This past week, screaming gusts and roaring big waves transformed the North Coast into a less-than-hospitable world replete with flying tree debris, whirling eye-stinging chunks, and ocean spray whipped a mile inland. The wind carried frigid air from the north with sleet and snow even down to the beaches. This morning, thousands of our neighbors along the coast woke to the rare sight of white-covered ground. Inches of snow above 1200’ and, at the Farm, a thin and gravelly crunching of rice sized hail. As the day progressed, massively tall patches of billowy clouds, dangerously dark gray at their bases, peeled across the sky dumping big wet drops mixed with sleet and hail. Patches of blue sky allowed roving beams of bright sun to briefly illuminate vibrantly green meadow terraces and silver hillsides of moist sage scrub.
There had been enough dry weather for vehicles to start making dust again along the roads. The last two years the rain stopped early and everything got dry and brown in the middle of what would normally be our rainy season. So, the return of some rain, however cold, has been especially welcome. If the wind dies, we’ll be able to burn some more brush. Meanwhile, the recent dry weather allowed for big machinery to take care of some of the fuel problem another way.
There are these agile caged tractors with brush eating drums which are designed to make chips from standing biomass. It’s a a good time to chew up brush- no nesting birds and its wet enough not to start fires if the machinery makes sparks. This past week, one such piece of machinery made a lot of brush on the Farm into tiny chips, even somewhat mixed into the soil in a few spots. The person artfully managing such transitions is Kenny Robinson, a welcome new operator in fuels management. Much of that stuff he was chipping was dead from the 2020 fire, so it was very dangerous fuel for the next wildfire. Thanks a ton, Kenny!
Year by year, we are transforming the Molino landscape back into the grasslands we see in photos prior to the 1980’s. This also makes it less dangerous for wildfire. A broad swath downhill from the barn has been our main focus. There, the forest is turning more park like- redwoods and oaks limbed up high with a carpet of sorrel and brambles 6” tall. New chip-scapes make it possible to drive around and pick up firewood and new camping spots are becoming possible.
The orange-tipped small adult coyote snuffles and scoots between patches of weeds approaching its own height. Nose not far from the soil, it mixes nonchalance with intensity but is always on the move. We don’t have a name for this newish resident, but it has become a consistent neighbor.
The vole fiefdoms are spreading. Each week, new areas get converted from gopher strewn barrens to vole trailed fiefdoms. I pity the sleeping gophers, cuddling in their carefully crafted dens when the bug-eyed ear-nipping marauders zip in and evict them. They must squeak and complain, retreat to a less dry and comfy tunnel, shiver, starve, and perhaps die with these cold nights. Voles have been multiplying quickly but the next gopher breeding season is a bit further off. The population war is on.
Forest and Fields: Flowers
As we steward roadside oak shade, oak understory herbs are moving in. Drive through hounds tongue patches are coloring the entry. Milkmaids are also in full bloom. Deeper in the redwood forest, redwood sorrel is increasingly flowering. On the trail to the creek…checkerlily and false solomon’s seal are swelling in bud. In the meadows, the earliest poppies are blossoming alongside wild cucumber. We even have a patch of footsteps of spring- splashes of bright yellow like spilled paint signaling that the floriferous season has begun. The first buttercup blossoms have burst open. Leafy whorls of rosettes of only a few lupines suggest that this won’t be such a great lupine year. In the orchard, more plum flowers are emerging and the hazelnut catkins are waving in the wind.
-this is from Molino Creek Farm’s website, my weekly blog posted there first and then here