CHOCOLATE MILK

A strange, apocalyptic-appearing morning, with smoke lying on the landscape, dead still, arriving yesterday evening with the east winds from the wild fires in the Cascades. Hard to understand when it may clear, and so we stay inside, actually experiencing what quarantine and isolation may feel like to our urban, apartment-dwelling friends.

But yesterday morning arrived fine and bright after a restless night spent listening to bawling cows. We thought we understood the cause — a calf trapped inside the creek-side fences and his distraught mother cow looking for him. Larry had seen the outlaw the evening before, but it had been already dark and we knew we could do nothing to help.

At six a.m. we could stand it no longer, so Larry fired up the ATV and went to retrieve the young miscreant. And found instead an adult cow. But how to herd her back to the pasture? Call Ryan! Call Scott! Ryan arrived half-an hour later with his young son, Tyler, and they hopped the fence to drive the mother cow, and now two calves as well, back to the pasture. How were they getting into the stream-bordered area?

Ryan was about to find out when the mother cow crashed under the barbed wire at a spot where the land dipped sufficiently to allow passage. Into a mud bog. Up to her chest. See photo:

Ooops. What would you do? Okay, fortunately Ryan is experienced, calm, and prepared. He had recently purchased a mobile crane with boom (don’t know why) and raced the few miles back home to bring it to the job.

Think you’d like to move to the country, buy a few chickens, maybe a cow and a pig? Maybe you should think again. What you’re about to see now is a video, entered onto my blog for you by my talented, super-smart, and adorable grandson, Will, who with his parents arrived later that afternoon (explanation to follow.)

The videography was provided by Larry, who practically dropped his phone in relief an hour later when she finally made it out of the mud. But here’s what that looked like:

She had remained calm and quiet throughout the ordeal — exhausted, Ryan said, poor creature. By the way, she’s pregnant.

She stood, wandered away, and mud-clad and dragging her halter, joined her herd. Later I wondered if her mud-bath would serve to deter the flies which torment the cows on these hot afternoons. Hope so. BTW, the halter is constructed to slip off should she step on it, so don’t worry.

Larry and I drove back up the road in our trusty ATV, amazed at the drama. “Not my first time,” Ryan says. I can’t adequately express my amazed admiration for this young man, who spoke gently and encouragingly to the cow the whole time.

But Jenny, Tom, and Will were due to arrive in the afternoon, a caravan to deliver Tom’s beloved Defender:

The car will be returned to its winter home in the Black Butte, as there isn’t space for it in the Seattle garage. Larry will put the top on before driving around the streets of Sisters, or wherever he goes with it, drawing envious comment from car enthusiasts everywhere.

After a good, socially-distanced outdoor picnic with the family, we came inside to linger before they headed to Portland for the night (yes, must confess, also to enlist Will in solving various computer-related problems). Quite suddenly, we were enveloped in a thick, shocking layer of smoke. We called around the neighborhood, tried a few news channels, to learn where the fire might be, but were unable to learn the source until this morning.

Now that we know, we have to adjust to this new, alarming feature of life, brought to us by 2020. One more challenge. We don’t throw up our hands and ask “what’s next!” We know better.

The title of this blog entry was suggested by Tom, whose brain runs along wry channels, and who always makes me laugh.

R.I.P. Burnt Toast

We feel like we’re living in a Leonard Cohen song this past week. No. A Chris Isaak song: Things Go Wrong . . .

She just wouldn’t learn. Or couldn’t. What do you do with a chicken who’s a bully? Well, you can separate her from the flock. Like build a new coop just for her? No. You can clip 1/8 inch from the top of her beak. Yeah, can you see that? You can remove her. You mean? Yes.

There are several time-tested ways to “remove” a troublesome chicken. We all know you can chop off her head with a hatchet on a stump (this is what my dad always did). You can break her neck, and there’s a YouTube video to show you how. You can simply turn her loose outside the compound and depend on some other animal who wants a good chicken dinner to do the job. Or, you can call the vet hospital down the road.

You may be wondering how this bullying manifests itself? Okay, I came out to the orchard to check for eggs and found Toast mounted on Maddie’s back, pecking at her neck and shoulders. Feathers flying. I yelled, of course, and kicked at Toast to get her off. I’d brought some dried worm treats to the girls, and when I dumped them out, Toast went for the worms and Maddie crawled away. Not good.

I’m sure you know that we chose the vet hospital solution, and if we felt ridiculous, that’s the price for failure to suck it up and commit chicken murder. But $243 to euthanize her? Didn’t know it would be that expensive. Could have built a new coop for that.

But here’s the new three-girl flock, living in sunshine and harmony and laying lots of eggs:

So what else went wrong? We woke up the following morning to find no hot water in the house. Seems we have a “tankless hot-water system” which is supposed to be more economical and environmentally sound than keeping a tank of water hot all day and night. Right. But we sure do waste a lot of water waiting for the shower to get warm, especially when there’s no hot water to be found anyway.

