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Hills of bounty

It was spring, but not all the wildflowers were aflame on the hillsides or in the pastures. The great surge of color would come later. Some monkey flowers were out, the wild peony had started to bud -- but that's all a wild peony does around here. They are the right peony color, but the bud is their completed effort.

So far I had seen but few yellow violets, which usually come earlier. Once I received a letter from a lady in England who said there was no such thing as a yellow violet --violets, of course, are violet color. I pressed a few and sent them to her and she admitted that, yes, these were violets, but how strange. Another English lady wrote to tell me that I was all wrong, you do not cut hay in May or June, but in autumn, which is the proper harvesttime. I explained that where I live oat hay has to be planted in the fall to receive the benefit of winter rains. She replied that neither she nor anyone else had ever heard of oat hay, oats being a grain that is fed to horses. I gave up on further explanation.

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One bright warm day turned overcast by noon, but it wasn't the kind of sky that meant rain. It was a high fog. Gena arrived unexpectedly. "I brought lots to eat, since I didn't know if you'd been to the store lately. I tried to phone you, but your line kept being busy.I guess there are too many other people on the same line. Anyway, I plan to cook dinner and wash dishes. You have awful weather, it's sunny down in the city."

We went over to the barn at evening chore time so that Gena could see the two young calves and visit the enormous steer, Calfalier. Calfalier was an orphan calf whom we had raised on a bottle. Gena used to cuddle him in her arms and bottle feed him and he's never forgotten her, though he sees her only occasionally. Now he came to be petted when she called him and she stroked his big, kind face and admired his impressive spread of horns. Before we were through feeding the high fog had dropped to earth and it was thick. I convinced Gena that she should spend the night; it would be too awful on the freeway, traveling to the city after dark.

In the morning, the sky was clear. Gena cooked breakfast, washed dishes, looked for something to do next. "I know what. Let's go see the new foal over on Tom's ranch, and then let's go find some watercress. I'm hungry for watercress sandwiches."

We rode Chulo and Paco, as they like to see the small colts. One of the small ones was extra large; even for a colt, he had very long legs. We told Tom we were going after watercress and he said he'd come along.

We followed where a lively rivulet crossed and recrossed the trail -- water so fresh there should be cress. We looked where the stream slowed into a small pond before it continued and where there should have been cress, but there wasn't.

A big flight of ravens and hawks were quarreling in the sky and battling close to earth. We watched for a long time, envious of the way they soared. It was impossible to determine whether hawks were chasing ravens from a nesting site or whether it was the other way around.Neither side appeared to be winning.

I thought there might be cress in my canyon, but by now it was lunchtime. The sun was going behind cold-looking clouds and the air grew chilly. When we reached home, Gena sighed. "I'm still hungry for watercress. I like something that grows by itself and doesn't have to be in a garden."

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I said, "I know, we'll pick some miners' lettuce for sandwiches. There's usually some of that up by the water tank."

Miners' lettuce is a small cup-shaped plant so-called because, though the gold hunters had plenty of staples that would keep, in time they grew hungry for something fresh and green. One of them tasted this plant and found it good.

We had miners' lettuce sandwiches, which we enjoyed though they lacked the nippy taste of watercress. Next time Gena came it would be warmer, there would be cress. We'd see pinkish lavender fields of fillaree blossoms and, like a patchwork quilt, the hills would wear many colors.

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