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Let it SNOW!

Photo courtesy of California Department of Water Resources

Last week the California Department of Water Resources conducted the third snow survey of the new year at Phillips Station in the Sierra Nevada Mountains. The Phillips Station survey site is 90 miles east of Sacramento, in El Dorado County, and is one of several hundred survey sites throughout the state. A snow depth of 113 inches was recorded by the survey team with a snow water equivalent of 43.5 inches. This is almost twice the level recorded at the same location last month. Due to several atmospheric rivers passing through the state during the last month the current snowpack sits at 153% or normal for the state. The snow water equivalent is an important tool utilized by water managers to estimate water run off levels during the spring and summer months. Explained simply, snow water equivalent is the depth of water that would result if the snowpack were to instantly melt.

Engineers with the California Department of Water Resources conduct a snow depth survey at  Phillips Station  –  Photo courtesy of California Department of Water Resources

Why is this important? Besides the water needs of the 39.5 million people who call California home, there is also the water requirement demanded by the largest agriculture producing state in the nation. The San Joaquin Valley of California produces 80% of the Almond crop worldwide, not to mention other crops such as tomatoes, citrus, watermelons, corn, alfalfa, and almost too many more to name. On top of that the state has a thriving dairy cattle industry, as well as many other forms of livestock production from sheep and goats, to pork, chicken, squab, etc. Throw in aquatic environments statewide which several fisheries, including different species of Salmon to Steelhead, depend on, tourism through water sports at the state’s numerous lakes and reservoirs, a strong sport-fishing economy, and hundreds of protected wetlands for waterfowl (both indigenous as well as migratory), and one realizes just how massive the water requirements for California are.

Media and engineers from the California Department of Water Resources gather for the first snow depth survey of the year in January 2018 – Photo courtesy of California Department of Water Resources

Northern California has received record amounts of rain over the first two months of this year. The sate’s largest reservoirs are all currently near capacity. Lake Oroville is currently 84% of average capacity for this date while New Melones Reservoir is currently 137%. Many of these reservoirs have begun releasing water downstream in expectation of future rainfall accumulation. This is when the importance of the snowpack becomes evident. Once the rain ends, the reservoirs will be releasing water to support all of the needs discussed earlier in this article. As spring progresses into summer and our temperatures begin to rise the Sierra snow will begin to melt and run downstream to be collected in our reservoirs as well as replenish our underground aquifers. As the summer continues on into autumn, this snow run off will support approximately 30% of the water needs of the state. Without this snow run off, California will find itself in a tough position come fall. We may see areas of the state running dry like we saw just two short years ago. The state’s annual snowpack is often the deciding factor between a drought year and a non-drought year. So the next time you finish mowing your lawn, on a 102 degree afternoon in early September, and you reach for the garden hose to cool off stop and give a moment of thought to the snow. – The Rambler

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The Great, White Shepherd

Early spring is “Lambing” season in Northern California. All over the state spring lambs are being born, many with hopes of being shown at county fairs across the state come summer. On our little farm, in the Central Valley, three of our four ewes have given birth within the last two weeks. Almost overnight we have gone from four sheep to ten!
With my wife and I having very busy schedules, not to mention needing to sleep occasionally, who is going to keep an eye on our little flock? Keep them safe from harm? Enter Roscoe and Freya our two great, white shepherds! Both of these beautiful dogs are pure-bred Great Pyrenees. Both are rescues from local shelters, and both are important members of our family!

Roscoe is ever watchful of our sheep.

