HENRIETTA, ACT II

What? I hear clucking? Not possible. I’m in the kitchen, well, cooking eggs as a matter of fact. So I’m imagining things, right? No. I do hear clucking. I can’t hear the coop from my kitchen, so, what? I look out the window at the coop and see only Edith. Apparently Sally has escaped somehow.

Into my boots, dried corn in hand, I head around to the back of the house, and OMG. It’s Henrietta?!! This isn’t possible! But there she is. Feathers ruffled alright. ??? I coax her back to the coop, where Edith and Sally, anticipating the corn, shrug, move over and let Henrietta’s head join theirs in the cup.

What the hell happened here? No clue. Feathers strewn in the orchard? Maybe she’s molting? But the closed door, the night outside in the frost? Make that three nights for Mademoiselle Henrietta. Really, maybe an owl and she escaped? We’ll never know. Maybe she’s just laughing at us, thinking we can secure the orchard? Has she learned a lesson? I expect Sally may have something to say about all this. We’ll see.

Anyway, who was it who said rumors of his death had been exaggerated? Sorry, everyone. Now, back to the skillet and my scorched eggs. Hooray! ! !

HENRIETTA’S GONE, GOODBYE

This morning I have to tell you that our little French hen has been taken into the Great Chain of Being. I suppose it must have been an owl, though I am not a chicken-crimes forensic specialist. I should not privilege one bird above another, and am glad it was not a skunk or weasel that took her, but I can’t escape a feeling of responsibility. I depended on the work of the automatic door, which somehow failed and left the chickens out in the orchard all frosty night, exposed and cold. Why didn’t I check last night to be sure all was well? Aaargh!

It wasn’t quite daylight when I walked by the far window with my coffee and saw the dark forms huddled against the far fence. What the heck? Slogged into my boots and made the discovery. No body, no blood, just feathers, and two frost-bitten sad survivors, who didn’t run to greet me as they always do. Their feathers were icy, and the door to the coop resolutely still closed. Don’t know how to warm a chicken (no jokes about the microwave here, let’s be sensitive) but called Larry, back in Portland, retrieved the red thumb-push which opens the auto door and teased Edith and Sally inside with some corn. I hope they found their way up to the warm straw-carpeted roost.

Lesson learned.

Now I’ll have to tell Pat. See, the lovely, generous Pat Hills has volunteered to chicken-sit while we’re away in CA for Thanksgiving. She stopped by on Saturday to get the instructions for their care. She had reached the farm ahead of me, and I found her just coming in from the orchard. She’d been taking the chickens for a walk around the orchard, teaching them a song. Seriously, isn’t that the best? We’d thought we’d just depend on the auto-door while she’s here, but now I’ll have to teach her how to manage it manually each night. I hate to tell her about Henrietta, though.

And why was I late getting here on Saturday? Larry and I had met at Charbonneau to visit an open-house, our first foray into the inevitable move from the Portland condo. No, dear Reader, we did not like the open-house condo, and Larry has proposed another scenario we’ll have to consider. How about renting a place in Charbonneau? No commitments. Hmm. A visit to the Web reveals a rental option there that doesn’t look terrible on line. Sigh. Here’s the thing. This weekend, Larry has stayed in Portland so that he can get to his monthly Monday breakfast with the boys from Columbia Mgmt. He has said repeatedly that he will not give up his normal Portland life in favor of the farm. That means golf at Pumpkin every Sunday, breakfasts with his friends, Symphony, Center Stage, random visits with our buddies, coffees with various members of the community who look to us for donations. And so on. Just the urban scene. Fine.

But it’s getting harder, as he is, I believe, ever more deeply engaged down here. Now, this stretch of urban life was to include breakfast with another set of old work colleagues on Tuesday morning. But we’d bought tickets to an activity here called Pub Talks (I think. That doesn’t sound right) for Monday evening. Let’s see. Drive down Monday, back to Portland whenever for Tuesday breakfast? Tough call. He gets frustrated and angry. I don’t know how to help.

