IN WHICH WE MEET THE LORAX

No, we haven’t gotten our shots yet. Yes, both my sisters, plus all Allison’s California relations and friends are protected. “You have to be proactive,” they tell me, which is good advice, of course.

No, one can’t be vaccinated at the mass event in Reser Stadium without documentation of a place in the chosen hierarchy. “Just stay on the line and an informed respondent will be with you momentarily,” promised the pleasant voice on the Benton County vaccine help line. For an hour. Wait, what does “momentarily” mean?

Terwilliger Plaza, the old folks’ home with whom we’re registered for down- the-line-emergency/ just-in-case lodging when and if we ever sell our condo or one of us falls off the tractor, can’t get the vaccine. Because we’ve decided, apparently, to vaccinate teachers before old folks in this state, this county. I think this is wise, and proactivity can do nothing to alter our place in the queue.

So we wait.

In the meantime, it snowed! I still get a childish jolt of euphoria when I wake to a white wonderland. A girl of the rain-drenched Willamette Valley. Guess the same thrill doesn’t occur to the boy who grew up in Minnesota. I had to beg him to come with me for a walk. These are sheep across the road from us, and a lonely hawk:

But the snow didn’t last a day. I claim that winter isn’t over, which is true, even if winter holds no further guarantees.

The Lorax? Dr. Seuss? Okay, I didn’t quite remember exactly what Seussian figure it is, so had to check with Amazon after this cute little truck showed up at our gate Saturday.

“I speak for the trees,” the Lorax says, “because trees have no tongues and cannot speak for themselves.” A quick trip further into the literature and I learned that a town in California once banned the book in their schools because it portrayed logging adversely, unfairly. Adversely for sure, if not unfairly!

But our Lorax was here to saw up and chip the oak tree that fell by the road last month. All was going well, until. Well, it is mud season and the Lorax got very adversely and unfairly stuck.

The Little Tractor That Could to the rescue. I won’t accuse Larry of enjoying the opportunity to get out the chains, but what man doesn’t like using his toys?

And here’s the result of the job Andy and his crew completed after the equipment was safely parked on the road:

Come the spring, we’ll rent a splitter and haul it over to this sweet pile of firewood. Andrew, Charlie, Will? Come on down/up to the farm for a few days of hard labor and cousinship bonding? The pay’s good.

The drama for Larry continues with the solar panels on the barn. Seems whatever device is meant to be monitoring the power extracted and added to the grid has failed. This has to do, unfortunately, with a computer and modem specific to the job, and Larry has been unable to decipher the instructions he gets from the system’s creators somewhere in Minneapolis. So, neighbors Ted and Patrick to the rescue. These are both engineers of one sort or another, and well-certified for handling this problem. I wish I had crashed the party down at the barn to take photos of the head scratching which went on for a couple of hours before the discovery of a way forward. I’m pretty sure, given these guys, there were not a few laughs. But I waited too long, and we will all just have to use our imaginations.

Today’s challenge has been the attempt to get ourselves subscribed to the local newspaper, the Corvallis Gazette Times. The offices of which in Corvallis are closed. But it’s owned by the Albany Democrat-Herald (where do they get these names?), so we thought to take a road trip over to that city while our cleaning women did their magic here. Only to learn that these offices are also closed, in this case, by the pandemic. But a phone number on the door roused a woman inside who took our info and handed out a copy of today’s edition as well. It feels settled to have an actual newspaper in hand. And think of all we use old newspaper for! No idea if there is a political slant to the news we’ll find on board.

And in the course of the journey, we identified a coffee shop to investigate, come the day. Vik and Gordon tell us about the coffee shops they’ve discovered and patronized in various towns in the area, and this appeals to our sense of travel well executed.

Mitch and his bro-in-law Chance have arrived to have a look at the extension for the chicken run they will build for us. Going to get those birds out of the orchard proper while still allowing for hawk-protected free ranging.

And it’s raining. It’s okay. Water in the well! See you next time.

JANUARY 20,2021

A day when everything changes!

For Andrew — here are the photos I promised of the “great-flood-so-far”:

We walked down the path to the river that morning. Luckily we didn’t do anything stupid like drop a phone in the water, or fall in, but Grandpa said his right boot had a leak and his toes were getting squishy. No help for that, so we walked along Llewellyn back to our driveway. There’s never much traffic along the road, but everyone who passes smiles and waves. This is nice. We don’t know one another, but it feels like we belong here.

