“It’s not really a farm.”
I know, but we have to call it something. We can’t say we’re going to Llewellyn, or . . .
“Why not?”
Because I don’t like that name. Sounds like Lou-Ellen, which would be a silly name for our property.
“Then let’s just call it ‘The Property?’ Or how about ‘Corvallis’? A ‘farm’ would have a barn, chickens, corn growing in the field.”
We have a barn.
“No one would call that a barn. At best, it’s a hay shed. Whatever. Barns have doors. Ours does not.”

Such is the conversational depth we enjoy while driving south to . . . um, well, you know.
This was a much-needed trip for me, who’s spirits were well below sea level after my yearly trip to my doctor for my “well-woman,” medicare-sponsored visit. I’m FINE! But dear God, not because of my interface with the new practice of medical care obtaining in my physician’s office.

Okay, I do know how old I am. And I do know that the future is one bad moment of hard luck down the road. I get that. But, sitting in the exam room, answering a series of questions posed by three (!) young assistants (one, for whom I’m her first patient, the other two there to supervise and mentor her)?

“Are you able to dress yourself?” First question.
“Can you get up off the toilet unassisted?” Next question. And so on, for half an hour. “Have you visited the dentist in the past year? How do you get around when you have to leave your home?” Again, dear God.

Next, the actual physician, Doctor Molly’s team mate, whom I have never before met, takes over, insists that I fill out a PULSE form, which means that if I am incapacitated and not able to answer for myself, the attending physician will have guidance to what my wishes may be. Yes, fine, a good idea, but seriously, I’m beginning to wonder. How long do I have?

So. Four practitioners, none of whom I know, and who may not be able to tell from looking that I am probably able to dress myself.

Wait a minute. Maybe this was BECAUSE of the way I was dressed? You know, an actual dress?

Let me out of here!

At the farm, the sky was blue, the air warm and fragrant with the first ripe blackberries. Larry suited up in his good farmer-armor to attack the above mentioned blackberries, which are vastly out of control. My job, as sous-farmer, was to rake up the fallen brambles and pile them, maybe to be burned, come winter. Don’t know for sure. While waiting for Larry to chop down enough vines for me to collect, I wandered the property, looking for tansy ragwort, an evil invasive plant. I tried to chop out the specimens I found with one of our new tools, but discovered that I could simply pull them. Much easier. I saw a yellow bird, two deer, a dove. I think I heard our hawk.

And I began to regain my usual optimism. The oak trees are even older than I am! And they don’t care! We ate our lunches in their shade and felt alive and healthy. And very, very lucky.


Today we met the owner of the (now absent) cows and got a tutorial on the cow biz. I should say that the absent cows are in route to a feed lot, but while they may like the menu in their new digs, I think their happiest days are behind them. Having driven by the Harris Ranch feed lot many times, I can only hope that is not their destination.

Mark looks too young to be the proprietor of this business without a dad or uncle behind him, but it’s pretty clear he knows what he’s doing. While “our” cows have been sold, new, 400 pound calves, secured at auction will follow, if we reach an agreement to have them. I thought I knew the answer to that question, but everything at this moment depends on the county’s decision about our building site.

We got to the property a little early, and Larry took the opportunity to try again to phone ODF&W (remember, Fish and Wildlife?). What are the chances, we wondered, of interesting them in giving us the Wildlife Habitat deferral? Turns out, chances are good, and we have an appointment with several staff members early next week. What they have to say about cows will be interesting!

While we waited for Mark, we walked over to check on the creek. At one point, we stopped, hearing the sound of bees. Looked down, and we were standing in a patch of ground clover, and there were hundreds of bees hard at work. Problem was, I was wearing flip-flops. You can imagine my concern.

Told about our hopes with ODF&W, Mark seemed unconcerned. He could work with that, perhaps tap the spring on the property to keep the animals away from the creek. Wait! There’s a spring on our property? I began to imagine a little pond, the kids would like that. Those baby ducks Alli talks about? Hmm.


