Saturday, December 26, 2009

Cattle Fishing - Day 2

Steer on a line

Wednesday morning started with Hawkeye Cindy washing another load of dishes. When a group of black cattle moved across my kitchen view, I knew the dogies were out for their morning perambulation. I headed outside to check if the red steer who got tangled in telephone line the day before was watering in the corral.

There were 3 red steers in the corral, but none were dragging black line. One could have been yesterday's rambunctious steer-on-a-line who had somehow gained his freedom overnight. I couldn't tell. I could hear more cattle coming down the road, so I kept rechecking the corral as the dishrack filled up.

Vince, the cattle operator, arrived with his ATV and Zip the cowdog. Off they went in search of the tangled steer while I had my hands full doing laundry and creating more laundry by digging holes for a deer fence in the backyard. Eventually, I realized Reed could do a better job lining up the post holes if I wasn't constantly changing my mind about the fence location, so I strapped on my backpack and went to see how Vince was doing at cow fishing.

In the forest above the Menotti Barn

I found Vince turning the ATV around in Pasture 1. He said the tangled red steer and a few black steers had disappeared into a forest above the Menotti barn. I like this particular forest because the Octopus Tree lives there. I headed into the forest to find the cattle. At first, I was not sure whether I was following a deer or cow trail until I found a juicy cow patty. Cattle have loose bowels when they've been running. I spotted a black tail swishing among the tree trunks. Quietly, I crept further downhill and saw 1 red and 3 black steers. I yanked my binoculars around, and sure enough, the red steer was draped in black line.

The Octopus Tree must have fallen long ago
and now has 5 large trunks emerging around central spokes

I wasn't feeling confident about how to flush the cattle out of a forest, so I snuck out to an open area where Vince could see me. I climbed a weedy island in the middle of the dried-out Donut Pond and hooted and waved my arms until Vince turned the ATV in my direction. He parked at the edge of the forest, untied his throwing rope and tried to convince me that when he chased the cattle out of the trees, I should herd them up the ranch road by running the ATV behind them. I told Vince I didn't want to drive the ATV since I didn't really know how. Vince chuckled and with trusty Zip headed into the forest to find the cattle.

I followed behind the seasoned cattle herders at a distance, but quickly lost them as I struggled up the hill. I could hear a lot of stomping and branches cracking, but through the foliage, I couldn't see what was going on. I climbed even higher to get a view from the grassy slope above the forest. Far below, I could see Vince walking past the Menotti barn, but no steers. I headed back down through the forest to rejoin Vince. Passing the Octopus Tree, I once again saw a swishing black tail and slowly shooed the steers towards the barn. As the cattle came out into the open, Vince and Zip got them trotting back up the ranch road. Vince asked me to slowly walk behind the steers on the road and he would get the ATV and pick me up.

Charging the fishers

When Vince picked me up on the ATV, he explained that the cattle were getting tired and would probably stick to the road if we followed them slowly enough. We were halfway back to the corral, when the wily steers headed into another forest - the one where the old grader is getting swallowed up by a buckeye tree. Vince jumped off the ATV to follow them and once again suggested I drive the ATV along the road. When I hesitated, he gave me a 20-second ATV refresher: "Here's the gas, here are the brakes". As he headed into the forest, he shouted, "Wish me luck" and I thought, "Wish me luck with this ATV."

First, I had to figure out how to get it out of neutral. I remembered something about kicking up the pedals and got it into first gear. I decided I would just go slow and keep the darn thing in first gear the whole time.

Vince moved the cattle out of the forest and got them started on the road again. I slowly followed behind. I lost Vince when the cattle made a dash for the Woods Pond. I parked the ATV near a road crossing to see which way the cattle would come out. I wasn't sure if I could turn the ATV back on, so I shifted it into neutral, figured out how to set the parking brake (press the button that says "p. brake"), and crawled down the slope to watch the action at the Woods Pond. Through the trees, all I could see was a confused milling of black and red legs, boots and dog tail.

I went back up to the ATV, got real brave, and figured out how to put it in reverse (push the red button marked "R" and kick the gear pedal) so that I could turn sharp enough to take the road to the Woods Pond. However, then I couldn't get the ATV out of reverse. I tried every combination of kicking pedals up and down, pressing the R button and so on. Finally, I gave up, turned the ATV off and put on the parking brake.

Corner pocket

While climbing down another slope to the Woods Pond, I suddenly noticed Vince walking on the road above me. I shouted to him but he didn't hear me. I scaled the slope and finally caught up with him just as he and Reed were moving the tired steers into the corral. We closed the corral gate and then Vince started cattle angling.

Corner standoff

Basically, Vince and Reed slowly approached the cattle which would run into a corner, the boys would approach again, and the cattle would run into another corner.

