THE MATHEMATICS OF FARMING

Larry pounds in the first stake. We’ve decided to site the orchard (formerly known as “an apple tree”) southwest of and parallel to the driveway. I like this decision. As we drive up the hill to the house we’ll pass a planting of fruit trees, and in my mind’s eye, I see them, heavy with spring blossom, and beautiful.

The stake is in the service of the elk fence that has to be built, and soon. We have two fencing bids, we have two apple trees waiting to be planted, and are on our own. The fence has to be 60 feet square. We have a 100-foot measuring tape. We have an iPhone. How hard can this be? We’re about to find out.

From the first stake, I’m instructed to walk, playing out tape for 60 feet. This is the opening passage of what we will call “Country Dance” as performed by neophyte farmers of a Certain Age. Quick, if A squared plus B squared equals C squared, then what is the square root of 7200? Um, why do we care? Because we want a square, not a parallelogram. (Yes, I know all squares are parallelograms, but not all parallelograms are square.) Hence the iPhone.

“Don’t let go!”
“Why are you walking in that direction?”
“You said to . . .”
“No, I said to . . .”
“It’s tangled in the bush,that’s why.”
“The tree’s in the way.”

And so it went. But it was a most perfect day. Warm sunshine, crisp air, and we had all the time in the world. On our way to Black Butte, we stopped at the farm to meet a man who had responded to my ad for a free Hammond’s Rhythm II organ, weathering away in the old house. The man wanted only the guts of the instrument, for purposes unknown, although he did say that what he found was well worth the trip from Newberg, and that he planned to make a guitar amplifier from the whatnot he was extracting. All fine, and welcome to whatever.

And we did need to outline that fence. Mission accomplished, we walked down to greet the cows, which were having a mid-day siesta under a grove of oak. In my latest Harper’s magazine, I read the following quote from Edward Abbey, referring to cows: “these ugly, clumsy, stupid, bawling, stinking, fly-covered, shit-smeared, disease spreading brutes.” Well. I don’t think they’re stupid, and as for the rest, hardly the animals’ fault. Our boys have 50 acres and all the grass, water, and sunshine they may want. Oak trees for shelter from the rain. But I’ve seen the Harris Ranch feed lots, too. I don’t know. I don’t know.

On the way back out Llewellyn, we saw the sheep in the pasture across the way gathering at the fence line. Lots of sheep! But no dogs, no people on horseback or in pickups. Curious. Our sheep? Do they know the time has come?

I hope you read the blog comments now that the system has been sorted out. And if you have, you will have seen friend Gordon’s suggestion that we name Larry’s new truck. So in the sun-warmed car on the way to the mountains, we considered. Candidates are Eeyore, as per the Hundred Acre Wood and, less poetically, Viehls’ Wheels, or the Viehl-Mobile. Late entry: The Heffalump. Thoughts? Other suggestions welcome, but no promises. The truck is a big, old, white pickup. In case you’re inspired.

GOT COWS?

Finally found them! They’re practically still babies, looking bewildered. We believe they just arrived this morning. Not a good photo, but here they are:

It won’t be hard to keep track of this funny face:

Remember, you can always click on the photo to get a better look.

But what were we doing at the farm today, anyway? Got a call from the Asbestos Survey people offering to come out this morning and determine what, if anything, needs to be done in the way of asbestos abatement before we can tear down the ugly abandoned house on the property. So Survey-guy takes 45 minutes to crawl through the wreck, peel back the linoleum floors, look under the carpeting, behind the peeling wall paper, beneath the cracked paint, taking samples. Not anyone’s idea of a dream job, by the way. Yuck! We await analysis from his lab work back at the office.

Someone has been removing “stuff” from the garage associated with this house. Odd behavior, as whatever was in there, besides the over-stuffed chair swollen with rainfall, could not have been more attractive than Larry’s hard-won weed whacker resting in the nearby barn, open to all comers. I thought maybe the person was looking for a place to winter over, but the bed springs were still there, stacked against the wall, and the sodden mattresses on the house porch still leaning against the siding. A work in progress? Asbestos-guy charmed us with a narrative of knife-weilding squatters he’s encountered in the course of his work, which added to the atmosphere of the morning. Fog, drizzle, sad stories . . .

As antidote to the above, we drove up to the top of the road to picnic on a nice SubWay chopped salad with an accompanying bag of Cheetos. On the way to our asbestos meeting, we had seen the cows along the road and I wanted to photograph them, but they’d disappeared. So we pulled on our boots and walked the fence line to try to locate them. Nothing doing. What?

We gave up, shut the gate behind us and were pulling out on Llewellyn when the cows appeared right where they’d been before. It’s a mystery! I have to try not to personalize them, but they do look a lot like young boys tossed out on their own, bunching together and staring in confusion at the old lady with her cell phone telling them how lovely they look.

Late breaking news on the sheep front: Larry has just spoken with the rancher who says it may be another two weeks before the shearing can start. For now, we’ll have to be content with eleven cows and call it good.

WHAT WE TALK ABOUT

We’re traveling down the length of Utah in a dense fog. It’s cold, hovering around 30 degrees, which means it’s a frozen dense fog. We drive in a cloud tunnel seeing only a truck loom ahead and disappear behind . Our story on Audible has ended, and so we talk. We’ve agreed to buy Tommy’s truck, and there is nowhere in the basement garage of the Crane Building to park the monster. We think that if we close off both ends of the barn/shed on the farm, we could safely leave the truck there.

“We could use one of the gates,” I say. There are eight to ten farm gates lying around the property in various states of decay.

“I was just thinking that,” Larry says. “I could do it myself. But first we have to shovel out the floor.”

