Before I launch today’s column, I want to let you know that Teo Praslin, Allison’s cousin, came home this past Tuesday after 40 days in the hospital. He’s been suffering with Covid, and though the challenge isn’t behind him, we’re all so grateful that he is well enough to be at home with his family.

So, yeah, work! Spring can be relentless here at the Wood. I had been determined to attack the weeds growing between the rows of creek-side trees and shrubs planted 2 years ago by Benton County’s grant. Couple of problems, the first being access.

The whole idea is to keep the cows away from the seasonal streams that thread across the property, and to provide habitat for the birds and other creatures, like salamanders, frogs, who all work together to keep the stream beds sound and the water pure. To that end, the streams were all fenced with 4-strand barbed wire and, where facing the pastures, hot wire as well. This sure keeps the cows out, but the people, too.

So in the course of the two years since planting, here’s what we have:

This is the north view across the post fence from the driveway. Hard to tell, but there are rows of young trees among the tall weeds.

On the south side of the road, I’ve been able to squeeze through the “man gate” and have Larry hand me my already started weed-whacker (technical name). Yes, I know, why don’t I start the thing myself? People. It’s one of those chain-pull things where you have to be at least 6 feet tall and own biceps in order to engage the motor. Stupid. Why not a turn key, or button? Nope.

Anyway, to continue, I’ve spent the last few mornings and afternoons achieving this much:

But then the job extends a quarter of a mile up away from the gate thing, so I resolved to get across that damned fence closer to the area of work. Larry’s good idea:

As you can imagine, it’s a little dicey to climb up and over this “stile” but it does work. And at this point, Larry has joined me in the labor. We drive the ATV up, hand the machines across, the gas can, the harnesses, and carefully cross the ladder.

Except. Larry’s machine is awesome, cuts a huge swath with each sweep of his arms. Bugger this. Why am I working so hard with my little toy? Turns out his machine is a “brush cutter” not just some back yard weed-whacker. I can’t just borrow the big machine — you need to be at least 6-feet tall (again), or hold it out at such an angle that the weight would be impossible. Did that make sense? Well, just accept that I can’t manage the thing. Luckily, Larry has sort-of gotten into it, and so even though it’s “my” project, I now least have the right man for the job.

While up here in the north forty (actually, south forty), we are close to the watering tank for the adjoining pasture. The cows have become very interested in us, and gather along the fence, mooing earnestly. It’s quite frustrating, because I know exactly what they’re saying and they apparently don’t return the favor. No, my darlings, we can’t take you to another pasture. You will have to wait for Ryan.

But we make the unfortunate discovery that the water tank is leaking. Somehow the float device has become turned sideways and has not turned off the water from the well. This is really bad, so Larry gets busy trying to discover the problem and to fix it.

As you can see, the water is nasty, slimy, and though we’ve been told that the cows don’t care, we decided to adopt the remedy Ryan has suggested and buy goldfish to clean up the algae. Off to PetCo which, being in our nice safe county, is open for business, and stocks the fish. Larry opts to buy to 25c/per rather than 15c/per fish. Uncharacteristic for the treasurer of this family, so I assume he is determined that this shall succeed.

Fun sidebar: at ZoomChicks that afternoon, I tell my friends about this episode in farm life. They can’t believe that the goldfish will be up to the job, but nevertheless offer the good suggestion that, if determined to go ahead, we let the plastic bag with the fish float in the tank long enough to balance the temperature of the water before releasing the fish. Vik suggests in her laconic way that I simply do as Ryan says and ignore further advice.

Later, I get an email from Sidney with a link explaining how the little fish do, indeed, work to clean cattle troughs. It’s always good to have friends!

On to the main subject: work. Last week I explained how Larry was trying to build a structure that would protect his precious lettuce plants. Here we have the result of that job:

This should work nicely. You can’t see from the photo, but he has arranged a pulley system to raise and lower the front wire to allow the eventual lettuce harvest. Observation: This sort of thing would be far better if the craftsman in question had a shed-full of appropriate tools. Honestly, most of what we do here can be characterized as amateur fumbling to accommodate missing skills and tools.

I showed you the photo last week of the bird nest by our front door. Momma Robin has been sitting on the nest without rest for the last two days. She’s working, too. At the moment, she’s standing on the edge of the nest chirping. For her husband to bring some groceries? We locked the door so that we don’t forget and disturb her. Soon I should be able to get photos of the fledglings, should she succeed in hatching her brood.

We’re taking a break from all this farm stuff and leaving for a weekend at Black Butte. I believe that we have nothing at all to eat over there, so am packing some survival goods like last night’s leftovers and cream for the morning coffee. The chickens will be left behind to fend for themselves, and the cows as well. See you when we get back!


Several years ago, Charlie Clark gave Larry some rhubarb starts from his garden in Olympia Washington. A simple thing. Larry claims that he and his brother loved to pick specimens from their dad’s garden in St. Paul, wave the great leaves at each other in mortal combat, then chew on the stalks until gone.