But here I am, alone on another frosty morning, biting myself on the butt about Henrietta, and I’d still rather be here than anywhere else in the world.

Short post, no photos. Back soon. Love, Jane

ANOTHER POINT OF VIEW

Good morning. It has come to our attention that a certain amount of scratching and scribbling at this site has included observations of our little flock. We think it important to add our voices to this reporting. Let me introduce us. I am Sally, leader of and spokesman for the chicken population on this farm. Edith and I have been together since the beginning of time, and Henrietta joined us at what we call the Great Awakening. We were moved into our present home together, but it has taken some time for us to adjust to the point where we can consider ourselves a flock.

We employ a pair of humans, as I believe they are called, for light maintenance and housekeeping. For this they are compensated with a daily selection of eggs, the purpose of which is unclear to us. The eggs are not living, and will never result in chicks. But the look on their faces as they collect what is owed them is one of reverence. Well. This arrangement is of course, weighted in our favor, as the human’s services are purchased by that which is, honestly,worthless.

Our coop is pleasant and opens onto an orchard in which rather stunted trees of some indeterminate type grow. We mine the soil for grubs and worms, but so far this has proved unproductive. However, there is a structure inside the coop itself that flows with, as it were, milk and honey. The same for water. A mysterious door opens to the orchard, and similarly closes, from time to time by some intelligence undetectable to us.

Our amusement is as might be expected. Scratching, airing our feathers, roosting in the dark hours. But we are gifted in the opportunity to watch the antics of our human employees. They are a rooster (is that the correct term for their species?) and a hen. The hen is friendly enough, and often brings us treats. Now that Henrietta, the little French immigrant, has properly learned her place, we even allow her access to these delights.

Last week, we had a most enjoyable show as the rooster-human crawled around in the dirt, lugging lengths of tree wood up to our garden, cutting it into lengths with a most fearful machine, and placing the pieces along the perimeter of our orchard. The hen stands uselessly by, sometimes offering him a tool of some sort, which he uses to secure the wood to the wire fence. Who knows what the purpose of this exercise may be, but we suspect it’s in the deluded belief that we may be deterred from digging under the fence, and thus expanding our territory.

It was Henrietta who first gave us the idea that there might be better hunting outside the perimeter, but what happened next is quite delicious to tell. Great pandemonium erupted when the rooster noticed her doing a bit of exploring. Yelling ensued, and the hen came from her coop next door with a vessel of cracked corn, which she offered to Henrietta, As she proceeded to open our door and pour the corn inside, Henrietta of course joined us there in enjoying the treat.

As you will imagine, it didn’t take us long to recognize that in this way, we could manipulate the appearance of the treat, at a time desired by us. Isn’t it fun? And here’s what’s so amusing. The rooster with all his log rolling and stapling seems to believe that he is in some way preventing us from exercising this control. Is he unaware that we can fly?

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Now that Sally has had her say, I, Jane, will take back the pen and resume this narrative. It’s a beautiful fall day, but I’m stuck inside waiting for my cherry tart to set. We’ve come under the spell cast by the Great British Baking Show, and the thing has invaded even our language. “Mary and Paul would like you to bake a cherry tart. It must be free form, sugar and gluten free, with cherries hand picked by Japanese maidens and . . .” This has to stop.

Meanwhile, Larry is outside sawing away on the so-called heritage site.

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I’ll be able to get out there and enjoy the sunshine as soon as the everlasting tart shows signs of done-ness. Otherwise, cherry tart soup? It happens.

Work has begun on the perimeter fence and path. Adam, Brush-clearing Guy, is somewhere unseen, but heard, working to clear berry vines, branches, whatever, from the outer side of the fencing. He plans to heave them over the fence to the inside, then mulch the debris to become my “boulevard.” Unfortunately, the conservation folk have adopted that phrase and use it to remind me of my pretentions. Okay, laugh, boys.

