November: Rain to Cold to Warm Again with Cold Nights and Dry. Blooms, Butterflies (still) and Falling Trees

Narrowleaf milkweed seeds ready to float to their next life

With the exception of early November, it has been dry. The early month rain was wonderful, but we need more sustained days to really get the ground and creeks back to typical functioning. Although there have been cold days, the sun has come out and created warm temperatures. There are still butterflies and blooms, bees and bugs of all sorts. We all need rest, and this lengthened growing season is not healthy for any of us – soil, bugs, plants…me.

The garden is still going strong too. I have made wonderful salads for family and friends for over a month now. Would you believe that I still have tomatoes growing?! The tomato plants are definitely showing signs of cold, but the blooms are still converting to fruit. It is not hot enough to turn the tomatoes to red, but I am thinking I will make a sizable green tomato salsa.

Xerces Plants Almost All Planted – Whew!

I am down to 31 nectar plants to plant and around 30 milkweed plants. This may sound like a lot, and it is, but I started with well over 200. Because Xerces had some extra plants they provided and because my water situation changed for the worse since the time I submitted my request to participate with them, I enlisted the help of some friends to plant at their more lush, water-rich properties. I gave friends, Raw Roots Farm (Lauren and Andrew Gliken) and Letha Goger some milkweed and nectar plants to augment their existing habitat.

Raw Roots is located along Owens Creek in Catheys Valley. They already have a large stand of narrowleaf in a low-lying, moist area of their farm. Most importantly, they already have an irrigation system to support the plants in the first couple years and in dry times. Fortunately, Andrew’s family was visiting for the Thanksgiving holiday and were conscripted to help with the planting. I love it when families, especially children, are involved in stewarding the land. It is a strong, important lesson to teach them of their responsibility to all living things. Amazingly, while I was there dropping off some plants, a monarch flew by. WHAT! Shouldn’t they be on the coast overwintering by now? With climate change, who knows how all of us will adapt (or not). This beautiful butterfly was large. I only saw it for a moment. Andrew told me that he had caterpillars this year that he found on the corn. Interesting.

Letha Goger is the matriarch of an incredible family of people who provide exemplary public service through their paid and volunteer work. She recently volunteered to become a Xerces Ambassador. I was so excited when I heard she did that. There is something very deep in her that wants to serve the land. She has a beautiful piece of property with existing habitat and water infrastructure. On the property is the confluence of two washes and a spring fed creek – all within the Mariposa Creek watershed, I believe, and located in the area between Mariposa and Catheys Valley. Kristie Martin from the Southern Sierra Miwuk Nation’s Pollinator Team and I went to Letha’s to do an assessment and make recommendations. She has a great spring and moisture-rich property. Plants are happy there, and the Xerces plants will have a high likelihood of establishing. I gave her some milkweed and some nectar plants. including the California milkweed scientists are finding is so vital for the early part of the monarch migration. Letha was overjoyed. Kristie and I identified several places in the moist areas where plants would be able to establish best. There were a couple of other places closer to the house where Letha is able to irrigate them. Overall, this will be a key location in an important watershed for monarch migration adjacent to existing habitat. We are really making some headway in Mariposa County for expanding pollinator habitat.

Thank you to the Glikens and Gogers for their incredible support of pollinators from before this time to now and into the future. Chiokoe uttesia.

Water Projects

At the beginning of the month, it rained. I deepened existing rainwater channels and dug new ones to the ailing grand blue oak trees. David propped up the south rainwater tank pipe to promote better flow from the gutter point of entry, which was overflowing with the new catchment entry receptacle. The swale pond finally had standing water, even though it was just a little. I am still waiting for my cattleman to be healthy enough to take a look at my log and rock drop structure. I am anxious to get that installed to slow the runoff from the storms. Poor guy. He has had several health issues in the family all at one time. We wish them well always.

The guzzler project is almost finished. David has taken on the task of building the guzzler overhang. He is not a contractor. It has been slow going, but it saves us money. We are not wealthy people and every penny counts here. If I paid for someone to do everything, I would be broke. He has done a good job, and boy that structure looks pro!