You can’t eat rhubarb stalks like that, I protest, but he sticks to the story. Little boys, it seems, will eat anything. So he planted Charlie’s starts in a modest corner of the orchard and sat back to wait. He did not count on our chickens’ appetite for the worms and grubs that thrive under those great leaves. Or their pleasure, perhaps, in the shade the leaves offer on a hot spring afternoon.

Whichever, it became a case of man vs. chicken. While the birds never seemed to peck at the fruit/vegetable itself, wait. Excuse me a moment while I consult Google to learn the taxonomy of this plant. Okay, got it. In 1947 a New York court declared rhubarb a fruit, as that is the way the plant is most often prepared. Why did it become an issue for the courts? Something to do with taxes, my source explains. I’m comfortable with this decision.

Anyway, our chickens would scratch at the soil until the root base of the plant was exposed. Larry began the defensive system with a simple row of iron gates we had stockpiled in the barn from a former project, and this worked for a time, until Rhody remembered that she is a bird and could fly. We would hear Toast complaining as she paced back and forth along the barrier, apparently unable to make the intellectual leap that she, too, is a chicken and has wings.

Larry refortified the cage with a gate on top to serve as a lid. Rhody found a narrow opening through which she could slip. Larry added more ironwork, until this is what we have:

Yes, it looks a little messy, but finally:

Enough for one batch of rhubarb crisp. And this is just the first harvest.

Last Friday, Larry had arranged for service on his car at the Lexus dealership in Eugene. He prepared to leave at 6:45 that morning to arrive for his 7:45 appointment. As he would not be allowed to wait in the service area for the work, he planned to take a folding chair and a book, and to spend the hour reading in the parking lot. Masked, of course.

But as he dressed and brushed his teeth, I became a little envious of the outing this would provide. We’ve been sheltered quite a while now, and the trip to a car dealership actually sounded inviting. I would follow him down in my little car, and we could spend the hour shopping at the Eugene Whole Foods! As it happens, they allow old people to begin shopping there at 8:00, and they didn’t even ask to see our identification. Just another barb that must be endured as we age.

The phone call we awaited to say the car was ready told us instead that it would be another 2 hours. What! Good thing I’d come along, huh? We decided to spend the time at the Camas Mill and Bakery, just a short hop up 99, where we’ve enjoyed looking at their artisan bread flours. There we found some gorgeous rhubarb/berry turnovers which we could have for breakfast. The baker himself was there, and when I asked about the rhubarb, he said it had come from his freezer.

So how do you freeze it, I asked. I, myself, just chop it up and toss the chunks in a bag. No, he said, roast it first. Wow. I chop it, he explained, toss it with a little sugar, and roast it just until it has exuded its juice and caramelized a bit. Then I scrape the fruit (he actually called it fruit, very well informed) and the juice into bags and freeze them.

But the chickens are not the only predators we have to contend with. We are not alone here on this one hundred acres. Look at this:

The remains of our spring lettuce crop. It’s not the chickens this time. But who? Ah, unfortunately, while Larry’s cage prevents anyone from attacking by the orchard route, what about from outside the orchard? Larry has diagnosed ground squirrels, and yes, there are a lot of them about. So he envisions a cage apparatus he will construct out of left-over shelf scraps and chicken wire. But first, he has to plant the big garden before the promised rain of next week:

How will he keep the ground squirrels out of this patch? Good question. He no longer has his shotgun. We don’t have a dog. I’ll let you know how it goes.

Every morning for the last three days, I’ve gone out the front door and been greeted with a mess of dried grass, moss and sundry debris, courtesy of some bird who wishes to nest on the lights just aside the door. Not a good plan, I tell the bird who scolds me, a robin I think, though I can’t see her. I clean the mess. I arrange the spike apparatus which is supposed to keep birds from squatting on various ledges under the eaves and by the fireplace.

The next morning, there is the nest materiel again. I clean it again, replace the spikes, tying them in place this time with tape. That should do it.

Well, no. This is one determined mother bird:

This is what I find the next morning. See how cleverly she’s used my spikes as the warp to her woofs. I can’t destroy this work of art, so we will just have to live with the bird poopage this year, until her babes have flown away in the fulness of summer. Yes, I looked up warp and woof . . . funny words, but weavers know what to make of them.

I wish I had a photo of the gray fox who hunts the field in front of the house some evenings. She’s beautiful. Of maybe it’s a male. Can’t tell from the distance, as she’s (so I think) not much taller than the Roemers Blue Fescue that is thriving now in the Fish and Wildlife acres.

The grass is lovely in the late evening sunlight, a native plant that will, it’s hoped, be able to out-compete alien, invasive, evil Astoria Bent Grass.

In closing today, I have an announcement: Our county, Benton County, has received permission from the governor of Oregon, to begin reopening restaurants and businesses, albeit within guidelines, tomorrow. What will that look like? Will we be able to finally get those haircuts? Is this dangerous? Evidently Kate believes in us!