And now the sun is setting, as have my cherries, and we gather up by the TV to learn the results of the election. Groan. Dread. But let me close with some photos of a lovely fall day before we have to pay attention to, well, you know.

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CHICKEN PEOPLE

It’s ladybug season. They’re everywhere around the house, on screen, windows, etc. Trying to get in, one supposes. Yep, says Dr. Google. “Known as cluster-hibernators, ladybugs swarm because they’re looking for a warm place to hibernate for winter. When one of them finds a suitable place to spend the winter, it releases a pheromone that attracts a couple gazillion more of them.” And why are they called ladybugs? “In the middle ages, farmers prayed to the Virgin Mary to save their crops. Soon Ladybugs came, ate the plant-destroying pests and saved the crops! The farmers began calling the ladybugs “The Beetles of Our Lady”, and they eventually became known as “Lady Beetles”! The red wings represented the Virgin’s cloak and the black spots represented her joys and sorrows.”

Your factoids of the day. Where did the children’s refrain”fly away home” come from. That will be the discussion of another time. Meanwhile:

Here are the Old Ones. They are at least 5 hundred years old, the rings tells us, and are fragments of the Homestead Oak felled when we first planned to build a house in the shelter of this tree. We wanted them set up as a sort of Stonehenge entrance to the path through the forest, but their power is undeniable and they deserve their own, not appropriated, name.

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I’m a little more woo-woo about them than is Larry, but it’s hard to consider them without, at least, respect. And the path is beautiful under our present blue skies and brilliant fall colors. By the way, the oaks are not brilliant. For brilliance we look to the ash and maple among us.

“Jane! Put on your shoes and come out here! I need you!”

Okay, I’m on it, but which shoes? “Do I need my boots?”

“I don’t care! Just come! Henrietta’s out and I can’t catch her!”

Tempted to laugh, I look out and there she is, lovely and elegant on the newly green grass. I grab a cup of dried corn (chicken candy) and head out to the rescue. While Edith and Sally come running when they see me, Henrietta is more aloof. She is French. Larry makes a couple of attempts to grab her while I shake the corn at her. No, thank you, she says politely, and easily evades Larry’s reach. Of course, we do eventually herd her back and into the coop, but this could be a problem. How the heck did she get out? It’s not very chicken-like to go burrowing under the fence, we think. I’ve seen this girl fly and OMG! She Flew The Coop! That’s where the expression must come from, right? But did she do it knowingly? Will she try it again? Time alone will tell.

Way back at the beginning of this adventure, I said that I would like a particular downed oak to remain as bird/critter habitat, and so it has. Never mind that the rancher and conservation people hid their amusement at my naivete, while the thing reached up it’s black arms in, as I think of it, a rather Halloween-ish gesture. It punctuated the driveway as it winds up the hill and even became known as the Habitat Tree. Of course, it’s been a wonderful habitat for the invasive blackberry, the wretched thistle, for all I know, hornets and wasps and snakes. Sure, birds probably liked it too, but for heaven’s sake, we have enough upright trees on the place for them. Time to lose the sentimentality! Away with it! Larry and I spent yesterday and this morning at work on the thing. He saws, I collect and pile the chunks onto the ATV, which we drive to one of the burn piles about the place. It’s pleasing to be at work on an unvisited bit of the property, and to see the morning sun from a new vantage. Makes me feel, again, amazed and lucky to be here. But we couldn’t finish it, and the rains will soon come. Next year!

Now I have to tell you a story about the title of this chapter. Someone told us that we must watch a wonderful documentary called Chicken People. It’s insane. You’ve heard of the Westminster Dog Show? Can you imagine it translated to chicken? People buffing their bird’s toenails. Fluffing their feathers with a hair dryer? The anxiety as the judges grade the little darlings? The absolutely weird and yeah, creepy, hybrid, long legged, scrawny, ugly things that have been bred for this show? Don’t go there. We are not Chicken People.

