bobcat

The Quietest Whisper, Goodbye

– this is the last of my regular posts from the Molino Creek Farm blog for 2021, stay tuned for more regular posts February 2022.

A recent sunset, captured just below Molino Creek Farm along Warrenella Road

For now, I put down my farm tools and stow them oiled and sharp, ready for next Spring. In the orchard, we coil hoses, hang irrigation pipes among the branches high off the ground so they don’t get buried and inadvertently mowed. We cut free and pile remaining tree props and haul and spread the last of the chipped oak branch mulch.

Apple leaves slowly fall, holding on long with fading yellow beauty. The last of fall’s leaves won’t drop until January, the fruit trees revel in the cool moisture after being blown by dry air during the long summer. But the fading light of shortening days push the orchard trees into their necessary and healthy sleep. Even we feel this pull.

Togetherness

The long cool still nights descend rapidly, driving us indoors early to stoke woodstoves and await the roaring warmth. We shed clothes and gaze at firelight, relaxing into the many-hour evenings. It is time to gather sometimes with family, sometimes with friends. Some find these gatherings especially precious from a year spent in solitude and self-reflection. Sparkling eyes greet us, loving words spoken close to our ears during long greeting hugs. Some are no longer with us or will soon be gone. We feel the losses more keenly during the gatherings, close to the warmth of others…spontaneous hushed moments we dare not fill.

Whence the Feasts?

Sighing, we raise from our chairs and head for the kitchen, for this is a season of feasts. The food is from farms. Somewhere in our minds, we hope at least some of our grocery purchases support family farms…maybe that farmer’s market trip helped keep family farming alive. Sometimes it does!

Some say we need to be thinking about new farming models, cooperatives combined with higher wages and increasing food costs, where broader support helps free farming families from the 80-hour weeks that’s required to pay the bills, to raise and support children. For cooperatives to work, we need to find a way to get along, to work together, and we also need for people to be willing to pay more for food. We desperately need more young farmers.

As we eat our food, as we chew, imagine the people it took, the many jobs and steps it took to bring that food to your mouth. Picture the water…the rich soil…the sun that helped produce your food and the tender hearts of (aging) farmers who smile proudly as they reflect on each stage of growing their crops. The newly tilled field, and the sowing. The seedlings planted…eventually the first flowers, then the tiny new fruit. There’s also the watering, the pest control, the nurturing propping and pruning, and, eventually, the harvest. Right livelihood. Good food. Favorite recipes. Big feasts.

In Between, Walks

Those who are able, take walks between meals, enjoying the squinty-bright sun and catching the remaining fall color. Poison oak leaves still dot the hillsides with red, and a few maple leaves remain yellow on the ground. Across much of the wildland, there are no flowers- except in the chaparral, where the manzanitas have just the past few days burst with clusters of bloom. Hummingbirds move upslope to the manzanita patches, or feed on landscape plants; they are also spending lots of time eating bugs. Step carefully on your forest walks…there are slow moving newts moving around!

Wild Brethren

Like us, nonhuman animals are also resting between feasts. This is the break they get between periods of raising the young. I heard the peeping of a young begging towhee, the only young bird sound for the last month. The wild farm birds are the most frightened I’ve ever seen them because we have two Norther Harriers patrolling every hour of each day. When that pair are farther away, out come hundreds of sparrows, juncos, and goldfinches furtively feeding on whatever they can peck. Then, alarm calls and swooshes, they dive into the bushes to avoid the bird-killing Harriers, one right after the other. Silence. Long silence, watchful eyes, and then tentative peeps and the brave ones creep from cover to feed once again, the more cautious ones eventually following.

Nonhumans Alike

Like us, these critters are gathering and holding together with friends and family, loving each other. All day, they watch out for one another…peeping, chipping and singing their language of safety, satisfaction or danger. They go to roost early, an hour before sunset, settling into the thick cover of oak or shrub canopies for these long winter nights. There, with the quietist whispers they tell their stories, sharing their experiences after they sidle up snuggly and cozy to keep each other warm. Like us, they remember the voices of those lost, the uniqueness of the personalities snuffed by fate, taken by the Harrier or by sickness, or by old age.

