One of the attractions of Christian theology is that it slices, dices and peels. The three-in-one concept of the Holy Trinity dispenses (you'd think) with arguments about the distinctions between the man behind the curtain, his terrestrial emissary and the universal soul - the spirit immanent in the world - that kept the Transcendentalists up at night (Albion); but I'm going to leave it at that. A final metaphysical thought before plunging on with the real narrative force of this blog: weeding.

The last few days have been perfect weeding weather. A thick blanket of cloud sits over the valley: we are locked into June Gloom. I began my latest assault on the exogenous bio-mass that exists at the fringes of our chaparral garden last Wednesday afternoon. The sun was out. The weekend of the Ojai Music Festival (The Song of Life) had been cold and cloudy, but right on schedule, given that Irony has the planet in its grip, Monday dawned clear and sunny. It was that way for the first few days of the week before the iron-cold gloom descended once more.

I was weeding the edges of the gravel terrace that bridges between the house and the pool. The pool backs into the bowl that rises up beyond the house and wraps around to the east, where sits an oak-strewn rocky knoll, before falling away to accommodate a seasonal stream. The land then rises in an upfold to become the dominating eastern ridge that shelters the site. In a world of synclines and anticlines the terrace is an oasis of flatness, a ledge cut into the dominant slope. Here was my work.

Mostly it's deerweed (Lotus scoparius) (Manichean Plant Order) creating a dwarfish canopy for bromes, thistles, mustard, clover and erodium at terrace edge. The ground is no longer soft, but most of the offending material comes out with some of its root structure attached - the ne plus ultra of the weeding experience. The terrace is bounded in rocks and coarse native gravels sieved from the spoils of small scale excavations necessitated by post-occupancy site work - a terrain which makes for difficult weeding. Seeds are more likely to germinate at a rock's edge because they benefit from the local intensification of moisture that the rock face affords; and having begun life in a cranny the roots then spread beneath the rocks and have some measure of protection from the weeder's grasp.

In Southern California, however, the act of turning over a rock does not let loose a slimy bestiary as is experienced in many damper parts of the world. The occasional stink beetle scuttles off into the brush and if there is any residual dampness there will be earwigs, but mostly it is a barren wasteland; once I found a dark grey, almost ebony, wasp nest stuck to the underside of a rock. It was pitted like a golf ball, and about the same size but more bullet shaped - the disturbed wasps crawled in and out but none took wing: I quickly replaced it in the nether-world, nest down. So there was a fair amount of scrabbling beneath rocks searching for the basal stems of plants on which to tug.

Once, I disturbed a mouse. The slope, particularly as it edges towards the rock knoll, is riddled with holes. Not all of them belong to gophers. We see ground squirrels, chipmunks and very occasionally a wood rat. Gopher snakes live amongst the big rocks beneath the oaks. On Wednesday afternoon, after going in the house to take a tea-break, I wandered over the gravel terrace to take up my place at its edge and continue weeding. Just as I was about to kneel down I saw movement in my peripheral vision. I focused in its direction and saw a beautiful juvenile rattlesnake practicing his or her undulatory locomotion up the hill away from where I had been about to kneel. It made swift progress for a couple of yards and then stopped long enough for me to admire its markings, its incipient rattle and diamond shaped head.

In a few moments it continued up slope. Then, four or five yards from where I was working it arched half of its twenty four inch length up into the deerweed above it as though it was picking some exotic Lotus fruit. Instead, it manoeuvred its body over a deerweed stem and lay there, draped in the bush about eight inches off the ground, for some considerable time. Perhaps it planned to drop out of the bush onto an unsuspecting mammal; in any case, I continued working and next time I looked it was gone.

We have seen several Roadrunners about the house recently; sometimes alone or in pairs (the Geococcyx californianus, that is). One I saw early morning in a dry creek bed beneath an oak, rooting around, it seemed, in the leaf litter. W.S. Head notes in his slim volume, The California Chaparral, Naturegraph Publishers, 1972, that they are a characteristic bird of the chaparral although Quinn and Keeley's much more recent California Chaparral, UC Press, Los Angeles, 2006, does not mention it.

Head notes that the early pioneers called these birds Chaparral cocks and would tame them to stay around their cabins catching rats, lizards and snakes. He writes about seeing a fight between one of these birds and a rattlesnake and although this probable death struggle was disturbed by a passing car he is convinced that the bird would have been victorious; its opponent was close to three feet long.

The adolescent snake perched in the deerweed would have been be easy pickings for this gawky cartooned avian, its comedic carapace masking a stealthy killing machine. Perhaps it's time to remake those old Warner Brother's cartoons with an edgier, darker tone.