Tag Archives: nature

Sandhills on My Horizon

Each spring and fall, sandhill cranes migrate over our home on the west slope of the Sierra.  Like so many of my friends and neighbors, I run outside to hear their calls and witness their grace.  So, imagine my delight on vacation here in Abbey  Country, when my friends Sheri Williamson and Tom Wood, who run the Southeastern Arizona Bird Observatory, asked me if I’d like to take a drive and see sandhills in their “loafing place”–Whitewater Draw Wildlife Area near the Mexican border in Cochise County, Arizona. I met up with them on a cold, clear day in Bisbee. Snow had dusted the town the night before.

The cranes leave this loafing area around dawn to go feed miles away.  Here, we can see them on the distant horizon as they return to rest and digest their meal.

The cranes leave this loafing area around dawn to go feed miles away. Here, we can see them on the distant horizon as they return to rest and digest their meal.

The Whitewater Draw is in a riverless basin. The water is accumulated rain water from  the last monsoon season. The cranes bathe in it and use the water to soften the corn in their crops--corn they gleaned earlier in the day over 10 miles away.

The Whitewater Draw is in a riverless basin. The water is accumulated rain water from the last monsoon season. The cranes bathe in it and use the water to soften the corn in their crops–corn they gleaned earlier in the day over 10 miles away.

The viewing deck is quite a distance from the cranes; the only close up view is with a scope.  Here's my attempt to take a photo through the scope.  Not elegant, but at least you can get an idea of what they look like up close.

The viewing deck is quite a distance from the cranes; the only close up view is with a scope. Here’s my attempt to take a photo through the scope. Not elegant, but at least you can get an idea of what they look like up close.

Each day, dozens of people come to visit the cranes, ducks, geese, falcons, hawks, and doves that frequent the Whitewater Draw Wildlife Area.  Here, Sheri and Tom adjust their scope for this young birdwatcher.

Each day, dozens of people come to visit the cranes, ducks, geese, falcons, hawks, and doves that frequent the Whitewater Draw Wildlife Area. Here, Sheri and Tom adjust their scope for this young birdwatcher.

Through her work at Southeastern Arizona Bird Observatory, Sheri teaches hundreds of children each year.

Through her work at Southeastern Arizona Bird Observatory, Sheri teaches hundreds of children each year.

The cranes rest and digest near the ducks, with whom they live in harmony. The crane's most significant predator is the eagle.

The cranes rest and digest near the ducks, with whom they live in harmony. The crane’s most significant predator is the eagle.

Noon approaches and more birdwatchers arrive. Sheri spontaneously fields questions and offers fascinating bits of information.  For instance, within the huge flocks, the sandhills travel in family pods of three or four birds. Sadly, if a youngster is orphaned, he or she will not be adopted by other adults.

Noon approaches and more birdwatchers arrive. Sheri spontaneously fields questions and offers fascinating bits of information. For instance, within the huge flocks, the sandhills travel in family pods of three or four birds. Sadly, if a youngster is orphaned, he or she will not be adopted by other adults.

Tom explains to fellow birdwatchers about the daily migration of the cranes from the cornfield--their feeding place--to Whitewater Draw--their loafing area.

Tom explains to fellow birdwatchers about the daily migration of the cranes from the cornfield–their feeding place–to Whitewater Draw–their loafing area.

More and more cranes kept arriving.  Tom estimated there were about 10,000 cranes on the ground and in the air. Each crane consumes a pound of corn a day.

More and more cranes kept arriving. Tom estimated there were about 10,000 cranes on the ground and in the air. Each crane consumes a pound of corn a day.

The cranes will feed and loaf in Cochise County until midwinter, when they will begin their migrations. Some will travel as far as Siberia.  These aren't the cranes that pass over my house in the Sierra, Tom says.  Those sandhills winter in California's central valley.

The cranes will feed and loaf in Cochise County until midwinter, when they will begin their migrations. Some will travel as far as Siberia. These aren’t the cranes that pass over my house in the Sierra, Tom says. Those sandhills winter in California’s central valley.