Called the plumber, and he informed us that the installing plumber had joined copper and galvanized piping, to corrosive effect, and the joint had been leaking for months, probably. (In the way that one craftsman will find the preceding artisan a shocking failure.) I don’t know, but Chase, this week’s guy, patched things up and hot water returned. Of course, now we need to install a new system. Fine. Just do it.

Now our attention turned to the grapes out in the arbor:

We’d strung mylar streamers and mounted whirly-gigs to deter the birds from our ripening fruit. But grapes were, strangely, carpeting the ground beneath the vines, and they were still mostly green. Birds don’t usually go after green fruit, so could this be the work of ground squirrels? Then whole bunches began falling, and we turned to Shonnard’s nursery for a solution. Ah. Stem-rot. So the birds weren’t stealing our fruit, the grapes were committing suicide.

One last image before we turn the corner. Here’s our corn yield this year:

Of course, it’s not all bad! Here are some photos to cheer you up:

We’re in Portland this afternoon to meet with a tech regarding the TV and sound system in the condo. We’re planning to lease the condo until such time as anyone wants to move to toxic Portland. Oregon, and all electronic systems have to be operative, etc. More about that another time, but I will close with the note that as we left the farm house this morning, we discovered that a skunk had been busy overnight comprehensively spraying the entire building. Dear God. What do you do with a renegade skunk? We’re being tested!

ANOTHER DAY IN THE LIFE

See, I’m supposed to work out in our garage 3 days a week, walk the road 3 times without stopping on the other 3 days, with Sunday off for good behavior. This as per my buddy/personal-trainer Aaron. Here’s my workout equipment in the garage:

Right. So weights and bench, with treadmill in the corner, my pushup bar with squash, bench with TRX cables and straps. Yep. Can’t wait for M T F.

But today is Tuesday, walking the road day. I always listen to a book on this hour-long hike and today I was walking with Lisa Wingate and her book, The Sea Keeper’s Daughters. When in grad school for my MFA, I learned a nice metaphor. A pebble is tossed into a still pond, and the resulting ripples/waves are the story. Lisa apparently did not go to the same school as I. What’s this about a pebble? For 3 half-laps of the road I listen to description. Set up. Back story. Memory. More description. A gray cat and some camomile tea. Get on with it, Lisa! All patience exhausted, I jerk out my earbuds, go to Libby, and hit return. I will walk and observe Nature. See, there is an attractive feather. And a dead mouse or vole. I took photos, but I will spare you.

At home, I shower, etc., and am dressed, making my smoothie when the doorbell rings, and it’s Westin, here to check the squirrel traps. Which aren’t actually traps, but poison down a tube affair which only a squirrel can reach. But what if a turkey vulture eats one of the dead squirrels? He would, Westin has said, have to eat 30 or 40 squirrels before he became ill, as the bait is vanishingly non-toxic to carrion animals.

This morning Westin slaps at the long holster on his hip and says with a smile that he’s packing today. Okay if he walks the fields and hunts the squirrels? Sure, but I want to see his gun when he comes back in. It’s a single-action, 22 long barrel, Luger revolver. The thing is strangely compelling, and I want to touch it, but don’t ask. “What is it for?” I ask. “Besides squirrels?” Turns out that Westin hunts, fair enough, but also competes. He particularly likes an event called “Cowboy” which has to do with rapid draw and accuracy. He was a member of the OSU pistol team — who knew there was such a thing?

“Do you need a license for the gun?” I ask? No, so long as he wears it openly. If his shirt is tucked in and the gun visible, fine. Shirt out, gun hidden, he needs a concealed carry license. He explains this to me as he unloads the gun, tucks the bullets into a case, and he talks about hunting game birds. And his methods for cooking them.

At lunch I check email and find a note from Tracy. We can come and get a couple of chickens if we want them. Oh, man. Not sure, but finally decide to go for it. Our two chickies haven’t been laying very much and I actually bought eggs last week. We have to find a couple of boxes to carry the birds in, and Larry mows the orchard, cleans the coop. Ready or not!

Tracy and her husband Lyn live just across Bell Fountain, and raise sheep, geese, chickens, and have a couple of horses just to round things out. We don’t know them well, and haven’t been to their home before. We get out with our boxes, and on the way to the chicken run, Lyn asks if we’d like to see the airplane he’s building first.

No, really, he’s building a for real god damn single-engine, two-seater airplane in his shop. Should be ready in a couple of months. He did buy the engine, but all the hoses and wires connecting it to the frame, the frame itself, the cockpit, the wings, everything, he’s MAKING it.