We always stop to see if there are eggs, and this day the answer was yes:

Okay, buddy, your turn! The photo of the BMW was an excellent start, but if you’ll send more, I’ll post them here next time. Deal?

It’s been a busy week here at the Wood! After struggling with our hot water system, on the advice of the plumber, we decided to go ahead with a change to reverse-osmosis treatment for the household water. This involved a great new tank in the shed, causing a round of rearrangement where the patio chairs and the Traeger used to spend the winter. I cannot tell you how reverse-osmosis works, but it does allow us to dispense with the Britta filters for drinking water, get hot water to the shower without a five-minute wait, and, we hope, a return to actual white linens from the washing machine.

The next day was the beautiful Wednesday-the-20th. We celebrated with some neighbors, correctly distanced — wait! Does this now go without saying that when we meet anyone we will be correctly distanced? How long, oh Lord, but okay? Anyway, we sat out on their meadow, watched the sun set, toasted the peaceful change of power with some champagne, laughed and told stories. Practically froze, because hey, it is winter and this outdoor gathering stuff, while saving lives, friendships, and sanity all around? Sigh.

Speaking of which, we got a notice that Benton County and Samaritan Health were joining to offer mass vaccination on Reser Stadium field next Tuesday and Wednesday. Didn’t mention how they’d offer the second dose, so I’m not sure if we should jump in. We have an arrangement with Terwilliger to get the shots after they’ve completed the Assisted Living vaccinations, but have no idea when that will be. Kind-of tempting to join the crowd down at the stadium. We’ll see.

Back on the farm, our favorite crew from Peterson Landscaping showed up early Thursday morning to plant three maple trees in the north-facing yard. This is with the idea of providing shade in the hot afternoons on the porch. Side benefits will be to soften the house into the surrounding land, offer birds a stop between the oak copse and the distant standing oaks. Maybe to induce the owls who nightly serenade us to make a home nearby? Those owls sing all night long, and it’s perfect background noise for sleeping.

And on the subject of trees, we’ve been talking with Matt, the county planting contractor, about adding trees to the creekside habitat. At the moment, this habitat consists mostly of spirea, Oregon Grape, wild roses, red alder. He’s coming back next week with the trees he can find in the nurseries. Ash, alder, willow, maple. We thought maybe a couple of dozen, but he says, no, 600, depending. This is courtesy of our grant from Benton County, and wow! Gonna be fun!

Bob Altman, vesper sparrow guy, visited with Jerod Jabousek from Fish and Wildlife to consider planting shrubs in the pasture lands to encourage the nesting of vesper sparrows. These birds apparently like to live among grazing cows, but they do need intermittent bushes to house their nests. In the past, cows haven’t grazed on the F&W land, but we can work with Ryan, cow guy, to pasture them in a timely dance with the wild flowers and birds.

Now it’s Saturday morning. Blue sky, frost on the land, Larry cooking his breakfast, all’s well. See ya next time! Andrew, send those photos!

SO NOW IT’S JANUARY

And how are we celebrating this shiny new year? First, just enjoying the sunshine. But.

Yesterday we spent a day in Portland clearing out the condo in the hoped-for event that the sale goes through. This is tricky. We need to get the personal stuff out of there, yet leave enough “staging” in place, should this sale fall through and we need to start showing it again.

So Larry started in his office. This is a man who keeps the most complete records of every transaction ever effected, and keeps it on hard copy, because who trusts computers? Btw, he is right to suspect computers of evil-doing as experience has demonstrated. Still, that’s a lot of paper. Neatly filed. But where is it going to live in our little farmhouse?

Me? I started with the kitchen. Specifically, the spice drawer. Dear God, what have I been thinking? Never mind, the past is history. We are advised to dispose of our herbs and spices every 12-18 months, or so, but who does that? I piled the lot in boxes and hauled it home to the farm, where all those sister and brother herbs and spices are already — alphabetized, incidentally, and yes, I hear you, Vik — filed in drawers. See, I’m no different from my husband in this respect.