Reluctantly we left Whitewater Draw a bit after noon, stopping on the way to glimpse some doves camouflaged in the brush, then to attempt to photograph elusive Merlins and hawks. “We’ll have to come back tomorrow,” Sheri said to Tom, “for a hawk stalk.” For twenty five years they have been visiting here, first when they were stewards of the Ramsey Canyon Nature Preserve, and now as administrators of the Southeastern Arizona Bird Observatory–SABO. For more information about their work, or to make a contribution to SABO, visit them at http://www.sabo.org.

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Filed under Abbey Country, photographs

A Glimpse of Bloody Run Creek

When I covered the Wild and Scenic Film Festival last January, I wrote a piece called “Occupy Confluences”. It’s about creating new systems, the blue lines on the map, and what inspired me to be a more active steward of the two watersheds that receive the run-off from our farm. The creek nearest the Middle Fork Yuba drainage is Bloody Run Creek, and in “Occupy Confluences” I pledge to get to know it better. Toward that end, I started a very unofficial organization called Friends of Bloody Run Creek. At first it was Friend of Bloody Run Creek, but my husband quickly joined. (There are no dues, no meetings, no anything but learning about the creek.) There are three of us now–our friend the Wilderness Wino signing up as well (except there is nothing to sign). Here on the blog we’ll follow our progress as we learn about Bloody Run Creek’s geology and history from its headwaters to confluence. If you’d like to help, email us at lightcapfarm@gmail.com, or leave a comment below. Here’s the link to “Occupy Confluences” if you want to start at the beginning.[https://lightcapfarm.wordpress.com/2012/01/16/occupy-confluences/]

Bloody Run Creek near Backbone Road

Hopeful cedar and Ponderosa pine along Bloody Run Creek.

For years now, my husband and I have indulged in what we call Back Yard Days. These are days when we happily turn left out our driveway, heading away from civilization as we’ve come to tolerate it. Because of the snow, Back Yard Days are usually three season affairs, but this winter there was so little snow we might have even made it to Graniteville to visit the Wilderness Wino. Instead we made our first pilgrimage to Bloody Run Creek as its (un)official Friends. Here’s the view heading home, near a strip of land that we folks up here call the Saddle Back.

Looking west from Backbone Road

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Filed under Back Yard Days, Community, Friends of Bloody Run Creek, Mining, Sustainability, Wild and Scenic Environmental Film Festival

Quince

Last week I walked into the dining room and saw these flowers a friend had left. Right away I remembered this poem, and a time long ago when I first discovered quince.

Nevada City: late winter 2012

I said, “I love you.” You said, “I brought fresh quince,”
and you spliced it into the fading pussy willows
you brought fresh the week before
when you stole in to my house, calloused
hands finding a vase in the quiet that
felt more like winter than early spring.
But it was spring by then, a season since
the lemon tree you left by my bedside faded
leaf by leaf. Carrying it to the compost pile
I saw a second growth budding. But the quince has
fallen petal by petal, and the pollen from the pussy
willows is past golden. Midnight, and the full moon
shines. I sleep hard on the brittle bed of quince and
willow branches I took from you, wake
to a lemon tree blossoming in the cold.

1994

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Filed under photographs, poetry

At Last: A Winter Yuba

I captured these at Two Bridges along the South Fork of the Yuba River.

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Filed under Back Yard Days, photographs

My Ad Hoc Garden

“The appropriate measure of farming then is the world’s health and our health, and this is inescapably one measure.The use of nature as measure proposes an atonement between ourselves and our world, between economy and ecology, between the domestic and the wild. Or it proposes a conscious and careful recognition of the interdependence between ourselves and nature that in fact has always existed and, if we are to live, must always exist.” Wendell Berry

By the time the rain and snow stopped last June, we were in a mad scramble to get the farm and office moved up the hill. We’d just finished logging here; we took out over forty trees–mostly sick black oak trees–and had accepted the fact that although we had what would some day look like a farm, we weren’t likely to have any sort of vegetable garden this year. I had not grown any starts, and it was already mid-June.