“Um, are you actually a pilot?” No, but he has flown a lot of hours. He’s an engineer, got a good buy-out from HP, and decided what the heck. It’s unbelievable, and I kept thinking Gordon Has Got To See This! I can’t show you because I didn’t have my phone with me. Aaargh. Must get an invitation back! I asked Tracy if she’d go up with him, and she said of course.

Duh.

Okay, about the chickens. We got two, one Novo Gen, and one Plymouth Safire. We got them home and into their new digs with Rhody and Toast. Toast immediately went for the gray one and came out of the fight with a couple of feathers in her beak. The gray one spent the rest of the day in the coop while Toast strutted around in good bully fashion.

Oh, their names? Well, as we have a Burnt Toast, of course the gray one is — Gravy. The other is a French breed, now goes by Madeline. Here’s Gravy:

Pretty. Hope she’s tough. Hope she lays eggs! But it’s 10:00, and, having just watched a Netflix I’m auditioning for Zoom Chicks, bed time. Another day. Not sure if I can get an imogi onto my blog but I can’t find a yawning one anyway. G’night!

LAZY DAYS?

Okay, we give up. Our campaign against ground squirrels has ended in rout for the little buggers — sheer numbers have overwhelmed our firecrackers, boy pee, poison, hired guns, shouting. We’ve withdrawn to the patio and flower beds around the house on which we’ve sprinkled cayenne in the last ditch hope to protect our petunias and geraniums. Plenty of lettuce and green beans at the grocery, right?

What about the thistle mentioned in the last blog? After several days slogging around the pastures with a backpack sprayer addressing the thistle and tansy, Larry called our guy at Fish and Wildlife. “Too late to spray,” he says. “Only thing you can do now is mow.”

Wishing he’d called Jarod a week ago, Larry headed for the barn, hitched the brush hog to the John Deere, and is just now employing the nuclear option. Off with their heads! It’s supposed to hit 95 this afternoon, so best get the farm work done early.

As you can imagine, I’m not much help when farm work gets beyond weed whacking, so have been staying inside these hot days making pickles with Vik, more pickles — bread and butter — with Larry manning the slicer. An earlier round of sauerkraut is now fermenting away in the garage refrigerator, but that’s about it until and if the apples ripen. We still have “produce” from last year in the freezer, and I made something resembling pear crisp yesterday. Nothing crisp about it. Ugh. But Larry will eat it. Good man.

So what have I been doing? Reading all day and painting my nails? Kind of. But those of you who are old like me may remember suffering through home ec back in high school days. Had to make a blouse or skirt or something, maybe an apron for the beginners? My sisters and I lived in outgrown clothes packed up from family in Ohio, and on my mom’s sewing skills. Which weren’t wonderful. As in, she’d buy a bolt of cloth in a burst of economy or efficiency and make up matching outfits for the four of us. Oh God. Martha finally got a job at a clothing store in the summer and we could use our babysitting/crop-picking/cannery-work money on real clothes.

Does that all sound appropriately pitiful? Yeah! It was. Well, somehow I never got over it, and have turned again to my sewing machine. So the point of this long narrative is that I needed a yard of plain white shirting, and went to the only fabric store in town, JoAnn’s. They didn’t have white. I mean? We’re very busy, the clerk told me. Everyone’s stocking up.

Can this be true? No one I know but me sews anything in the clothing line. Sure, quilting is definitely a thing, but we can hardly be running low on white cotton. Sigh. Interesting times.

Okay, I’m taking a moment to go out and shoot photos. We want to see Larry on the tractor, after all. Back soon.

Looks hot and tired, huh? While I was out with my phone I decided to take a few more shots:

Larry’s garden. I’m not that fond of orange flowers, but when I asked him what was up, he said because he can see orange flowers. Oh. Color blind, he can’t see all the lovely rose, pink, lavender blossoms. Awww. Well bless his heart. It’s his garden, after all.

We’re going for Biggest Onion at the county fair. These are Walla Wallas, one of which will last us a week, and we have maybe 25? Plus another 50 assorted red, yellow. Seems the squirrels don’t like onions.

And the grapes. Not ripe yet, but the question is whether the birds will get them all when they are.

A little farm trivia: chickens have a particular song when they lay an egg, which I can’t reproduce but you’d know if you hear it. So while I was taking photos, Rhody climbed up on the water dispenser and started singing. Oh good, I thought, I’ll just bring the egg in on my way. Except it was Toastie’s egg. What the heck? She was crowing because her buddy laid an egg? Maybe she doesn’t know we can tell the difference. Hmmm.

Larry just came in, says he’s through for the day. For sure. Well, call me if you want a supply of onions!

