Heavy rain out at the ranch brought stunning lightning shows above the mountains that we could watch for an hour or more before fat drops of rain actually began to fall on the tin awning. (Check out the Oakleigh Explorations facebook page for a video). We had planned on having a crawfish boil that night, but postponed it because of the bad weather. Since the crawfish had already been bought from town (30 minutes away), we decided to give one “lucky,” maybe not so lucky… crawfish a last meal of chips and queso. I think, there are even picture of it “climbing” up a tequila bottle. This little guy was later set free to wander down into the creek, or be eaten by a raccoon…
The lake was already full from days of rain, and the driveway down the property flooded that night. Our friends who were staying down at the cabin at the entrance of the ranch ended up staying at the main house until morning. The long drought, and then sudden flush of rain intensified the erosion of the stream banks. A massive chunk of land below the big lake washed out to create an impressive waterfall and ravine more than ten feet deep. I noticed that the land around the ravine was all bare soil, which seemed strange because much of the land around it was covered in native grasses and wildflowers from when the ranch was reseeded to restore the land to a more diverse and healthy ecosystem. (A great company for restoring native plant populations with seed mixes is Native American Seed.)
There was a similar pattern of deep erosion on the outflow side of the back lake on the property as well. Each of the lakes has a valve that can be opened and shut to change the height of the lake and release water when it’s flooding. Even with the valves all the way open, the lakes poured out on the low side of the damn. Up in the back lake, the big muhly (Muhlenbergia lindheimeri), a large native bunch grass that has an intensive root system, held the soil together, creating channels of open dirt and muhly island over the caliche soil. At a certain point though, the muhly community ended, and the water carved a 7 foot deep caliche pit. The exposed dirt showed an intense color palate of orange and pale grey from the unique minerals left over from the geographic history of this place. The water flowing through the pit was a gorgeous light aqua marine color over the ash grey clay. I felt inspired by layers of ancient sea floor exposed and spent an afternoon poking around in the caliche pit, reading and writing. I also found one really nice clam fossil the size of my first and a silver dollar sized chunk of yellow, orange, and white crystals.
Farther downstream, my favorite sycamore tree stretched across a deep pool of water that, before the drought ended, had been reduced to a small stagnant puddle with roots stretching through thin air. There is no shortage of water in this spot now!
Walking through the grass I happened to notice a large black bee, upside down, at a strange angle to the plant it was on. I looked closer and realized that a perfectly camouflaged lime green and yellow spider, less than half its size was holding it. The webs spiders weave and their role in the ecosystem as predators makes them symbols of how life is woven with interdependence. Life must be perpetuated by death.
Another reminder of the constant cycling and recycling of life, energy and nutrients out here is the bones, which are one of my favorite things to find. Rodents happily eat bone as an excellent source of calcium, and usually looking closely at bones will reveal many little bite marks. The bony antlers of the male deer, which drop off each year, are eaten both by rodents and the deer themselves.
In the sunny afternoon following the week long string of thunderstorms, we were finally able to boil the crawfish and stand around in the carport eating our way through 5 batches. So many crawfish! Unfortunately, because we had to postpone the boil, there were quite a few crawfish that had straight tails after they were cooked, which meant they were dead before we could boil them and couldn’t be eaten. There were still more than enough to go around though, and we ended up picking half of the last batch to cook in eggs the next day.