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Stories from the valley

Sounds of the Season

Contributed by Dan Macon

I’ve known David and Barbara Gallino since shortly after I went to work for the California Cattlemen’s Association in 1992 (and yes, I’ve been around that long!). When I first met them, they ranched between Grass Valley and Auburn. They wintered their cattle in the foothills; they summered on the Tahoe National Forest above Camptonville. We hit it off from the first time we met.

At some point, when I started running sheep commercially in the early 2000’s, David and I started a friendly competition to see who heard the sandhill cranes flying south in the fall and north again in February – whoever heard them first would call the other. For me, it was a measure of whether I was spending enough time outside.

When we started this tradition, we saw each other frequently. But lives change – David and Barbara sold their cows and transferred their grazing permit 5 or 6 years ago. I gave up on trying to run sheep full time and went to work for UC Cooperative Extension. Our paths still cross now and then, but not like they used to. But David and Barbara still live on the ranch; I still run sheep.

a sheep and two lambs

On February 20, as I was checking our ewes and building fence, I heard sandhill cranes overhead for the first time this year. I dropped the roll of fencing I was carrying, and called David and Barbara. “You’ve heard ’em, haven’t you?!” Barbara said when she picked up the phone, not even saying hello (they must have caller ID!). “David said this morning it was time for them to be going over!”

When David got on the phone, he told me, “In late February, you’re always a little down – the hay pile low, the mud’s deep, and the grass isn’t doing much. Then the sandhill cranes go over, and you realize, ‘we’re gonna make it another year.'”

These days, I only talk to David and Barbara when we hear the cranes, for the most part. But every September – when the cranes move south – we talk; we talk again in February. And every September, I know it’s time to turn the rams in with the ewes when I hear the cranes. And I know we’ll be close to lambing when the cranes start their migration to the north.

lamb laying among tree roots

Sure enough, our first lambs arrived the very next day. New lambs, like the migratory cycles of the sandhill cranes, are always a hopeful sign for me. Regardless of how the winter is going, new lambs signal the transition to a new season (and a new set of chores). New lambs, like the cranes, come with their own unique sound – I could find a ewe with newly born lambs in the dark, simply by listening to her nickering to her babies – and I could identify sandhill cranes simply by their call.

This year, the lambs – and the cranes – hold special significance. After the year we’ve experienced (and it’s been nearly a year since the pandemic transformed our lives), I am comforted that some cycles of life continue as they always have. As Dave would say, “We’re gonna make it another year.”