Wednesday, May 25, 2011

In the Jailhouse Now

My longtime friends might remember stories from our last epic drought (2008-2009).  Worse than the dust-bowl 1950's it was, in fact the worst drought on record here.

The last 7 months in the Hill Country have been drier.  Until last week, we'd had 1 1/2 inches of rain for the period.  Now the total is 3 inches.  We're grateful for the recent 1 1/2 inches, even though it wasn't enough to close the cracks in the clay.

On the USDA's color-coded Drought map, here, we're shown in dark brown, called Exceptional Drought.  A third or more of Texas is.  The rest of the state is in the lesser categories from Abnormally Dry - Extreme Drought. 

I see the hardship in the hummingbirds flocking to our feeders and flowers.  Few wildflowers this year, so home gardens and feeders are lifesavers.  We're making a quart of food a day, sometimes more, and my sugar water total is way ahead of this time in prior years. 

And the deer...I see deer like shadows in the thicket behind the house, reaching for pungency previously spurned, junipers and persimmons harsh in the second chewing. 

We fenced our front porch plantings, after the Dwarf Barbados Cherry (that deer don't eat), was chewed every night.  

Okay, you can laugh.  I tried bamboo stakes before we put up the really ugly fence.

Now the pineapple sage outside the fence--they don't eat it, really!--is chewed to nubs and flower spikes sheered off Gregg's Blue Mist, magnet to Queen butterflies.

Turk's cap, the aromatic, slightly prickly butterfly, sphinx moth  and hummingbird favorite, eaten to the ground.  This picture is from last year.
We have new investments these days--mesh fencing and chicken wire. My front porch plantings look like they're in jail.

Please--dance, sing, pray, whatever you do and believe, for rain.

Copyright 2009-2011 Kathleen Scott, for Hill Country Mysteries. Unauthorized reproduction is prohibited.

Friday, May 13, 2011

He Knows How to Beat the Heat

There's nothing like a cool one on a hot day...

Painted bunting (male), dipping a toe in the waterfall--->

Always room for a friend.
 Copyright 2009-2011 Kathleen Scott, for Hill Country Mysteries. Unauthorized reproduction is prohibited.

Thursday, May 5, 2011

Bamburger's Selah Ranch

<----Memorial stone near entrance to Selah Ranch:  
In Memory of Man 2,000,000 B.C. - A.D. 20_?_.  

Forty-two years ago, J. David Bamburger bought 3,000 acres of  Blanco County land,
barren, grazed-out, good-for-nothing land without live water.  It was   "the most degraded land in the Hill Country".

Today springs flow, cattle and goats graze in wild grassland pastures, and the ranch is home to endangered animals, birds and plants.

Selah is a 501c3 corporation dedicated to teaching the principles of sound land management and preservation of species.  The ranch is open to the public in a limited way through reserved group tours.  Denny and I lucked into a tour last month, best $15 I've spent in a long time.

It's easy to see degraded land in the Hill Country. Our soil is thin, ranchers haven't always known the danger of overgrazing, wildfires are suppressed, and recovery takes hard work.

Seeing land restored is a walk back in time and an exercise in hope. 

Bamburger practiced a few simple principles--revolutionary at the time, accepted practice now.
Note the two juniper-covered hills (left and center) in the photo above. Then note the hill to the right with grasslands interspersed.

First Bamburger cleared most of the Ashe juniper (known here as 'cedar' or more commonly, 'damn cedar').  Ashe juniper is native to Hill Country canyons, historically kept in place by wildfires that swept the rolling grasslands.  

But with settlement and suppression of fire, cedars blanketed the Hill Country, smothering grasslands.  Less water nourished the soil and percolated to the underground aquifer. Springs dried up.

Demonstration of the difference in groundwater and runoff between grasslands and cedars--->

As a side-note, Bamburger left some old stands of Ashe Junipers, in homage to the endangered Golden-cheeked warbler, which uses pliable strands of bark in nesting. We got a good view of a male Golden-cheeked singing for a mate as we stood in one of the stands.

With much of the cedar gone, prairie grasses and wildflowers re-emerged.  And two years later, springs bubbled.

The tour includes a canyon where Bamburger planted a variety of native trees, including  endangered Texas Snowbells (Styrax platanifolius ssp. texanus) propagated for replanting in their native regions.  And the almost-as-rare Sycamore Leaf Snowbell, (Styrax platanifolius Engelm. ex Torr.) native to Blanco County. I have the names of two nurseries carrying this one...and foresee snowbells in our future.

The woodland walk was also thick with Escarpment Black Cherry (Prunus serotina var. eximia).  My little trees would have felt right at home.

There are ponds created by small dams of spring-fed creeks. Classes of fourth-graders from inner-city Texas schools come stay at the ranch in summer and swim in the ponds.  Some of those children have never seen water that wasn't enclosed in cement.
Selah is a working ranch, with cattle and goats that mow the grass, provide natural fertilizer and bring in money to pay the bills.  

The herds of Scimitar-horned Oryx are there for survival.  This species has not been seen in the wild for over 20 years, and it is believed that none have survived in their African home range. Bamburger Ranch hosts 29 pure bloodlines and may be the last hope of the animal's future.

David Bamburger is 82, still working, planning and planting.  A man with a vision, who has made the world better.  Selah Ranch is proof of what just one man can do.

For more about Selah Ranch, find Jeffrey Greene's book, Water from Stone: The Story of Selah, Bamberger Ranch Preserve. 

Copyright 2009-2011 Kathleen Scott, for Hill Country Mysteries. Unauthorized reproduction is prohibited.