The villain:
The Hero:

One tree at a time, we say.

It was supposed to be hot on Sunday, as in the 90’s. A rare cancellation of Larry’s weekly golf game, coinciding with the acquisition of what we now know to call a “brush chopper,” allowed us the opportunity to get down to the farm and try out our shiny new implement.

Up early (we farmers like to get busy before the sun is too hot), we skipped breakfast, picked up our lattes, and headed south. The uncertain wind, the confused clouds didn’t look like a morning before a really hot day, and by Salem, there were raindrops on the windshield. But by the time we turned onto Llewellyn, the rain had moved north. We unloaded our lunch cooler, the canvas chairs we meant to haul up to the house site for our picnic, and of course, the chopper.

Larry strapped on the harness, tried to start the little engine. This required some time and a few choice bits of intemperate Minnesota language, but soon he was happily decapitating thistles and blackberry brambles. My job was to clear the dead-fall limbs to a pile in what I guess we’ll call the meadow. This area is still on the flat land, separated from the road and the flood-plain pasture by a row of trees we later identified as some variety of thornless Hawthorne. I know, it says “thorn” right there in the name, but by every characteristic, the shape of the leaves, and the berries, Hawthorne they remain. Our first tree stands sentinel to a grove of oak that begins to climb the hill to the south.

The clouds gathered and dispersed, and a few rumbles of thunder threatened rain, but for a couple of hours, we worked, smelled the oxygen, felt the sun when it appeared and thought OMG. This is it.

Full disclosure: By the time I was old enough to know better, I did not love my life as a farm child. Hated the chickens. Stupid cow. No horse? Seriously. Picking strawberries and beans, crawling around in the mud? Then, when I was thirteen, or so, a girl moved into a home up the road newly built by her family. Her mother did not amuse herself hauling dead branches to a burn pile, and most certainly did not tie a scarf under her chin like some Polish emigre. Did not milk the cow, as did mine, for God’s sake. This mother got manicures, knew what a martini flag was (what a martini itself was), drove a Buick, had nervous breakdowns and smoked cigarettes. I became ashamed of my peasant-like mother, who canned tomatoes and sewed all our clothes. (Who also graduated Ohio State Phi Beta Kappa with a degree in mathematics, by the way.) (That didn’t seem to count at the time.) When I grew up, I would live in Paris or San Francisco and write important novels and drink martinis. No chickens, no farm.

Joke’s on me. Sorry, Mom!

But the rain began, settled in, yesterday, and Larry and I had to give up. We’d driven across the lower pasture into the little meadow, and thought we’d better get ourselves back out by the road before the land got soggy enough to sink the SUV. We sat in the car, doors open to the smell of the rain, ate our sandwiches and planned the future. For those of you who expressed concern, thank you, and I’m happy to report that all Larry’s toes are still attached. And if you’re wondering about his buy-in to this adventure, tonight at dinner he asked if I’d mind too much if he went back down tomorrow. Without me! I have an appointment for a pedicure and can’t go (see section re sophisticated woman above). This is just wrong! Must schedule my pedicures more carefully going forward.

Here’s First Tree:



Friday night, Larry was tormented. We’d closed on the property without having the precious commitment from the county that we can build a house where we want to. “John never would have closed,” Larry says, referring to a former colleague at Columbia. “John didn’t get that commitment? He’d walk away. Last minute, whatever.”

John was a very successful businessman, all right. Unfortunately, the hard-driving, take-no-prisoners John has gone to his immortal home in the sky, while my more gentle husband is here beside me to make this adventure possible, no matter how it turns out.

Still, the question is, how to begin when we don’t know where the house will be. Can’t arrange to dig the well, build the road. Can’t go shopping for an ATV when there’s no place to park it.
Ah, but we can shop for a weed-eater to attack the thistles and blackberries which have sprung up all over the property. And so, on Saturday morning, two old people walk into a farm equipment store.