FIRST DRAWER
SECOND DRAWER

Can you relate? Hey! I already dumped 21 redundant bottles. I just counted.

Exciting bird news in the ‘hood. Remember that photo of the colorful bird from last entry? Seems an expert from OSU came to see it and noted that this is the first painted bunting ever sighted in Benton County. Only 10 reported in Oregon since 1963. But he won’t, he says, reveal the location or hundreds of eager birders would descend with binocs and spotting scopes. I’m feeling grateful that this little pioneer didn’t arrive at our bird feeders. Would we have known what we’d seen? Yeah, probably not.

Okay, that was fun. Now, back to work. While Larry’s office is a continent unto itself, the kitchen is a cluster of archipelagos, some of them even French-speaking. Take the pull-out pantry shelves. Half-full packages of pasta in various shapes. Cans of Campbells soups. (Why? Did I bring them to Oregon from Minnesota where they make “hot dish” using Cream of Mushroom or etc.?) Plastic baggies of hull-less barley. Oh! That nearly empty container of wild rice that Gloria gave me once. Damn. I’ve been missing that.

Hey. I just noticed that in that paragraph I managed to use three hyphenated words containing a rhyme. Find them? I’m a regular genius.

But you can’t throw food away. Let’s move on. Allison has offered to help with this project, and I’d be three times a fool if I didn’t accept. But I think I offended her by the suggestion that she identify some items she might want. Paintings? Grandmother Eagleson’s Seth Thomas clock with the wooden gears? The cut-glass pitcher that came over on the Mayflower? (just kidding) But honestly, who wants to pick over her mother-in-law’s dusty artifacts? Not me. I totally get that. However, she can’t be here in any case — Covid, of course.

Meanwhile, Larry and I have been trying to sort out exactly where we will stay in Portland while waiting the three years for our apartment in Terwilliger’s Park View addition to be built.

The present option under consideration is a little re-finished detached garage, fitted out as a tiny apartment. It’s like 284 square feet, but it has a super kitchen tucked in complete with stove-top, oven, microwave, refrig. Tiled bath with walk-in shower. Queen-size bed in, unbelievably, a separate room. After seeing it, we decided maybe not — Larry didn’t think he’d be comfortable there. No cozy chair for reading or putting on your socks. But we’re rethinking it. We’ll have to put a few things in storage while we wait for the Terwilliger apartment, but that’s okay. It’s not like we’re going to spend too much time in Portland. Just need somewhere to sleep and brush our teeth. Why not just stay in a hotel, you ask? That’s the other option. For three years it feels kind-of nice to think we’d have our own space. Where we wouldn’t have to pack every time we came to town.

We’re going to have another look this Sunday, and maybe will make a decision then.

People keep asking if I’ll miss our condo. The answer is yes. Emphatically. But I won’t miss the building, and of late, won’t miss Portland. I’ve lived in or around Portland most of my long life, but something happened, and it got broken. It will recover, but right now, it breaks my heart. And I simply love our “farm.” So thank you for asking!

It’s getting dark. Larry has been outside all afternoon working on the fallen oak tree. Just picking up the pieces, hauling firewood down to the barn, tossing the small branches onto a burn pile. I think he prefers this to filing paperwork!

DECEMBER of 2020

I’ve been trying to find words to express the sight of an oak tree crashing to the ground as we drive by. Just across the fence from us, in real time. And the discovery later, of an even larger giant lying on the ground, torn, mute.

So I’ll begin instead with some human news. Seems, out of nowhere, a couple from San Francisco would like to buy our Portland condo. If I were talking to you, at this point you would say, “well, not ‘out of nowhere.’ Apparently they’re ‘out of San Francisco.’ ” Hahaha, you’re funny.

Anyway, they made an offer, we countered, they accepted, and the earnest money is in the bank. The inspectors have come, haven’t discovered any deal breakers, so the clock is ticking toward Feb. 10, the closing date.

And the fun begins: We knew that one day we would have to sort out the closets, drawers, shelves. Keep all the hundred CDs which no-one ever plays these days? The books? Powells is not buying back books in this time-of-Covid, so it’s off to Good Will or the libraries. I’m surprised at what trails behind me as I move through life. Time to let go. Easily said.

But about the trees. Maybe these photos can express something which I’m struggling to say:

Oregon White Oak in the south pasture. White Oaks can live 500 years. Do trees have souls?

