Thirteen bags full, and counting. We keep the tansy harvest in our so-called barn, in these bags, waiting for the rainy season when we can burn. Today may be the last day we can make a difference, as many of the plants have already sent their offspring off on the wind. Too late to spray this year, says Jason (anyone named Jason cannot be older than 34, and this Jason certainly isn’t), our Spray-Guy. Too late for thistles, too, he tells us, but we’re on his calendar for the blackberries in September.


Couple of days ago I got a letter from a disgruntled, occasional, reader of my blog, disappointed in the amount of time we spend on the conservation aspect of our big adventure. My mom used to say that critics line up at the dishpan, and in that spirit, I invite those of you who think we’re slacking, conservation-wise, to get a good pair of gloves, some sturdy boots, and a lopper and come on over to join us in the tansy fields. Thistles come next, by the way.

But maybe it’s fair. I haven’t been writing in any comprehensive way about our habitat and conservation plan. So, a little summary from the document drawn up by Steve Smith, wildlife biologist, developed in cooperation with NRCA and U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. I quote:

“Significant natural features of the property are an upland Oregon white oak savanna, a white oak woodland, wetland prairie and riparian forest associated with the Muddy Creek floodplain. The oak trees associated with the savanna can be considered old growth and many may be in excess of 300 years old.

“Riparian vegetation associated with Muddy Creek provides high value fish and wildlife habitat within the property. The unnamed tributary that bisects this farm and enters Muddy Creek has the potential to provide off channel fish habitat during high winter flows, and has the potential to support significant populations of invertebrates, reptiles and amphibians for portions of their life history.

“Sensitive, threatened, or endangered plants, wildlife and fish, and habitats include the plants: Kincaid’s Lupine, Willamette Daisy, and Nelson’s Checker mallow; Wildlife and fish: Fender’s Blue butterfly, Taylor’s checker spot butterfly, Streaked horned lark; and habitats: Oak Savanna, ash/white oak Riparian, and oak woodland.

“Management objectives:
1. Identify native plant species and important wildlife habitats,
2. Develop management prescriptions for long-term habitat diversity and sustainability
3. Provide guidance for integrating farm practices and wildlife habitat goals
4. Identify potential farm improvement and habitat restoration projects.”

This week we signed and delivered a partnership agreement with U.S. Fish and Wildlife. This project was selected, says the contract, “because the Landowners share a common objective with the USFWS to restore habitat for the benefit of Federal trust species on private lands.”

I intend to write more about these activities as they are conceived and undertaken, but please note, we are still two old people subject to the vicissitudes of age and ignorance, which I hope you join me in finding amusing, when not appalling or horrifying.

Today two women drove up the road as we were working on the tansy to enquire if they might pick blackberries. Sure! They’re just now ripening, and we certainly have enough to share:


And we found the cow/calf pairs Larry had misplaced on Wednesday. But we were on the way home when we saw them, so haven’t introduced ourselves. Next week!


But first, we’ll have a look at the house:


View from the kitchen window:


Some weeks ago, after renovating their beach house, friend Vik (she of the witty comments at the end of my posts) remarked that she and her husband, Gordon (you’ve read about him, too) were of one mind when working on projects. So work progresses smoothly, and those of you lucky enough to have seen the result of their synchronic brains, will know what a good thing that collaboration is.

Larry and I? Not so much. We spoke of this last night, resting after an afternoon in the tansy fields. We are so often polar in our view of what’s happening, which way we should turn, the optimal solution to a problem. This might sound like a bad thing, but honestly, it isn’t. Somehow it works to have two options, and I couldn’t say if one or the other of us generally “wins.” And sometimes, it’s just funny. And then I get blog material. Read on.

So we’re marching along, checking the hundreds of tansy plants for the elusive cinnabar caterpillar. Larry gathers a cluster of stems which I whack off with the loppers and he deposits in a yard clipping bag. The sun shines, we hear the carpenters at work and overhead the cries of our resident red-tail.

