But what, you ask, or who, is a “Sounder?”

A Sounder might be considered a “witch” with a graduate degree in Very Low Frequency radio waves, who hopes to locate a source of water for the anxious farmer/home owner/orchardist who needs an operating well. Not, for example, a well that delivers 2 1/2 gal.per minute of blue-clay water. And he doesn’t use a forked willow switch, although I don’t judge witches who do.

So, Tim met us this morning to see if he could locate of supply of underground water which we might tap. Picture a summertime Santa: bald head, big white beard, jolly disposition who drove up in this:


Larry fell in love, immediate and deep. It’s a Yamaha “Rhino,” and this baby cuts across our lumpish landscape, across ditches, up hills, at 40 miles an hour, Tim says. Smooth! And look at that bed on the back for hauling blackberry canes, downed oak branches, water, thistle spray. Oh, man. We would have to park it up the hill somewhere, out of sight, until we build a garage. Cover it with a tarp? Excellent. This is one sweet tool toy that puts our weed whacker, I mean brush cutter, in deep shadow. Just wait until we get home from France!

But, what about the water? In fact, Tim says he has located several sources, and has marked them with fiberglass stakes, festooned with gaudy blue and pink ribbon. The sites are just down the hill from the future house, wouldn’t require felling any oak to tunnel up to our faucets, and, he claims, should offer in the neighborhood of 20 gallons per minute. Can’t tell about the quality of water, but as the well would be deeper than the two existing wells, it should be fine.

All the way home, we are optimistic, happy. The property was beautiful in the cool of early fall, the trees a tapestry of color as they turn according to their own inner timing. The grass by the creek is greening, the birds gone mad with the harvest of acorns and spent berries.
“Maybe we could find a used Rhino!” says Larry.
“But how many apple trees do you think we should consider?” I answer. Lost in our own dreams.

Of course, we have to call Joe, he has to drill the well, the water actually has to be there. And first, we leave for France tomorrow. And the rain?


“See those tracks?” Chad said. Chad being one of the “guys” (her words) Shirley had called on for help this morning when the probe she was using to test our well failed. “Bull elk.”

“How do you know it was a bull?” Larry asked.

“Size,” Chad answered, with a laugh. Still not sure if these city people even know what an elk may be, other than something they might have seen on some NPR wildlife special.

Yes, that Shirley. We got the call this morning, and though we hadn’t planned on a trip south, when we heard that she would be testing the “new” well, we packed a lunch. Luckily, nothing going Mondays, so we were free to go. The news from the old well, as per the nitrates, had been bad. Like, five thousand dollars bad, if we still want to use that source for our water.

Let’s back up. On Sunday, we’d gone to an event, invited by Randy Gragg, a Portland architect/editor/conservationist to whom we’d been introduced by a friend who knew of our interest in the above. The Washington side of the Columbia River Gorge, seventy-five acres directly across from Multnomah Falls, which could hardly be more iconic, splendid in the late afternoon sunlight (okay, a little too hot, but we won’t quibble). We’d gone in the hope of picking any of the assembled conservationist brains on the subject of, for example, Astoria bent grass — invasive — and any other challenges we face down near Corvallis.

Struck gold. Seriously. Not about the bent grass, but we did meet Norm and Neil. I’m sorry that I can’t tell you much about them, just two very nice men, who took great interest in the oak wood that we have in crazy abundance all over our property. I don’t know too much about them, because we didn’t give them much of a chance. “Oh, you’re architects? How nice. Now, let’s talk about us.”

So we did. We should consider getting a portable plane saw, turn that oak wood into lumber, use it to build our house. Us? Oh, you mean hiring someone to bring a plane saw onto the land and mill the wood. Norm was so enthusiastic that he walked back to the parking space with us, as we left, to show us a piece of cherry wood that they had milled, just the day before. OMG. He told us he was going to change our lives, and I’ll be damned. I think he did. (Thank you, Norm!)

So, on the property this morning, we looked around with different eyes. Sure, much of the wood on the ground would only be good for the fireplace, who knows how long it’s been lying there, but look at this:

Yeah, the color is weird, and you can’t really get the scale. Larry’s phone, and I don’t really know how to manage it. But you do see one straight shot of newly downed oak — got to be some house beams in there somewhere?