After it fell.

To answer my question, read The Hidden Life of Trees, by Peter Wohlleben. “A paradigm-smashing chronicle of joyous entanglement that will make you acknowledge your own entanglement in the ancient and ever-new web of being.”

See, I love this! Beautiful writing about the first great mystery.

When our neighbor, Ted, saw this ancient giant on the ground, his engineer brain took over. “How much to you suppose this thing weighs?” (I had given its weight no thought at all.) “You could take one of those wedges of firewood,” he earnestly began, “and they’re really heavy, right? So you could measure . . .”

Not going to happen. Marjorie, his wife, suggested that the tree looked like a semi lying on its side. Hmm. True, but. At that point, Terri, another neighbor showed up, walking her dogs and the conversation veered to a painted bunting seen at the the Barnes-Stuart bird feeder.

Gorgeous! (Don’t worry about this neighborhood gathering — we were outside, maintaining our 6-foot distances). But the question of the tree and its soul, the ancient web of being, had wandered too far to be reclaimed, and we all found our way home.

And it’s now Christmas Eve. We had tried and failed to see the “Christmas star” last night in a clear and cloudless sky. We’ll try again, but this evening we’ll be listening at 5 0’clock, our time, to the broadcast of Loyola Highschool’s Christmas Eve service. I hope this is filled with music, not so much preaching . . .

Larry has been out attacking the everlasting blackberry brambles along the first creek, running with water now after the dry summer. All the Christmas Eve music in California can’t exceed the lovely sound of running water in a creek. I think.

And if you’re interested, our Christmas day feast will feature Larry’s smoked ribs and a new loaf of his amazing sourdough bread. Not traditional, but we do have those cookies and my fruitcake to bring our meal to its proper conclusion.

Happy holidays one and all, we’ll meet again in 2021!

ONE OF THOSE DAYS

The first sign must have been when Larry came back from FedEx-ing Peter’s birthday present. “Didn’t get your book,” he told me.

“How come? Didn’t they have it?”

“No, when I left FedEx I noticed I was wearing my bedroom slippers. Not going to the book store in my bedroom slippers.” Of course I laughed. You know how fastidious Larry is. He would NEVER. “Don’t tell anyone,” he said.

But I’m not telling anyone. I’m just telling you. And I got what was coming to me. See, we were going to have a nice Sunday dinner, this rainy Wednesday, with roast chicken and et cetera at 1:00-ish. So I was mashing the potatoes and leaned the little hand mixer on the potato pot, reaching for more milk. The mixer leaped off the pot, struck the counter on its way to the floor, thereby turning itself on, and landed with the beaters happily flinging mashed potatoes across the floor, the cabinets, under the island.

Yeah, it was kind of funny, and I should have been more cafeful. But then juices of the nicely-done chicken quietly overflowed the cutting board and trailed onto the counter, onto the floor. Great. We could practically eat our dinner right off the floor, omit the middle man.

The gravy. The whole point. Okay, the roasting pan is stainless steel and therefore functional on our conduction stove-top. I added flour to the glorious brown fond and began to stir. But the stove wouldn’t stay “on.” Kept turning itself “off.” What the heck? Seems the pan is convex on the bottom, its surface thereby not even touching the burner. So we have to transfer the hot mess onto a skillet in order to proceed. No big deal, but still. Sigh.

The chicken was delicious, by the way. Brining. Magic.

Time to do the dishes? Okay, we knew the disposal was broken, plumber scheduled for tomorrow, but we didn’t know that the sink wouldn’t drain. Until we saw the sink swimming with yuck. Really? Is this a joke?

Nope. Have to do the dishes in the laundry room. Which is not so awful, right? And while Larry got to work, I got the bottle of Bono and the floor mop to attack the kitchen floor. I’m walking down the hall when the bottle breaks loose from the spray nozzle by which I’m holding it, crashes to the floor, spraying Bono product across the walls, the front door. By the time I set it upright and find a mop, the damage has been done.

I don’t know. It’s 2020. We should have known.

FALL of 2020

“So what do you do all day?” someone asked me. “I mean, what IS there to do down there by yourselves?”