I object. “I like the straw,” I say. it smells nice and barn/sheds should be carpeted with straw.

“Except it’s only straw for the first ten feet. Then it’s just dried dung,” Larry says.

Dung? The word sounds odd to my ear. Like something elephants might produce on their African savannah, not cows just southwest of Corvallis. But what is the right word? I reflect that in my quasi-farm childhood, we did not discuss bodily functions occurring in the barnyard. So for now, I’m sticking with Road-Guy Ken’s usage: cow poop. Can be either noun or verb. So, fine, but am I really going to talk of cows “peeing,” the obvious corollary? Hmm.

“Great,” I say. “We can shovel it all out and spread new straw and use the old stuff as compost for the orchard trees. Are you going to mind shoveling dried cow pies into your new truck bed?”

Of course he won’t mind. That’s what trucks are for. We drive on. I think about our barn owl. Male or female? I think about our apple trees, safely tucked away at Shonards Nursery in Philometh. I think about the new cows. Time passes.

Now, after ten days, we’re back in Portland. A cold, frosty morning. On the way home yesterday, we stopped by the farm to greet the new cows. Except we couldn’t find them. Without our farm boots, we couldn’t go wading around the hollers looking. Had to be satisfied to see that at least the electric fence is strung. Cows must be there somewhere, or . . . maybe I will get to watch them arrive after all? A nice thought!

We picked up a permit application for removal of the old house at the county offices in Corvallis, stopped by the nursery to get the schedule for tree-pruning lessons offered in early February. Got some recommendations for a fence builder who will know how to keep the elk herd out of the orchard, and came on home.

To an amazing phone call: a local farmer wants to rent our barn to shear his sheep! Seriously, this is so cool. Three hundred sheep per day, for 7 or 8 days, overnighting in our barn and getting fleeced by itinerant shearers the next morning. I cannot wait to see this spectacle! There will be photos — stay tuned!

SUBSCRIBER NOTICE

I know, I know. I encouraged you to work through the subscriber sign-up, and now, nothing?
We’re leaving this morning and won’t be back until the 22nd, so no posts for the duration, but please don’t go away!

(I’m speaking to you from the bottom of the page — back on top just to proof-read. Now I see on the side bar that I have two comments! Hooray! But if I try to read them, I get a warning that if I leave this page I lose everything on it. Come on, computer, that’s not nice. I just want to peek? Okay, after I hit Publish, I’ll call up a new screen and see what you have to say. In advance, thanks for joining in!)

See, I can’t tell if anyone actually has subscribed, so I’m making a hopeful leap here that one or more of you, whoever you are, may have. (Hey, apparently someone has!) And I don’t have anything now to tell you about the farm, except to say that we had a nice meeting with the architect. I’m sure you’re not interested in learning if we decided for or against an appliance garage, and the dimensions of the fire-pit where Larry hopes to do some serious barbecue, so I’ll just tell you a little story instead.

We have new neighbors across the elevator lobby here in the Crane Bldg. They’re darling, nice, have come here from South Africa, and oh, to the point, young. At least to our eyes. So I was telling them the numeric code which gets the elevator to our floor. “It’s four-four-four-four-four-pound-P.” The woman looked puzzled, glanced at her husband, who translated: “hashtag-P,” he gently explained. Now was the problem her South African provenance or her youth? #Millennials!

Of course that wasn’t the real code, so if you come to visit us, please let me know and I”ll give you the real secret number . . .

Larry keeps wandering into my office, keys jingling, looks at me with that I NEED my coffee face, are you almost through? So for now, see you again on the 22nd. Thanks!

NEW YEAR

January 2, 2015. Alli and Will at the farm.

I’m getting darn good at the new protocol of placing my phone on the dock when arriving home, so my phone is always charged. Good. Now if I could learn to put it back in my purse when departing . . .

So I didn’t have a camera to record the kids at the farm yesterday, but as you see, it was a blue-sky day. Cold enough that the ice lately flooded from the creek remained as wondrous sheets of glass waiting to be stomped and slid upon. Picked up entire and shattered. “Like in Greece,” Will said. “Where they throw their plates.” Huh? Kids these days!

There was still enough ice melt to provide plenty of bog in which I could break in my new boots. Called, appropriately enough, Bog Boots. It’s kind of fun to splash about the lower field, even though it’s not technically wet-land. Technically. Couldn’t be more “wet” and still considered “land.” We’re beginning to understand just what it is that we’ve acquired.

We were to meet Mark Wahl there at 2:00 to discuss the placement of his electric wire fencing. He arrived in the company of his little Cecily and Jefferson, the sheep dog. He and Larry marched around the property, establishing the boundaries for the new arrivals. At first there will be only 20 cows, but the numbers will rise when the animals move off the fields of rye grass in the spring.

We’re to have a combination of some Angus, some Charolais. Of course I Googled Charolais and found that they’re white (good — more picturesque) but are also being bred red and brown. So we’ll see. I asked Mark if he would Skype their arrival and he laughed — if he know how to Skype, he said. Nope, I’ll just have to wait until another shipment to photograph the animals’ arrival. Wonder how I’ll manage my mixed feelings about contributing to a practice I don’t really support intellectually, but do cuisine-wise. Hold two thoughts simultaneously?

The land eases my mind just now. Winter wood, leaves on the ground, two huge flights of geese honking their way to some neighboring wet-land. Silence except for the sound of the kids over by the fallen tree, laughing. Now I won’t be back until late in January, after Band Camp. But I go to sleep with the image of green hills, ancient oaks with clumps of mistletoe newly visible, hawks soaring. Lucky.