Easing up nice and slow

This went on many times, but each time, the boys got a little closer.

Fingering the line

Eventually, Vince was able to ease up close enough to pick up the line that the red steer was dragging. The first few times, he couldn't get the line tied to a solid object before the steer took off again. Finally, while the steer tiredly walked up the hill to the water trough, it left a lot of slack in the line. Vince gently picked up the end of the line, slowly lifted it and waited.

Tieing off the line

As the steer became distracted, Vince walked the line over to the side of the corral, reached through the fence and tied it to a willow tree. The steer didn't seem to notice. Vince slowly walked around and above the steer. He was getting ready to approach it, grab the line near its neck, and cut the loop with the wire cutters from his rear pocket.

Walking into position

But instead, the steer charged downhill again. I thought this was going to be like one of those cartoons when a dog runs after a cat full speed and then gets pulled short by a chain. But instead, the telephone line suddenly broke and fell off. The steer was finally free. We had a relieved laugh and Vince reeled in the loose line.

The last charge down the hill

Later, Vince went back to get the ATV. While he was loading it into the trailer, I asked him how to get it out of reverse. He showed me by pushing down the red R button and kicking up on the gear pedal. However, the ATV did not go into first gear. "Oh", Vince said, "sometimes you have to turn the wheel a little to get it to pop in." So that is how you reel in a cow and kick an ATV out of reverse - persistence and a flick of the wrist.

Back to a peaceful evening of grazing.

Friday, December 25, 2009

Christmas Bob

We went for a Christmas Day walk on the ranch. This required crawling under a few fences.

The cows followed us into a new pasture. First, they galloped through the gate and explored. Then they got down to serious grazing.

A newt smaller than my pinky tumbled down a landslide onto the old ranch road. We helicoptered him to the creek side of the road with words of encouragement.

There were 17 male mallards at the Mallard Pond.

We watched a bobcat sunning. He ignored us and hunted.

He gave us a short stare through the grasses. Then he leapt away.

It was a fine Christmas Day and a walk worth crawling under fences.

Wednesday, December 23, 2009

Cattle Fishing - Day 1

I've got a great view out my kitchen window. Yesterday as I was washing the breakfast dishes, I watched a colorful group of cattle graze along the slope above the orchard. One of the steers stumbled under the Courting Oak. Even though the cattle are new to the property and the slope is steep, something seemed odd. I abandoned the dishes and headed outside.

A lousy necktie.

Through the binoculars, I could see a red steer with about 50 feet of black telephone wire wrapped around his body. One loop went loosely around the steer's neck, a snarled knot dangled on his chest and a loose end trailed behind. I angled up the slope to get a better view. The steer was quietly grazing and walking mostly unhampered. Still, I was worried the line would catch on something and the loop would tighten around his windpipe.

Vince, the cattle operator, was due soon to fix a hole in the fence near the watertank. Since the corral gate was open and almost directly downhill from the steer, and I was standing above the steer, I called my son on my cell phone and asked him to help me shoo the tangled steer into the corral.

Zeeeee, running out the line.

However, the red steer and his 3 black compatriots had other ideas - they went up and around a wooded drainage and I couldn't run fast enough to turn them around. I had forgotten that cattle rarely run straight up or down a slope. I wandered around the upper pastures, saw plenty of happy cows grazing and laying out in the sun, but I couldn't find a steer dragging line.

Soon Vince arrived and I filled him in. He had his grandson, Hunter, and Zip the cowdog with him. They set out to fix the fence first and I decided to ignore the dishes and add compost to my earthworm bins on the side of the barn where I could keep an eye on the corral and the cowboys.

Steering the steer to the open corral gate at lower right corner.

By the time I was just about done stirring in coffee grounds and persimmon peels, I heard cattle lowing and turned to see Vince, Hunter and Zip moving a small group of cattle down the road towards the corral. I decided standing near the corral might spook the cattle, so I slipped around the barn. Vince and Zip moved above the steers and nudged them towards the open corral gate.

Hunter stops the cattle with a confident gesture.

Hunter was holding his ground on the road; every time the steers turned his way, he emphatically gestured "stop".

As the steer made a dash up the slope, Vince grabbed the dragging line. Hunter follows suit.

Occasionally, Vince would utter a quiet command to Zip and the cowdog would work around the steer or face him off to keep him going in the right direction.

Tug of war.

The steer charged down the slope and Vince shortened the line, but then the steer reared up on two feet above him. The steer started dragging the cowboys down the road and Hunter tumbled down. Vince realized the telephone wire may have exposed wires at the end that would rip his ungloved hands and he let go. As the red steer dashed off again with the telephone wire bouncing behind him, Vince decided that the cow fishing would have to continue on another day.