Yeah. Good question. After some thought I realized that what I do all day happens mostly in the kitchen. For example, here’s one of last week’s chores:

Poblanos, from Larry’s garden. It is Larry’s garden, his domain, his man-cave. He plants, tends, harvests and then? Right. So I was about to roast these lovelies, then freeze them for future — well — whatever. They’re the last of the produce for the year, but from the garden and orchard this year, I’ve fermented sauerkraut, canned pears, made pickles, both dill and bread and butter (this with help from buddy Vik), made blackberry jelly, dried prunes, frozen tomato sauce, frozen apple slices and mock-mincemeat, pickled hot peppers. I thought to line up the jars for a photo shoot, but that was too much work.

When you add cooking the daily bread, it adds up to a lot of hours beside the kitchen sink. No — Larry bakes the bread chez Viehl, that comment was meant metaphorically.

But sometimes we do get away. We recently toured the Nature Conservancy preserve surrounding the confluence of the Middle and Coast forks of the Willamette. We’d been there 10 years ago when the property had been acquired, and it was pretty wonderful to see how the former gravel mining site has been transformed:

Sometimes the get-aways are not all that much fun:

The realization that IF we ever manage to sell or lease our condo, we have to remove all personal belongings has struck. Until now, as we use the condo for our Portland base, we have left supplies appropriate to that activity in place. Okay, let’s be honest. We bought new toothbrushes, etc. for farm use, but over the years, acres of stupid debris have accreted in the condo. Is that the correct word? Like shampoo samples from hotels around the world. Extra toothbrushes from dentist visits. Multiple bottles, bits and pieces — well, you know. I bet you do this, too.

Anyway, the photo above is from just one day’s hard work. This is the stuff we didn’t throw away, and about which hard calls will have to be made on its arrival in Corvallis. One of us is a pack rat, the other a practitioner of the Throw-it-away school. Maybe not obvious who’s who, but one of us wonders why a man needs 17 golf shirts. Yes, all of them in perfect condition. She has to bite her tongue.

While all around us the election vibrated, a moment of transcendence:

It’s here! Already the catalogs are arriving. Ah, winter.

Been below freezing, the chickens are molting and NOT laying eggs. Can I correctly say “not laying eggs?” As in perform a negative? Hmm. Their water freezes, so we stretch an electric cord across the driveway to heat their dispenser. Larry does not like this practice, but needs must.

And it’s time to bake the fruit cake. Back to the kitchen!

It’s not all about the chickens!

We learned last week that cows play an important role here at the Wood. Guess all the attention paid Suzannah — not her real name, of course — for her stunt in the mud, inspired the rest of them to see what mischief they could engineer.

So, a quick photo essay:

Yeah, no, they’re not supposed to march up from the pasture, across the patio, stopping to drink from the bird bath, and into the back yard.

Larry was taking a shower, glanced out the bathroom window, and yelled JANE! Kind-of funny, and I ran for my phone to record this historic event, (not Larry’s shower — the cows, of course) but the correct response would have been to call Ryan. Immediately.

Fortunately, Ryan was working nearby, but Larry, after pulling on his cowboy clothes, boots and spurs, couldn’t wait. (Just kidding about the spurs) This is Larry’s grass they’re pulling up, trampling, and he wasn’t having it. The cows are actually accustomed to following an ATV, so it wasn’t too hard to get them moving back over to the gate through which they’d come.

Except one little heifer got stuck on the wrong side of the fence. I’m going to stop here for some fun facts about cows:

Heifers are little girl cows, calves are little boy cows. Ryan told later told us that young heifers can come into heat as early as 4 months of age. Ours are at least 6 months old. Luckily, bull calves can’t produce sperm until year, roughly, so no worries on that score in our herd. The big bull, with us earlier in the summer, has done his job and is now spending the rest of the year sequestered with the other bulls. Should these bulls try to mate with a heifer, they would kill her. Ryan did not answer the question that raised, so no, I can’t tell you how or why.

Our calves are still, um, intact? The castration will take place this weekend, as will vaccination. After that, all the animals will be moved to a “green” pasture (been irrigated) until the winter weather forces a move into barns. Our animals are raised for the grass-fed market, so will be eating hay only until spring arrives and the fescue has again grown in the pastures.

