Picnic time: come one, come all

Just as spring is ripening into summer there comes a flower which we back-country people call Farewell to Spring. However, the wild buckwheat continues to delight the bees, conchal aqau (water shell) still is bright, and a few "Chinese Houses" are left. I was thinking about Farewell to Spring as I crossed the meadow on the way to the barn. For sure now it is fall, as nights and early mornings are still and chilly and by midmorning the air is intensely hot and dry. A strage season.

It surprises me to think that some people believe that California has no changes of season. As a matter of fact we have five seasons instead of the usual four. There comes a mixed-up time before the cold of winter, when the rainy season is starting and there is young green grass coming up among the fallen leaves. In appearance it is a mixture of spring and fall. Before long that season should arrive. But a summer's end I stop to admire tar weed.

This is a plant that usually goes unadmired. It is called tar weed because it exudes a black tarry substance that sticks to fetlock hairs and muzzles of grazing horses. Its blossoms are a deeper yellow than that of wild mustard, but not quite gold or bronze. Like sounds, colors are hard to describe.

The meadow started out in late spring by turning snowy with wild daisies, which didn't seem to crowd out all the grass or the wild mustard. Only a few of the daisies still bloom and the grass turned yellow long ago, but now there is the tar weed, which might well be called Farewell to Summer. As usual, summer had been fun. Perhaps myu love of summer stems from childhood days when summer meant school vacation.

I am so overjoyed by summer that I get carried away and invite everyone to a picnic on the Fourth of July. This entails so much preparation of picnic-type food that before the guests arrive I am hating my kitchen and wishing that I'd never got this mad idea in the first place. But once the festivities begin I fell great.

The usual variety of people came this year -- people from the city and people from ranches. We hauled supplies to our favorite spot, over the hill from the barn, and there we gathered around picnic tables under a big live oak. Everyone became so busy with food and conversation that only occasionally did we pause to take in views of mountains and valleys.

This time there was more than a variety of guests. Just as the watermelon was being cut, Susie came. She stared delightedly at all of us, indicating that some melon might taste good. She was not greeted with complete enthusiasm, since city folk are likely to believe that cows go around bunting peopple. Attitude did not offend Susie. She walked around and mingled. Ladies who had never been close to a cow shrieked and clutched husbands. Susie believed in nearness and touching. Literally to be face to face with an affectionate cow is unnerving. The country folk were finding the entertainment great, and then it got better.Wallace and Little Brother arrived. These two pet pigs were as horrifying as the gentle Jersey cow.

A few minutes later our enormous steer, White Calfalier, came to inquire as to what was going on. Fortunately Calfalier is too big to squeeze through the narrow opening to our fenced picnic ground. People stared nervously at his wide spread of horns. They couldn't know that the monstrous steer would approach only to be petted. He had been an orphan calf, raised in my house, and he still thinks he is little. The men backed him away from the gate and he walked over to check out a pickup truck. There he found long strings that had tied feed sacks, and they tasted good. Since they didn't seem to be proper food, I had to pull out yards of string before they got swallowed. Calfalier didn't care: he followed me as I hurried to shut the narrow gate lest he should try another entrance.

Later everyone admitted that it had been an exciting picnic. And I admitted that I am uncomfortable among city sights and sounds. Without giving due consideration, I invited everyone to next year's picnic -- and everyone accepted.

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