California Milkweed Emerges: Freakout Mode -> Engaged!

The first California Milkweed emerges and she is a beauty!

I have been checking the A. Californica sites for a week now. The benefit of documenting my work on a blog is how easy it is to see when something bloomed, emerged, went to seed, etc. You have an idea of when to expect things if you cannot quite remember. At this time last year, we had California Milkweed emerged. I figured with the cold, snow and copious rain, the California Milkweed may be delayed. Like a reliable friend who knows just when to call to cheer you up, there she was on March 15 – her beautiful furry leaves emerging from the dirt – A. Californica. Ahh, but there was not just one, there were two. I think these are the two great grandmothers of the milkweed patch. They are the first to emerge, the largest and get the caterpillars on them first. There is another large sized one as well. I went to look for her, but she was not there. It was not until a couple days later I found her. Those milkweeds are tricky. One moment they are not there, the next, they are.

I have always been a “chill” girl, never anxious, always planning ahead and under control. However, now that I have met California Milkweed, I am like a helicopter mom. I check on the plants almost daily. I worry when I see too many cows near the patch. After the atmospheric river that dumped an inch of rain in 20 minutes and made a hundreds of impromptu creeks along the hills, I had to trudge up the steep hill to make sure the plants were alright, that they were not swept away by the temporary torrent. They are built for weather of course, and I was just being ridiculous.

The storm was ferocious. Streams of water that were too much for the ground to absorb rushed down the steep slopes and into the drainages and creeks. I was only able to see it because the clouds were high. It was incredible. Upon closer inspection using binoculars, you could actually see rapids created by rocks and undulations on the surface of the slope. Mother Nature is a badass lady. It also struck me how so many patterns in nature are replicated. The shape of the impromptu water system was like a neuron. It makes sense; human neurons deliver electro-chemical impulses to make our body go, feel, be. This “neuron” is part of an overall structure delivering a life-giving substance that also alters, through the movement of sediment, the structure of the Earth’s body. Water is the Earth’s go, feel, be.

As soon as the rain cleared, I made my way from the house to the patch to check on the plants. I believe in my trusty rain boots and wear them in every season. It was probably not the best decision to head out, rain boots or not, before the water had a chance to drain a little bit more. As I headed for the hill, I had to cross the arroyo/drainage. That was no problem; however, a soggy, muck of mud was on the other side. This is a spongy area that catches water and retains it longer than other areas. I made the wrong decision to cross in this area. My boots, with feet inside, sunk deep into the mud, and then mud closed in on them. I was stuck.

Back in my big city days, I remember going into a large furniture store that also sold interesting knick-knacks. There was a survival book opportunely set on the counter of the check stand for the impulse buy. Well, that worked. It looked interesting, and I bought it. Now, this might be too much information, but I know all of us humans share the same proclivities for restroom reading – so I will share… I had many enjoyable moments on the toilet reading through that book. It is the kind you leave in the bathroom for intermittent engagement and not a cover to cover read. Fortunately, one section of the book dealt with what to do if you were caught in quicksand. I decided quicksand, mud you sink into — same thing.

The author said to escape, you needed to move at a 45 degree angle. If you tried, like one normally would, to climb out vertically, you sink more. I had already tried that, and indeed, I just got stuck more. So, now I squatted with my right leg and leaned 45 degrees to pull out my left leg trying to stay upright and not become a mud-pie. I heard a sucking sound. An air pocket! That was good. I pulled with more energy. My booted foot began to move -left, right, left, right. Yes, it is working! Finally, I pulled it free. My excitement quickly turned as the extra energy I applied began to twist me. Remember, my right booted foot was still firmly stuck in the muck. My body twisted. I tried to stay upright, but I fell. My right foot pulled out of the boot, and I landed face forward into the mud. As much as I carefully tried to avoid it, I became a mud pie after all.

Undaunted, I still continued on my quest. I reversed course, followed the arroyo, now a rapidly flowing creek, found a spot to cross without the sponge and began my trek up the steep slope. The plants were there, unaltered, built for this eventuality. I just hoped that all the seed and plugs I planted in December remained in place. I have been checking those areas too. Nothing emerging so far.

I continued to walk the ranch, covered in mud and wet through my knees, thighs and one sock. My boots and jacket protected my other layers, so I was still warm. I stopped in the creek to cup the water and wash off my jacket, boots and pants. That mud is sticky. The majority of it washed off, but still left a streak. I will need to wash the jacket with a cloth later at home. All the dams held and there were no blockages in the gaps between fencing and creeks. Just some dirty clothes and a sore right foot from the twist. All in all, a good day.

Regular Monitoring

One of the activities I perform most is monitoring the condition of the ranch. This includes assessing water levels, fence condition, check dam integrity, plant health and a general look to see what is new or identifying things that could be a problem, like all the downed trees and limbs. I love to walk and be in nature – so monitoring is one of the most enjoyable things about being a land steward.

The weather has been tricky. Between damaging storms have been joyous spring-like days. It can be hard to stay focused on work. Eventually, I extricate myself from behind my computer and head out onto the land. Last week was gorgeous weather. I even opened the windows to exchange the air in the house one day. The smell of millions of wildflowers entered. It was incredible. It was also warm enough to be in short sleeves, so I sat in the sun a little enjoying the quiet natural noises of my surroundings. As I did, I thought to myself, “Why don’t I do this more?” Life has become so much work. There is always plenty to do. I think people are finally waking up to the realization that, even if you love what you do (and I do), you need to find moments of nothing, to sit quietly, to just be and be without deadlines, dramas, and to-dos. Below are some photos from a recent monitoring expedition.

Now is a good time to remind folks about mylar balloons since I found yet another one on my monitoring expedition. Please don’t use them. I know they seem like a festive way to say, “Congratulations”, “Happy Birthday” and everything else. They often get let go by children, and some adults, and end up as dangerous trash others have to clean up. They are dangerous because calves, who are just learning to explore their world, can eat them, blocking their digestion and result in a very painful death. I pick up almost a hundred a year. We seem to be on the right wind pattern for dying balloons.

The Garden

I sowed peas and oats to build nitrogen in the soil and as a cover crop. With the cold temps and frequent cloud cover, they have not grown as much. I also placed some in my seed starting tray. Some seedlings sprouted when there was a longer beak between storms, and I am placing them in open areas in my raised beds. Maybe the sowed seeds will catch up at the next break. I did see some initial growth out of the seeds. The arugula that my dear friend Caroline Korn gave me many years ago has really taken off. We have fields full of it. It has been so crucial for bees, butterflies and even hummingbirds. I sighted a red admiral butterfly. It will likely freeze or get too wet to survive with the next storm cycle. The weather has been alternating between spring-like and winter. Well, I hope it will survive long enough to procreate.


Exhaustion can be good for the body and mind if done intermittently and not often. The dogs and I come back from our adventures tired, but happy. I am continuing with my Pollinator Steward Certification. I don’t know if I will change careers, but it is good to always be learning so you can do what you do better.

I had a wonderful email from my friend Marian back in January. She was sharing an old mutual friend’s (Chris’) self-made book about a close encounter with a monarch last year. The three of us shared an office back in the day when we were all young healthcare professionals serving the public. Now Chris and Marian are retired (not yet for me) and onto other things. One of the many things Chris does is being a Master Gardener. Chris, was so inspired and transformed by her encounter with a monarch that she wrote a children’s book about her experience. She did an outstanding job researching monarchs and telling the story. You can check out the charming video of her reading the book here. Thanks so much to Chris for allowing me to share her work.

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