Yet.

NEIGHBORHOOD PARTY

I know, surprise. We actually have a neighborhood. Terri, the only one we know, had the idea to have a “gathering” after the fire (which I’ve mentioned before). Good idea! We met a couple across the way who raise Islandic sheep, and the wife’s mom who lives in the original, small house on the property. Another woman, who owns a large property adjoining the sheep people, has just built the first home she has lived in for 40 years, her entire adult life. When her husband died several years ago, she sold some of the property, inherited from her family, and built her home. Been living in a trailer on the property those long 40 years. Good for her!

But the best outcome from the party, from our point of view, was the acquaintance of a couple, whose property adjoins ours, who are passionate about chickens. (You knew I’d get around to chickens, right?) The gentleman has volunteered to come over and take care of our birds whenever we want to get away for a while. Like for Thanksgiving, when we’re heading to Pasadena. Hooray! He has met our chickens, pronounced them nice and healthy. This is actually a big deal, as we have been wondering how we’d find a chicken-sitter when the time came.

So, finally, here they are:

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They haven’t seem excited about being “free range.” There they were, the whole orchard open to be explored, and they just huddled around the coop. Back door open, good to go. So Larry and I were pretty surprised yesterday, when out in the orchard ourselves setting mole traps,to find the girls clustered around us, well away from home base. We had been bringing them treats in order to introduce ourselves to them, but still, this was new. Edith, the Rhode Island Red, is the bravest, and will come right up to the little cup I hold to investigate the dried corn within.

This was a fun trick for us. Now when they see us, they come right over. They still won’t go abroad when we aren’t there, though, which is good, as I saw a hawk sitting on the fence post one day. And they are averaging an egg a day among them, which is just the right amount.

But chickens are not the only news around here. A massive dust cloud got our attention the other day, and on examination, we found this monster in the field along Llewellyn:

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This proved to be Mike, employee of USF&W. Seems the permit to build the vernal pool had finally come in, and work is underway. This work, Jarod, our main F&W Guy, explained, is “jurisdictional.” Which means permits were required from the Corp of Engineers, State of Oregon, and Benton County before earth could be moved. Because we’re in a jurisdictional flood plain. Fortunately the permits came in just before the promised rainfall later this week. Here’s what this looks like now:

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When finished, the “pool” will be about a foot deep, and native plants will, theoretically, colonize the space. But it won’t look like a pond, alas, just a marshy wet-land. The aquatic community of birds, salamanders, frogs, however, will love it, Jarod insists, and come January we will be deafened by the chorus of Coastal green frogs, photo below:

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Larry is, at the moment, driving his tractor in the later-this-week rainfall, after a fraught morning when the automatic brush-hog release feature didn’t function. Over to the John Deere folk with a photo of the problem, and, problem solved, but not in time to beat the rain. So here’s a photo of him yesterday when the sun still shone on his vision garden:

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I agree. It is a vision. Good for him!

THEY’RE HERE!

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Here the answer to the age old question: Chickens. The chickens came first, followed shortly by this beautiful egg. OMG.

I have as yet no photo of the girls, their arrival having been a bit too chaotic, the farmer a bit too stressed. As they live behind a wire screen at the moment, photography is difficult. When they are turned into the orchard in a few days, I will introduce you to them properly.

Meanwhile, do you recall reading about the wood-splitting adventure of several days ago? After the long hot summer, we learned that burning was again allowed, from 1pm to 5pm on Thursday. Larry thought it a good opportunity to burn the pile of un-splittable chunks, and spent the afternoon standing by the rather formidable fire. I looked out at one point to see him swinging a golf club. Well, one way to spend an afternoon.