Walking the Ranch I Find a Forest in Crisis

The spot I had picked out to plant the Xerces milkweed and other nectar plants is no longer viable given the intense dryness of the landscape. I have been scouting other locations, looking for existing milkweed as a sign of a good place to plant. The mid and back sections of the ranch are more forested than the open grassland of the front. Over the last three months, the decline of the forest was evident. Even if I was blind, the level of dismemberment of the trees would be noticeable. The dry crunch of leaves and smaller phalanges of branches loud and audible. The smell of dried oak and newly severed bark unmistakable. The impassibility of the trail from large branches or full trees returning to the ground from their skyward heights tactile.

I no longer feel comforted as I walk through the woods. I feel anxious. I feel uncomfortable. It is as if a great windstorm swirled through leaving wood all over the land and full trees tumbled. I will not walk under any dying or already dead tree for fear of a limb dropping. I keep the dogs close or not bring them with me at all. You can hear the echos of something stepping, wood moving, limbs cracking. It could be a distance away or over your shoulder. The forest is dying.

I can only hope that the clearance of so many trees and branches allows the others to flourish. Something deep within my heart tells me that very little can thrive in such detritus and dryness. Water is life and there is little, so very little, water on the surface, within the soil or absorbed into the fractures and cracks underneath the land. I will do what I can, but the issue is larger than me.

My constitution cannot tolerate depression and gloom for long. Fortunately, I am not built that way. So…I look for signs, anything, to convey hope, repair, life. First, I see deer grass that I did not plant. Then, I see the remains of a multitude of vinegarweed, plants I had only seen one or two of in years previous. I continue my walk and see a healthy black oak seedling and a healthy cottonwood seedling. I find more than 30 blue oak “babies”. Finally, I see what I am looking for – a nearly 4 foot tall wild narrowleaf milkweed with seed pods galore. This is the place I will plant – the place where I will work in partnership with in malla, u bwia (my mother, the land), and together, we will start over. We will heal.

Climate, Heat and Wildfire Smoke = Change for Pollinators

Oak Fire in July mushrooms

Please forgive me for complaining a little at the start of this blog. I know it is meant to discuss my pollinator work, and I am sorry to be a downer. All the things we do are entwined as elements of our life -so the bleed over and into is all part of the same narrative I guess. It has been a very difficult last three months. If you were wondering why a post had not been published in a while, I did not have the energy. A close, dear friend fell, became ill and died. It was a rapid, difficult, frustrating experience made worse by a fragmented healthcare system. His fall was in June, and by July he was gone. COVID finally caught up to me in June despite my being extremely careful. Although it was mild for me, I was positive for 10 days and had to put many things on hold. In July, wildfire hit just east of us displacing many friends with several losing everything. We took on evacuees at the ranch with their animals. The emotional exhaustion was evident among everyone – evacuees, responders and the average community member. The compassion fatigue, overwhelming sadness for all living things and extreme, ongoing heat has gotten to everyone I think. I could not believe my temperature gauge when driving home from a meeting in the Central Valley. It said 118F.

I find it remarkable that anything can exist in these circumstances of heat, smoke, drought and extremes. It is no surprise that very few butterflies have visited the ranch despite plenty of blooms. All is not depressing. We have had a proliferation of tarantula hawks and more dragonflies than have been here in years. Perhaps the increase in dragonflies, a natural predator of butterflies, is part of the reason for limited sightings. I don’t think we have gotten to a place of balance at the ranch yet. Regular drip irrigation has increased soil moisture around the house, but the drought has taken its toll on everything, soil, plants, trees, humans.

Milkweed Established!

The milkweed in the older plots were mature enough to produce seed pods. It was a joy to see them healthy and doing well despite gopher attacks over the past 3 years.

