After the Big Storm Much Destruction

I am still grieving the loss of my beloved 200+ year old oak. The curtains stay shut in the rooms that viewed her. I don’t want to even accidentally glance that direction and see her laying there, tall stump, slump of branches, leaves still clinging. I finally gathered the courage to explore her corpse. Her insides were webby, evidence of rot. I found black on the interior too. Lightening strike? But, it was color more than char and in the middle of her, so perhaps evidence of fire 100 or so years ago. I am not a tree expert, so will need to ask one.

As I explore, never do I use gloved hands to touch her. I want to feel her thick bark and the energy that wanes from her trunk. I want to remember her and how she feels, how she makes me feel. It moves me to reflect on how desperate I was to remember the softness of my mother’s skin as she lay in the hospital bed hooked to breath sustaining machinery. I never wanted to forget – knowing I would never again have the chance to feel her hand warm, blood moving through all the veins, feeding that supple, impossibly soft skin. I held her hand until she was gone. I will hold the trunk of this grandmother tree until she is gone too.

But, I am sorry dear reader. It is the holiday season, and I should not burden you with grief. My love for this magnificent oak brings echos of my mother, and I listen for those memories and then I write. As my pen and touch of keyboard, this is how life moves, with happy and sad. Like all of you, all of us, we will, I will survive the sadness.

How To Work Through Sadness: Plant New Life

The massive kit of Xerces nectar plants, milkweed and seeds have all been planted as of Thursday. Hooray. That was a monumental effort. I only have a handful of the surplus narrowleaf milkweed and the California milkweed they sent home with me to plant. Those will be in before Christmas. I have created several new “lily pads” or plots of milkweed in the center and nectar surrounding. Except for those that went into the creek area and the A. Californica, all plants were planted in stainless steel speed baskets. The disturbed dirt was covered with bark mulch. I was very careful to look for signs of native bee holes and deliberately did not plant near gopher holes, where native bees may have chosen to live. I learned so much from the native bee webinar Xerces provided. It made me feel much more empowered to make good decisions in my pollinator habitat work.

There were a couple plants whose roots were not well formed yet. I planted those in one gallon containers and will watch for their progress. Maybe next year they will be ready to be planted into the ground.

The California milkweed planting required me to find suitable locations where they might have the best opportunity to thrive. I followed the lead of the existing California milkweed. I listened and watched carefully. As a result, I traversed steep slopes, found to rocky outcroppings and chose southern exposures in an attempt to get the most milkweed emerging the earliest. I am crossing my fingers some will take.

Storm Damage Extensive

Landslides

I walked part of the ranch after the storm and found more toppled oaks, downed branches, and land slides into the creeks. It was a ferocious storm. In the spring creek, two sections of the bank slipped into the creek. It looked as though a dead tree was toppled and lodged there as well – pushed in place by the rush of water. The creek channel had been widened, and it was a sloppy, murky rush of water running. I noticed that where I had planted deergrass that had matured, the land did not slide. It did take out two smaller deergrass that had not had an opportunity to get large. They were the plants most accessible, so they got hit by the cows most often. See the photo above. Look for the t-post “tipis” and the fan of grass (green at the bottom to yellow fan at the top). I used the Xerces purple needle grass seeds to reseed the slide area. I will keep monitoring to see if that bunch grass establishes there in the spring.

Sadly, a majestic, large, healthy oak also toppled toward the bottom of the riparian fencing. What a huge loss. That is where the creek formed a natural shallow pool. It was a nice spot for the cattle to drink and not impact the stream banks. Her roots also made nice caves for frogs to find shade when the pond was full. She was not down the first time I assessed damage. It was the second day after the storm. We had a freeze, and I think the moisture on the branches froze and made them heavier. Combine the heaviness of the branches with the saturated soil and her slightly angled growth from the side of the creek bank, and they were the right conditions for her to fall. Unlike my favorite tree by the house, she toppled at her root ball, which adds more evidence that this was the issue and not poor health. I did not have any more tears to shed, so I simply embraced her trunk, touched her branches, examined her leaves and thanked her for what she provided me, the frogs and the water for so many years. Unlike the area near the house, there are many baby oaks along the creek, which have a high likelihood that they are hers. I have been protecting them for years, so I feel like I have done something for her, something that would have made her happy. RIP maala huya (mother tree).

Water and Plants

The guzzler is filled and working very well. Thanks again to David for all his work on that. It makes me beyond happy to provide assistance to wildlife who will benefit from this when water becomes scare again.

There is plenty of water now. The creeks are running, the swale pond is filled and there are still standing puddles. It took three storms to get here. The land was so thirsty that everything was absorbed until this last major storm.

I found two deergrass that I did not plant and a black oak in the spring creek!

Gratitude

I am not able to do anything I do without the help of so many. This was evident during a site visit the other day by NRCS and Cal Fish & Wildlife staff. Their knowledge is remarkable, and their understanding of the funding system through their agencies is crucial. While here for just a couple hours, Joe Medley, who is a bird specialist, saw or heard:

Great blue heron
Bald eagle (at Slate Gulch and Hornitos Road departing site)
Red-shouldered hawk
Red-tailed hawk
Mourning dove
Acorn woodpecker
Red-breasted sapsucker Northern flicker American kestrel
Say’s phoebe  
Loggerhead shrike
Yellow-billed magpie
Common raven
Oak titmouse
Bushtit
White-breasted nuthatch
Ruby-crowned kinglet
Western bluebird
American robin
White-crowned sparrow House finch  

I was overjoyed learning about the diversity of birds he heard and saw. Being a better bird identifier is on my list of things to do!

Pictured (l-r): Beatrix and Millie dog helpers. Rosie (Fish and Wildlife), Alisa (pronounced Eliza), John, Joe, Jennifer, Curt (NRCS)

I am so very grateful to everyone that has helped me make this pollinator habitat expansion happen. Together, we brought monarchs back to this place. Thank you will all my heart to: David, my spouse for all the labor. Tuck, Les, Lois, Bill and Helen – Southern Sierra Miwuk elders I spoke to before beginning this effort. My neighbors, Kim and Ric Wetzel for the use of their Polaris and for the early labor by Ric. My cattleman Tom Fane for working with me on grazing schedules. Ron and Bev of Mariposa Native Plants. Melinda Barrett from Mariposa Resource conservation District. Deedee Soto, Jessa Kay-Cruz and Angela Laws from Xerces Society. The Southern Sierra Miwuk Nation, Kristie Martin, Nellie Tucker and Tara Fouch-Moore for taking on the Walappu’ ‘Uuchuthuu Pollinator Program. CARCD – grants and newsletter. Monarch Joint Venture – education programs. NRCS – great educators and funders: John Grimes, Jesse Balm, Alisa (did not get the last name), Joe Medley, Prospero, Curt and Jennifer. Cal Fish and Wildlife, Rosie Gonzalez. Point Blue staff who worked on an initial plan with NRCS Elaina Kromer. A special thank you to readers/friends who have sent kind words of encouragement: Sherry, Jo, Lisa, Jeanne Ann, Lisa, Karen, Susie, Melinda, Clay. I almost ended the blog earlier this year, but your words of encouragement kept me going. And, a final thanks to all the people who were inspired by the work to save the monarchs and planted milkweed and nectar. Only because of this multiplier effect will we be able to make a difference. Sorry to anyone I missed on this list. Chiokoe utteisavu (Thank you all) for the work you do to make the world a better place for all living things, all our relations.

Since this may be my last post of the year, Happy holidays to you and yours.

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