Wednesday and we were on the road again. Going to water those trees, take down some weeds around the orchard, and begin a mulching process we learned about from Margie Lindbeck that was used at the Huntington Garden in Pasadena. Layers of wet cardboard surround each tree, on which is piled 4 to 6 inches of wood mulch. Except that description is retrospective — we know now what to do, but were going on a guess on that Wednesday, the 24th of June.

In what has become a routine, Larry opened the gate and went to pull the truck out of the barn. Continuing up the driveway in the car, I was thus by myself when I first saw the shocking spread of tansy over much of the fields where the cows have been.

Tansy is definitely bad stuff, and last year I am sure we had none at all. If this is what comes of overgrazing, something will have to change. I feel ashamed, sure that our neighboring farmers will be looking with disapproval at the evidence of careless husbandry. “Knew those city folks would be trouble. They’re probably thinking ‘oh, look at the pretty yellow flowers!'”

So. Tansy Ragwort, also knows as Stinking Willie, and Staggerwort. Which should give you some idea. It’s invasive, native to Asia, Africa, and Europe, appearing first in the Pacific Northwest in the 1920’s. All parts of the plant are highly toxic. The plant is biennial, and there are tricks to controlling isolated patches of it. Best are the biological agents, the cinnabar moth and ragwort flea beetle. They are both beautiful little creatures, the beetle iridescent gold, the moth dark gray with red accents. In the larval stage, the caterpillars are orange and black striped (Go Beavers!)

I can’t talk about this invasion without the uncomfortable thought that I, myself, am an invasive non-native arrival in this landscape. From a publication of the Grande Ronde Confederated Tribes about the Kalapuya, who were here before me:

“As a semi-nomadic people, the Kalapuya(s) lived in permanent winter homes and migrated throughout the Willamette Valley during the warmer months. They traded regularly with their Molalla and Cayuse neighbors as well as other Northern California, Oregon coast, and Columbia River tribes.

Camas root was the Kalapuyas’ most abundant and important staple. This “bulbous root plant resembles an onion in shape and consistency but is considerably more bland in taste,” according to “Cooking up Camas,” an article in Historic Marion. A member of the lily family, “camassia quamash” still grows in the Willamette Valley; it is known for its beautiful blue spring time blooms.

While they did not “cultivate” the land in today’s sense of the word, the Kalapuyas were familiar with land management practices such as controlled field burning. The article entitled “The Kalapuya: a Wealthy Way of Life” quotes Henry B. Zenk, a noted scholar of the Kalapuyas: “They slash burned just to make the country an open pasture. To make the habitat more conducive to elk, deer, camas, tarweed, and hazelnuts … The way they managed their land is something they had to work at. They were almost like a pre-agricultural society.”

Steve Smith, our conservation consultant drove up promptly at 11:00, and we put down our rakes to sit under the big oak and talk about OUR plans for caring for this land. We can basically take one of two paths, either agricultural, or toward pure conservation and restoration. Looking out at the consequences of grazing, it would seem a simple choice, but it isn’t. At the end of two hours, we’ve tentatively decided to see if a system of rotational grazing and pasturage improvement will be agreeable to Mark — Cow Guy, as you may remember. In exchange for forgiving any lease fee, we’d like him to be willing to move the cows maybe as often as every two weeks. Then, when these animals are gone in mid-July, Steve suggests we find someone who will be willing to pasture a herd of goats here to round out the grazing approach to conservation. We have an appointment with the director of Oregon Fish and Wildlife to consider signing a partnership with that organization. (A herd of goats? Sounds fun!)

As Steve was leaving, we had a quick look at several tansy plants, and found not a single larvae, caterpillar, or moth to be found. Bad news. We’ll see what Jarod, the F&W director has to suggest.

