“It’s not like we’re unfamiliar with the concept of rust,” Larry said. “Remember the time the floor of my ’58 Impala rusted out and you could see the street when I pulled the mat to vacuum it?”

“Right,” I said. “So what did that guy mean Did you buy the truck at the beach? They don’t salt for snow at the beach.”

“Don’t know. I looked while they had it up on the rack and I didn’t see any rust.”

We were still smarting from the comments of the man who’d installed the shiny new running boards on Bob-the-Truck. It was clear from his attitude that we were a couple of nursing-home escapees who’d gotten hosed on a purchase. Of course, we did operate on trust that Tommy’s truck would be okay, but we’re pretty sure it’s going to be fine for our purposes. And the new running boards are great.

Turning back onto our property, we noticed that Paul, the guy from Craig’s List, was there unloading his tractor and mowing rig. We hadn’t heard that he would be there, so the day took a definite turn for the better. Excellent! He got right to work and the orchard soon began to look, well, mowed. See below:


Having finished the actual orchard, Paul asked if we’d like him to mow around the rest of the area. Mark’s people had been there again, and now the fence hugs the road and draws a fairly small circle around the building site. Unfortunately, it also fences off the slash piles we’ve been working on. But it would be easy to mow at least around the big central oak, so of course we agreed.


Note that snag in the tree, poised to decapitate anyone sitting on the stump. Left here by Shonnard’s tree fellers on the grounds that they had no way to remove it.

Larry, meanwhile, had donned his protective power-saw gear and with the help of rubber soled boots and a board had stepped across the very-much-live fence wires and was attempting to start the saw. Paul noticed his difficulty, and observing his technique, literally jumped from his tractor across the fence and ran to help Larry. “Having trouble?” he politely asked, and then proceeded offer instruction on the arcane secrets of power-saw management. Seems Larry had been incompletely schooled by the Stihl people, and while he’d been successful in starting the thing with their method, it had apparently been at some peril to various body parts.

Paul disconnected the mower and attached the tiller. It took at least an hour to break up the turf, but he eventually determined that he couldn’t improve on the job. He’d need to come back in a couple of weeks when the material had decomposed to a degree that could be more completely broken up.


But so long as he was there, did we want him to put a chain on that snag and pull it down with his tractor? We did.

He succeeded and was busy loading the tiller onto his trailer when I noticed Larry fall. On the ground, on his back — a sight that looms in my nightmares. “Are you okay? Is it your hip? What happened?”

“I’m fine. I just need a minute.”

“Can you get up? Shall I get Paul over here?”

“No! I’ll be fine. Just give me a minute.”

I was afraid to let Paul get away until I knew if Larry would be able to get up, so I paced around, wringing my hands until he rolled over and began to stand up, a piece at a time. “What happened?” I kept asking. “What were you doing?”

“I was just crossing the fence and the board I was using to hold the wire slipped. I got shocked.”

“But it’s not that bad. We’ve both gotten shocked. It’s not so . . .”

“Between my legs.”


Still makes me laugh.

Life went on, and while I was leaning against the trailer writing a check for Paul, we noticed that the chain had come off Larry’s saw. He held it up in a question for Paul, who nodded. Brought it over to the trailer whereupon Paul whipped the housing off, reattached the chain, tightened it, checked the oil, and handed it back. Here’s Paul, whom we now call The Godsend:


The next morning — that is, today — we were packing for a quick trip to Black Butte when Larry came out of his office waving a message forwarded from the people who’d built the road. Seems we were delinquent in having various stages of the road construction inspected by the county. Oh dear God, what now? Were we going to have to tear the road apart so that some hard hat from the county could observe whether the job had been done correctly? As you will imagine, this darkened the mood in the Viehl household quite significantly. Grrr. But, the official from the county called, said he did not know why this notice had been sent, all appeared in order, inspections complete. He would check it out and phone us if there were anything we needed to worry about. Don’t call us for another couple of days, okay? Every time the phone rings . . .

Farming is not, it seems, a profession easily learned in the winter of life.


It always happens when we take visitors to the H.A.Wood. My rose-colored glasses slip off and I see what is real: our raggedy little orchard with “trees” hardly deserving, yet, of the name. Slash piles from the downed oak. Invasive knee-high Astoria bent-grass thriving everywhere not crushed with the power company’s truck tires. Mud. Broken oaks, only just leafing out now, and so it was on Sunday when I took Margie and Angie to see our farm.