HOLIDAY

This morning I had such an amazing compliment that, modesty aside, I want to share with you. Larry and I had stopped to get gasoline from the Safeway station on Philomath, and the attendant was a rather older woman, which, you know, makes you feel a little sorry that she has to have this job. But she was good, knew what she was doing, and on completion, stopped at the window to tell us to have a nice day. I’m in the passenger seat, so she took a moment to smile at me, too. “You look just like my grandmother!” she said.

OMG. Seriously? How could anybody that old even have a grandmother at this point? I must look 200 years old. Larry didn’t stop laughing all the way home.

But otherwise, it’s been a nice Independence Day weekend. On Sunday we had a nice, responsible, of course, visit with former neighbors and dear friends, Renee and Dick Edwards. Burgers and macaroni salad and ice cream-with-cookies on their deck — and anyone who knows Dick will be able to imagine how abundant and lush their property is.

Backing up, on Saturday we spend the actual 4th dispatching the flowering heads of a monster patch of thistle in the creek-bed planting north of the driveway. Larry turned off the juice to the electric wire, so we could crawl under the rail fence with boots, clippers, a plastic barrel. There are two types of thistle, Bull, and Canada here. Both non-native to our valley. Note: I have just learned that Canada Thistle is the “March Invasive Weed-of-the-Month.” Well, hat’s off! Larry had previously sprayed, and they were beginning to wilt. But we thought we should behead them before the flowers turned to puff balls and flew away to infest even more territory.

Strangely, the cows came to keep us company, I guess, and they all amiably gathered along the barbed wire and continued to graze. They make a lovely sound while tearing the grass with their tongues. Pastoral.

Backing up again, on Thursday of that week, we’d been invited to follow our neighbors, Marjorie and Ted, out to a surprising little lake near the town of Shedd. No, we’d never heard of Shedd, either. Apparently some time ago a consortium of water-ski enthusiasts had managed to create a bespoke lake along a small river in the middle of the grain fields. Ted is a competition-level skier, and spends many sunny afternoons on the lake with his boat.

This Lake Sabrina is a half-mile long, and a path around the water makes a nice walk and viewing site.

Ted really is amazing. It was quite beautiful to see the balletic way he leaned around the buoys, switching hands to pull the rope as he wove back and forth. His patient wife just takes a book and a folding chair, finds some shade and spends the afternoon reading. Nice.

But Larry and I had to get back home, and driving through Shedd we noticed a sign: “Shedd Cemetery Road. Dead End.” Hahahahahah.

Yes, I’m finally getting back to Amy’s graduation weekend. We looked forward to having the family together, though of course we were unable to add David and Caroline to the guest list. And then, as you know, our Alli tested positive and the Ederers were therefore unable to come. But it was such a pleasure for us to visit with the Lewis family, long-time friends of Peter and Allison, and Amy’s childhood best friend ever, Madelyn. They brought Abby along as well, so the three girls were together for perhaps the last time for long years into their future.

Peter took the boys for a ride around the Wood in the ATV, and to our dismay, Charlie was slammed with an allergic reaction to some of the weeds through which they traveled, and spent the afternoon lying abed with a cool, damp cloth on his fiercely swollen eyes. Sorry about that, Charlie.

And, to complete my narrative, Peter and Andrew had driven to Corvallis earlier to hang out with us. On discovering a tiny frog under the front wheel of my car in the garage, the mission to rescue it began. First, of course, I carefully backed the car away and Andrew took charge of catching it. Nope. It could leap a yard at a time and completely evaded capture. So, we would guide it outside with the broom where it would be on its own?

That kind-of worked and he was on the way to freedom when he made what we think may be a fatal mistake. Hopped under the stone siding. Maybe he would come out if we made a little puddle for him? I can’t tell you if we succeeded because we never saw him again.

So what do you get if you have three grown-up boys, some ancient fire- crackers, and a plague of ground squirrels? Caddy Shack II.

There were lots of suggestions for the solution to the squirrel problem. Larry had been offered the first at Wilco when considering the purchase of a live trap. What do you do if you do catch a squirrel? Drive him out to the woods somewhere and let him out? What if you catch a skunk, instead? “I’ll tell you what I do, the friendly clerk said. “I got three boys and I just have them pee in the holes the squirrels dig. Most fun they have all day while the ammunition lasts.”

I can’t report if this method was tried by the above trio, any or all, because I didn’t witness same, but they were sure laughing.

Okay, what about those firecrackers? Lay one on the hole, light it and back away. Yeah! But what if a guy were to wrap two together? Even better. Wait. I bet we could bundle four or five and light them. Yes, they could.

Luckily the fire power was insufficient to do any real damage to the lawn, or, unfortunately, to the squirrels, but it was loud. Happy Fourth if July!

Tomorrow Larry travels to Eugene to see about a greenhouse for the garden. That could be the only solution that may keep those damn squirrels in their place and out of Larry’s space. Next fall? My family has developed a mantra, oft repeated: “Who knows? We’ll see.” Meaningless and endlessly applicable. Yes, you may borrow it, and God bless.

