It should have been more exciting. Groundbreaking day! Except, nothing actually got broken. The day was just these two guys hunching over the tailgate of a pickup, making marks on the first page of an unfurled blueprint, then pounding stakes:


This is Tyrone Simmons with his characteristic wry grin. Our builder, who’s going to be a member of the family for the next months. Along with Paul-the-Godsend, one of my favorite new people.


Here’s Dennis, Excavator Guy. He’s just recovered from a month-long stay in the hospital battling lung infection/blood infection — in a coma, not expected to survive. But, as he says, the good Lord told him he had another house to build. Which turns out to be ours. Gotta love that! He’s gruff, loud-spoken, been around too long to suffer fools, but about as sweet as you’d hope.

And here’s a selfie I took of Larry and me, supervising. This represents our contribution to the day’s activities. Lunch. I made a nice tuna salad, packed it along with a couple of tangerines and a bag of potato chips. Except I forgot to pack forks, so discovered that chips make fairly decent ad hoc silverware.


Larry had strapped on the weed-whacker harness to mow the perimeter of the orchard when Steve Smith, our conservation consultant arrived. He brought a draft of his vision of how we might proceed, giving us several paths we might follow, depending on our continued use of grazing. It’s a splendid document, with maps, photos, charts, and we’ve both skimmed it. Yeah. We need to get back to the first page and absorb, understand, decide. Perfect. This was by far the best reason for champagne that day.

No time for weed-whacking, then, but we did need to water the trees. And that’s when I noticed that something was amiss with the pie-cherry tree. Leaves curled, brown, and some blisters of a resin-like substance on the stems. Off to Shonnards with a clipping in a paper towel where we learned that we have lilac-leaf curl (have forgotten the technical name). Probably too late to save the tree, but we can spray a product — naturopathic and non-toxic — clip out the infected wood, and hope for the best.

Damn. First I whack one to death, and now we may lose another innocent tree to natural causes? I get mindful of the fact that we don’t live or die by our farming skills, but am beginning to feel like Calamity Jane. We sprayed, watered, and hoped for the best all the way home.

In the next weeks, when the ground really will get broken, we’ll be at 1.) the BBI, 2.) Pasadena for Charlie’s graduation, and 3.) Des Moines for Amber’s wedding. Our empty chairs will have to do the supervising, and the good Lord will have to water the trees.


“For the first time,” Larry said, “I don’t really feel like coming down here.”

I had dozed off, but this got my attention. Did I feel the same? I was tired from the debut Tues. evening of my new so-called band, “Spotted Cat” out at the Milwaukee Elks (but that’s another story).

A cloudy day, spits of rain. Same old I-5 on the way to Salem. It is a dumb, long trip, and we knew we’d have to go again on Friday. So I took my emotional temperature, looked at my mood ring glowing orange, worried that Larry’s state of mind may be infectious. I don’t expect 24/7 euphoria, but was this the first crack in a heart breaking?

That sounded melodramatic, didn’t it? Well, dear Reader, no. I can report that the sun came out, we decided to confound all our best intentions, and pulled into McDonald’s for a sausage muffin. Feeling better, we continued south to meet with an electrician to discuss connection to the barn, to the well, and for the eventual road gate.

Then on to the Alpine Tavern to meet Steve and go on to another neighboring property, to look at their restoration work. The Halseys have 250 acres, and have been working on conservation for 20 years. Much to see. Including a family of wild turkeys. “Hope we get some of those,” Larry said.

I didn’t love this property as much as I had the Tyee farm of last week. Trying to understand why, I decided that it is that it’s the wildness of the landscape. Messy. Randy Gragg once suggested that it’s fair to include beauty as an important value in conservation work. Have to be careful, here. “It takes a practiced eye,” he had said, “to appreciate the artistry of nature left to her own devices.”

We have our cows, as you know. Mark, Cow-Guy, has not wanted to join with the government in practicing rotational grazing, but will be glad to work with us on whatever plan NRCS may devise. The Halseys put some of their land into a lease agreement with NRCS, and tell the story of the time an agency inspector visited their property, found an undocumented cow in their field, and immediately fired off a registered letter threatening serious consequences for this breach of contract. Wasn’t even their cow. Could you just pick up the phone? Maybe Mark is onto something?

I admired this field of flowers, for example. Wrong. Weeds, apparently, wild radish. Excuse me, but if it’s not invasive, do we care if it’s a weed and it’s pretty? What makes a weed a weed, anyway? Answer: a plant that is growing where you don’t want it to be.


Laurie and I fell into walking across the land together, the men up ahead (in the usual way of these things). We learned that we’d gone to the same high school, had the same number of grandchildren, loved to read, and had been married the same number of years. We laughed. We could be friends!

They have constructed tiny out-buildings on the land, which they can Kivas. Wood-burning fireplace, a bench or two. Small sink and shelf of wine glasses. One has a sleeping loft for the grandkids when they visit.