Margie is Allison’s mom, and the woman with whom I happily share some grandkids. Angie is Allison’s sister, newly moved to Portland. Margie was helping Angie settle in to her new digs, and they were happy to take the day off for an excursion to Corvallis.

It was a beautiful spring day, and any landscape would be pretty gorgeous in the Oregon White Oak Savanna on such a morning. To prove it, here are the flowers down along the creek (be sure to click on the photo):


But before we could walk to the creek, I thought I’d have to turn off the electricity to the fence. Unfortunately, the rancher was using an unfamiliar system this time, and I was unable to turn the bolt securing the wires to the battery. I walked back to the top, where Margie and Angie were admiring the copse. Margie casually holding onto the “hot” wire. Not getting shocked! What? I cautiously tapped at the wire, knowing that it was still connected, and nope, no shock. We were astonished, and then even the more cautious Angie reached to touch the wire. She got zapped. Huh? What was going on? We determined that it must have something to do with rubber-soled shoes, but I later began to think that such a situation would have been a good way to diagnose witches, back in the day. Margie and I? Guilty.

So we proceeded, using a shoe to hold down the lower wire, a stick to elevate the upper, and we all successfully crawled through the fences engineered to keep the cows here, but not there. Mark, Cow Guy, had been there to fence the animals out of the copse, so now the wild flowers will be able to grow and set seed.

I saw the mass of animals in the lower field begin to lumber up toward us, a little threatening to City Slickers, so we escaped into the copse and up to the homestead. On the way back to our car, we heard gun shot. All of us unfamiliar with the sound of ordinance, we guessed we were hearing a rifle. Then a huge boom. Like a cannon? Shooting at elk? Hmm. Enough excitement for the day, and we went to Flat Tail in Corvallis for lunch.

But here’s the fun thing: Margie has been doing some farming, too, down in Pasadena where she lives. Like us, she lives in an urban condo, with little opportunity for growing vegetables. But Margie, retired development director for the L.A. Master Chorale (a very big deal) feels as I do that having all the free time in the world isn’t enough unless you find something challenging, exciting, useful, to do with it. So she and a friend are engaged in a Pasadena Community Garden project. This organization identified a lot, cleared it, navigated all the city ordinances to provide a source of water. They built (I think) 70 plus raised beds, each 4′ x 20′ (again, that’s a guess), wrote a lot of governance rules and accepted applications. Margie and Howard secured a plot and are busy raising, well, what? She says that’s the question everyone asks. Better said, what aren’t they growing? Tomatoes, for sure. Carrots from seed (they didn’t succeed, btw) an artichoke, don’t know what all.

We talked about the latest water difficulties in her California. Margie is passionate about working toward a sustainable, organic, food policy nationally and puts her feet on the ground to support her beliefs.

So it was a good day. I have my rosy glasses back in place and am looking forward to Wednesday, when Larry and spend another day at work on the slash piles. I’ve heard from Paul, who will do the orchard mowing, that he hopes to do the job this week. I will feel much better when we can begin to civilize the lumpy, weedy little site. Even the lilac will look better, although I have to hope it’s emergence from the surrounding grass won’t attract the hungry deer.

APRIL 9 – 10

We, Peter, Larry and I, got there at noon on Thursday, swapped out the SUV for Bob-The-Truck, and drove to Corvallis for wood to make the sawbuck. Lunch, of course, then on to the ranch, as Larry has taken to calling the H.A. Wood. The boys would be occupied with their craft project, but I wanted to have a go at the weed-whacker. Turns out the thing is managed by way of a harness the operator straps on. The weight of the whacker is suspended on a hook, and the strange balance allowed me to manage the length of the machine.

“You can do it,” Larry encouraged me, and I could, although I required assistance with starting the thing. Into the orchard I went, meaning to mow a swatch around each tree which would allow future mulching. I was surprised by the machine’s power, and by the impossible lumpiness of the terrain. And when the filament wrapped around the base of one of the cherry trees, thereby executing it, I was horrified. I later took a photo, but it’s very graphic and might upset some viewers, so I will spare you.

“I killed one of the trees,” I had to announce. Those of you who know Larry will understand that he took the news well, but not lightly. He does love his trees. “Shonnard’s will be open until five,” was all he could find to say after viewing the victim and accepting that this tree’s life was over. He should have told me, he later would say, to keep the shield between the tree and the filament, but it was not any failure of his. I alone chopped down the cherry tree.

We didn’t wait until five to visit Shonnard’s and purchase a replacement tree. With Peter there to dig the hole, the job went quickly, and the new plant has happily settled into the orchard with the others.

