Monday, June 6, 2011

Late rains

It’s uncharacteristically wet for June, in northern California.  What this means, when the rain comes down hard, is lots of reading in the living room.  Page after page goes the way of cup after cup of milky tea. 

It is quietest during the rain, which makes a gentle tapping on the tin roof, a faster patter-patter coming from a loose gutter somewhere about the house.  The temperature recommends and the rain permits that a fire be kept burning, and so the hollow shifting of a crumbling log in the woods stove adds to the gentle din, accompanying the creaking on the wood floor every time the dog gets up and turns around, trying to find a more comfortable spot by the door.

When the rain stops, the birds come out in force, and their calls echo across the forest, some flying from branch to branch in the tops of the oaks like the radiant Western Tanagers or the raucous Jays, others skipping around on the ground, or perambulating sedately like the Robin and Quail, and some, like the White-Breasted Nuthatch, running headlong, upside-down, up and down the trunks of the pine and fir trees. 

And their call is silenced, from time to time, by the cackling call of the Pileated Woodpecker , which dwarfs the other birds, even the foot-long Northern Flickers, when it comes careening through the canopy to alight on a tree or, more daringly, down on the ground.

On the loamy earth, the Pileated Woodpecker is joined by a Black-Tailed Jackrabbit which moves, tentatively at first, but with growing confidence, after a cursory investigation of the woodshed, out into the open to feed, paws and powerful hind legs quivering, eyes aflutter. 

Out the rear window, where the forest is thicker, a deer moves, jerkily, all long-limbs, through the wood, amongst downed branches and piles of leaves.  It is clear from the backward glances she casts, that there are others out of view, but opening the door onto the deck to get a better view would startle them, so I must content myself with watching through the window.  And then suddenly some movement in the house startles her, and the ears twitch abruptly.

One front hoof rises almost imperceptibly off the ground, then stamps quickly, once, as a warning to the others, and then she is bounding silently off into the forest, effortlessly clearing the remnants of a fence erected decades ago by cattlemen who ran their stock down the western boundary of the property, before the land was bought by Roseburg, who in turn sold off to Sierra Pacific. 

It’s hardly good ranching land, and would have a terribly low carrying capacity where cattle are concerned, but the other side of the creek, the forest is broken up here and there into scrubby patches with more grass which might, given their proximity to the creek and the higher altitude, make a meal or two for a herd that has some thousands of acres over which to roam in the hot, dry summer months.

But it certainly doesn’t feel like summer—the still-cool days, the greenery (which has usually long-since yielded to brown this time of year), the rushing of the creek fed by a thousand little streams that will cease to exist in a matter of weeks.  Any day the rains will pass, and there mightn’t be any more until October, unless one of the occasional summer lightning storms is accompanied by a light shower, which will help to ease the worry those storms cause during the fire season. 

And summer might bring an end to the silent peace of the wood, for once the logging roads harden under the baking sun, Sierra Pacific’s logging trucks and skidders will come rolling off the paved road to extract the marked trees, groves of giants, tearing asunder the forest floor and the smaller stands of softwoods that grow up in the shade provided by the larger trees.  It’s been many years since there’s been logging in this part of town, and it’s rumoured that the economic downturn might give us one more summer of peace, and that the logging company will not have marshalled its forces fully until the fall. 

For now, the rugged roar of machinery, the groan of falling trees, and the invasive shouts of the loggers is but a distant thought, and the forest remains ruled by the gentler calls of birds and the steady strumming of the returning rain.

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