with my friends Roxann Mulvey and Jill Harry. With the heat and overcrowding, my friends and I did not stay long. We saw Melina there documenting the educators working, like Deedee Soto from Xerces, and Ron and Bev from Mariposa Native Plants. They are doing such important work. Many humans disappoint me with their lack of awareness, greed and limited respect for all living things. I was encouraged to see a significant number of people approaching to the education booths to discuss what they could do to help the monarchs and other pollinators. Maybe there is some hope.

7 thoughts on “Hazard Branches. Grasshopper Death March. Washington Post Comes a Calling.”

    1. Sherry – a huge compliment coming from you. Thank you. The young people give me hope. We older ones just need to lend support and help where we can.


  1. Your work and your thorough accounts are inspiring to me, so I imagine that a journalist might want to share the story.

    There are monarchs all over my garden (at the SES office in Pomona) and eggs on many Mexican milkweed plants. Many caterpillars have hatched and eaten half of the leaves. I have yet to see any chrysalis, though. Would high daytime temperatures kill the caterpillars? I wonder if I could overnight some of the leaves with eggs, or even drive up for a visit? Might that be possible?

    On Mon, Jul 5, 2021 at 9:09 PM Heather Bernikoff wrote:

    > bernikoff posted: ” The dangling branch is dropped. Two other dangerous > branches to go. Is anything ever really dead? Despite the leafless, > withered nature of this grand blue oak killed in the last drought, it was > crushing for me to watch its dismemberment. It was more b” >


    1. Lisa!! Thank you for your kind words. That is incredible that you have so many there! Please leave them where they are. They are likely not here for a reason, which is it is too hot now and almost no moisture. They would have moved on from my ranch in a typical year at this time, but do stay longer up in the higher country like Yosemite Valley or the river because they can find moisture, nectar and shelter. You are really fortunate. I understand that monarchs are staying longer closer to the coast given the drought, temps, pesticide, smoke and wind along their typical journey. This may be a new norm, and we may have lost the migration on the west. What a tragedy.


    1. Chiokoe uttesia (Thank you) Lisa. I will include a link in the blog when it comes out. There are many people and agencies that the journalist focused on, so should be rich in information.


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