Through late last week and into this one, waves of unseasonal rain kept sweeping across the sky: shower after shower, sheets of drizzle, or a splattering of only a few big raindrops. It was mostly cold rain, and any remaining heating firewood is gone – the longest, coldest, rainiest winter in memory. Wearing sweaters and hats inside, we wonder when the transition to summer will come. Perfectly reasonable people are now complaining about rain, even arguing with an emphatic, ‘enough!’ when reminded about the contrasting potential for heat, dryness, and fire. Some of us will never complain about rain again, but perhaps that’s just the indelible memory of dangerously close-at-hand wildfire.
The Scents and Sound of Weighty Fog
Is that fog now? The sky is still capped but ragged bright blue holes appear in the clouds by midday. The sounds of gusty winds mix with the echoing roar of big waves. The air smells sweet from vegetal spring mixed with salty ocean spray and dusty pollen.
At the end of the rainy period, before the winds, there was a still morning and both the canyons and ridges were draped in clouds. Dampness coated every surface, leaves glistening with droplets. I could hear the nearby waterfall song and a bit of the creek below. It was so peaceful. Then, <<CRACK, CRASH!!>> another big tree fell down somewhere near our boundary in the Molino Creek canyon.
Besides the spectacularly blossoming apple orchard, there are dots and pools of color popping out from the mostly grass-green landscape. There are striking large powdery blue patches of wild California lilac, both large shrubs that escaped the 2020 fire and a sea of smaller ones that emerged after that fire. Whorls of sky lupine flowers brighten shallow soiled nobs and ridges, aided by our firewise mowing. On the rare occasion that sunrays warmed their petals, California poppies open with their flame-orange shiny glow. It takes a curious eye and intrepid soggy walking to spot some flower colors: buried in the thick grass are hiding patches of blue-eyed grass, a miniature deep-blue-blossomed iris relative.
Standing up high among the tall grass, bright white patches of yarrow just started flowering. Like so much of the farm’s color, this one is a result of intention. In 2008, there was no native yarrow on the farm. But, there were a few patches of yarrow poking through the roadside shrubs nearby. In the dusty summer heat, we paced those roadsides, shaking yarrow seedheads into paper bags. Then, as winter rains approached, we shook the seed from those bags in the areas we were mowing for fire safety. Now, there is yarrow proliferating and butterflies alighting on their flat-topped pollen-rich platforms of white flowers.
Everyone who is anyone is controlling thistles. On hikes and impromptu field meeting strolls, we pause to pound our heels into the ground, trying to uproot invasive thistles. When we stroll through anywhere that hasn’t been mowed within a week, we get poked by needle-sharp thistle spines. Italian thistle is the main culprit, but there are also pokey giant lush leaves of milk thistle with which to contend (in the moister spots). If we wanted to wait a bit to mow, there can be no more waiting – there is an urgency about the timing. Seeds will soon be forming then taking flight on thistle-down gossamer parachutes, creating next year’s problems.
Baby turkeys, baby bunnies. The thick tall grass nearly hides the adults and completely veils their newborn young. Turkey young, too small to fly, struggle through dense forests of oat grass. They don’t have to venture far with tasty grass seeds presenting so thickly. They have already learned mother’s beak precision to pick individual seeds from grass inflorescences. At the boundary of shrubs and grass, tiny newborn rabbits are also gazing at their parents for lessons, from when to scurry from danger to what to eat and where. It is fattening time for coyote, fox, and bobcat.
The unexpected late soak changed the farming routine. We stopped our panicking irrigation setup, grabbed hoes and went to work on the easily removed weeds. The big field hoe pries giant radish roots from the wet soil. Glove protected hands yank clusters of grasses that grow too close to tree trunks for the hoe. Either way, hoe or glove, the spring has presented the opportunity for building forearm muscles and body core strengthening.
A new generator arrived and will provide backup power for our normally solar-powered well. The well has been mostly idle for months because of the rain, but soon will be running every daylight hour to keep up with irrigation needs. Should smoke shroud the sun with the onset of wildfire, we’ll need the generator to keep our fire fighting water replenished.
The sounds of powerful diesel engine tractor tilling, weedeater droning, and the lower growl of mowers fill the air most days. The early mornings and the longer evenings provide respites from farm noise. Then, the air is filled with spring bird song.