Alas, the news from the new well is bad, too. Crap number of gallons per minute of water that looks like it came straight out of muddy creek. Now what? Shirley’s husband, Larry, says that there’s plenty of water available. The well across the road pumping 200 gallons a minute. What? So, a new another well attempt for us? Of course, my Larry is depressed. You can’t just go digging wells here and there about the property in the hope of striking, well, water.

There is a guy, called a “sounder,” who uses sonar to detect underground water. Got home, called him. And so it goes.

Tomorrow, we return, to meet with our architect to stake out the home site. To see if Shirley and Larry have any more suggestions for us.

This should be our last trip before we leave for France. I’m cultivating a better attitude about the plane trip, because it’s Paris. The Dordogne. Good friends. Going to be fun! Either the rains will come or they won’t and whatever. The Hundred Acre Wood won’t go away.



Last post, you’ll remember, I was fretting about pumpkins. I took this photo Thursday, on the way to friend Molly’s Sauvie Island pasture. (Be sure to click on the photo to get a real sense of the place.) “I think it’s not so bad,” Molly said, commenting on my post. “I think the left-over lantern type pumpkins are sold for animal food. Cat food, I’m pretty sure. Or fed to the grower’s own animals. Or plowed under.”

(One thing I like about writing this: I worry about something, or complain, and one of you writes to answer questions, clarify, reassure. Perfect! Thank you!)

Anyway, I’m still concerned about the unsold pumpkins at the grocery stores. They don’t really taste good, so it’s into the dumpster for them, I’m afraid. If you have to carve a pumpkin, maybe get one of the smaller, sweet, edible variety? They’re very healthy, and oh, stop yawning. I saw you.

Saving the world, one pumpkin patch at a time. But you want to know about Molly’s Great Adventure. Like mine, her inner farmer woke up one day last year, and she went out and bought a horse. (Her next novel will be available on October 28 in bookstores, on line, and on Audible. Called “Falling From Horses.” Go to her website to learn more because she’s a great writer:

Her horse, KoKo is an Islandic and about as cute as horses come. Molly pastures her on a small holding on the island along with another horse and miniature mule named Russell. It’s a lot of work, and I tagged along as she hefted flakes of hay, shoveled manure, rearranged hoses and sprinkler heads, which chores have be done once a day. She and another woman share responsibilities, and the pay-off is getting to ride out on the open fields and pastures of the very beautiful, rural island along the Columbia River. To smell the hay in the shed. To watch autumn come to the land.

She’s crazy in love with her new life, and said that much of it is the sense of mastery she has come to feel. Just a hard-ass woman who can shovel shit with the best of them.

So me and my skirt? Molly’s way ahead of me, but she shows me where I’m going. The mastery I want isn’t so much physical, it’s about knowledge. I’m frustrated at the moment by the inertia forced on us by the slowness of road-building bids. When we started, I thought that time wouldn’t matter — we’d do what we could do in the time we have and enjoy the process. Now I think it does matter. We wanted to get the road built before the rains come, and can’t do much else until we do.

Well, I could research apple trees. A very good idea, and if you’ll excuse me, that’s exactly what I’m going to do now. I think they will need to be ordered soon, and planted in the spring.

Oh wait. That means we’d have to have the deer fence up, and . . . we can’t build the fence until the house is built, and . . . we can’t build the house until we have the road.

See what I mean?


Driving down I-5, early morning with the sun orange behind the smoke from the Estacada fire, I’m sleepy. We already had gym, lattes and Lara bars, and now we have to be at the farm by 9:00 to meet the Mainline folks who will test the old well.

The colors are muted, strange. A field of pumpkins has us wondering why we’d use all that land, water, sunshine to grow something that no one will eat. Carve a face, light a candle, Trick or Treat, and throw it away. Well, guess that’s not different from growing flowers. No one’s going to eat them either. Still . . .

We already had the old well tested, but if we’re going to consider using it in place of the newly drilled one, we have to check for nitrates in the water. We’ve just turned into the old house driveway when Mainline’s truck pulls up. But it’s Shirley at the wheel, not her husband Larry, whom we expected. Thinking that he’s on his way, we greet Shirley as she climbs out of the pickup. Starts unpacking gear, talking. She fiddles with the wires attached to the well head, and it begins to appear that she’s it. Really?

