|Impalement - another hazard of thistles.|
I found this honey bee speared on a yellow starthistle spine while weeding in August 2009.
It was a long and unusually cool summer and those thistles just kept blooming. Long after the cattle left the Dipper Ranch and travelled on to the brussel sprout fields, the stockyard, or wherever their bovine destiny took them, the yellow starthistle plants kept putting out more dang-blasted, spiny blooms.
|Training the cattle to eat thistles in March|
My son and I pulled up three tangled fences on the west side of the old pigpen which gave me access to yank out thistle and mustard plants growing to enormous heights in the former muck yard. Thereafter, the big buck took to lounging in the pigpen's newly sticker-free shade on hot afternoons.
|Annoyed at his benefactor, buck resting in thistle-free shed.|
|Small, twisted scat - weasel, fox, coyote?|
It was early afternoon when I finally got down to the Monotti barn - after stopping again to examine a fresh scat on the barn's access road. This dirt road shows up on a late 1800's USGS topographic map even though Alpine Road, an important tributary these days, apparently hadn't been built yet. I was thinking about how long animals have been traveling and pooping on the barn road and decided it was worth a moment of contemplation. And while I was walking around, I checked the Newt Pond and spotted the big 2.25 buck resting there. He didn't even hear me at first and was looking the other way. I started to walk closer when it occurred to me that this was probably the same buck that chased me during last year's rutting season, so I slipped back to stand in the shadow of a big fence post made from an old telephone pole. He finally turned around and kept chewing his cud until I twitched a finger or eyelid or something, just enough for him to detect me, and then he unfolded his royal self and carried that grand rack off into the woods. As I walked back to the still empty truck, I kept looking behind to make sure the buck was not coming for me.
|Buck checking for sound at Newt Pond|
Finally at the barn, I cautiously uncovered the thistle pile, as we often find rattlesnakes bedded down under the black plastic, and pitchforked the dried plants into the truck bed. Soon, raindrops started tapping on the tarp, and I rushed to get the truck loaded and covered. As I drove up the steep sections of the road, old enough that it doesn't follow contemporary contour design, I could hear a co-worker on the radio calling for assistance as he got stuck in another preserve trying to finish up a last-of-season project in the rain.
|More room in the truck, going for more summer weeds|
I decided that getting the small, incipient population of stinkwort at the farthest Dipper Ranch gate might prevent this nasty weed (which gives some people a rash) from invading the preserve. Road edges and gates are beachheads for many a weed. I turned the truck down Alpine Road, parked at the westernmost gate and started digging up the few plants. Which actually turned out to be more than a few, but there's something satisfying about attacking one last stand of summer weeds in the first sprinkles of the fall. While I was weeding, I saw a doe leap across the road in front of a car. The car stopped just in time as two fawns sprang out behind their mom. The driver said, "Whew, lucky!" through her window as I looked on with open mouth and dangling shovel. I wasn't sure if she was talking about herself, the deer, or me standing within the swerve zone.
|Stinkwort, photo by Tom Cochrane, Calphotos|
When I had wiped out all the stinkwort on our side of the road, I hauled the bad seeds to the dumpster and cleaned out the truck and the tarps in the pouring rain. I still need to talk to the neighbors about the stinkwort stand in front of their gate on their side of the road, but for now, I consider the thistle and summer weed season officially over.
As my neighbor, Bruce-not Batman-Wayne, was talking today about climate change and polar bears drowning, I was thinking how puny my thistle wars sound in comparison. I feel like the Church Lady raging against thistle demons, righteous and mostly humored by others. Still, this is something I know I can do, and I see gradual changes as more spring wildflowers bloom in the weeded areas and the native grasses are getting more robust. For that climate change thing, I will try harder to turn off lights and miscellaneous appliances and chargers. The weed warrior princess says,"Vote on November 2nd." This is not an endorsement of any candidate, just vote your conscience and weed often.
Coming up next: as practice for Election Day, you get to vote on which snake will be featured on the 2011 Happy Snake Ranch Estate Walnuts label.
purple starthistle, Centaurea calcitrapa
yellow starthistle, Centaurea solstitialis
bull thistle, Cirsium vulgare
stinkwort, Dittrichia graveolens