“We just celebrated our anniversary,” Laurie told me as we approached another little building, constructed entirely of found material. (Our anniversary was the day before! Getting eerie) “Took a bottle of wine down here,” she said, “and our gifts for each other. I’d gotten a drum for Warren, and a little flute for myself. So we meditated a bit, played some music, and looked out to see 5 great bull elk just outside.”


Question for you all: Do you imagine that Larry and I would ever celebrate our anniversary in such a fashion?

No, I didn’t think so.

I was thrown back to thoughts of my one-time best friend, Donna. Highschool sleepovers and boyfriends and great plans for the future. A clone of this Laurie, down to the lack of self-consciousness it must take not only to play the little flute and drums, but to tell someone else about it. Donna would build little kivas from found material for sure. But she closed me out of her life one Easter Sunday and I haven’t seen her again. Well, no wonder I like this Laurie. I liked Donna.

To be fair to the Halseys, here is a photo of one of their ponds. Very pretty!


Back at our place, we met with a man to consider disposition of hunks of oak the arborists left behind from our butchered signature tree. He operates an on-site mill, and told us that no, there wasn’t much he could do for us. Well, yes, maybe there was. It would only take about a half an hour. He has, after all a hoist on his truck, but first we are to speak to the above arborists to see if they have an opinion on how we should proceed. He drove away. We shook our heads. What did we just learn?

Heading home. Larry drives, then asks me to drive and he sleeps. Only fair.


We go to the farm on Wednesdays because we don’t have gym that day, don’t have banjo, don’t have golf, and it feels like a weekend. Road trip! There’s always something to do now, although it isn’t yet something we have to do. That day’s coming, by the way.

So we’re off. Coffee first from the Safeway at Starbucks, where Larry has his barista girlfriends. Down I-5, listening to NPR. At about Wilsonville we turn off the radio and just drive. Not yet time for the story we’re listening to, nor is the the scenery yet seductive, so we just exist, sipping the last of our coffee, passing trucks, maybe talking, maybe not.

This particular Wednesday’s chores begin at Del’s Farm store in Philomath where we buy a roll of woven fencing wire. We’d been cautioned by Vik and Gordon that our fledgling lilac would be one-bite dessert to some passing deer. Then friend Nancy chimed in, confirming same, adding the observation that folks near Twickenham protect their lilacs by caging them in wire mesh. We add a couple of stakes and plastic clips to the purchase, hoping the deer have given us another week to come to our senses. Here’s to friends!


The main event of the day was a ramble about our property looking for wild flowers with our consultant, Steve Smith. We set off on a tour, aided by the stick Larry had crafted to get us across the hot-wire fence without incident. Unfortunately, I left my iMini behind, so didn’t photograph the splendor of woodland buttercup and camas in bloom. Yellow and purple under the new-fledged oak and ash. I may have been more enchanted, had not our herd of cows been so eager to greet us, to surround us. What on earth were we there for, if not to feed them something delicious? We put the fence between us and them, hoping the silly little two strands of wire would be enough to deter them if they were really really hungry.

We hadn’t been on this bit of land before, erroneously thinking our property ended at the oxbow of the creek. But now that the water has receded, we stepped across into magic. The creek rushes by, we saw a fish rise, and all those flowers! Steve insists that there are cutthroat there for the taking. I suggested that Larry might invite Robb to go fishing Sunday instead of playing their usual round of golf. He said he’d have to catch one first. Sorry Robb!

Steve had arranged for us to visit the neighboring property, Tyee Vinyards, where they’ve been working on wetlands conservation with Fish and Wildlife for years now. We might see what could be possible for us. Pulled on our boots and were on the way down Bell Fountain Road. (At first, we insisted on pronouncing it “Belle Fontaine” but have had to get real. Look at how it’s spelled. Duh.)

At first I’m thinking “You should be here! This is amazing!” Taking photos, because you aren’t here, are you? First we walk through an ancient filbert orchard, carpeted with flowers whose name, of course, I can’t remember just now.


Then it got a little dicey. Humphrey Bogart and the African Queen around the next corner. And are there snakes in here?


Or maybe even alligators? No, just birdsong, the crunch of rye grass underfoot. And then, finally, there was Bob, just where we’d parked him. Whew. Tyee hosts musical events in the summer. A stage, bands, picnics. Got to check this out!

On Saturday, if things line up, we’ll visit another property where the owners manage grazing in a way that we might emulate. As cows seem to be in our future. Steve has been working with Fish and Wildlife to generate a conservation plan that we can use to guide us on this beautiful piece of land we’ve stumbled into owning. This evening, we got a phone call from The Godsend, Paul, who’s kite-boarding somewhere in Texas. We had a silly little question about the orchard, shot him an email, and he responds. In the middle of his vacation. In Texas. Wow.