We are all just trying to survive – me, the plants, the animals, the insects. The heat has been unbearable. Have you ever opened an oven and were real close to to the inside? That is what it feels like…like being completely enveloped in a pod of heat. Several plants just had enough and died despite my regular watering. We have had, based on my temperature gauge, over 40 consecutive days of 100+ degrees. We finally caught a break last week with temps dipping into the 90s (who would have thought that would seem cool???), and on Friday, August 6, I was able to go for a walk with my dogs in the morning. I felt so good…that is…until the smoke from the fires rolled in. We had been mostly spared, but now have smoke to contend with.
My previous post was just over one month ago. With the heat, I have not been able to muster the energy to write. Even with air conditioning, the ongoing heat seems to melt through the walls and infiltrate the house. When it does not cool at night, the soil, the cement and the house stay hot and nothing gets a break. This is how people die, by unrelenting heat capturing inches of body as soldiers capture inches of ground during war. We, plants, animal, insects and me, need to conserve the energy we have to live another day.
I have not seen any butterflies in over 7 weeks and few bees despite many blooming plants. The nectar appears wasted with the wind, heat and now smoke as deterrents. It is easy to get discouraged as climate change ravages this place. Watching other creatures suffer even though you are doing everything in your power to make things better is difficult. All you can do is wait and hope that your efforts will help bring a better future.
A. Californica Seeds SAVED
Deedee Soto, from Xerces Society, came to the ranch to retrieve the seed pods from the A. Californica. In the previous post a month ago, I discussed how Deedee came to the rescue and hiked to all the plants to place mesh bags over the pods. The idea was to keep the seeds from being destroyed by the grasshoppers. It worked! I monitored the bags every day, morning and night, looking for signs of breech. Finally, in early July, I let Deedee know that the pods were ready. She came up on July 9 to collect them…and not a moment too soon. Some of the bags had holes in them from grasshoppers. The seeds, however, were still there and looked great. Thank you to Deedee, as always, for her passion and commitment to pollinators. We let some seeds fall to the ground. She took some for propagation, and I kept some to plant over the next few years. Deedee told me that scientists have been finding that aged A. Californica seeds appear to have a higher percent of propagation success when they are older. I have a paper bag of them in my pantry now!
The 45 Minute Dash
During the hottest days, which was most of July, I had only 45 minutes to get the watering chores done. This meant I was having to be as quick and efficient as possible to get all done before nightfall. Every day for two weeks, I would return after sunset. Fortunately, my neighbor’s Polaris has good headlights. One major drawback of this is that the animals are beginning to come out too. They have been hold-up conserving energy during the heat of day. In one unfortunate occurrence, Millie crossed paths with a skunk. I heard barking, then running through grass. All of the sudden, Millie appeared in the headlights, eyes squinted and pushing her face into the mud of the creek bed. Then the smell hit. Millie had taken a shot right to the face. I rinsed her face with the water I had on the Polaris, then made the trek home to wash her. Needless to say, I kept the dogs in the house when I knew I would be staying out after dark. For those interested, I used a skunk wash recipe, which included an entire bottle of hydrogen peroxide, a cup of baking soda and a teaspoon of dish soap. It really helped, but she has a light stench, and it is a month later.
Heat Wave Battles With Spring. The Spring is Losing.
The above photos, although recent, are now out of date. They show more green than exists today. The heat wave has been aggressive. It dried up the small pool overnight and continued to beat back the small trickle of moisture that fed the pool. Although the spring continues to trickle down the creek bed, the heat dries it up before it can make it very far. The once lush 300′ section of creek with its flowers, grasses and moist soil, intermittent shallow puddles that quenched the thirst of insects, birds and mammals is now a cracked, dry space with yellowed , withered plants. Only about 50′ of creek continues to be moist. That little spring is a life-line.
In order to help the animals, I moved a water trough to the location where the pool dried-up. I have been providing about 15 gallons of water as needed to the trough. Monitoring it, I found bird droppings, a feather and witnessed dragonflies, bees and flies using it. I even saw a native bee the other day! Each day I came to the site there was a large owl that I disturbed. It has clearly been useful for my relations. One day, coming to water Site 8, I noticed the trough was completely dry. We have not had cows on the property for over a month, and I had not seen any of the three bulls that were left on the approximately 740 acres of ranch they had access to. I assumed they were hanging close to the larger spring at the mid section of the north ranch, or down by the one pond with water on the south section of the ranch. Well, I turned to look down stream into the forested area, and saw some handsome guys lounging in the shade. The bulls drank it all. Oh well…they need water too. Because I am running low on rainwater, I will wait until they move on to fill the trough again. The wildlife will need to wait just a little longer for these big guys to mosey along.
Water Running Low Requires Fallowing Choices
With the leak in Tank 1 early in the year, I have had to economize but thought I would still have plenty to get me through the Summer and early Fall. Although I over planned my water resources including calculating twice weekly watering for native plants in my water budget (They typically require once a week watering), I had not anticipated the brutality and unrelenting number of days of heat wave and will not water from my well. I have had to increase watering to three, sometimes four times per week. This has taken a toll on my body as well as my water resources. To make matters worse, my water spray system broke. It leaks and no longer pumps. It isn’t the battery. That was fully charged recently, and the unit was working well until a few days ago. I am back to using the water bladder and filling a vessel from the bladder to pour at the roots of each plant.
