Our friends, Ruth and Jim, were fascinated by the mounds of gopher bones beneath 3 of our 6 barn owl boxes. One trial box facing south(where our weather and rain come from) remained empty...an abject failure. But a huge pile of gopher bones was nearby, underneath a well worn perch of a Valley Oak, used by owls to view all 6 acres of our valley vineyard. I had the site right, but failed to orient the owl box opening to the north, as barn owls prefer. I've heard it said that north facing boxes are preferred because a) they do not let the rain and wind in and b) because barn owls do not like either the morning or setting sun in their homes. Whether the reasoning is true or not, I do not know. It is, however, well known folklore that has been passed down for generations, and there probably is more fact than fiction...but am I certain? Nope.
The day before our friends arrived we had had another crisp, beautiful afternoon, perfect for walking the dogs. Cazadora was running and hunting uphill 30 yards in front of the truck, when suddenly a hen turkey jumped up, cupped her wings and sailed right over Caza's head. If you've never seen it, a startled turkey who jumps, cups her wings, and sails downhill until becoming a speck in the distance, is a thrilling sight. It happened in the blink of an eye, however, and even Caza, who hunts anything with a heartbeat, merely stood and watched the huge Merriam's hen disappear in the distance, rocketing away using her cupped wings as massive airfoils.
This happened once before, some 5 years ago, when Caza and I were hunting a steeply terraced but unplanted mountainside behind our vineyard. Then, just as now, the turkey jumped, but she jumped right at Caza's feet. Instinctively, Caza leapt up at the huge bird, grabbed a mouthful of chest feathers and skin, and was startled to feel herself suddenly being picked up off the ground. In a millisecond, (but with great reluctance) Caza released the hen and then watched as she flew higher and higher... then abruptly turned and whistled down the mountain, wings cupped for maximal speed.
At the very top of the mountain vineyard we sat for a spell, admiring all the perennial grasses holding our steeply sloped vineyard rows in place. Some of the filaree had reddish tips, indicating they had recently experienced a hard frost. But on closer observation an entire rim of the steeply terraced Syrah was ablaze with early spring buttercups as well as another tiny fuchsia colored flower, whose name escapes me at present(back to the wildflower identification manual).
Relaxing in the warming sun and looking upwards, one could not ignore the billowy white cumulus clouds, interspersed with several dark grey-blue menacing ones. Caza and Tucho, both tired from their long runs, seemed content to sit and watch a 10 second flight of crows, easily 200 or so in number, as they flew along for just the perfect spot on which to alight. Sure enough, they dropped like stones to sit atop end posts of our mountain Cab rows.
Finally the dogs let it be known they were ready to head home by jumping into the back truck-bed, and we hadn't gone 300 yards when a flock of 3 dozen bandtail pigeons dropped from the sky and whiffled into the top branches of the overhanging live oak trees.
Mind you, this all happened in a very short time span, in the dead of winter...that cold, damp, ugly time. So do I love the "ugly" winters here? I think you know the answer to that one. You should come visit us at Cerro Prieto sometime, where even the winters can be special. Barring that, I would recommend a glass of our Paso Bordo around a warm fire at night. If you can't enjoy the beauty here, a glass of our nationally recognized Cab/Syrah would be a close second.