Water World

On Monday afternoon, when the rain had let up, I walked our property to look at it in its drenched and watery glory. I took the loop around each of the meadows, through our oak grove and then along the nameless spit of Koenigstein that serves half a dozen houses back in and above Bear Canyon.

Crossing over Koenigstein proper I walked through Margot, our neighbor's property where Lorrie and I have recently finished overseeing an extensive re-model. The original ranch house was beautifully sited, nestled by three oaks and a fourth within spitting distance of the north east corner, and I was curious to see how the grounds had handled the steady down pour.

The compacted track carved by the Dodge Rams and Ford 150's beloved of contractors and their subs was ponding and between puddles the beginnings of a rivulet was developing. Absent the surrounding grass ground cover, the down-trodden dirt was now captive to the erosional energies of the winter rains. And, closer to the house, where once had been a brick garden path (removed a year ago) the compressed soil hosted an incipient lagoon.

But the wisdom of the original positioning of the building on a mildly sloping meadow was indicated by the general indifference of the site to the five inches of rain we had experienced in the first two days of the January storms.

Bear Creek, which defines the western border of our property, is the eastern border of Margot's land and it was roaring, at a distance of something like 50 yards from her house, invisible in its deeply carved stream bed. There were no contributions to its intensity from her property and the roiling water made its way directly to the stream that runs along the 150 and feeds Santa Paula Creek towards Sulphur Springs.

Returning to our driveway, off Koenigstein, just above the Bear Creek Bridge, I walked the western 'grass' verge and pulled remnant Russian thistles (Salsola tragus). They had originally sprouted sometime in November and although a little prickly their light attachment to the soil (allowing them to roam and tumble in spring) meant that they had largely succumbed to my diligent weeding. To the east I pulled Italian thistles (Carduus pycnocephalus), which in the soaked soil offered little resistance to a firm tug. Ultimately, however, their sheer numbers will defeat me. I focused on the lone thistles (wolf-thistles?) - those that had set up shop showily and apart from their brethren - like precocious children finding space for themselves in a crowded playground.

A little way along the driveway and at the bottom of the long sloping approach to the house, the seasonal stream to the right veers under the drive at an Arizona crossing. The stream was in full spate but on this Monday remained contained in the 36" plastic ribbed culvert. The Baccharis salicifolia, recently standing on either side of the crossing, was almost flattened by the torrent but we can expect it to spring back when the deluge recedes. Close by I saw blue dicks (Dichelostemma capitatum) emerging and higher on the driveway verges were native peonies (Paeonia californica) drooping demurely.

Approaching the house, I crossed over the rocks that had been shunted to the east of the meadow in the original developer grading which had sought to showcase a potential house site, and scrambled down the bank to the seasonal stream. Our fire clearances extend beyond the stream as it slides by the house, and the slope beyond the stream had recently been manicured to the requisite twelve feet from shrub to shrub. Between the wisps of chamise (Adenostoma fasticulatum), mountain mahogany (Cercocarpus betuloides), ceonothus, holly-leaved cherry (Prunus ilicifolia) and buckthorn (Rhamnus crocea) the spongy undercarpet was re-vegetating with mallows, grasses, lillies, peonies and the prolific wild cucumber (Marah oregana).

The stream had by now begun to run clear and the architecture of boulders, chutes and waterfalls revealed itself. I stepped from rock to rock moving up-stream exultant in the beauty of the water, the canopy of the oaks above and the plunging stream banks. I continued through the oak grove until poison oak (Rhus diversiloba) spread fully across the ravine and prevented further progress.

From previous explorations, I knew that the stream continues through sage brush (Artemesia caliofornica), toyon (Heteromeles arbutifolia) and laurel sumac (Malosma laurina) through a gently rising upland which, five or more years ago had been 'grubbed' by the developer, in the attempt to provide 'open space' for prospective buyers. This tangle of sage brush is the first stage of the chaparral succession. The stream originates in a gully wedged into the corner of south and west facing hills that top out around 2000 feet and represent the high point of our property. Here, the chaparral is mature old-growth and the oaks that line the stream bear the scars of twentieth century fires.

I returned, climbing back over carelessly tumbled rocks and now, above the house, crossed over the arc of concrete 'v' ditch that diverts water from the meadow that rises behind the building, and clambered down to the gravel terrace which, at the height of the storm had been a shallow moat but was now again its placid zen-like self.

Tuesday will bring more rain.