She hikes her flipflop-shod foot onto the huge tire of the truck, flings her somewhat chubby leg over the rail, adjusts something on the generator and gives the cord a hefty pull. The woman is in business.

She engages a wrench to open the water pipe, attaches a short length of garden hose, unwinds some wire off the probe reel. I’m feeling pretty silly in the skirt I chose to wear this morning. We have a meeting with Linsey at the County later in the morning, hence my attire, but still. I want to be Shirley, and Shirley is not wearing a skirt. But flipflops? Okay, got it. And what about that surgical wrap on her left wrist? Trigger finger surgery, she tells us. Doesn’t slow her down. I can see that Larry would like to offer to help, but we both realize that would be a bad idea.

The process is slow. She has to measure the depth of water in the well, control the flow of water, fill a gallon tub for one minute and measure the volume. This will go on for four hours, or until she has the information she wants.

We talk, she and I. She had been the office secretary for Corvallis High School until she retired several years ago and went to work for her Larry. She has a pretty face and sweet smile, and I’d guess the kids in that school would have loved her, would have known not to mess with her.

She gossips about our neighbors-to-be. One she calls a “one punch.” One punch? Yes, you know. When he opens his mouth you just want to shut it for him with one punch. She illustrates with her fist into her open hand.

The man who sold us our property owns the land across Lewellyn and it’s for sale, she tells me. Oh no! I think about the 16 story building scheduled to be built across the street and down one block from our condo. But the prospective buyers here want to create an organic fruit farm. Whew.

We have to leave to meet Linsey at the County offices. The ruling about “decommissioning” the old house on our property is difficult to understand, and we don’t want to make a mistake. We do want to get it down this winter while nothing else is going on, but we’ve learned that the County, like Shirley, is not to be trifled with. Linsey is tall, quite beautiful, young, and I worry that she is not the final arbiter of County decommissioning statutes. She tells us that we can take the house down whenever we want to.

Are you sure?

Yes, she is sure. She says nothing to back her conviction, but there it is. We have to take her at her word, I guess. I want to ask if we could talk to her supervisor, but sense that would be not be helpful. So we leave, taking some forms with us regarding the process and some information about the flooding to which the county is subject.

Back to our property, we find that Shirley is closing up shop. She’ll test the new well, make some recommendations about how we can manage what is becoming a rather difficult water situation. Larry and I leave to have lunch.

In the car, I begin to realize that some insect unknown has been nibbling on my legs. They itch, and the itching intensifies as we settle in for a quick lunch at the Irish pub we’ve found in Corvallis. The worst bite seems to be on the inside of my upper thigh. Unfortunately this is not a place that can be comfortably scratched in a public setting. Especially while wearing a skirt. Stupid, stupid!

Tomorrow we meet with our architect, who is back from Alaska and eager to have things well underway by the time we have to leave on the 28th. Yeah, me too!


Just back from meeting with Mark (heretofore known as the Cow-guy). Windy today, and the dust from the nearby farmers dragging their fields is a bit sobering. Gorgeous, but let’s hope that the woods between us and those real farmers will keep their fields from reassembling inside my new little house-with-apple-tree. Hmm.

Mark was accompanied by two of his daughters, Cecily and Charlotte, perhaps 8 and 6.5. Blonde hair into neat ponies, skinny little jeans with beaded/bling belts, cowgirl shirts and well-scuffed cowboy boots. And there are three more at home with Mom, the youngest being 3 months old. Five girls, showstoppers. Cecily stayed with Dad while we talked, but Charlotte busied herself picking a bouquet of Queen Anne’s lace for Mom, and when the wind blew it out of the cup she held it in, she just laughed.

And why, then, did we think that they are 1.) being homeschooled, 2.) practicing some fairly fundamental Christian faith? (Mark did say that Mom was going on a retreat for the weekend, taking the baby, but that he’d have care the other four, so there’s that) — but it could have been a spa retreat to recover from childbirth? Nope. Retreat probably means retreat in the Biblical sense. From their appearance, those little girls are every good thing. Every little girl should have scuffed cowboy boots and a dad whose pride in them shone out of his smile and the way he told them they should shake our hands on their departure. No, don’t start thinking something dark. Just be glad for a child who can pick flowers and watch the wind blow them away. Darkness will come soon enough.