Paradise, except for the ants on the tansy. They torment Larry, crawling up his arms. He has taken off his shirt to catch some Vit. D, but the ant situation would be worse if they were crawling up sleeves. So he swats, sweats, swears and the work gets done.

We stop to load the bag into Bob-the-Truck. The ants are crawling on Larry’s arms, even though they no longer are, and I suggest that I can pour water from the cooler on his itchy skin. Great idea, and he gets immediate relief. We do both arms, and then he turns his back and curls his shoulders. I take this as the indication that he’d like me to do his back. (See second paragraph.) Oh, God. Ice water on the back, when unexpected, is quite a shock. He reacted. I laughed and couldn’t stop. He still doesn’t think it was all that funny. But why did he turn his back? Unexplained.

About those ants. We learned that they eat the caterpillars which are supposed to be eating the tansy. From the abundance of ants and the paucity of caterpillars, we conclude that the ants have won The Great Tansy War of 2015. But we’re careful and when we accidentally clip a plant with the little fellows on board, we carefully move them to a living stalk. One caterpillar equals one moth, which equals three hundred eggs. Okay, maybe we’ll spray next year.

Speaking of spraying, Jarod, of F&W, sent us names of contractors his agency uses. Thistles! Blackberries! Apparently, there’s also the rent-a-goat option, but for now, we’ll just go the hard- core, get-it-done route. An advantage to the slow walk among the tansy is the opportunity to get a micro view of the land. Right now, it’s pretty shocking to see the hard use the animals have imposed, reinforcing our determination to utilize rotational grazing. If we use grazing at all.

Back again on Saturday to resume the tansy attack. Then it’s off to Camp Estrogen in Manzanita with the girlfriends. Laughs, good food, Cheetos, philosophy, People Magazine? You know. Fun!


“You haven’t posted anything for a while. What’s up?” Larry asks.

“Nothing funny’s happened.”

“Ah. Well, I can only do my best. Why don’t you write about that guy at Kubota who tried to sell me a tractor big enough to mow a hundred acres? That was pretty funny.”

“More like scary, you mean.”

But let’s not talk about that. We’re not going to buy a tractor soon.

The first walls are up on the house. I would love to show you a photo, but since downloading “Yosemite” on my MAC I can no longer add media. Will have to get help somewhere, somehow, as is very annoying. Oh wait, just discovered a work-around. So. Beautiful, huh?


While this was happening, we had a meeting with Jarod Jebousek of USF&W, and with Steve, formerly with same. We sat under the misshapen oak for a couple of hours and talked about what can happen. Jarod seems enthusiastic about working on the wetland portion of the property, and he talked about locating and removing old drainage tile as the first project. This so that the water can defuse across the property instead of channeling. Something F&W would do, of course, not the Viehls. At the end of the discussion we agreed to enter into a 10 year partnership with the agency, during which time they do the work we agree upon, and we agree not to reverse whatever they do.

Meanwhile, Larry and I will take with Mark (Cow Guy) about a proposal to rotate the cows among fields we will fence (courtesy of those good F&W folks). And so get to work on the savanna. The cows are gone, by the way, though the fences remain. Hot? Don’t know, as neither of us cared to find out.

But the tansy! Here’s what I have learned: all parts of the plant are toxic. Death to animals, and danger to humans if there is food chain contamination. Enter the cinnabar moth. The moths emerge from the pupae in May and June, then lay eggs under the emerging leaves of the tansy. Couple of weeks later, the larvae, in the form of caterpillars, emerge. They’re pretty cute, though don’t touch them!
Be sure to click on the photo to get a good look.


They absorb the toxin from the ragwort, and are bright colored as a warning to birds that they are poison. Not all the larvae make the pupal stage, as they consume all the plant material (we hope!) and die of starvation. Perhaps because of hunger, they are also cannibalistic. Also predated by ants, of which we have an abundance, only the lucky form their pupae and go to sleep for the fall, winter, and spring.