We went for lunch and stopped to acquire a few bags of mulch from Shonnard’s. Cut a nice piece of dry cardboard and fit it around the Liberty apple, the one looking most stressed. Piled on the mulch. If it’s good enough for the Huntington Garden! We started to water and got three trees done before the well ran dry (metaphorically). Seems we trip some breaker in the pump system and can’t see how to re-set it. So, it being 90 plus degrees, we decided to head back to Portland. Too hot!

At home, we learned that, to emulate the Huntington, one must pile great layers of wet corrugated cardboard around the trees, then pile on the mulch and water and water it. Going back tomorrow, as it is still in the 90’s, with a hot wind. Those trees will be thirsty, and if we can’t get the water to flow from the construction site, it’ll be back to Shonnard’s to fill our barrels and work the bucket brigade again. Onward!


“It’s so tiny!” I say.

“It’s huge!” Larry says.

“It has lots of corners,” observes Eric, the carpenter we’ve just met.

You decide:


For the first time, I’m feeling overwhelmed. It seems that the cows have selectively chewed down the lovely green meadow land, leaving ugly clumps of some less-tasty weed. We notice that most of the animals have been taken away, probably because, without access to Muddy Creek, they had no water. Fair enough.

And where the cattle haven’t been, the grass is overgrown and rough. Thistles are everywhere. And, of course, the construction site is, well, a construction site. Complete with port-a-potty which, while certainly welcome, does nothing for the ambience.

We’ve been studying the conservation plan, and want to get started NOW. It doesn’t work that way. We’ll meet with Steve next week to finalize the draft we have, then meet with Fish and Wildlife to form a partnership, then . . . ? Patience, Jane.

At least we have our orchard, which we can influence. We have only two hours to work, time we’ve stolen out of the compressed week of auto misbehavior in Wyoming. And look at my little favorite cherry tree:


Bravo! Well done! I wonder that some passing bird hasn’t noticed this jewel. This is the entirety of our fruit crop in 2015.

We shoulder our rakes and begin to introduce order to the tilled area inside the fence. I think the soil looks anemic; Larry thinks it’s perfectly healthy. Neither of us has the least idea, but in support of his claim, we do have some very prosperous thistle growing up between the trees. Have to wait til next week to spray.

Larry is an artist at this job. My territory satisfies the goal of flat, but his! It would be right at home in a Japanese raked stone meditation garden. I’m a little ashamed of my work, but don’t worry. The grass, if it ever grows here, will hide both artistry and imperfection.

Too soon we have to give up and head back to Portland and prepare for guests for dinner. On the way out I notice this poor unidentified fruit tree down by Llewellyn: why we need the deer/elk fence!


We decide that it’s too long a drive for so short a visit. Of course, we’re pretty tired of driving, anyway. Next Wednesday, we plan to arrive early and stay late. If time permits, we’ll acquire a back-pack sprayer to get after the most offensive thistles in the orchard and around the building site. Makes us feel useful, though any more comprehensive attack will have to wait for the knowledge, equipment, and manpower of the O.F.& W. team. Okay, overwhelmed, but not discouraged!


At the reception for Amber and Alex’s lovely wedding, we sat next to Bill Bahr, father of Ken, who’s married to Kristi Viehl Bahr. See the chain? Bill is a farmer, having retired from his work as a prison guard, and among the sweetest people you could meet. Lots of stories and advice. One, that we should under-water our new fruit trees a little, to force the roots to reach down for moisture from the earth. Guess we unwittingly succeeded there, although I can report that we now have water at the building site, and that the trees will be watered through the hot spell in that part of the world.

Bill has four acres and, he claims, 23 vehicles in his barn. Larry was — well, let’s do the math. We have one hundred acres. Extrapolating, we see that Larry could have 25 times as many vehicles in our barn. Better get going!

First, of course, we have to get home. Which is proving harder than it should. Here I sit in a motel in Frederick, Colorado. Dear God. Seems the Cheyenne mechanics aren’t authorized to do warranty work on the Lexus, and our new fuel pump is under warranty. Thus another tow ride for this vehicle (which we don’t count among the 23 X 25 to which we are entitled) down the highway to Colorado. We are not advised to drive the thing (duh), so followed in the rental car to which we treated ourselves.