Okay, back to the little heifer left behind. She was agitated, and it was a comedy worthy of Youtube to watch Larry try to herd her around the house and finally through the gate. Sorry I didn’t get it recorded.

But how had they gotten into that pasture, the Fish and Wildlife site? Ryan has a handy little tool that tests whether the hot wire is, in fact, hot. No one wants to learn the old fashioned way. Turns out, no, the wire was dead. The cows, then, had been able to just push a lower gate open and parade through.

Furthermore, with the fence dead, what about the pump from the well? Yep. Also dead. Gasp. The poor cows had no water, apparently justified in busting out to find something to drink.

Larry and Ryan consulted down by the barn where the circuits governing electricity are mounted. They flipped the circuit a few times, no result. Ryan checked some junction and found a crispy fried lizard, whose curiosity had been the root cause of the whole, cascading drama.

Otherwise, what’s going on? We’ve been trying to manage the flow of fruits and vegetables flowing in from the orchard and garden. This means, so far, blackberry-plum jelly, canned pears, endless pints of frozen tomato sauce, and last weekend, mincemeat and applesauce from the tree I think I showed you earlier that had broken off entirely in service of our kitchen.

The plums and prunes are ripe, and while the prunes are modest in number and normal sized, the plums are insane. And about the size of a shooter in the game of marbles. Of which, at least half is stone, so they’re kind-of annoying to work with. But we soldier on, grateful that we don’t have to feed a family over the winter on them. Interestingly, for those of you who like to can your fruits, it’s become impossible to find lids for the job. Like the toilet paper shortage which initiated this whole back-to-basics post-virus movement. I’ve had just enough to get us through, using second-hand lids and hoping they seal.

I think I mentioned earlier that Larry was considering the acquisition of a greenhouse in his determination to outwit the ground squirrels. Raise your hand if you think he went ahead with the idea.

Of course he did. Mitch and Allen are out in the garden right now (5:30 p.m. after their day jobs ended) pouring cement for the base. Here’s what the space looks like so far:

They’ve laid cable for electricity from the shed, and the actual structure is supposed to arrive in a couple of weeks.

But for now, I’m out of photos and out of stories. Back soon!

CHOCOLATE MILK

A strange, apocalyptic-appearing morning, with smoke lying on the landscape, dead still, arriving yesterday evening with the east winds from the wild fires in the Cascades. Hard to understand when it may clear, and so we stay inside, actually experiencing what quarantine and isolation may feel like to our urban, apartment-dwelling friends.

But yesterday morning arrived fine and bright after a restless night spent listening to bawling cows. We thought we understood the cause — a calf trapped inside the creek-side fences and his distraught mother cow looking for him. Larry had seen the outlaw the evening before, but it had been already dark and we knew we could do nothing to help.

At six a.m. we could stand it no longer, so Larry fired up the ATV and went to retrieve the young miscreant. And found instead an adult cow. But how to herd her back to the pasture? Call Ryan! Call Scott! Ryan arrived half-an hour later with his young son, Tyler, and they hopped the fence to drive the mother cow, and now two calves as well, back to the pasture. How were they getting into the stream-bordered area?

Ryan was about to find out when the mother cow crashed under the barbed wire at a spot where the land dipped sufficiently to allow passage. Into a mud bog. Up to her chest. See photo:

Ooops. What would you do? Okay, fortunately Ryan is experienced, calm, and prepared. He had recently purchased a mobile crane with boom (don’t know why) and raced the few miles back home to bring it to the job.

Think you’d like to move to the country, buy a few chickens, maybe a cow and a pig? Maybe you should think again. What you’re about to see now is a video, entered onto my blog for you by my talented, super-smart, and adorable grandson, Will, who with his parents arrived later that afternoon (explanation to follow.)

The videography was provided by Larry, who practically dropped his phone in relief an hour later when she finally made it out of the mud. But here’s what that looked like:

She had remained calm and quiet throughout the ordeal — exhausted, Ryan said, poor creature. By the way, she’s pregnant.

She stood, wandered away, and mud-clad and dragging her halter, joined her herd. Later I wondered if her mud-bath would serve to deter the flies which torment the cows on these hot afternoons. Hope so. BTW, the halter is constructed to slip off should she step on it, so don’t worry.

