This is the week the fruit got ripe. Blackberry, feral plum and fig, elderberry are finally offering themselves up to passers-by, and I pass by often.
One particularly abundant berry patch crowns a reliable seepage. I’ll exclude it from the herd once we near. I am realizing how significantly small springs are to this landscape. One night, after checking on the cow water, I came across a tiny spring on a high ridge.
Previously I had sunk my grounding rod there to improve conductivity. With that removed, and the cows moved on for days, its usual inhabitants crept back. A quick flash of light revealed a wide-eyed field mouse clinging about six inches up the rushes, bobbing around awkwardly. Below it, a slinking gopher snake on the prowl. What would have happened if I’d not interrupted? The snake disappeared into a hole, and the mouse hopped off its post.
This was the only wet spot for acres. Imagine what visits. It’s surely host to colliding trophic levels, microfaunal though they may be.
Since I started on this land base over half a year back I have been wanting to catalogue the old fruit trees that pepper its landscapes. They are remnants of settler homesteads—all the aforementioned ones, but pear, apple, and some nut trees, too. Today, I finally began the simple act of creating a folder in Google Earth and a geotag with each tree and some notes.
For the cherry plums, which are scattered about in drainages, I’ll note their ripeness and their size and flavor, too. Perhaps they are unique or hybridized varieties that would be worth propagating for the sake of genetic diversity. Maps, being that age-old tool of making legible so as to control, are my friend here.
I recently saw a cow eating an antler. I found her tossing her head about with the tips of the antler in her mouth, presumably flopping it against the fulcrum of her jaw to help her break it off. Some friends have said this may be an indicator of mineral deficiency. This could be. It could at the same time be true that cows like to investigate with their mouths. There are so many possibly answers to questions—“neither,” “this one,” “that one,” and “both.”
Recently I had a calf find its way outside of the electric fence. During that spell, and only then, I saw two small black birds land on him and perch quite resolutely despite his anxious doddling. Who were they? Where are they the rest of the time?
And while I am thinking of interspecies interactions, I have been doing a lot of digging in poop. So far I have seen four species of dung beetles: aphodius granarius, aphodius prodromus, aphodius fimetarius, and aphodius fossor. I didn’t realize this, but some species of dung beetles burrow a few inches below the cow patty to breed, essentially inviting the nutrients straight down into the soil, and creating new surface area and conduits for nutrient cycling. I don’t fully understand how dung beetles’ reproduction works, or how they find the new patties. I dug into a patty straight out of the chute, so to speak, and found no beetles, parasites, larvae—nothing at all—and the next day all manner of things had started to populate it. Nature abhors a vacuum.
Since I last wrote, we have worked calves. Tagged, castrated, and (slowly) paired with Mom. It's funny to see a number scrawled on an unnaturally white piece of plastic dangling from a dirty, glossy, wriggling creature. "Nice try," I have to say to myself.
The fogs have been rolling in. I wake up to rain on my house in the Douglas Fir grove. I wonder if the trees give more than they take. Sometimes the fog lingers ‘til 10 AM. On those mornings I assume it must be very nice to be a cow.
I've had the occasional friend around. And sometimes, a whole cluster of them. The nice thing about living and working in a remote area is it becomes a bit of a destination for visitors, so they turn off their phones and bring things like cheese and chocolate. The not-so-nice thing is that it's a long haul, and not suitable for folks just dropping in. The nature of the work means I can't always accommodate guests into my work flow.
This can be hard for people to understand, and I appreciate those who grok the challenge and rise to it: lending a hand, preoccupying themselves when they are abandoned for a stretch of time, and telling me what I don't know about this place and its many inhabitants. Since I am not a native, I am savoring the constantly humbling sensation of being surrounded by new minds (the cows) and new species, new soils, new wind patterns. It's all quite resistant to my attempts to inquire and understand, and I respect it for its illegibility.
Still, I love Sundays on the Preserve, when few are around but preoccupied researchers, and I can practice bouldering without feeling silly in the face of witnesses.