Last night, two sister quails fussed about not having quite enough space on the most comfortable branch near the top of the thick canopy of an incense cedar. They chucked and chucked, whirring their wings against one another and into the surround branches, trying to make more room before eventually scrunching in and settling down. Tonight, there is more space on that, the best of the high branches, and a bobcat is curled in deep sleep with a full belly…a pile of feathers will take a while to melt into the grass and decay. The remaining sister misses her warmth and her stories but now turns to another of her kin for such comfort…listening closely to the familiar tone and pace of their murmurs, sharing meandering feelings at the end of their day, until the last low chatter brings sleep to the covey and the silence of the night settles under the dark and twinkling sky.

Coyote Calling

Another of my regular posts for Molino Creek Farm’s website

She stood in the middle of a field still strewn with winter squash, yipping her higher and higher trilling song, snout pointed upwards, sweeping her head to throw her voice across the hills and ridges. She stopped, listening and peering around before starting again, facing other directions. The echoing coyote song might have been another one calling back, and it seemed she wondered, too. But these were just echoes and there was no return call. No one came to join her. She kept singing her piercing high yowls and, in the long pauses between song, she mumbled widely spaced, low hoarse growling barks. This went on for 20 minutes and then suddenly stopped. Then she paced wearily across the farm fields, pausing to glance this way and that across the ground for sign of some small mammal that might be dinner. After a long while, with the failing evening light, I turned away briefly. Looking back, she was gone.

Adan told Judy that he saw two coyotes. That was the first one I saw or heard for more than a month. They seem to be passing through but not daily lurking. Same with a big healthy looking male bobcat: it slowly walks through a field and then is gone, sometimes for many days.

Hungry

There is less prey for these predators than anytime in memory. There is little sign of voles. Gopher throws are there, but not very thick. I haven’t seen a brush bunny in months. There were only ever a couple squirrels- now none. I haven’t seen a new wood rat house assembled anywhere around the farm since the fire.  So, coyote, fox, and bobcat must have to travel widely to get enough to eat right now. And the nights get colder, the ground suddenly constantly damp and chill.

Storm Consequences

Another storm swept in this past week. Winds rattled windows, threw foam from tall ocean waves, and took half of the leaves off of the walnut trees. Showers, sometimes heavy, pelted the North Coast, making puddles and rivulets in the fields and roads. The soil is wet enough to have woken up the earthworms: open holes surrounded by round globs of earthworm frass now dot the soil everywhere.

With the series of storms this early rainy season, the grassy areas have turned green and the creeks are running again. There is no still summer nighttime silence: now the farm is serenaded by the constant rush of waterfall splashing, accented by great horned owl hooting. Just one owl, though maybe it is answering one in the next drainage that I can’t well hear.

Harvest Fading

Orchard harvesting is winding down. We have been selling 200 pounds a week of perfect apples, which means a harvest of 800 pounds to sort through with apples also going to cider and the Pacific School lunch program. We get a month of that kind of production this year, even though the Fire had damaged the trees. We are lucky to have the volume of fruit we are getting- the proceeds will pay for compost and coddling moth control, maybe a soil test, maybe some other supplies. Next year will be much bigger…from this year’s 5000 pounds to 8000 pounds and we’ll be asking once again- what do we do with all the apples? And the reply will come: More Cider! There are 70 gallons bubbling away in either Bob Brunie’s or Jacob Pollock’s ciderlairs.

In years past, we would be picking olives right about now. But, Sheri’s not on the farm anymore; no one organizes a pick this year. The fruits are few and small, anway. But the trees are still beautiful and this silvery patch is home to many birds.

Still people comb the tomato rows, the plants mere skeletons but festooned with fruit. The sunflowers have passed, as have most of the cut flowers. String beans, zucchini, cucumbers, and peppers- all fading and melting with the chill nights and soaking rains. The farm pace is plummeting, the season winding down. To thwart any ambition, the ground threatens to eat tires. Long weed-scalped tire tracks tell of spinning tires and nearly stuck trucks. Ambition to drive threatens hours of unstucking. We pulled a tractor with a pickup and a pickup with a pickup, at least, so far. Any wetter, and wheels will get so buried that vehicles will stay until drier times: the bulldozer is dead and the ultimate solution is no longer available.

Thanksgiving normally marks the end of the farming season and the beginning of a much-needed break. The days are getting shorter, and we turned back our clocks this past week. There very nearly is no time at all past our desk job’s quitting hour and the last sunlight, so afterwork chores must be hurried. Anyway, there won’t be any harvest worth harvesting in a couple more weeks. There will be a month until we turn to citrus harvest. It will be nice to rest.