I am now able to identify narrow leaf milkweed in the wild and have seen several plants in my creek bed and on the side of the road around the county. It is very interesting that they often appear alone or quite a distance from one another. I wonder if that has to do with years of grazing and pesticide use (on the major highways). On a monitoring excursion to Odom Creek last week, I found two or three milkweeds in bloom in the creek bed. There were several California Hairstreak butterflies around each plant. I saw a buttery yellow cabbage or sulfur butterfly and one buckeye butterfly.


As planned, we have plants in bloom from the beginning of Spring throughout Fall. In bloom currently are California fuchsia, goldenrod (just opening), marigold, sunflower (still going!), pacific aster, a few gum weed and Mexican sunflower blooms, buddleia, vinegarweed (lots of these plants this year), and tarweed. There are even several herbs and onions blooming. There are many options for the pollinators to choose from.

Concern for the Grand Blue Oak

It is normal for oaks to conserve their energy during drought. They kill off their leaves and drop limbs. It can be very dangerous to walk under stressed oaks. I mentioned one of the large oaks in the front of the house in my last post and earlier in this post. It started with one branch having all its leaves dead in May. Then, almost overnight, all the leaves were brown and falling by August. A small branch dropped earlier this month. It has been incredibly distressing. These trees in the front of my home are over 200 years old, and they just cannot die on my watch.

Several years ago, a landscape and water expert was at my house when another tree in the front was extremely stressed. She recommended digging a trench just outside the drip line of the tree crown so that rain water would be stopped and recharge the area around the tree. Not only did I do that for two of the four oaks in front of the house, I ran my front gutters into the trenches. It worked! The branches I thought were dead all came back except for one.

I did this exact same thing for the newest tree in crisis. I am hopeful it will work too.

The other issue with the oaks and drought is reduced production of acorns, a critical food source for animals and humans alike. It is also the next generation of oak babies. We need to have an overwhelming number of acorns just to get a handful of seedlings. Sadly, most of the oaks on the ranch do not have many acorns, and many that are growing are still very green and undersized. I want to see those acorns mature and drop. All I can do is implement good land practices, swales to slow rainwater runoff, and hope for better next year. Land restoration is a patient practice. Stewardship is a way of life anyone can adopt anywhere they live.

New Raised Bed

I raise a number of plants from high quality organic/non-GMO seed or seed gathered from my plants. Not only its it more cost effective, but I receive great joy from starting them and watching them grow. The seedling trays have also served as an important source of water for bees this year. Even birds have dropped by to visit. When the birds come by, I can be assured it is not just for water but seed snacks. Every seeding batch, several never start. For some, the seed just is not viable. For others, they become a snack for birds. I am ok with that. Fortunately, I don’t depend on my garden as my only source of food. If I did, I am sure I would feel differently. Additionally, I grow native plant starts, herbs and flowers. All of these, including my food, will become blooms for pollinators. It is a tripe win for everyone.

The weather has been so warm I decided to start a winter garden with plants that should have been full grown by now and producing food – like tomatoes. I am also including vegetables, herbs and flowers that should be ok late and/or over winter normally – like lettuce and spinach. I have a number of strong looking seedlings, but will not plant in my tomato tub raised bed due to the ongoing gopher intrusion. There is no other place cultivated to plant, so I asked my darling husband to build me a new raised bed. Truthfully, I can do this myself, but David loves to work with wood and is much handier than I am. So- he gets the job. David built me a gorgeous raised bed using redwood and secured it with a roll of Diggers double galvanized mesh (same company I get the speed baskets from to plant my native plants). Because I am raising vegetables, I needed richer soil and did not have time to bring my local soil up in nutrients (bad planning on my part). I had to purchase soil, which was costly. I have a couple of old french doors I salvaged, which I will use to make a greenhouse over the tomato part of the bed. I am hoping this will help bring the tomatoes to maturity. It is all an experiment.

I use a square foot gardening method. In this way, I can make the most use of the garden space, water with efficiency and co-locate natural pest deterrents, such as marigolds. See the link for more information about how many vegetables you can plant per square foot. In my situation, most of the seedlings I have are plants that need space, so you will see that I generally have one plant per square foot. For some, I could probably get more, but I was too lazy to pull out my book to check planting amounts per sq ft. There is definitely a cost to being impatient!