WORK, WORK, WORK

Before I launch today’s column, I want to let you know that Teo Praslin, Allison’s cousin, came home this past Tuesday after 40 days in the hospital. He’s been suffering with Covid, and though the challenge isn’t behind him, we’re all so grateful that he is well enough to be at home with his family.

So, yeah, work! Spring can be relentless here at the Wood. I had been determined to attack the weeds growing between the rows of creek-side trees and shrubs planted 2 years ago by Benton County’s grant. Couple of problems, the first being access.

The whole idea is to keep the cows away from the seasonal streams that thread across the property, and to provide habitat for the birds and other creatures, like salamanders, frogs, who all work together to keep the stream beds sound and the water pure. To that end, the streams were all fenced with 4-strand barbed wire and, where facing the pastures, hot wire as well. This sure keeps the cows out, but the people, too.

So in the course of the two years since planting, here’s what we have:

This is the north view across the post fence from the driveway. Hard to tell, but there are rows of young trees among the tall weeds.

On the south side of the road, I’ve been able to squeeze through the “man gate” and have Larry hand me my already started weed-whacker (technical name). Yes, I know, why don’t I start the thing myself? People. It’s one of those chain-pull things where you have to be at least 6 feet tall and own biceps in order to engage the motor. Stupid. Why not a turn key, or button? Nope.

Anyway, to continue, I’ve spent the last few mornings and afternoons achieving this much:

But then the job extends a quarter of a mile up away from the gate thing, so I resolved to get across that damned fence closer to the area of work. Larry’s good idea:

As you can imagine, it’s a little dicey to climb up and over this “stile” but it does work. And at this point, Larry has joined me in the labor. We drive the ATV up, hand the machines across, the gas can, the harnesses, and carefully cross the ladder.

Except. Larry’s machine is awesome, cuts a huge swath with each sweep of his arms. Bugger this. Why am I working so hard with my little toy? Turns out his machine is a “brush cutter” not just some back yard weed-whacker. I can’t just borrow the big machine — you need to be at least 6-feet tall (again), or hold it out at such an angle that the weight would be impossible. Did that make sense? Well, just accept that I can’t manage the thing. Luckily, Larry has sort-of gotten into it, and so even though it’s “my” project, I now least have the right man for the job.

While up here in the north forty (actually, south forty), we are close to the watering tank for the adjoining pasture. The cows have become very interested in us, and gather along the fence, mooing earnestly. It’s quite frustrating, because I know exactly what they’re saying and they apparently don’t return the favor. No, my darlings, we can’t take you to another pasture. You will have to wait for Ryan.

But we make the unfortunate discovery that the water tank is leaking. Somehow the float device has become turned sideways and has not turned off the water from the well. This is really bad, so Larry gets busy trying to discover the problem and to fix it.

As you can see, the water is nasty, slimy, and though we’ve been told that the cows don’t care, we decided to adopt the remedy Ryan has suggested and buy goldfish to clean up the algae. Off to PetCo which, being in our nice safe county, is open for business, and stocks the fish. Larry opts to buy to 25c/per rather than 15c/per fish. Uncharacteristic for the treasurer of this family, so I assume he is determined that this shall succeed.

Fun sidebar: at ZoomChicks that afternoon, I tell my friends about this episode in farm life. They can’t believe that the goldfish will be up to the job, but nevertheless offer the good suggestion that, if determined to go ahead, we let the plastic bag with the fish float in the tank long enough to balance the temperature of the water before releasing the fish. Vik suggests in her laconic way that I simply do as Ryan says and ignore further advice.

Later, I get an email from Sidney with a link explaining how the little fish do, indeed, work to clean cattle troughs. It’s always good to have friends!

On to the main subject: work. Last week I explained how Larry was trying to build a structure that would protect his precious lettuce plants. Here we have the result of that job:

This should work nicely. You can’t see from the photo, but he has arranged a pulley system to raise and lower the front wire to allow the eventual lettuce harvest. Observation: This sort of thing would be far better if the craftsman in question had a shed-full of appropriate tools. Honestly, most of what we do here can be characterized as amateur fumbling to accommodate missing skills and tools.

I showed you the photo last week of the bird nest by our front door. Momma Robin has been sitting on the nest without rest for the last two days. She’s working, too. At the moment, she’s standing on the edge of the nest chirping. For her husband to bring some groceries? We locked the door so that we don’t forget and disturb her. Soon I should be able to get photos of the fledglings, should she succeed in hatching her brood.

We’re taking a break from all this farm stuff and leaving for a weekend at Black Butte. I believe that we have nothing at all to eat over there, so am packing some survival goods like last night’s leftovers and cream for the morning coffee. The chickens will be left behind to fend for themselves, and the cows as well. See you when we get back!

