Friday, July 17, 2015

Field Notes 17 July 2015: Ode to Hay

I visited a ranch near Lander this week, pictured here with Table Mountain in the background.  The old-timers in Lander used to say that you were safe to plant once all the snow was off Table Mountain.
The smell of fresh-cut hay is one of the raptures of summer.  It sends me back to my childhood: staying with my grandparents on our family farm, shucking sweet corn in the front yard, riding our motorcycles through the fields, and playing with my cousins in the barn.

Most of the easements I visit are on working ranches and some of the most important land they conserve are the riparian bottomlands.  These areas have been irrigated and hayed for well over a hundred years.  Even though it's not a 'natural' system, they provide important habitat for a number of wildlife species.  Flood irrigation in the spring brings an array of water birds, shorebirds and ducks.  Simply put, because birds' natural wetlands are shrinking, flood irrigation offers increased foraging opportunities.  Hay meadows are a great place to watch for sandhill cranes caught up in their mating dance each spring.

Somewhere, someone must have written a beautiful poem as an ode to the hay meadow.  Let me know if you find it.

Also visited a ranch near Elk Mountain, WY, this week where they were trying out a new mower.  Because of the phenomenal amount of rain we've received this year, ranchers have hay coming out of their ears, a nice problem to have.