Last Days of Summer Bring Rain and Fall has Arrived

On September 18 and 19, we received .75″ and .5″ respectively of rain. It was a delightful late summer storm. The smell brought me as much joy and anticipation as being hungry smelling baking bread or BBQ meat. You cannot wait to get outside to work, take a walk, just breathe. I think most of the area hoped this meant cooler temperatures from then out, but the miserable heat came back a few days later. It has been in the high 80s and high 90s for the past several days. Air conditioner is on again. Not good.

Still, the temperatures are cooler than 115 – something to be grateful for. Besides the temperatures cooling, Fall is heralded by my dear loves, the tarantulas (Ok, some people determine the beginning of Fall when pumpkin drinks appear at Starbucks; I prefer spiders.). I have counted 5 so far. It is an imprecise, unscientific count, but it has helped me to understand their populations by counting the number of sightings. We had several healthy, large ones at the ranch.

I am seeing a number of small ant holes in close proximity. I think I am living on top of ant LA. To think my bucolic, slow-paced surroundings are directly above a bustling, major metropolis of a billion small, vicious, biting red ants is a bit unnerving. People think I have too much coffee, but now you know why I keep moving and don’t stay in one place for too long.

Of Abigail Adams, Drought and Failure

Grasshopper on the California Milkweed

One of my many favorite classes at Humboldt State was US History. And, one of my favorite explorations was reading and analyzing the letters of Abigail Adams. Until then, I had not heard much about the women who were instrumental in establishing the United States. It was an incredible window into the life of a woman in the 1700s. Of course, Abigail has been defined in terms of her relation to John Adams, the second president of the US, and John Quincy Adams, her son, the sixth president of the US. It was not the men in her life that fascinated me most; it was her intelligence and determination in a time before corner stores, antibiotics and air conditioning. She often wrote to John about conditions on their farm in Braintree, Massachusetts, the children always being sick, lack of money and the farm failing.

Her words, or some semblance of them, enter my mind often these days. Not just because it is near the 4th of July, but because there are so many challenges here at Walappu’ ‘Uuchuthuu. We are beset by grasshoppers, and they are eating everything in their path. Especially in Site 2, the plants, the hours of work planting, weeding and watering, are nearly all eaten. Almost all were healthy and gorgeous just 2 weeks ago. The smell was uplifting, the growth progress a joy to see. We had sulfur butterflies all around. Now, there is chlorophyll carnage – leaves so tattered with holes they seem like defeated flags on ghost ships, empty stems bent from the weight of hundreds of grasshoppers per day gnawing on them, and the intact sagging under the knowledge that their healthy, glorious bodies will be next.

It is too sad to post photos. The ones I took two weeks ago to post with this entry no longer reflect reality, and I cannot look upon those photos without my eyes beginning to cloud. I thought, just maybe, the milkweed might be spared. You hear so much about its toxicity that I thought, “well, maybe…” Not true. The grasshoppers spare no one. They have eaten three of my dear huken (narrowleaf milkweed). In a last ditch effort, I placed a solar powered bird bath theorizing that perhaps it might bring more insect eating birds to the arroyo. I continue to water them in the hope that I can keep their roots alive through this dark time.


The drought is causing me to water twice per week to keep the native plants alive. I water the plants in pots daily. You know it is dry when there are a line of songbirds waiting for their turn to use the water bowl. I am not kidding. There was actually a line, and there is the most distinctive ring of bird poop making a circle around the dog dish.

Having water available for the wildlife is critical. Even if you live in an apartment, you should put out some vessel of water to help as many as possible survive. I have a bird bath on the southeast corner of the patio. It is always in use. The fountain bubbles 24/7, and I have a shallow dish on top of the slate to provide a shallow vessel for those that like that depth. Birds use both the deep eddies and the shallow dish. I provided a shallow amount of water in the stock trough on the north side of the enclosure, and the one on the south side near Tank 3. Then, there are the other two aforementioned vessels – the dog dish on the west side of the house and solar bird bath in Site 2.