RHUBARB SEASON

Several years ago, Charlie Clark gave Larry some rhubarb starts from his garden in Olympia Washington. A simple thing. Larry claims that he and his brother loved to pick specimens from their dad’s garden in St. Paul, wave the great leaves at each other in mortal combat, then chew on the stalks until gone.

You can’t eat rhubarb stalks like that, I protest, but he sticks to the story. Little boys, it seems, will eat anything. So he planted Charlie’s starts in a modest corner of the orchard and sat back to wait. He did not count on our chickens’ appetite for the worms and grubs that thrive under those great leaves. Or their pleasure, perhaps, in the shade the leaves offer on a hot spring afternoon.

Whichever, it became a case of man vs. chicken. While the birds never seemed to peck at the fruit/vegetable itself, wait. Excuse me a moment while I consult Google to learn the taxonomy of this plant. Okay, got it. In 1947 a New York court declared rhubarb a fruit, as that is the way the plant is most often prepared. Why did it become an issue for the courts? Something to do with taxes, my source explains. I’m comfortable with this decision.

Anyway, our chickens would scratch at the soil until the root base of the plant was exposed. Larry began the defensive system with a simple row of iron gates we had stockpiled in the barn from a former project, and this worked for a time, until Rhody remembered that she is a bird and could fly. We would hear Toast complaining as she paced back and forth along the barrier, apparently unable to make the intellectual leap that she, too, is a chicken and has wings.

Larry refortified the cage with a gate on top to serve as a lid. Rhody found a narrow opening through which she could slip. Larry added more ironwork, until this is what we have:

Yes, it looks a little messy, but finally:

Enough for one batch of rhubarb crisp. And this is just the first harvest.

Last Friday, Larry had arranged for service on his car at the Lexus dealership in Eugene. He prepared to leave at 6:45 that morning to arrive for his 7:45 appointment. As he would not be allowed to wait in the service area for the work, he planned to take a folding chair and a book, and to spend the hour reading in the parking lot. Masked, of course.

But as he dressed and brushed his teeth, I became a little envious of the outing this would provide. We’ve been sheltered quite a while now, and the trip to a car dealership actually sounded inviting. I would follow him down in my little car, and we could spend the hour shopping at the Eugene Whole Foods! As it happens, they allow old people to begin shopping there at 8:00, and they didn’t even ask to see our identification. Just another barb that must be endured as we age.

The phone call we awaited to say the car was ready told us instead that it would be another 2 hours. What! Good thing I’d come along, huh? We decided to spend the time at the Camas Mill and Bakery, just a short hop up 99, where we’ve enjoyed looking at their artisan bread flours. There we found some gorgeous rhubarb/berry turnovers which we could have for breakfast. The baker himself was there, and when I asked about the rhubarb, he said it had come from his freezer.

So how do you freeze it, I asked. I, myself, just chop it up and toss the chunks in a bag. No, he said, roast it first. Wow. I chop it, he explained, toss it with a little sugar, and roast it just until it has exuded its juice and caramelized a bit. Then I scrape the fruit (he actually called it fruit, very well informed) and the juice into bags and freeze them.

But the chickens are not the only predators we have to contend with. We are not alone here on this one hundred acres. Look at this:

The remains of our spring lettuce crop. It’s not the chickens this time. But who? Ah, unfortunately, while Larry’s cage prevents anyone from attacking by the orchard route, what about from outside the orchard? Larry has diagnosed ground squirrels, and yes, there are a lot of them about. So he envisions a cage apparatus he will construct out of left-over shelf scraps and chicken wire. But first, he has to plant the big garden before the promised rain of next week:

How will he keep the ground squirrels out of this patch? Good question. He no longer has his shotgun. We don’t have a dog. I’ll let you know how it goes.

Every morning for the last three days, I’ve gone out the front door and been greeted with a mess of dried grass, moss and sundry debris, courtesy of some bird who wishes to nest on the lights just aside the door. Not a good plan, I tell the bird who scolds me, a robin I think, though I can’t see her. I clean the mess. I arrange the spike apparatus which is supposed to keep birds from squatting on various ledges under the eaves and by the fireplace.

The next morning, there is the nest materiel again. I clean it again, replace the spikes, tying them in place this time with tape. That should do it.

Well, no. This is one determined mother bird:

This is what I find the next morning. See how cleverly she’s used my spikes as the warp to her woofs. I can’t destroy this work of art, so we will just have to live with the bird poopage this year, until her babes have flown away in the fulness of summer. Yes, I looked up warp and woof . . . funny words, but weavers know what to make of them.

