The first sign must have been when Larry came back from FedEx-ing Peter’s birthday present. “Didn’t get your book,” he told me.
“How come? Didn’t they have it?”
“No, when I left FedEx I noticed I was wearing my bedroom slippers. Not going to the book store in my bedroom slippers.” Of course I laughed. You know how fastidious Larry is. He would NEVER. “Don’t tell anyone,” he said.
But I’m not telling anyone. I’m just telling you. And I got what was coming to me. See, we were going to have a nice Sunday dinner, this rainy Wednesday, with roast chicken and et cetera at 1:00-ish. So I was mashing the potatoes and leaned the little hand mixer on the potato pot, reaching for more milk. The mixer leaped off the pot, struck the counter on its way to the floor, thereby turning itself on, and landed with the beaters happily flinging mashed potatoes across the floor, the cabinets, under the island.
Yeah, it was kind of funny, and I should have been more cafeful. But then juices of the nicely-done chicken quietly overflowed the cutting board and trailed onto the counter, onto the floor. Great. We could practically eat our dinner right off the floor, omit the middle man.
The gravy. The whole point. Okay, the roasting pan is stainless steel and therefore functional on our conduction stove-top. I added flour to the glorious brown fond and began to stir. But the stove wouldn’t stay “on.” Kept turning itself “off.” What the heck? Seems the pan is convex on the bottom, its surface thereby not even touching the burner. So we have to transfer the hot mess onto a skillet in order to proceed. No big deal, but still. Sigh.
The chicken was delicious, by the way. Brining. Magic.
Time to do the dishes? Okay, we knew the disposal was broken, plumber scheduled for tomorrow, but we didn’t know that the sink wouldn’t drain. Until we saw the sink swimming with yuck. Really? Is this a joke?
Nope. Have to do the dishes in the laundry room. Which is not so awful, right? And while Larry got to work, I got the bottle of Bono and the floor mop to attack the kitchen floor. I’m walking down the hall when the bottle breaks loose from the spray nozzle by which I’m holding it, crashes to the floor, spraying Bono product across the walls, the front door. By the time I set it upright and find a mop, the damage has been done.
“So what do you do all day?” someone asked me. “I mean, what IS there to do down there by yourselves?”
Yeah. Good question. After some thought I realized that what I do all day happens mostly in the kitchen. For example, here’s one of last week’s chores:
Poblanos, from Larry’s garden. It is Larry’s garden, his domain, his man-cave. He plants, tends, harvests and then? Right. So I was about to roast these lovelies, then freeze them for future — well — whatever. They’re the last of the produce for the year, but from the garden and orchard this year, I’ve fermented sauerkraut, canned pears, made pickles, both dill and bread and butter (this with help from buddy Vik), made blackberry jelly, dried prunes, frozen tomato sauce, frozen apple slices and mock-mincemeat, pickled hot peppers. I thought to line up the jars for a photo shoot, but that was too much work.
When you add cooking the daily bread, it adds up to a lot of hours beside the kitchen sink. No — Larry bakes the bread chez Viehl, that comment was meant metaphorically.
But sometimes we do get away. We recently toured the Nature Conservancy preserve surrounding the confluence of the Middle and Coast forks of the Willamette. We’d been there 10 years ago when the property had been acquired, and it was pretty wonderful to see how the former gravel mining site has been transformed:
Sometimes the get-aways are not all that much fun:
The realization that IF we ever manage to sell or lease our condo, we have to remove all personal belongings has struck. Until now, as we use the condo for our Portland base, we have left supplies appropriate to that activity in place. Okay, let’s be honest. We bought new toothbrushes, etc. for farm use, but over the years, acres of stupid debris have accreted in the condo. Is that the correct word? Like shampoo samples from hotels around the world. Extra toothbrushes from dentist visits. Multiple bottles, bits and pieces — well, you know. I bet you do this, too.
Anyway, the photo above is from just one day’s hard work. This is the stuff we didn’t throw away, and about which hard calls will have to be made on its arrival in Corvallis. One of us is a pack rat, the other a practitioner of the Throw-it-away school. Maybe not obvious who’s who, but one of us wonders why a man needs 17 golf shirts. Yes, all of them in perfect condition. She has to bite her tongue.
While all around us the election vibrated, a moment of transcendence:
It’s here! Already the catalogs are arriving. Ah, winter.