But it isn’t clear to us if the 5pm deadline means that we have to extinguish the fire, or simply refrain from starting a new fire, at that point. It was to our advantage to presume the latter interpretation, and so we did. But at 10:00, our fire was still pretty hot, smoldering if not actually aflame. We took the flashlight out with the intention of hosing the embers down, but, on examination, decided that, on such a still night, they were safe to leave. The moon just then rose behind the oak woods, mysterious as always, and at that moment, the first coyote sang. Eerie enough, but when he was joined by his pack, which seemed to be circling behind us with their polyphonic song (I always think the coyote song is what the aurora borealis
would sound like, could we hear it), it felt like church, or what church should feel like. Sorry, long sentence.

Fine, right? But I worry. So, when I woke up at 2-ish I had to go look. Out the window, I mean. Damn. I saw actual flames. Fuckdoodle. If it hadn’t been for that fire in the woods next to us, while we were out of town, but which we have been made to feel was somehow our responsibility (yes, even from the middle of the Baltic), maybe I would have been able to go back to bed. Should I wake Larry? He’ll think I’m being ridiculous, but, being Larry, will find his slippers, look for a jacket, and I will have to beg him not to go out there. Which means the fire . . . Okay. I’ll go. Damn it. I’m kind of scared, but I get the flashlight, pull on my boots, climb through the fence, find the hose, and put out the fire. The moon is full, high overhead. It’s so quiet. No coyotes. Just a few peeps and a whistle. It’s so beautiful. You should have been there.

I get back in bed, filled with righteousness. A lovely feeling. Ha. But you want to hear about the chicken acquisition. So Saturday was the day of the Corvallis Poultry Swap (aka Poultry Faire). I had to get to band practice, but the event opened at 10:00. Who knew how it would go. Would all the best chickens be snatched up by early swappers? Haven’t been to such an affair before, so we decided that Larry would go on without me, and when I could get back by noon, he’d show me what he’d found, and we’d choose our chickens. As with most plans, that didn’t work. By the time I got back, the chicken supply had seriously dwindled, and Larry had been forced to buy the two remaining chickens of one vendor. A Rhode Island Red and Barred Rock. By the time I phoned in, there were but two remaining Novogens, a French breed. We thought a French chicken would be a nice touch. They were bred to be good layers, so perhaps our lovely egg is hers.

The distaste on Larry’s face was so funny it would go viral if I could have captured it when, upon opening the box and attempting to put the birds in their coop, one flapped away. The one we have named Sally. Larry had to go after her and honestly, it was hilarious. Of course I didn’t dare laugh, but I’m laughing now.

We got the three of them into the coop part of their cage and watched as they timidly looked out the little door to their stairs, thought about going down. We knew this bird was Sally when she shoved the others aside. I will go first, and when I get down, you may follow me. Took her awhile, though, and eventually she just flew down. But she’s the largest bird, the Barred Rock, very sure of herself, in control, obviously very smart, and thus reminds me of my own beloved Sally, who takes care of me in the way Sally-bird seems to take care of her flock. Okay, now I’m going to bore you, but when it was Henrietta’s turn to come down, she moved, elegantly, one graceful toe at a time. I’m serious! Right now, it’s such fun.

And that’s it. We went out to dinner — found a super Italian store-front — I had their special, slow-roasted lamb with grilled Brussels sprouts and some yummy potatoes, while Larry had a pizza. A really good pizza, but when I asked him why he’d ordered that when there were such good-looking pastas, he said “where.” He didn’t see any pastas on the menu. Too bad. But at least we found a fun new place to eat. We’ll take you there next time you come.

G’night!

MID-SEPTEMBER

Sometimes I write my post in my head while awake at 3 o’clock in the morning. Such is the case today, and our discussion will be about prunes. There seems to be a notion abroad that prunes are to plums as raisins are to grapes. (Sounds like an SAT question.) “Prunes,” it is true, is the name given to the wrinkled, chewy treat, dried from ripe fruit, bagged, on the grocery shelf, best known and loved by the elderly in pursuit of, well, regularity. Ask someone and they will assert that sure, prunes are just dried plums. Go to Google and you will read that while both plums and prunes are from the same genus,(Prunus)they are not the same plant. Huh? Then why aren’t plums a type of prune? If the genus is “Prunus?” Confusion abounds. Of late I see prunes labeled as “Italian Prune plums.” Strikes me as a bit of cover-your-ass reverse engineering by the plum lobby. Not buying it.