But one day about a week later, after I’d already let go of growing food for the summer, we decided we had the time and money to put in a small garden. I had a 48 hour window to do it, and while neighbors and friends helped with the tilling, I rushed to Peaceful Valley Farm Supply to get whatever starts and seeds they had. I ended up with nine kinds of tomatoes, several kinds of peppers and four kinds of beans–three bush and one pole. Two kinds of eggplant, tomatillos, four kinds of basil, two kinds of chard, spinach, radishes, carrots, dino kale, two kinds of lettuce, three kinds of strawberries, sage, dill, Italian parsley, oregano, marjoram, sunflowers, cosmos, coreopsis, zinnias and morning glories. I’d saved most of the flower seeds from the old farm, but everything else came off the shelf, and I had to take what I could I get. It was a dizzying, joyful flurry of activity for me, and soon my ad hoc garden became my oasis and spiritual glen. The garden is even watered with solar power, which (I imagine) it seems to appreciate.

I did a shamefully bad job of keeping track of what my son Levi and I planted, but I’ve kept a few things straight. We eat out of the garden every day, and, less importantly, study what plants are thriving, what plants there might be a market for, and what we might grow commercially once we’re ready. (I did sell some basil to the two markets nearest me, and that made me giddy with excitement. I’m already looking forward to filing my sales tax return and claiming the $15 for my red rubin and Thai.) We talk every day about our plans for future gardens, about the things we didn’t get to plant this year, like potatoes, garlic and onions. As Wendell Berry says in that same essay I quoted above, “Nature as Measure”: the farmer must enter and sustain a conversation with the land. In July, the land told us where it wanted our perennial garden, and we look forward to building it next summer, transplanting the many herbs and flowers, and designing a solar-powered fountain to encourage the hummingbirds, butterflies, and honey bees. These visions are the stuff of dreams, not only fun but helpful in sustaining us. Our ad hoc garden is a perfect reminder that life seldom goes according to the blue prints our left brains whip up; the farmer survives and flourishes when she can practice fluidity, can live each day with persistence and flexibility, and can enjoy and learn from the ongoing conversation.

Here are some captures of–who would have thought?–my favorite garden ever.

Lightcap Farm's signature flower, cosmos, with our Genovese basil and Japanese eggplant.

Our Red Rubin and Genovese Basil snuggle up with the cosmos. The Red Rubin is peppery, great to eat right out of the garden. My colleague Tony Finnerty made some amazing pesto with it.

These yellow wax beans are delicious raw, but I find them a little woody when I try to steam them. Note the weed on the left. I just learned its a type of amaranth, and it's giving me fits in the garden.

This butter lettuce is one of my favorite ingredients in Garden Salad. Garden Salad is consumed when you wander around a garden, weeding and grazing, until you've consumed an entire salad.

My spinach went bonkers. I'm trading it for garlic and milk, and we're also eating a lot of Mr. Lightcap's favorite chicken and spinach enchiladas--my own recipe.

When I look at my spinach I want to dive into it.

We tried to guide our tomatoes the way I've seen them at Mountain Bounty and Riverhill Farms, two nearby commercial farms that run large CSA programs. We are crazy about our fun wall of tomatoes.

Please, Dear Sun, keep shining until these little greenies are bigger and very, very red.

I don't have the grow-tomatoes-like-vines thing down perfectly yet. I planted them too close together. Next year I'll separate the full size from the cherries, and I'll give them twice as much space.

Rainbow Chard--delicious, but like my dino kale, not that prolific.

Italian parsley

Our lone Padron pepper--this and the Anaheim are the only two doing well. Note the %#$@ amaranth again.

A popular commodity in northern California, Thai basil is definitely more work to grow than the other three varieties I've planted: Genovese, Sweet Italian, and Red Rubin. This variety has far more commercial viability. I need to learn how to efficiently stagger plantings in order to have a commercial crop.

We're growing three kinds of strawberries to see which we like best. So far it's a three way tie. Berries do very well at this low-alpine elevation. We're starting with strawberries, but hope to have several types of berries within five years, including blueberries, raspberries, and blackberries.

Here, the sky is the color I remember it as a child. We have only to drive south about five miles for it to turn that light grey-blue that's become normal in the Sierra Foothills.

Coreopsis near the wall of tomatoes.

Thanks for joining me on the virtual tour of My Ad Hoc Garden.

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Filed under Essays, Farming