These tow truck drivers are a colorful lot. The road from I 80 exit 20, Nebraska to Cheyenne driver in particular. Been out of the Navy 9 years, has a 9 year-old boy, Wyatt. “Me and my brother-in-law was just down the basement shooting bb guns at the wall, didn’t think nothin of it, just being dumb-ass guys. Then the cousins went down there and started shooting, but they was shooting at a barrel, and the shot ricocheted. Wyatt lost an eye.”

Whoa. Awful! “But he’s good with it now. Got a glass eye. Of course, the police had to get involved, it being a weapon and all, but insurance covered most of it. Know what a glass eye costs?”

Okay, so what about getting ourselves home? Just talked to Larry over at the Lexus shop. Mechanic there not optimistic that they can find the problem. Seriously, people, this is getting annoying! What to do? We are NOT going to drive a car that randomly shuts down across the mountains and desert. Could be miles from an off- ramp. Miles from cell coverage. Remember, I am a princess and while I’m proud of my composure through the tornado (did I talk about that? We actually just missed it, but it was a real, live tornado all right), through severe thunderstorms, through waiting for AAA for 4 1/2 hours in the Toyota parking lot in Cheyenne. Through yuck-o food at various chain restaurants, through, well, just being sick for home, I have to keep reminding myself that this is still all leaves-in-the-swimming pool. We’re fine. The country is beautiful (though the weather leaves quite a lot to be desired!).

So we will probably arrange to have it transported back to Portland, while we drive the rental. The Portland Lexus folks will have to figure it out, or eat it on a trade-in. Though it will be a while before we consider another Lexus! If all goes well, we hope to see for ourselves how the Hundred Acres project is proceeding by the end of the week.


“But your blog is supposed to be about the farm, isn’t it?”

“I know, but . . .”

“You could write about Tyrone’s email, and Lee’s phone call? No? Okay, I get it. Not that interesting.”

Right. So here’s what happened: First, in case you’re planning a road trip yourselves, I suggest that you avoid Colorado. Yes, it is very beautiful, awesome in the older sense of the word, but the entire state freeway system seems to comprise what they call a “work zone.” In a work zone, there will be but one lane ahead. One lane. The mountains in Colorado, coupled with the inevitable rivers of trucking, big, slow-moving trucks — well, you know.

Anyway, hours later than planned last evening, we left the freeway to find our hotel. It was just a little mistake, owing to the confusing signage and the fierce setting sun, but the wrong ramp and there we suddenly were, back on the freeway, heading west again. Next opportunity to turn around, twelve miles down the road.

Lots of Minnesota bad language here.

Fast forward: Never mind the ghastly dinner at Whiskey Creek (peanut shells on the floor, just so Wild West), forget the mistaken order at Starbucks and the woman, delighted by our Oregon license chatting with Larry while I straightened out the Starbucks order (It’s easy to make new friends on the road!). Ignore the Sausage Muffin, all we could find for breakfast. Nebraska is lovely. Green, damp from record-setting rain, fecund (I love that word). We are going to play golf this afternoon. Have a tee time from a course called Thousand Oaks, and then:


Yep. That’s us on a tow truck. On the way to the golf course. Or not, as it turns out.

We arrive, courtesy of the wonderful AAA at the Lexus dealership in Omaha. Not before I have a few qualms. “You can wait in the truck,” says our AAA guy, mindful of the 93 degrees outside (Nebraska is also hot!) as he loads our buggy onto his flat bed. Inside the cabin I note with some alarm the portion of 2 x 4 jammed against the seat, pressing the gas pedal down. The ancient system of buttons and what appears to be a generator on the floor. Is it okay to just let some stranger load your car and drive off with it and you to destination unknown? Do we have a choice?