Are you telling us a joke?

Sounds like it, doesn’t it. “We’d like to look at a weed-eater,” Larry said. The salesman sprang up to help us. Led us to the wall where these devices hung, and pulled off a light-weight model and handed it to Larry. “How big is your yard?” he politely enquired.

“Um. A hundred acres,” Larry said.

“Did you say a hundred?” the salesman asked, almost successful in hiding his incredulity. We could feel the glances bouncing between the sales personnel in the showroom. The eyebrows lifting. Don’t these people realize they’re old?

Larry explained that we’re not trying to clear the whole property with this tool, just some patches of thistle. Blackberry.

Apparently what we need is a “brush-cutter.” Not a “weed-eater.” The Husqvarna people could be forgiven for thinking we have no idea what we’re doing. After some negotiation, after Larry tried on the harness and had a lesson in starting the thing, after we got a discount because they didn’t have the model we wanted, we walked out into the sunshine. Whew! That was fun!

We no longer felt becalmed. On the way. Yeah. Tomorrow I’ll tell you how it worked out.


Well, says County, it appears to be a house all right, but does it have, or did it have, a heating system? Huh?

It has a chimney, the tax records show that it has/had a wood-stove insert, would that mean the place had heat? People lived there! It has to have had some heat source. We just don’t know what.

Well, show us, says County.

Sigh. Show them what? Something that isn’t there, apparently. We saddle up the SUV and head south.

It was a very nice day, and we haven’t yet gotten bored with the excitement of the trip. As we turned onto Llewellyn, we saw the spectacle of the harvest. Combines were proceeding in a stately way, one after another through the golden fields of grain. Oh, make that “amber.” Great trucks were being loaded with the grass seed which is the fruit of this harvest. It felt as if we’d driven into an Ivan Doig novel, though I don’t know if they grow grass seed in Montana.

We would have liked to park at the side of the road to watch, but we were people on a mission. On to the house that may or may not be a house. It requires an act of some courage to enter the place, but with a deep breath and our cell-phone cameras at the ready, we stepped inside. It’s even worse than I’d remembered, if that’s possible. But there was the hole in the chimney wall at an appropriate distance off the floor to prove the one-time existence of something that, in any case, left a ring of smoke-stain around the hole. A rectangular space below the hole, a different color from the surrounding wall, and that was it. Proof of a heating system? It’s all we had, so we took the photos and emailed them to Christe, our formidable and wonderful attorney.

Back home to wait for County to comment.

Very good, says County. But. (Here we go. But? Now what?) According to the statute relevant before 2013, the heating system would have to have been in place no longer ago than one year from today’s date. According to the revised statute, applicable after 2013, the house has only to have HAD a heating system at some unidentified point in time. It either HAS a system or HAD a system. To qualify for HAS, though missing today, it should have been removed no earlier than July 10, 2013. Could we please inform the county when the stove or whatever it was had been removed?

If you were with me through all that, thank you. The implication: If it HAS a heating system, we can build the replacement house wherever we want. If it only HAD a system, County has not yet decided how they will interpret the revised statute, and while we may indeed build a house, perhaps not where we’d like. And we have no idea, nor have we any way to discover, when the system had been removed.

What to do? The amazing Christe to the rescue. Why not, she suggests, buy a heating unit of some sort, (like an electric space heater or something — nothing major) plug it in, attach it to the chimney hole, take a photo and bingo. The house HAS a heating system.

She laughs. Seriously, she says, sorry to do this to you. But she’s going to offer this solution to County and see how he responds. You want a house with an intact heating system? Here you go.

Later this same day: Now Christe has pored over the statute and discovered that with the less difficult HAD standard, the house we build must be within so many yards of the house to be replaced. Like 500 yards. Hooray, the site we have chosen in within the 500 yards, and we’re good to go? We don’t have to install a new system?

