Wednesday, September 14, 2016

The Birds and the Bees

It’s remarkable how quickly the dog days of August morph into the cool of September. We had rain this morning and the subtle colors of fall are made richer by dampness.

Have you noticed how quiet September is? The migrating songbirds have left for warmer climes and the year-round residents are silent since the mating, nesting, fledging season is past. If you listen closely, though, the call of the meadowlark is still with us. A harbinger of spring, my Dad said they start singing again in the fall. And my Dad knew everything!

We sat on the terrace last night and watched a group of nighthawks circling to the west as the sun went down. For a few weeks we heard nighthawks every evening but never saw them. Now here they were in full view but with only the occasional shrill cry.  

The cattle are grazing golden cured-off grasses in the mountains. To me this grass is every bit as beautiful as the greens of springtime. We’ve had a few sick calves and Mark has been monitoring the herd regularly. If he finds a sick one, he ropes it around the hind legs and when the rope is pulled tight, if he doesn’t have another roper with him, he dismounts and has his helper, usually me or Anna, get on his horse and hold the rope while he gives them a shot of antibiotic and two large sulfa pills (the tag number recorded to follow a different marketing channel later). With just that much help - a life is saved. Cattle can get virulently sick in a hurry, but recovery is usually ensured if they’re doctored soon enough.

Here at home, Mark took a day off from the ranch to make steps off the back of the house with railroad ties. They descend through my xeriscaping project, which is coming along nicely albeit at a snail’s pace. I’ve transplanted native plants from surrounding habitats - sagebrush, rabbitbrush, indian rice grass, baby cedar trees and blue flax, but my laissez faire attitude, thinking it could be low-maintenance, is a little skewed. Just because the plants grow wild on their own doesn’t mean they’re easy to establish in a yard. I collected wild seeds of buckwheat, horsebrush and lupine from the ranch yesterday in hopes I can get them started as well.  

A happy surprise has been the transplanted rabbitbrush, which has lovely gray foliage in the summer and is now covered in golden blossoms. In the wild it establishes on dry, disturbed sites easily, so it’s just what I need on my desert sand that I’m too stingy to water. This shrub’s late flowering, which happens as other blooms fade, arrives just in time to provide valuable food for bees and butterflies. Bees need pollen to over-winter and they’re making good use of the many plants that grow on our ranch.

Rabbitbrush is humble and undervalued. It’s not sexy like sagebrush. But like many nondescript, background sustainers and supporters, has its niche and its own beauty. 


  1. Right you are! I love rabbitbrush as a landscaping plant.

  2. Lovely! Fall is my favorite time of year.