Larry and I drove back up the road in our trusty ATV, amazed at the drama. “Not my first time,” Ryan says. I can’t adequately express my amazed admiration for this young man, who spoke gently and encouragingly to the cow the whole time.

But Jenny, Tom, and Will were due to arrive in the afternoon, a caravan to deliver Tom’s beloved Defender:

The car will be returned to its winter home in the Black Butte, as there isn’t space for it in the Seattle garage. Larry will put the top on before driving around the streets of Sisters, or wherever he goes with it, drawing envious comment from car enthusiasts everywhere.

After a good, socially-distanced outdoor picnic with the family, we came inside to linger before they headed to Portland for the night (yes, must confess, also to enlist Will in solving various computer-related problems). Quite suddenly, we were enveloped in a thick, shocking layer of smoke. We called around the neighborhood, tried a few news channels, to learn where the fire might be, but were unable to learn the source until this morning.

Now that we know, we have to adjust to this new, alarming feature of life, brought to us by 2020. One more challenge. We don’t throw up our hands and ask “what’s next!” We know better.

The title of this blog entry was suggested by Tom, whose brain runs along wry channels, and who always makes me laugh.

R.I.P. Burnt Toast

We feel like we’re living in a Leonard Cohen song this past week. No. A Chris Isaak song: Things Go Wrong . . .

She just wouldn’t learn. Or couldn’t. What do you do with a chicken who’s a bully? Well, you can separate her from the flock. Like build a new coop just for her? No. You can clip 1/8 inch from the top of her beak. Yeah, can you see that? You can remove her. You mean? Yes.

There are several time-tested ways to “remove” a troublesome chicken. We all know you can chop off her head with a hatchet on a stump (this is what my dad always did). You can break her neck, and there’s a YouTube video to show you how. You can simply turn her loose outside the compound and depend on some other animal who wants a good chicken dinner to do the job. Or, you can call the vet hospital down the road.

You may be wondering how this bullying manifests itself? Okay, I came out to the orchard to check for eggs and found Toast mounted on Maddie’s back, pecking at her neck and shoulders. Feathers flying. I yelled, of course, and kicked at Toast to get her off. I’d brought some dried worm treats to the girls, and when I dumped them out, Toast went for the worms and Maddie crawled away. Not good.

I’m sure you know that we chose the vet hospital solution, and if we felt ridiculous, that’s the price for failure to suck it up and commit chicken murder. But $243 to euthanize her? Didn’t know it would be that expensive. Could have built a new coop for that.

But here’s the new three-girl flock, living in sunshine and harmony and laying lots of eggs:

So what else went wrong? We woke up the following morning to find no hot water in the house. Seems we have a “tankless hot-water system” which is supposed to be more economical and environmentally sound than keeping a tank of water hot all day and night. Right. But we sure do waste a lot of water waiting for the shower to get warm, especially when there’s no hot water to be found anyway.

Called the plumber, and he informed us that the installing plumber had joined copper and galvanized piping, to corrosive effect, and the joint had been leaking for months, probably. (In the way that one craftsman will find the preceding artisan a shocking failure.) I don’t know, but Chase, this week’s guy, patched things up and hot water returned. Of course, now we need to install a new system. Fine. Just do it.

Now our attention turned to the grapes out in the arbor:

We’d strung mylar streamers and mounted whirly-gigs to deter the birds from our ripening fruit. But grapes were, strangely, carpeting the ground beneath the vines, and they were still mostly green. Birds don’t usually go after green fruit, so could this be the work of ground squirrels? Then whole bunches began falling, and we turned to Shonnard’s nursery for a solution. Ah. Stem-rot. So the birds weren’t stealing our fruit, the grapes were committing suicide.

One last image before we turn the corner. Here’s our corn yield this year:

Of course, it’s not all bad! Here are some photos to cheer you up:

We’re in Portland this afternoon to meet with a tech regarding the TV and sound system in the condo. We’re planning to lease the condo until such time as anyone wants to move to toxic Portland. Oregon, and all electronic systems have to be operative, etc. More about that another time, but I will close with the note that as we left the farm house this morning, we discovered that a skunk had been busy overnight comprehensively spraying the entire building. Dear God. What do you do with a renegade skunk? We’re being tested!