We arrive safely at the dealership, are seated in some nice office and are interviewed by a charming young man. “Now,” he asks, in a gentle voice, leaning over his desk to inspire us with his kindness, “When did you last fill your gas tank?”

WTF! He thinks we old folks have neglected that little matter of securing fuel? Now, that could, of course, happen. We could run out of gas. But we would KNOW we had run out of gas. We would have informed the AAA operator that we needed gas, not an expensive tow into Omaha. Damn. This getting old stuff sucks on many levels.

Not yet sure, at this hour (9:45 p.m. in Omaha) what the problem is. Undiagnosed. But we have a “Courtesy car” which we are authorized to drive on to Des Moines tomorrow. At some point, we will have to return to Omaha to pick up our car.

And don’t be thinking Why don’t these people FLY when they need to get somewhere? Let us not forget the last time we flew, Montreal? Mechanical problems? Flight cancelled? New flight to Oregon in middle seats between strangers, 7 hours late? Yeah, that’s fun, too.

But, adventure. And these are, as Aaron points out, “leaves-in-the-swimming pool problems.” Right. Life is Good! On to Des Moines.


But what am I going to write about while we’re road-tripping? Two cows did get out, I did get a call for help from Dennis-Excavator Guy. I wish I had been there! How did these boys escape? All I could do was call Mark, who directed me to a sub who chases cows and sheep in Mark’s absence. Who said he’d be there in 45 minutes. And that’s all I know. Not much of a story.

On Sunday, Larry dashed home from the BBI, laden with oranges and apples and laundry. At least, no additional pickles this time! Several hours later, we were on the road to Corvallis where we would spend the night.

And on Monday, we met with Tyrone at the farm to sign our contract with him. Wow! Dennis had done a beautiful job and there was our little farmhouse outlined in gravel. The contract asserts that the construction will be done in 310 days. An oddly precise number, but that puts it into the first week in April, if all goes well.

A philosophical note I saw last week while waiting to get my thumb X-rayed: “In the Now is all time. In understanding the Now we are freed from time.” I take this to mean that all past and future are contained in the Now, and therefore will try to be patient. Yes, that was a simple take-away, but I find the thought powerful. (Arthritis, and thank you for asking, which does not mean that tendonitis may be eliminated as the cause of my troublesome thumb)


The lighter gray in the photo is the house footprint, the dark will be the entry, um, courtyard? But that sounds way too formal. Maybe not. After some discussion, we have prevailed and this space will not be pavers, not poured cement, but just gravel. “You’re going to want to pave that,” Dennis tells us. “Dust.”

Maybe he’s right. But think about those lovely chateaux you’ve seen in Burgandy with their graveled drives. Now dial the scene down about 98% and you may get what we’re trying to accomplish.(I would have said 172% for the effect, but my mom is watching from somewhere and she has taught me that there can be no percentage larger than 100. Got it, Mom.)

Suddenly the amputated oak tree looked sheltering, the stump a place to sit, after the chain-saw artist finishes with it.


You can’t see the stump in this photo, but I included it anyway because the light is so pretty. The area around the tree had been mowed. Paul again, who came to till the orchard and decided to do some mowing, as he was there anyway. Which he didn’t charge us for.

I didn’t take a photo of the newly tilled orchard, but did strap on my farm shoes and wade out to inspect the little cherry tree suffering the lilac leaf blight. “Wade” is the correct word, as the soil is so fluffy that my footsteps were several inches deep. Hmm. But the tree! It had put on 10 inches of new growth from every pruned stem, and looks lush and alive. Okay, Vik, this recovery probably wasn’t courtesy of our organic, homeopathic, non-toxic spray, but 10 inches in 10 days? Way to go, little tree!

Ooops, I accidentally hit Publish, when I meant Preview, and I don’t think there’s any going back. But I’m in my hotel in Pasadena, soon to head to Peter’s home. Tomorrow we’re meeting with Rod’s daughter-in-law, who will give us some suggestions for furnishing the house next year. Will get back to you!