I wish I had a photo of the gray fox who hunts the field in front of the house some evenings. She’s beautiful. Of maybe it’s a male. Can’t tell from the distance, as she’s (so I think) not much taller than the Roemers Blue Fescue that is thriving now in the Fish and Wildlife acres.

The grass is lovely in the late evening sunlight, a native plant that will, it’s hoped, be able to out-compete alien, invasive, evil Astoria Bent Grass.

In closing today, I have an announcement: Our county, Benton County, has received permission from the governor of Oregon, to begin reopening restaurants and businesses, albeit within guidelines, tomorrow. What will that look like? Will we be able to finally get those haircuts? Is this dangerous? Evidently Kate believes in us!

ANOTHER MONDAY

Some days are more interesting than others — take Monday, for instance. We looked out and saw our new shed, towed behind Andy’s South River truck, moving up the driveway. We’d seen nothing of the building, just a list of dimensions and choice of color. But it’s so cute!

This photo is out of order, but my phone had, of course, run out of juice just as it arrived, and I wanted you to see it before we move on. I know, we didn’t get it for its visual appeal, and both Andy and Larry looked bemused at my enthusiasm. It is so cute!

We wondered how Andy could move the thing to its landing spot behind the orchard (see last blog) without a crew of piano-movers or similar. But engineering saved the day.

It won’t stay this clean and perfect for long, but before we can start moving stuff over, we have to have a ramp. Larry’s on it, planning materials, tools, shopping, happy to have a shiny new project that doesn’t involve dirt, weeds, chickens or cows.

Off to Google, because maybe one could purchase a ramp? What fun would that be? We found a YouTube site called “build your own ramp.” Perfect. This woman, April Wilkerson, is awesome. Thirty-something, got tools, whips together a ramp in a couple of hours, after first dislodging heavy rocks, sawing down the overhang on the shed doors, placing cement support blocks, whistling Dixie for all I know. And her next post offers ways to optimize storage inside the ramp for, for example, her motorcycles. Wow! Do not mess with April.

And speaking of cows, no sooner had we put away the lunch dishes than we noticed a cow uproar, again. This time, caused no doubt, by Scott’s truck. He marched through the — what shall we call it? the middle pasture? — to check on the watering tank. The cows know what’s up and gather, mooing to their children, by the barn gates:

A cattle drive for our afternoon entertainment!

But something is wrong. There’s no current in the hot wire along this new pasture. Jake has to find the interruption and, no surprise, it was found at the place where a post had been moved to accommodate the new shed’s arrival. A cowboy wears many hats!

I’m sorry, but I don’t want to go through the torture of trying to edit this image. I believe I now understand that I must always shoot photos horizontally if intended for the blog. God. So annoying.

Anyway, in conversation with Scott while this was going on, we learned that he had been director of the Eugene and Corvallis livestock auctions for many years. And in fact, when the Great Quarantine has lifted, we should come on down for the show. Cattle, horses, goats, not sure what else. But they have a cafeteria, great food, and lots of action. Why ever not? You want to come with us?

Just a note from the kitchen. At David’s suggestion, on hearing that I meant to expand my repertory, here we have our first tofu fingers:

That’s slow cooked broccoli and coconut-lime rice on the side. Verdict? Edible, but I won’t bother you with the recipe. Tonight we’re going to support a local restaurant by ordering take-out. Yes, that was a sigh of relief you heard. From both of us!

I want to leave you with a word of love and hope for Teo Praslin, Allison’s cousin, who is fighting for his life today in Huntington Hospital. He’s been a physician’s assistant for twenty years, and in the course of his work, contracted Covid. We owe him and his colleagues so much. Get well, Teo.

LIFE GOES ON ANYWAY

Busy around here this week. Starting Monday morning with a call from a neighbor: Your cows are stampeding!

Right. And what are we supposed to do about that? I looked it up later. Apparently one is supposed to ride alongside them — stop right there. Ride what alongside them? These momma cows weigh about 1200 pounds each, they’re protective, they’re lactating, which provides a somewhat cumbrous gait but does not slow them down, and they are on their own.

Whatever caused the ruckus, by the time Larry got down the road on the ATV, they had all stopped running, reorganized themselves, and resumed grazing. Just a thought: maybe the neighbor shouldn’t walk her dog in that pasture?

At around nine o’clock, Andy from South Shore Structures arrived with a back hoe on board. He was here to clear the site for our new shed being built for placement behind the orchard. Looks kind-of tiny!

He came back later in the morning with a truckload of rock for the foundation. Which he carted by the wheelbarrow-full across the new sod under the homestead tree. Much appreciated. Apparently the completed shed itself will be delivered Monday next. I guess that agricultural infrastructure is permitted under the Corvid closures, though I didn’t think to ask. I do know that Andy is glad to be able to work.