Why cowboys wear jeans: to wrap that line around their butt.

Coming soon: another day of dishes and cattle wrangling, plus I get an ATV stuck.

Hunter grinning right before the steer drags him and grandpa down the road.

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

December Orange

I am seeing wintry oranges everywhere.

A banana slug slimes across redwood leaf litter on the forest floor.

The dogwood trees turn red, yellow and orange. When the leaves blow off, the deep red stems are featured.

A California towhee shows off its orange tush while eating a hanging persimmon.

California towhees are plain at first glance,
but they have a delightful necklace of black dots.

A trio of American robins. Their breasts don't glow as bright as the persimmons, but once you notice their white eye ring, it stands out like the sought-after pattern on a puzzle piece.

Flocks of modestly colored cedar waxwings can be spotted against the winter sky by the narrow, bright yellow band at the tip of their tails. Perching, you notice their small crest, pale yellow belly, and maybe a red or orangish tip to their secondary feathers caused by their fruit-heavy diet (sometimes described as waxy drops or modifications of the feather shaft which may influence their breeding choices).

The small cedar waxwings wait in the walnut tree for their turn at the persimmons.

Other birds that are feeding on the persimmons are ravens, stellar jays and yellow-rumped warblers, starlings, red-breasted sapsucker, downy woodpecker . While birding in bed the other morning, I saw a red-shafted flicker reach for a dripping glob of persimmon jelly, and incidentally show off his red mustache, orangish eye shadow and the apricot-red of the underside of his tail feathers.

The persimmons fill up the living room.

A brown and orange coast range newt crosses a road under stormy skies.

Some newts don't make it across the road.

Newts move slowly. They follow the same pathways to water each winter for breeding. When the second big storm of the year arrives, look sharp and notice where the newts cross the country roads. On those sections, slow down enough to check the road surface and straddle the newts with your car wheels.

A maple leaf mimics a newt in threat pose as a car approaches.

Orange in the summer is too bright. Orange in the winter is warm and cheerful in a content sorta way. A base of life turning over. Some people have a hard time with the short days in winter - SAD, seasonal affective disorder. Their brains produce more of the hormone melatonin during the longer hours of darkness, and depression, anxiety, hopelessness and oversleeping may set in. Sitting under a certain type of light, phototherapy, might help.

I do okay with the short days if I get up early and am outside or near a window to see the winter sun rise, or if I get a gulp of moonlit night air. I witness the seasonal patterns in my skin and lungs and have winter orange hope and anticipation for longer days.

A long full moon on November 5th.

Happy winter solstice. Peace to you as the days get longer. Bite into a persimmon or bright tangerine for vitamins and to spark up your spirit.

I got mine.

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

Waiting for the Storm

Valley oaks on the Jasper Ridge Biological Preserve greet
storm clouds blowing down the eastern slope of the Santa Cruz Mountains

Storms threaten, dust the ridge tops with a bit of snow, and then skirt around us to dump on the middle of the continent.

Snowy oak in the upper Dipper Ranch pasture.

Snowy California buckeyes in foreground,
trail in Skyline Ridge Open Space Preserve in background.

Just enough snow to highlight the branching patterns of different types of trees and then drip down the stems.

Coyote watches the newly arrived cattle drag hooves in the snow.

We started the storm season in a serious mood of preparation - anchoring down the flyables, cleaning out culverts, and moving equipment out of the big field where it might get stuck in the mud.

Western toad waiting seven inches down a burrow for the coming storm.

Three or four storms later, I now come home in the dark and think, "The yard looks like my bedroom when I was a teenager except I don't remember having so many orange socks."

Redwinged blackbirds moving restlessly
in the skies above Jasper Ridge Biological Preserve.

How do animals sense the advent of a storm? Pretty much the same way weather forecasters do - by tracking the change in air pressure and watching the sky.

Blackbirds waiting for the storm.

Except the animals don't stand in line at the grocery store and complain about rain.

Hundreds of blackbirds settle into an oak tree for a few minutes.

Something about that grocery store line, makes you forgot that we require water and food and air and solid ground to live.

In breaks before storms, the animals come out to sun.

A big bobcat claims a sunny meadow far down a hill in Russian Ridge Open Space Preserve.

Approached by a smaller bobcat, they spar for a few seconds,
the smaller bobcat goes belly up,
and the big bobcat reclaims his basking territory.

The coyotes bask on a sunny hilltop in the morning.

They reluctantly move on
when I get out of the car to open the gate.

And the clouds come and go with more rain. Tomorrow, we will try to find a special population of newts moving through Stevens Canyon with the newest storm.

Morning moisture rising out of Stevens Canyon.