So, Larry and I armed ourselves with pruning shears and large paper trash bags, and spent Saturday loping off the heads of whichever plants had no caterpillars on board. The strategy, as described by Jarod and Steve, is to take off the flowers, causing the plant to send up another generation of blossoms, which we’ll remove again in the fall. Theoretically. This generation of seed is weaker, and the plant, theoretically, believes it’s completed its life cycle and dies. Because seeds remain viable in the soil for 15 or so years, it’s tough to control. But we marched around the property, examined the plants, cheered on the evil/good caterpillars, bagged up the fallen flower stalks, and considered it a day well spent.

I know. Not as much fun as seeing a matinee, you’re thinking, or listening to music in a park somewhere, or hiking, or playing golf, or whatever else old people do for amusement. Came home, washed off the dirt and went to a party where we met some neighbors whom we like a lot. A good day, even if neither of us did anything particularly risible. Don’t worry. We go again next Wednesday.


We’re listening to the cows. I think they’re mother cows lowing to their babes. Larry says no, they’re “our” cows, not a mother among them. We don’t know, so it doesn’t matter.

“I wonder what happened to Susannah (the-Pioneer-Cow’s, to use her complete name, the source of milk and butter in my childhood) calves?” I say. “Dad used to kill them by hitting them on the forehead with a mallet. Of course, he never let us watch. I don’t think he ever wanted to answer any inconvenient questions about the need for Susannah to be ‘freshened’ to keep the milk coming. But I would think we would have wanted to play with any calves that showed up, and I can’t remember ever seeing one. No, but there’s that photo of Mary playing with a calf. Well, memory. Weird.”

“Jesus,” is all Larry can think to say. “Your childhood was sure different than mine.”

“We did get to watch him kill the chickens, though. Just whacked off their heads with a hatchet, watched them flap around headless. Then we got to help pluck them. Yuck! The smell of wet feathers? Probably okay because the topic of sex wouldn’t have come up. Not a rooster to be found.”

“Kind of hard to raise farm kids without the topic of sex coming up, I’d imagine.”

“Well, they did it. It wasn’t really a farm, though. We just lived in the country and had animals. No tractor or anything like that. We were so innocent, and I guess they wanted it that way.”

“My dog died,” Larry says. “That’s it for my childhood stories.”

We’re quiet for awhile. The deck has been laid on the foundation, so we decided to bring our chairs over and watch the sun go down:

2015-07-01 20.27.36

2015-07-01 20.28.05

It was a good day. We’d done some work in the orchard, and planned to spend the night in Corvallis, then play golf on a course in Monroe we’d heard about. And why, again, are we doing this?

The question came up when a group of my friends were having dinner on our deck in Portland. When we have this beautiful condo in Portland, why do I need anything more?

But I don’t think that’s the right question. It isn’t about more. It’s about finding home. And if Larry and I didn’t start with the same sense of what “home” is, see above, I think we are converging on that definition. But you’ll have to ask Larry his reasons.

The second answer is that, and here I’m speaking for myself again, I believe it’s important to do meaningful work in the days that stretch ahead, for however long. And I want that work to be something Larry and I do together. He already has meaningful work, managing the family finances, and play, golf. He does those things alone and with his friends. Sure, I play my banjo, and that’s fun, but it isn’t meaningful.

We donate money to causes we want to support, and that’s meaningful, but it isn’t work. So, the farm offers us a chance to work together in a place we both love.

There are huge challenges: the land is abused, overgrazed. The waterways have been degraded. But the property is in a conservation corridor, and we will have the help of Oregon Fish and Wildlife, NRCS, and other agencies yet to be identified.

Next Wednesday, we meet with Jarod Somebody from OF&W. The cows move off on July 10. We’re eager to get started! And not to alarm anyone, but Larry is collecting info on the different tractors he believes he’ll need.