Tank 3 is now gone. Tank 1 has only 150 gallons. Tank 2 has about 1,600 gallons remaining. Watering will now require more time. I will need to pull water from Tank 2 daily to fill the trough adjacent to Tank 3 so that I can conveniently water Sites 1a-g. With the water situation, I have had to make some easy and some tough choices. Two months ago, before the heat wave, but knowing I would need to economize, I stopped watering the poppies, the small rose bush and seeded pots. Last month, I stopped watering the Xerces plants that never produced. I had thought that maybe there were some roots there that I could keep alive for next year. I also stopped watering Site 10 in the midsection of the ranch -the four willows and one mulefat. Two of the plants were grazed back, one dried up before I could get to it with water and one willow and one mulefat were continuing to do well with the existing moisture. They are likely dried up now too. I’ve not been back there to monitor. It has been too hot and not enough time in the evening. This month, I made the choice to stop watering what is left of the plants in Site 1 and Site 2 that were massacred by the grasshoppers. Again, my original rationale to continue watering was to keep the roots alive for next year. I think that was possibly a faulty thought for some of the plants, like the sages, elderberries and the maple trees. Once the hoppers got them before they had enough time to strongly root, they were likely done. I also let the one resilient milkweed from the original North Plot test site grow on its own without water from me. It did not make it.
I plan to run a new calculation this week based on the remaining plants to see if I will have enough to get through September. By current calculations, with providing water for thirsty wildlife, I will be in a deficit by the third week of September. I still have tank 3 hooked to the gutter system, so if we get any level of productive summer rain, I will be able to add that into the water calculation.
I am not counting on it.
Some plants have just up and died. The sulfur buckwheat in Site 1f mysteriously dried up despite regular watering. I am also skipping watering some days, letting the soils fully dry when the temps are in the 90s, which has been only four days now. We were back in the 100s yesterday and will be for the foreseeable week I think. This has worked fine, and many of the native plants seem to be doing good with that. The other lemonade out of lemons story is that the massive die off of oak leaves has left considerable mulch on top of the soil in some places. This allows for moisture to be retained in the soil. I have plants in several locations that need less water because of this mulch. I actually should get moving on creating more mulch, but it has been too hot for me to do that kind of labor. Next cooler break it will be my priority.
Earthquake Helps Me Relocate Some Frienemies
Any ongoing readers of this blog know I have a love-hate relationship with gophers. I love all animals and appreciate the loose dirt they create, which I have redeployed around the garden. However, I also hate the ongoing destruction they wrought on my plants. They have recently gotten smarter and tipped over small planters with their mounds and created small avalanches with their mounds into the gopher cage root protectors so they have a “land bridge” into the cage. Wow. Well, in an amazing twist of fate, an earthquake sent vibrations through the ground. All of the sudden, over a couple of days, I would see gophers just walking around above ground. This was probably the reason for the large great horned owl I saw flying around several nights in a row. I seized my opportunity, grabbed a shovel and gently moved three gophers from sensitive areas to gopher hole areas outside of my fence line about 200′ away. They are cute, and so vulnerable above ground – I had to give them a chance – so placed them near areas with lots of holes. I will probably regret my soft heart eventually. But, so far, I have not seen evidence that they returned to the areas close to the house.
I have been in a psychological battle with myself since January. Depression, hope and everything in between shift like a kite in the wind with news stories, personal achievements, family tragedies, decimation and rebirth on the ranch. When you have agency, a sense that you can help, fix things, build something useful, the pain is greater, as are the shifts in emotion because you have to live with yourself if you cannot deliver or even try. You have a sideline seat to watch others struggle in a system larger than you have the capacity to address – and it is difficult. Plants are teachers. We all need to listen. They can tell us when they need things, when things are not quite right. If you are really paying attention, they will tell you that life goes on, that just when you think it is over, a small, green sprout appears. Yes, some things are gone, but some things persist. That is the space I need to occupy, acknowledging the assets of my work and learning from, not dwelling in, the deficits.
4 thoughts on “Resilience”
I am cheering for you. Your chronicle is much appreciated. We do not know how the lives and the species we cherish turn out. I think often of David Jordan, the Native American monitor who was approved by the coastal commission to oversee the grading at the Hellman Estate. The bulldozer crews unearthed some really old burials and wanted to go on digging. David and the other two monitors stood in front of the bulldozers., to stop them. Doug and Chief Anthony Morales went to the Coastal Commission. The project was shut down for over a year. When construction resumed, the permit required the dedication of an unmarked cemetery for the ancestors and artifacts that were uncovered. While construction languished, real estate prices soared, and the developer prices went up dramatically. Doug and I were invited when the Tongva group gathered to dedicate the cemetery and a walk with Tongva words and images. David said: “Sometimes you can change their mind, and get them to do the right thing. Sometimes you can’t change their mind, but you can force them to do the right thing. Sometimes, you can’t change anything. But you have to try.”
“’Sometimes you can change their mind, and get them to do the right thing. Sometimes you can’t change their mind, but you can force them to do the right thing. Sometimes, you can’t change anything. But you have to try.’” Wow, this is so true. We all just have to breathe and keep moving forward. Thank you for sharing this story Lisa.
Putting in a request for a few seeds from native milkweed plants. All I have here is the Mexican variety. That variety attracts the monarchs – a lot of them showed up this year. But this variety is supposedly unhealthy for the caterpillars. This year many caterpillars hatched and ate, but I did not see any chrysalises.
The chrysalis are difficult to see. They were likely there. So happy you had many monarchs in your yard! Contact Xerces Lisa. They can steer you to the best place to get native milkweed.