Anyway, while no one will stroll about picking a basket of raisins from a vine, one can, and should, pick a handful of lovely ripe prunes fresh from the tree. They are lush, purple, lobed, swathed in powdery bloom, and inside, are a juicy gold color. But what should I do with mine, I asked last week. Decided to freeze them, and now, here they are. A permanent dark purple stain around my fingernails from handling them gives me a kind of neo-Goth look. Interesting.

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Yes, it is all about chickens! Our coop comes with a solar-powered door to let the birds out in the morning and tuck them safely in at night. Instructions, YouTube videos, a phone call to the builder, easy, right? Took Larry all morning, hands and knees, power tools, an assist from me, posted inside the little structure, and friends and family, you are right. This is when we remember how old we are. But it’s done and miraculously, the thing works. We waited anxiously for nightfall to see if it really would close by itself, and after only two flashlight-powered trips outside, we learned that it indeed does. (Slightly reminiscent of the days when, at midnight, I’d wait to see our teen-ager’s car pull into the driveway.)

With Larry’s new-found expertise based on “Living with Chickens,” we ventured forth into Craig’s List. Lots of choices! Time to head over to Wilco. Where it seems to be chick season again, lots of babies chirping away in their heat-lamp warmed cages. We needed feed and watering systems, bedding material and, we thought, some sort of carrier to transport our chickens, when and wherever we found them. And were lucky in being assigned to Amanda, who has strong opinions and much experience. Best news, there’s a Poultry Faire (cute spelling) in Corvallis on the 29th.

On the way to Wilco, Larry and I debated our strategy. We would take the truck to the Faire, and bring the birds home in our to-be purchased carriers. Just put them in the back and away we go. Me: But we can’t just drive around with them getting blown about in the wind. Like What’s His Name Romney from Utah who strapped his golden retriever to the top of his SUV. Larry, sighing: We’re not going to be driving that fast, and I don’t want chicken poop inside the truck. And so on. We agreed to disagree and, as these things often turn out, the question was moot. “Chicken carriers?” harrumphed Amanda. “Alls you need is cardboard boxes.” Oh.

Back while Larry was struggling with the chicken’s power door, I decided to bring some discipline to the tangle of tomatoes growing up and through the orchard fence. These plants, unlike those in the actual garden, have shown vigor, coupled with absolutely no restraint, and whoa. We got tomatoes. Cherry tomatoes by the bucket, and, something the nursery tag calls “Amana Oranges.” Fun! Heritage! But I didn’t read the small print, which describes “one-pound beefsteaks.” Well. One of these would feed a large family, each member of which just loves tomatoes.

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Next day: Thursday, to be exact. Ooh, this was a hard one. We split the wood that has been lying under the oak since the dinosaur (see earlier post) was removed and left to lie in pieces among the blackberry and hemlock. Larry rented the splitter and drove it up to the site — a brilliant idea. Oak is heavy! And the chunks to be split, huge. But now the tree stands in splendor, the truck is loaded with split wood, and all that remains is a burn pile.

Today, Friday: Allan and another Guy came to work on the path through the copse. It is so cool! Switchbacks down to the lower meadow. I would show you a photo, but at the moment, my computer is refusing to allow this move. I will say that the walk down through the woods is now a lovely stroll. You will remember how treacherous it was earlier, and now, with the trees Sam has removed and the graded path, it’s just so much fun. Of course, going back up the hill is still an uphill climb. Come on over and I’ll show you in person!

Back in Portland, which is probably why my computer is being difficult. Or not. Annoying! See you next week!