Not sure. Christe will be talking to County later this morning, and in the meanwhile, Larry and I will take out our virtual pens, sign the documents, and the place will be ours. One way or the other.

I think I’ll go have a glass of wine. Oh, I don’t drink wine, but never mind! I do believe that within minutes, we will own the Hundred Acre Wood, and that’s cause for celebration.


Okay, Measure 49 says that an owner of a property in Farm Use Only may build a replacement home on his land. We will be an approved Measure 49 property owner, but to build a replacement home means we must be replacing a home. Got it?

Seems simple enough, but not so fast. Of course, Benton County does not want folks to build a home to replace, say, a tree fort. A camp site. A lean to. A calving shed. We understand, but we have tax records and title history to demonstrate that we’re talking about a real, actual house.

Not good enough. Show us, says the county. But the clock is ticking toward our closing date on the 10 of July, and we would like some confirmation, in writing please, that our house is a house.

So, on this Independence Day weekend, we packed up our gear after a nice weekend at Black Butte and drove to Llewellen — hmm. Is it Avenue? Road? Street? Learned that Highway 20 into Albany is pretty sketchy, but that there is a nice Starbucks in the Safeway in Sweet Home. Also that we don’t have to go all the way to Albany, but can join 34 somewhere around Lebanon and go straight to the Corvallis exit off I 5. This is just good info against the day when we may want to go from the farm to BBR.

We took photos, to show that our “house” has a roof, walls, electricity, plumbing, water, and so on. I think we can all agree that the house is no longer inhabitable, and quite eligible for replacement. Sent the photos, of which these are but two, to the lawyer helping us in our quest.

Now it’s up to Benton County. Tick, tick.IMG_0801



To begin this discussion, we all need to know that the property is zoned Exclusive Farm Use. Seems pretty clear. No housing subdivision, no teen-age tennis resort (sorry, Jenny); just cows and alfalfa or filbert orchards. So far, so good.

The property has been operating under what’s known as a Farm Tax Deferral Program. This means that, given a threshold income from farming practice on the land, the owner’s taxes are “deferred” on a ten-year revolving schedule. Don’t ask. But the difference between maintaining the farm activity and not amounts to about $8-9,000 per year. That has gotten our family treasurer’s attention.

But seriously, those cows? They are so cute and funny, but they are also cows, producing quantities of cow fertilizer daily, stomping down the fields, and destroying the riparian quality of our own Big Muddy. Hmm. As I pointed out earlier, shifting to sheep would bring new problems. Lease out the land so another farmer could plant and harvest some crop? Really don’t want to go there. And what about cross-fencing? Big expense, big deal.

Yesterday Larry burst into my office with great news. (Yes, he really did “burst” into my office!) We can go Wetlands and Wildlife Habitat Deferral instead! ! ! Huge news.

Remember I told you earlier that we had this dream of reclamation and restoration? Farming cows really wasn’t there, but this? OMG. ODFW, as we’ll call it from here on, will come onto the property, assess the possibilities, provide plans, and, get this, offer financial help in executing said plans. Manage invasive plants. Improve the wetland area, which has already been identified by the county, so this idea sounds feasible, do-able. They are already working on the land immediately to our east, on the other side of Muddy Creek, and are familiar with our piece.

Must curb our enthusiasm, to borrow a phrase. What if they identify some rare plant on which an endangered butterfly lives, and thus find that we can’t build on the property? What if they say I can’t plant a few apple trees? This is the government, after all, and do we want to invite that wolf in the door?

Probably, but we are pretty excited at this moment to think we can realize both my silly little dream of house-with-apple tree, and Nature Conservancy type reclamation.

Now I’ve brought this narrative up to the real today, July 1, 2014. Larry sits in his office waiting for news from the land-use lawyer to discover whether or not the county will issue us a confirmation of her evaluation of Measure 47. Stay tuned!