ANOTHER DAY IN THE LIFE

See, I’m supposed to work out in our garage 3 days a week, walk the road 3 times without stopping on the other 3 days, with Sunday off for good behavior. This as per my buddy/personal-trainer Aaron. Here’s my workout equipment in the garage:

Right. So weights and bench, with treadmill in the corner, my pushup bar with squash, bench with TRX cables and straps. Yep. Can’t wait for M T F.

But today is Tuesday, walking the road day. I always listen to a book on this hour-long hike and today I was walking with Lisa Wingate and her book, The Sea Keeper’s Daughters. When in grad school for my MFA, I learned a nice metaphor. A pebble is tossed into a still pond, and the resulting ripples/waves are the story. Lisa apparently did not go to the same school as I. What’s this about a pebble? For 3 half-laps of the road I listen to description. Set up. Back story. Memory. More description. A gray cat and some camomile tea. Get on with it, Lisa! All patience exhausted, I jerk out my earbuds, go to Libby, and hit return. I will walk and observe Nature. See, there is an attractive feather. And a dead mouse or vole. I took photos, but I will spare you.

At home, I shower, etc., and am dressed, making my smoothie when the doorbell rings, and it’s Westin, here to check the squirrel traps. Which aren’t actually traps, but poison down a tube affair which only a squirrel can reach. But what if a turkey vulture eats one of the dead squirrels? He would, Westin has said, have to eat 30 or 40 squirrels before he became ill, as the bait is vanishingly non-toxic to carrion animals.

This morning Westin slaps at the long holster on his hip and says with a smile that he’s packing today. Okay if he walks the fields and hunts the squirrels? Sure, but I want to see his gun when he comes back in. It’s a single-action, 22 long barrel, Luger revolver. The thing is strangely compelling, and I want to touch it, but don’t ask. “What is it for?” I ask. “Besides squirrels?” Turns out that Westin hunts, fair enough, but also competes. He particularly likes an event called “Cowboy” which has to do with rapid draw and accuracy. He was a member of the OSU pistol team — who knew there was such a thing?

“Do you need a license for the gun?” I ask? No, so long as he wears it openly. If his shirt is tucked in and the gun visible, fine. Shirt out, gun hidden, he needs a concealed carry license. He explains this to me as he unloads the gun, tucks the bullets into a case, and he talks about hunting game birds. And his methods for cooking them.

At lunch I check email and find a note from Tracy. We can come and get a couple of chickens if we want them. Oh, man. Not sure, but finally decide to go for it. Our two chickies haven’t been laying very much and I actually bought eggs last week. We have to find a couple of boxes to carry the birds in, and Larry mows the orchard, cleans the coop. Ready or not!

Tracy and her husband Lyn live just across Bell Fountain, and raise sheep, geese, chickens, and have a couple of horses just to round things out. We don’t know them well, and haven’t been to their home before. We get out with our boxes, and on the way to the chicken run, Lyn asks if we’d like to see the airplane he’s building first.

No, really, he’s building a for real god damn single-engine, two-seater airplane in his shop. Should be ready in a couple of months. He did buy the engine, but all the hoses and wires connecting it to the frame, the frame itself, the cockpit, the wings, everything, he’s MAKING it.

“Um, are you actually a pilot?” No, but he has flown a lot of hours. He’s an engineer, got a good buy-out from HP, and decided what the heck. It’s unbelievable, and I kept thinking Gordon Has Got To See This! I can’t show you because I didn’t have my phone with me. Aaargh. Must get an invitation back! I asked Tracy if she’d go up with him, and she said of course.

Duh.

Okay, about the chickens. We got two, one Novo Gen, and one Plymouth Safire. We got them home and into their new digs with Rhody and Toast. Toast immediately went for the gray one and came out of the fight with a couple of feathers in her beak. The gray one spent the rest of the day in the coop while Toast strutted around in good bully fashion.

Oh, their names? Well, as we have a Burnt Toast, of course the gray one is — Gravy. The other is a French breed, now goes by Madeline. Here’s Gravy:

Pretty. Hope she’s tough. Hope she lays eggs! But it’s 10:00, and, having just watched a Netflix I’m auditioning for Zoom Chicks, bed time. Another day. Not sure if I can get an imogi onto my blog but I can’t find a yawning one anyway. G’night!