ONE WEEK IN SEPTEMBER

Really, it could happen to anyone. Say you’re checking out at Costco and your old college buddy phones at that moment to wish you happy birthday and you get a little distracted. The wife has to sign, and she puts the Costco and Visa cards in your shirt pocket, she’s pretty sure, but when you try to pay at the service station which is 75 miles from Costco and 75 miles from home, your credit card is missing. You’re not wearing that shirt. Oh crap. So you use your wife’s card and here’s the fun part. You have to put a hold on the card until you can get back to Bend, and you will have to use her bank card any time you go shopping at the farm. Because you’re not on her account, you will have to take her with you when you go, for example, to the Corvallis Home Depot, and she simply can’t understand why it takes a half an hour to select the correct widget for your Whatsit. If she had just handed you the stupid cards like a normal person — but wait. You can only think that. Do not say it.

But it’s okay. He got the cards back now and we’re good.

On Sunday morning, early, Cory and Tiffany arrived to wash all windows and screens, upstairs and down. This was to take 6 or 7 hours, a big job. They were efficient, thorough, and we were glad Craig’s List delivered them to us. But why! does anyone name his/her child Tiffany? Think, people. It’s a jewelry store, could we just leave it at that?

Everyone is running ahead of the rain. On Monday, Bill and Allan, Landscape Guys, stopped by to discuss the trail through the copse. I put on my boots (Larry still not back from his trip to retrieve his Visa card) and we decided on the path, angling down to emerge at the base of the giant, old-growth fir tree which stands alone, an anomaly here, taller than any oak will ever grow. We decided that Allan will carve the path with his little one-man skidsteer, and mark the path with green tape. The marking will let Sam, Tree Guy, know which trees must go, which must not be touched.

Tuesday was the long awaited move-the-coop day. Adam, who is the Brush-clearing-along-the-fence Guy, and his dad would do the job. In preparation, Larry has leveled the new site, built a foundation, and lay and attached wire (he calls it cloth, but, it’s not) a couple of feet around the perimeter to keep foxes, etc., from digging under and into the coop. Yes, I am surprised that he knew how to do all this! Here we are:

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Yes, that’s grass inside the coop. Nothing too good for our girls! But where are they, our girls? To be continued. Meanwhile, Larry has undertaken to read “Living with Chickens” from cover to cover. A little alarmed to learn that the author’s flock quickly expanded to 55. “That’s not going to happen.” he muttered from deep within his comfy chair.

Allison, daughter-in-law, has been here since Sunday, helping get her Amy established in the little house she and friends are renting for the school year in Eugene. I love having Allison here, and although she usually has time to organize a cupboard or two of mine (I’m serious, I love this!), on this occasion the task with Amy proved too great. Exhausting, because Amy’s room in the basement of the little Eugene house has proved to be, um, well, shitty. Her words, not mine. Amy keeps her off-season clothes and stuff here at the farm, which is great because she has a reason to visit us when collecting whatever. Good news, at the end of the day, Amy has secured an upstairs bedroom, and all’s well.

Wednesday: Sam Carter, Tree Guy, arrived with a reduced crew, to do what he could toward completion of the week’s work we agreed upon. Main guy out sick after pine-cone harvest-induced illness. Elk hunting with Dad, not to be missed. Meaning the week will extend well into late September. We actually don’t care. The idea is to clear one section of the copse of as many as 150 small oaks to provide living room for the older trees. (And for our path.) The trick is to maintain a level of canopy that allows the wild flowers underneath to thrive. Too much sunlight and the grasses crowd out the flowers. Too little sunlight and the oaks can’t achieve the natural, expansive shape with which we’re familiar.

After two day’s labor, here’s what we have:

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While this was going on, a great cloud of dust began to fill the sky. This would be Ryan’s (Cow Guy) work, disc-ing the field along Llewellyn. You could see the dust, but not the tractor, and smell the dust, and see it settling on our newly cleaned screens, the porches, inside the house if we didn’t get all the windows closed. But, speaking of rain, where is it?