Tyson Whitehead’s crew drove up next, well masked and gloved, to begin work on bringing our internet capacity up to speed. We’ve had line-of-site from a company tower 75 miles away, one click better than dial-up. Honestly, I wouldn’t care — and we would not have begun this project under present circumstances, but Tyson is persuasive, and the equipment had been secured, was good to go. Computer work, he says, also exempted from the closure.

For the next two days, these guys camped out in the garage closet, squeezed through the crawlspace under the house, trenched through the lawn, put up a disk, showed us how to finally use our Sonos speakers. It’s strange to think that we know them only from their eyes above the masks, and when Sam, the tree-trimmer rang the doorbell, we thought it was Owen from Tyson’s crew. Both tall, dark-haired, masked men?

So what was Sam doing here? We’d called on him earlier to prune our new maple trees, and he’d explained that he’d closed up shop and couldn’t help. So what changed? Bored, he said, and ours was a job he could do by himself. Plus, he, no surprise, needs the work. I do not know what rule might apply to him, but if house cleaning crews are allowed, so might tree pruning be?

And speaking of house-cleaning crews, mine phoned to say they were ready to work, but I asked them to wait another two weeks, and see where we are. Meanwhile, I’ve had opportunity to remember life as it used to be, before I ever had anyone else clean my house. I can do this, I tell myself. Of course I can, but I had forgotten to clean the guest bathroom, used by all those guys the last couple of days, and ugh. That was a shocking wake-up.

Guess you didn’t need to know that. Okay, so I’ve spent this morning trying to make masks for Larry and me. Should be easy. I know how to sew, have my machine. I even have some nice white fabric backing from some older project, a pack of elastic — stuff I’d hauled down here from my “office” in Portland because what else would I do with it. Three hours later. Much humbled, I produced one mask. But it’s a prototype and now I’m good to go tomorrow. We do have commercial masks we’ve been using, just so you’ll know, but I thought it would be a fun project. Ha.

Escaping outside, I sanded the picnic table and benches which had spent the winter outside, unprotected. With an electric sander, of course. We plan to bring our hand-painted tile table, secured on a long-ago trip to Florence, to the patio here when/if our condo sells. But the sale looks to be a long time coming, so this summer we’ll enjoy our tired old wooden furniture again and count ourselves lucky on days like this when the sun shines and the birds sing.

Ten thirty and time for bed! Sleep tight!

MARCH 31

Why all the cow photos? I need to know how to manage my blog, so this is a learning experience for us all. The first photo, taken with the camera held vertically, transferred to the blog laterally. I went through the process of editing, and by some indulgence of the gods, succeeded in setting these cows on their feet.

The second photo, with camera held vertically came through as per, no editing necessary. Huh?

The third photo, taken this morning on my walk down the road, held horizontally, also came through as per. I do not get this!

I see I’m boring you. But I do have a story. Yesterday, Larry and I decided to walk down the road after lunch to get fresh air. When we topped the first hill, we saw the cattle truck parked down by the barn, and picked up the pace. We hoped the two guys we saw were here to collect Cow 15, pictured above, who’d been reported to be limping.

I wish you could see the choreography of the two men on their ATVs as they cut them out of the herd. Those things race across the pasture’s bumps and heaves fast enough to launch them airborne, you’d think. Not as picturesque as cowboys on horseback, I guess, but pretty entertaining anyway.

The cows understand the game and cow pandemonium ensues. I love this! It doesn’t take long for Jake and Scott to get Number 15 and her baby in the gates by the barn. Not, as the expression has it, their first rodeo.

The dance of the gates is interesting, too. I hadn’t paid enough attention to understand that there’s a series of gates which swing open and back to contain the chosen animals. Only thing missing in this show was a good ranch dog.

Jake and Scott are perfect in the roles — pretty beat-up old guys, don’t look much better than the truck they came in. Funny, nice. You’d like to hear their stories, or I would.

Back in the house, I looked up “foot rot,” the field diagnosis for the lame animal. Whoa. This is not a visual I’d recommend for the casual passerby. No wonder she was limping. The article referred to the “toes”. Strange. A cloven hoof, yes, but one doesn’t think of the component features as toes. Cow 15 and baby will be taken back to the barn for treatment, and I don’t know if they’ll be back here.

When I saw the rest of the herd this morning I wondered what, if anything, the animals make of all this. We seem to have two separate herds, with the ones I photographed all the Black Angus. I think. I asked Jake about this earlier, and he said all these animals had been in the same barn when calving. ( I’m pretty sure he wouldn’t say they were “friends.”) A couple of days ago I saw two adults rubbing noses, and earlier, have seem them licking one another. Obviously they have some connection.

See how far social isolation can take you? You have time to ponder cow existential questions. Larry’s back home with the news that Simply Mac cannot resolve his computer problem. His 10-year old computer. This probably won’t end well, so let’s go have lunch.