Mountain Musings

Hills were as brown and dry as the hay used to feed the cattle

March 13, 2014 

In the Santa Lucia Mountains in Cambria’s backcountry, as everywhere in the county, we’re getting tired of endless worry about the extremely dry weather. Now that we’ve got some good rain under our belts, we’re breathing easier, even though the recent blessed storms have probably done little to dig us out of the serious drought that has plagued so much of California.

It’s a start that we’re grateful for, but it’s just that — a start.

At our elevation of 1,850 feet, our rainfall during a normal rain season is about 45 inches from October through April. As of the middle of March, we’ve had just over 11 inches. Such a dramatic lack of rain affects the water table, which in turn affects the water availability for everyone in the area.

Over the last few years, the hillside out our living room window has gone from lush green to a quiet putty color with only a few hints of green. This hillside and our rain gauge are our touchstones for each rainy season.

Although our hillside is currently not showing the usual brilliant green signs of spring it has in years past, we have noticed that the hills at lower elevations are a lot greener than we are up here.

Usually, the hillsides around Cambria are greening up nicely by December, and by this time of year are providing nourishing grazing for the local cattle. We’re still seeing remnants of hay in most cow pastures — the continuing supplement feeding that has been such a financial burden to the ranchers this year.

In the 10 years I’ve lived in Cambria’s mountains, I’ve never seen this degree of supplement feeding in the spring. It’s usually only a summer and early fall phenomenon.

In the 1960s, when I first moved to Southern California, we could count on it raining some in January and pretty much the entire month of February. The weather pattern was much different than it is now. No one seems sure why our weather has become so different — whether it’s just a cycle we’re in or climate change. The last super wet winter I remember here was our first winter here in the mountain.

We had over 68 inches that year but have not come anywhere near that since.

Whatever the reason for our current weather pattern, I hope we break out of this soon and get back to the wet winters of the old days.

Marcia Rhoades’ column is special to The Cambrian. Email the resident of Cambria’s mountain community in the Santa Lucia range at

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