Great Pyrenees are a “working dog” breed which has been bred, specifically, to work as over-watch for livestock. These dogs are a large breed, averaging 100 – 130 pounds as adults. They have extremely acute hearing, and a terrifyingly loud bark. Pyrenees’ greatest weapon is intimidation. They are very quick to make it known to any person or animal within their perceived boundary that they are there, they are on duty, and they will act accordingly to ensure the safety of their charges. Ninety-nine percent of the time this intimidation is enough to scare away would-be predators. Rarely is a Great Pyrenees called upon to get physical. On the rare occasion when these dogs are forced into confrontation, they do so decisively. A hunting coyote is absolutely no match for these dogs. In direct contrast to their ferocity when guarding livestock is their personality with the family. Pyrenees see every animal, be it sheep, chickens, cats, and even people as an extension of their family pack and, therefore, something it is their duty to protect. In my experience, these dogs are some of the most gentle and social animals I have ever had the privilege to share time with. It is common to find our female, Freya, cleaning the muzzles of the sheep after they have fed, or following the lambs around, after they have gained some independence from mother, to ensure they don’t get into too much trouble. During lambing, Freya sits quietly through the birth, eager for her first opportunity to meet the newborns. The sheep, wary animals by nature, are completely comfortable around the dogs and do not seem to mind the attention, in the least.

This is my typical welcome home!

I have watched our big male, Roscoe, relaxing in the barnyard with a nonchalance that seems to say he could care less about the world, as a whole. A lamb walked up to him and promptly lowered its head and charged, headbutting him in the side. Roscoe’s reaction was a casual yawn. Only after the lamb repeated its attack several times did Roscoe decide enough was enough and gently wrapped his mouth around the lamb’s tiny head as if to say, “Listen bub, fun’s over and I need to get back to my nap”! The lamb dejectedly trotted off, none the worse for wear, but with a new respect for his large, snowy playmate! I have found that the intelligence of the Pyrenees breed is unmatched by any other breed. They follow verbal commands extremely well, but it is their instincts that impress the most. Many times the dog will jump into action before any command is given. They seem to read each situation and just “know” where they are needed and what action is required. Pyrenees form strong bonds, not only with each other, but with their owners and the livestock they protect. They can often be found wrestling with each other or playing hide and seek with a cat, a couple of lambs, or even laying quietly while a chicken sits on top of them picking through their fur with its beak. Every time I walk into the barnyard both dogs always trot right up to greet me and get some attention.

https://norcalramblings.files.wordpress.com/2019/03/roscoe-freya.mp4

I have had dogs as companions for most of my life. The breeds have differed over the years and run the gamut from Chihuahua mixes and Rat Terriers to Golden Retrievers and Great Pyrenees. If I’m being honest, I have to say that the Great Pyrenees is easily one of my all time favorite breeds. They contain all of the best qualities one appreciates in a good dog with very few, if any, faults. I don’t know that I would recommend Pyrenees as an inside dog due to their size, nocturnal nature, and need for open space to run, but if you are looking for a great companion to guard your family, property, and livestock; a companion who is fiercely loyal and extremely affectionate, then the Great Pyrenees should be at the top of your list! – The Rambler

Roscoe and Hondo, our Rat Terrier, hang out while Freya cools off in the water trough.
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Observations and musings regarding life in Northern California.

I would rather wake up in the middle of nowhere than in any city on earth. — Steve McQueen

The sun sets over oak trees where the foothills of the Sierra Nevada meet the San Joaquin Valley

Welcome to Nor Cal Ramblings. I have lived in Northern California for the better part of my life, say forty-plus years. I have been to every corner of the state, from Death Valley in the South to the Lava Beds in the North. I have backpacked Yosemite, snowboarded Kirkwood, scuba dived and kayaked in Monterey bay, explored caverns on the flank of Mt. Shasta, Fly-fished numerous streams and rivers in the Sierra Nevada, seen the giant Sequoias, explored Alcatraz and San Francisco, run steam locomotives in gold rush country and done a thousand other things, besides. Along the way I have married my soul mate, raised two sons, operated a Squab farm, bred sheep, flown airplanes, driven big rigs, and made a general nuisance of myself! I am going to use this space as a window into what it is like to truly live in Northern California, at least from my perspective. For those of you who may live in this part of the state you will likely find common ground with much of what I see and relay. For those of you who have never been to the Golden State you may find that your idea of California living is vastly different from the reality. For all of you I wish the warmest welcome and hope that you might learn a little about my home state and, if nothing else, gain a little insight into what it is like to live in Nor Cal. I think you will find that there is much more to California than Hollywood, surfing, and insane taxes! By and large my most fervent hope is for you to enjoy my misadventures and gain some entertainment whenever you choose to visit my site. – The Rambler