Been below freezing, the chickens are molting and NOT laying eggs. Can I correctly say “not laying eggs?” As in perform a negative? Hmm. Their water freezes, so we stretch an electric cord across the driveway to heat their dispenser. Larry does not like this practice, but needs must.
And it’s time to bake the fruit cake. Back to the kitchen!
We learned last week that cows play an important role here at the Wood. Guess all the attention paid Suzannah — not her real name, of course — for her stunt in the mud, inspired the rest of them to see what mischief they could engineer.
So, a quick photo essay:
Yeah, no, they’re not supposed to march up from the pasture, across the patio, stopping to drink from the bird bath, and into the back yard.
Larry was taking a shower, glanced out the bathroom window, and yelled JANE! Kind-of funny, and I ran for my phone to record this historic event, (not Larry’s shower — the cows, of course) but the correct response would have been to call Ryan. Immediately.
Fortunately, Ryan was working nearby, but Larry, after pulling on his cowboy clothes, boots and spurs, couldn’t wait. (Just kidding about the spurs) This is Larry’s grass they’re pulling up, trampling, and he wasn’t having it. The cows are actually accustomed to following an ATV, so it wasn’t too hard to get them moving back over to the gate through which they’d come.
Except one little heifer got stuck on the wrong side of the fence. I’m going to stop here for some fun facts about cows:
Heifers are little girl cows, calves are little boy cows. Ryan told later told us that young heifers can come into heat as early as 4 months of age. Ours are at least 6 months old. Luckily, bull calves can’t produce sperm until year, roughly, so no worries on that score in our herd. The big bull, with us earlier in the summer, has done his job and is now spending the rest of the year sequestered with the other bulls. Should these bulls try to mate with a heifer, they would kill her. Ryan did not answer the question that raised, so no, I can’t tell you how or why.
Our calves are still, um, intact? The castration will take place this weekend, as will vaccination. After that, all the animals will be moved to a “green” pasture (been irrigated) until the winter weather forces a move into barns. Our animals are raised for the grass-fed market, so will be eating hay only until spring arrives and the fescue has again grown in the pastures.
Okay, back to the little heifer left behind. She was agitated, and it was a comedy worthy of Youtube to watch Larry try to herd her around the house and finally through the gate. Sorry I didn’t get it recorded.
But how had they gotten into that pasture, the Fish and Wildlife site? Ryan has a handy little tool that tests whether the hot wire is, in fact, hot. No one wants to learn the old fashioned way. Turns out, no, the wire was dead. The cows, then, had been able to just push a lower gate open and parade through.
Furthermore, with the fence dead, what about the pump from the well? Yep. Also dead. Gasp. The poor cows had no water, apparently justified in busting out to find something to drink.
Larry and Ryan consulted down by the barn where the circuits governing electricity are mounted. They flipped the circuit a few times, no result. Ryan checked some junction and found a crispy fried lizard, whose curiosity had been the root cause of the whole, cascading drama.
Otherwise, what’s going on? We’ve been trying to manage the flow of fruits and vegetables flowing in from the orchard and garden. This means, so far, blackberry-plum jelly, canned pears, endless pints of frozen tomato sauce, and last weekend, mincemeat and applesauce from the tree I think I showed you earlier that had broken off entirely in service of our kitchen.
The plums and prunes are ripe, and while the prunes are modest in number and normal sized, the plums are insane. And about the size of a shooter in the game of marbles. Of which, at least half is stone, so they’re kind-of annoying to work with. But we soldier on, grateful that we don’t have to feed a family over the winter on them. Interestingly, for those of you who like to can your fruits, it’s become impossible to find lids for the job. Like the toilet paper shortage which initiated this whole back-to-basics post-virus movement. I’ve had just enough to get us through, using second-hand lids and hoping they seal.
I think I mentioned earlier that Larry was considering the acquisition of a greenhouse in his determination to outwit the ground squirrels. Raise your hand if you think he went ahead with the idea.
Of course he did. Mitch and Allen are out in the garden right now (5:30 p.m. after their day jobs ended) pouring cement for the base. Here’s what the space looks like so far:
They’ve laid cable for electricity from the shed, and the actual structure is supposed to arrive in a couple of weeks.
But for now, I’m out of photos and out of stories. Back soon!
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.
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!
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.
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!
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!
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.
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!
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!