RHUBARB SEASON

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!