But, about the cows. We talked fences, white clover for forage improvement, rotation, water. Feeling pretty darned rural, but Larry felt obliged to remark at one point that we’re city people. Mark probably wouldn’t have been able to tell, otherwise. He’ll send us a proposal, but is fine with fencing off the wetlands and the stream. We’ll have a one-year lease, and reconsider in another year when we see how 2014/15 rolls along. We’ll keep our farm tax deferral. His crew will put up the electric wires to keep the cows where they belong, come by weekly to check on them. We are planning to fence off 4 – 5 acres for the house, so they won’t be poking their noses into my sheets hanging on the line.

You think? We’ll see!


With nothing much happening on the ground, let’s turn to the house plans.

I said nothing much happening, but the Road-guys did come out and stake a center line for the driveway, and Larry has logged hours on the phone with the pump people, a surveyor, County folks, and Mark, the Cow-guy, with whom we’ll meet tomorrow.

Meanwhile, this evening, we’ve been fighting to install a new printer in my office. This has nothing to do with the farm, exactly, but I realized that I want to print my blogs in the event that the web host suddenly expires or an electrical storm wipes out my computer . . . I don’t want to lose my record of the big adventure. Alas, we’ve lost the fight, the printer won’t print, and the USB SuperDrive won’t wake up so that I can read the instruction disc. Situation Normal, AFU. Wish sweet Andrew lived nearby!

Right. So where was I? House plans. We’d reached the point where Gordon could go no further with our plans and it was time to hire an actual, certified architect. Enter Rod Graham, long-time friend, a part of the Greater Whitman Crowd, around which L and I circle like a distant planet.

We gave him all the drawings that Gordon had created, talked about our intentions, goals, etc. Gordon said that Rod would have his own ideas, and so it has been. He took the basic elements of Gordon’s work, arranged the rooms in a rectangle instead of a square, lengthened the side dimensions, erased part of the covered porch. Drew the garage and a breezeway connecting it, and suddenly we had a courtyard with what look like outbuildings added on over the century. Magic. Then he, Rod, departed on a cruise to Alaska, told us to think about things, and sailed away.

Okay, think about things. I’ve already pored over a dozen books, consulted my varying advisors on Pinterest — by the way, now Pinterest thinks it knows me and suddenly I’ve become the recipient of catalogs, magazines, emails offering me farm products. One of my faves is from Amish country in Ohio with amazing wringer washing machines, canning supplies. Actually, I love this one and have it piled up with the rest of the library. But back to the theme of thinking. Why not try Houzz?

Good idea. I type in “Country Kitchens,” thinking I’d start small. Ha. Seriously, there are 1,101,204 photos of country kitchens on this web site. Can there be that many country kitchens in all of North America? Better narrow it down. I type in “Vintage Country Kitchens.” Much better. Only 48,903. Doing the math, I find that, at one second per photo, I can get through this collection in an hour and a half.

So what does a kitchen need? A stove, a sink, a refrigerator. Countertops and cabinets, or some sort of storage capacity. Drawers for stuff like silverware and salt and dish towels. Do we even need an automatic dishwasher? I’d say no, but Larry is the family dishwasher, and he says yes, for sure, what are you thinking? Okay, we’ll have the dishwasher.

But while I’m definitely guilty of assembling unnecessary kitchen gear, all this material on Houzz, and even Pinterest, kind of sickens me. A little house, an apple tree. That wringer-washer is starting to seem appealing! Sure, says the princess. But I really do want an outside clothes line. Remember how sheets smell when you take them in out of the sunshine? Are you even old enough to remember clothes lines?

We’re waiting for estimates on building the road. Supposed to be here by this week. The thing is, we want to get the road going before we leave for France on the 28th of Sept. Not looking very promising. It’s going to be hard to be gone for three weeks, even if we’re going to Paris. I know, but I did say I’m a princess.

And tomorrow I’ll be able to tell you what our future in Cows looks like. Please stay tuned!