Thursday, October 11, 2018

Seasonally-Activated Attention Deficit Disorder (SAADD)

I've always been attracted to changes and transitions. I am (I suspect) unusually curious about what's over that next ridge, across that creek, or beyond the horizon. I always wonder what might be at the end of the dirt road. And I suppose that's why I've always seemed to like the seasons of change (spring and autumn) more than summer and winter.

I suspect I may be genetically predisposed to cold(ish) weather - perhaps my Scotch-German ancestry has given me thick blood. I can always add layers of clothing and stoke up the fire in the wood stove when it's cold outside. On the other hand, there's a limit to how many clothes I can remove when the weather is hot! But even with my inclination towards winter, I've realized that I prefer the transitional seasons to summer's bright heat and winter's gray cold.

Springtime is easy to understand - new life abounds. Our lambs are frolicking! Irrigation water returns to our canals. The grass begins to riot!

But truth be told, my favorite season (by far) is autumn. In our Mediterranean climate in the Sierra foothills, the first real rain of autumn usually marks the beginning of our grass year. Germination Day (which ought to be a holiday, in my opinion) occurs several days after we get a half inch or more of rain. As bright green shoots of grass appear underneath last year's dead stalks, we turn the rams in with the ewes. This seems like an act of faith and hope - a five-month Advent, of sorts. An investment in the coming year.

In autumn, the nights grow cooler - sometimes cool enough that we need a fire to heat the house. Mornings grow even colder - a 40-degree morning in October provides an excuse to break out my woolen shirts (which I usually shed before I'm done moving irrigation water, but no matter). When we grew vegetables, I always looked forward to the hard frost that marked the end of harvesting tomatoes and summer squash. As a shepherd, I look forward to the frost that finally kills the sluggish autumn flies and the meat bees that harass the dogs.

Today, I fed the last of the barley to our breeding flock. We start feeding barley in late summer to "flush" the ewes - the added dietary energy increases their ovulation rates (and the lambs they'll conceive). Feeding barley to the ewes is an adventure - I've never been to a punk-rock concert, but I suspect the mosh pit is not much different than trying to feed a mob of hungry ewes! We feed barley through the first two weeks of breeding (in other words, until mid-October).

On Sunday, I'll move the irrigation water for the last time in 2018. Nearly every day for the last 6 months, my work day has started with dragging the K-Line sprinklers behind the ATV. On Monday morning, I think I'll go for a walk before work (instead of scrambling to get to the ranch before 7 so I can be at work by 8). Perhaps I'll just sleep a little longer!

My friends Mark and Dina Moore, who ranch and grow timber in Humboldt County, told me more than 20 years ago that they relished the fall and winter months. Shorter daylight hours - and more importantly, longer nights - forced them to rest. As I've tied my work to the rhythm of the changing seasons, I've come to appreciate this perspective even more. Between my ranch work and my professional work, I often work sun-up to sun-down (and beyond). As our hemisphere spins towards the shortest day of the year, I can feel my batteries re-charging.

By early February, I'll be looking forward to the growing light (and the coming lambs). While spring is a wonderful season, I've find that I look towards autumn with greater relish. By mid-August, I'm always looking forward to the first cool morning and hint of fall. I guess I'm always looking over the horizon - regardless of the season!

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