Given the need to water twice a week and to keep more than the normal amount of water out for wildlife, I am concerned I will not have enough rain water to supply the plants twice a week through the summer. I have already begun backing off of watering the locations that did not sprout from the Xerces Kits. I am also limiting water for the plants I established last year figuring that they do not need as much as those that are newer. I am hoping to get by. Here are the latest tank levels:

Tank 1: 100 gal remaining (This is the tank that had the leak, and we lost half of the stored water). This feeds Site 2. Once it is depleted, I will switch the hose to Tank 2.

Tank 2: 2,213 gal remaining.

Tank 3: 1352

In May, so I could get water more efficiently to all of the sites (vs. hauling water in buckets from troughs), David rigged a watering system using a 25 gal sprayer onto my ATV. I had my doubts, but it has been working well and really has helped me deliver water faster to all of the sites. I do not completely fill the tank due to the weight of water. I generally fill it a little over half. All has been well until the other day. The metal platform arm on the ATV snapped. In truth, the ATV is a cheapo model; the weight limit is 300lbs. With my weight being far less than that, there is room for some water transport. All we can theorize is that the weld on this cheapo was faulty. Now I am back to hauling water by hand. Sigh…

Site Updates

Updated Site numbering, with “ac” meaning “A. Californica” (California Milkweed)

A. Californica sites: It has been a blockbuster year for California milkweed. The two main sites ended up with many more plants. The plant counts in order of closest to the house to furthest: From 7 to 12, From 16 to 21, 1 and 2. They have already set seed pods -except for the youngest ones. They will need to fight the wind, heat and grasshoppers now to complete their cycle. I am grateful for the early bloomers. They have some nice sized pods. Some plants have gopher damage and a few have wind damage. I want as many seeds going into the air and ground as possible.

Site 1a through g:

Detail of Site 1 using old satellite photo of homesite

Site 1a: Mostly deer grass. All are doing well. Two rose bushes, which are not being prioritized. New lilac tree transplant doing well. Honeysuckle bush brings bees to area.

Site 1b: Primrose doing very well. Two narrowleaf milkweed reemerged from original South Test Plot. They may end up as gopher food. Crossing my fingers they won’t this year. Pacific aster looks healthy, but no blooms yet. There are still some poppies, which bees and flies love. I am continuing to water them a little.

Raised bed is a tough place. Rabbit or gopher still around causing trouble. Three of four milkweeds that were snipped have reemerged. Showy milkweed that was snipped reemerged. All look healthy. Original woolly pod milkweed did not come back. One of two woolly pod transplants is still growing. (Rabbit got the other one). Heartleaf milkweed transplant is still alive but not much growth. Transplanted the two yerba santas and two primrose; all transplants were in gopher shields. Transplanted sunflower starts using gopher shields. Still, rabbit is snipping some of the plants from the top. Sulfur buckwheat and California fuchsia are surviving, but do not look 100%. Installed a t-post windbreak with shade cloth. It is working for now. While installing it, I got hit in the head with the t-post pounder. Fortunately, it was not moving fast. It was all my fault. I walked behind my husband who was pounding in the t-posts. I was cleaning up some broken composter pieces. He turned just at that point, pounder in hand, and my head was at his hand level. Then…well you get the idea. It hurt. 18lbs of steel.

Site 1c: Everything is doing really well. Lots of blooms, including from my own herb plants. We lost one lupine, but the other silver lupine is doing really well.

Site 1d: Three of four coyote bushes survived. The fourth is a stick, but I am still giving it some water in case the roots are alive. The biologist said the location is very exposed, and the wind may have been too much for it.

Site 1e: This is the hedgerow kit from Xerces. Most of the dormant plants did not emerge. Some of the bushes have had a hard time. The manzanita, coyote bush, coyote mint, one toyon, and a few other bushes are surviving. I planted sunflower starts in the mesh bags where other plants did not emerge. Since the sunflower is an annual, if the original Xerces kit root is still alive, it will be fine for next year. Better to repurpose than dig more!