Meanwhile, the sawbuck was successfully completed and hauled over to the giant woodpile.



We’d had visitors:


Elk, was the diagnosis, from the size of the prints. We’ve never seen the animals, but clearly, they had been up investigating our little settlement. I’m happy to say that they did not take a single bite from the lilac, and that they did not manage to leap the fence. They may not like lilac leaves, but I fear that they’ll tell the deer what’s available at the buffet. Still, we want the lilac outside the fence, so will take the chance, this time.

The guys took a few swipes at some logs and then we called it day. Into town for an overnight at the Hilton, where we crashed with a beer and a look at the Masters on TV. Dinner was in a restaurant Dick Sandvik had recommended, Del Alma. Great! Thanks, Dick!

Next morning, we were surprised to find that new cows had been added to our herd:


We’ll have to fence them out of the oak copse very soon, and have called the man from NRCS who has agreed to help us determine the best grazing practice. He’s out of town until Monday, but we hope to hear from him soon. There are probably 25-30 animals now, enough to do some damage in the wrong places.

While Peter and Larry worked on the large woodpile, I went back to work with my little hand saw. Properly chastened, I knew I should recognize my limits. I didn’t want to watch as the men hefted the heavy oak onto the sawbuck and ran the saw. I mean, I did want to, but it’s sobering to know what accidents can indeed happen, protective gear notwithstanding.

It was hard work! By noon the wind had changed, the guys were tired, and while they wanted to just do one more little section, finally we all realized that we’d had enough:


We wanted to beat the Friday traffic back to Portland, so packed up. After searching for an appropriate spot to mount the lock-box for the truck keys, kindly donated by the White-Davises, we decided that the truck bed itself offered the perfect spot. Thanks, G and V!

What comes next? We await the county’s pleasure with respect to the building permit. Larry has been happy to turn over the management of the power and water systems to Tyrone Simmons, our builder. We’re planning a bird inventory with Charlie Quinn, a friend from the Nature Conservancy, and visits to other properties whose owners have been working on the Muddy Creek conservation corridor. Stay tuned!


“I thought people were supposed to write their blogs, like every day. What’s up with you?”

I know, but nothing much has been happening. Contractor’s been away on spring break. Architect’s in Bhutan? Been raining?”

“Call yourself a writer. Writers write.”

I don’t call myself a writer. I call myself a farmer.

“Good one. Very funny.”

Okay! I get it! We did go to the farm yesterday. It turned out to be beautiful down there. The land so green. Bird song. Shonnard’s people had come out and strung the barbed wire Larry wanted on the stretch of fence along the driveway. Looks nice.

We picked up the truck and went to collect the last cherry tree, and to buy a lilac. Every farmhouse in the county has a lilac in bloom. Purple. I’ve wanted one since forever. That horrible woman was behind the counter at Shonnard’s, and I think she recognized me because she got very busy not noticing me at all.

“She’s not horrible.”

Yes, she is. You know, if she had to make a comment about my advanced age, she could have included herself. Like, “WE older folk find this a great place to live.” The way your doctor always says “as WE age,” when they’re not. Not yet. It’s only polite. And anyway, she should look in the mirror. She’s no spring chicken herself.

“I think you’re cross because she was right. About you.”

I’m not! we could have been friends. I might have gone to her bunko club. I saw that big sign in front of the community center: “Bingo! Bunko! Pot-luck Wednesday Nights.”

“Now you’re being a snob. So, did you get the cherry tree and the lilac?”

Yes. Of course it wasn’t that easy to plant them. Larry decided that the hole prepared earlier for this last cherry was out of alignment, so he’d have to dig a different hole, entirely by hand. I told him that wasn’t really necessary, but he had his vision, so dug away. I worked to make a larger circle around another of the trees, but without the weed-whacker to clear the long grass, it was too hard. Unfortunately, I can’t manage the whacker. As with other farm equipment, five feet four inches is not tall enough. You should see me simply trying to climb into the truck. So I busied myself with my wood pile. A hand saw makes no demands.

And here they are: the lilac, and one of the cherry trees. Which, looks like, may actually produce a cherry or two.



Little signs of domesticity. The settlers in this fertile valley longing for talismans of home.

I hope the man from Craig’s List will decide soon that it’s dry enough to mow, then til the orchard. At least Tyrone and Rod are back from their vacations, so perhaps I’ll soon have something more substantive to write about.

Peter is coming here next Wednesday to help Larry with the large wood pile. Power saw! Manly stuff. Going to be great!