The hunting season ended the last week of January, followed by a big sigh as Gus and I await the fall and the return of the time when we can again hunt birds together. Now curled up at my feet, he seems content enough and I suppose that I should make it clear to anyone new to this territory that Gus the springer spaniel is my canine hunting partner. My various human hunting partners are not the least bit content right now and it is rare that they curl up at my feet.
This is my season of discontent. The duck decoys have been bagged and put away and all but one of the shotguns have received their annual and haphazard cleaning before being tucked away to slumber together in the gun safe until the arrival of dove season on September 1. A little 12-gauge Browning Citori fitted with 24 inch barrels and extra full screw-in chokes will remain on active duty for the month long spring turkey season that starts March 30th.
As I recall, March is supposed to come in like a lion and go out like a lamb, or maybe it’s in like a lamb and out like a lion. In any event, the weather at the ranch so far this month has seen plenty of extremes. One day there is a a dusting of snow on the hillsides and skim ice on the edge of the pond; then for a day or two, the Santa Ana winds blow up from the desert so hard, hot and dry that the snow is replaced by blowing dust and you feel like taking a swim in the pond.
Most of the cows have calved and pay little attention to the courtship-minded gobblers strutting and posturing amid the oaks in the bright green of the new grass pastures they share. Ceanothus (the common name of mountain lilac sounds better though this mainstay of the chaparral is not a lilac) in the canyon is blooming in a palette of hues from off white to deep blue – a sign in these parts that spring has sprung – and the bass in the pond will soon be hungry as they get ready to spawn.
In the weeks ahead I will spend a good share of my days at the ranch. I’ll try to entice a nice long-bearded gobbler or two for a future dinner and catch and release a few bass. Whether or not that works out, I can count on seeing the golden eagle pair pretty much every day and the mature bald eagle when it decides to visit. The coyotes will be on the hunt early and late and if I’m lucky might see a bobcat.
If I’m not visiting the ranch, the crappie and big trout that are showing at Lake Morena will get my attention one day a week and the same is true of some golfing buddies who insist that I take their quarters, which I will happily oblige.
One day every week or two – at least until it gets way too hot – will be spent on some work at our duck club near the Salton Sea. We spent the morning yesterday removing thorny and unwelcome vegetation from the dikes – some of it chainsawed into manageable bundles and some of winched out by its roots. With most of the barbed wire fence along our boundary in a state of disarray, we’ve been hauling harvested mesquite and Hitler brush to the property line where their thorns are a more formidable deterrent to trespassers than a few strands of barbed wire.
As an added bonus, the piles of thorny limbs will serve as an emergency refuge for the Gambel’s quail and a shady spot for the desert iguanas and whiptails to do their push-ups.
This is work that we have lazily neglected in recent years, so the vegetation has grown larger and their thorns a bigger pain in the ass than ever and there is a lot more to do after so much deferred maintenance. The same thorns that can puncture a tractor tire to let the air out easily puncture our hides to let out a little blood to mix with the desert’s dust and our own sweat.
This is work we could easily hire out, but when we are done and take a wet towel to wipe away the residue of the day and laugh at each others wounds, there is a sense of satisfaction that remains along with the knowledge we are a part of all of this.