Site 1f: Most of the plants are doing well here. I lost one narrowleaf milkweed. I am still watering it in case it comes back – as a second one did in this location. The sages, California fuchsia, buckwheat, yerba santa, monkey flower and milkweeds are doing well. Deer grass is surviving. The California rose has failed to thrive. I don’t know what happened. It is just a stick now and lost all its leaves.

Site 1 g: The milkweeds are doing very well on this north-facing slope. The sages and yerba santa did not do well at all. The California fuchsia, monkey flower and buckwheat are doing well. One A. Californica transplant is thriving. The other is not doing well.

Site 2: I can’t talk about it.

Site 7: The deer grass bunches are all alive and well.

Site 8: This was the site decimated by wild pigs and where I planted some of the Xerces riparian kit milkweed. None of the Xerces kit milkweeds emerged. The two survivors from the pig attack were doing well. Two weeks ago, I found the narrowleaf milkweed nosed out of its hole. There was no sign of wild pigs, so I surmised that a calf nosed it out. Fortunately, I got to it in time before the root ball dried out. I reburied it. It has stayed green and has continued to grow since then. There is also one showy milkweed, which is going well.

Site 9: This is the area with most of the Xerces riparian kits surrounded by a branch fence. I rebuilt the fence last weekend. The mulefat and two wormwoods are all still alive. The pacific aster was eaten as was the golden current and mulefat during the cow break in. A second golden current looks like it has dried out where I hid it under some brush. There is still water in this area of the creek. There is a chance it will come back. The cottonwood is growing suckers, and most of the oak seedlings are surviving hidden under the brush piles I created months ago.

Site 10: Three of the four willows planted are surviving. I was not able to find the fourth. Perhaps a cow or deer got to it. The one mulefat I planted there is thriving. It has grown significantly and is a beauty. I will need to get some water to those plants. I will need to haul it in buckets from the large spring that is fairly close by.

Administrative Work

Last week, I learned that I was awarded 10 more Xerces Kits. I have two ranch sites, plus mine, and maybe the Southern Sierra Miwuk office building space. We will get those into the ground in November.

I presented to Tribal Council, and they approved moving forward with housing the Technical Assistance work through their Miwumati program. I need to design a project plan and timeline, work with their team to get a young person hired for August to December, and connect them with the RCD and Xerces partners. I am excited to mentor a young person on this work.

Two weeks ago, I signed for my first NRCS grant. This is funding that comes through the Farm Bill, to the USDA and into a variety of ag programs. I am focused on providing ecological services under this program. These services on my ranch will help address climate change as well as improve soils and water for the ag operation. It is a win win. More on this as I get started.

Biologists Perform Site Visit

My heroes – the Xerces biologists – come for a site visit (l-r: Jessa, Deedee and Maddy) visit

Two Fridays ago, the team from Xerces visited. I took them to all of the sites except Site 10. They provided some good feedback and then went to look at Deedee’s experiment she has on Odom Creek. Before they left, they said everything looked good and that I was doing a good job. This meant a lot to me. As you have read in this blog, I’ve had a litany of disasters lately, and sometimes adapting is not enough to win the day. Like Abigail Adams, I have felt like a failure – that everything around me is being held together by bailing wire, hope and determination. I have not seen one monarch since I began this work in 2019. With the heat, drought, grasshoppers, the failed Xerces plants, the ATV busting, bonking my head, it all feels like it won’t be enough to help. What’s more, I have seen only one butterfly in weeks – a yellow sulfur. If we have another horrible, smokey fire season, I don’t know what I will do.

I am trying to focus on the positive – all the other pollinators and butterflies that have sought food and thrived, the beautiful blooms, the incredible smell of it all. This is really all I have to cling to – that what I am doing is helping something. There is still so much I don’t know, and it can be tough to see the forest for the trees – or rather the Monarch migration for the milkweed. Hopefully, it will all end up making a difference.

Full moon over the dry hills