On Thursday, the rain finally arrived. As did Bill, to discuss the selection and placement of trees that will mark the beginning of the homestead place, end of the road, where the rough gravel becomes more civilized. It was a thought from the beginning, forgotten about, but we do like the idea. Also to be considered, some similar treatment down by the entry gate. Bill is promoting manzanita trees there. Sidebar: When I went to Google to have a look, the first entry was a selection of battery-operated, glittered gold or silver, table-top trees. Wow. Who knew? But no, we mean real trees. I always believed manzanita to be an Eastern-Oregon, high desert shrub. Trees. Hmm.

This was the day when Larry acquired the sod to go inside the coop. Home Depot is just a short hop from the chicken store we’d identified along the road to Albany, so let’s go check it out! Drove into the place where, indeed, dozens of chickens were roaming about. But it resembled nothing so much as that horrid Harris Ranch cattle feed lot down I-5 in California. Just dirt. A variety of birds, from turkeys on down, scratching about a few wooden coops here and there. Ugh. A woman, chased by a bulldog came to enquire if she could help. Um, we’re wanting a couple of chickens? Turns out, the sign advertising the place does say “chicken” not “chickens” and what’s for sale there are eggs and chicken meat. So this is what they mean by “free range?” Yeah. Don’t think so, but thank you. It’s probably too late, she advised us, but we could try the poultry exchange at the fairgrounds. Although that was last week. Maybe someone still has some birds for sale. Anyway.

This morning has been devoted to putting up the apple crop. Provided by just the one tree which succeeded in fielding a real crop. So. Perhaps 50% of the apples were afflicted with worm-age, but hey. My dad-the-DDT purveyor for the Willamette Valley, back in the day, used to tell me that if one objects to the use of insecticides, one should be willing to choose the wormy apples at the grocery store. Well, good point. I know I always try to choose the best specimens when shopping, but now I’ve raised these organic beauties and we’re going to eat them. Of course, I carve out the wormy spots, don’t worry.

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Seven apples, 2.5 pounds, these will go into the freezer, and when solid, into a plastic zip-lock for a future apple crisp. Yum! Next up, the prunes. What am I going to do with them? I’ve learned that they’re not free-stone, so that means either drying, canning, or freezing them whole. Fortunately, there aren’t vast thousands of them. Any suggestions welcome!

Okay, lunch time. Gotta go. Up to Portland this evening for a nice weekend with Peter, dinner with friends, nice. See ya.

No sooner had I hit “Publish” to send my last blog when an incoming mail note from neighbor Terri informed me that we had missed the fire on Wednesday. And had Philomath Fire District contacted us? Whoa. Seems this fire was in the “park,” which is what the folks along Bellfountain call the county easement that separates their properties from ours. Terri had taken her dogs out for a walk on our property that evening, had noticed an apparently burned piece of wood in our grasses, just across from the fire, and would inform the fire department that it was there in case they hadn’t noticed it previously. No one knew how it started, maybe a spark from an engine? People had heard an ATV along the edge of our property last week, had our fence people been there?

Hmm. Feels like we’re being set up to be the culprits here, doesn’t it? Larry immediately jumped on the ATV to have a look at this “burned” piece of wood. There was a piece of fossilized wood from ages past which may have looked recently burned, but not on close inspection. And yes, Ryan, Cow Guy, had been here putting up a run of hot wire around our barn, so, yeah, the neighbors probably heard him.

Wait! Back up. This fire was in the park! Not on our property. Was put out by the fire department. Though Terri told them she’d take them onto our property through the recently created gate between us, they declined the offer. So what’s going on?
Got it. 😠 WITCH HUNT! Ha!

No, I know this was scary for everyone, and it’s perfectly natural to want to know the cause, so this is me, taking a deep breath.

We had to be in Portland for a couple of days, are back now, working to put things back together after our absence. But first, you remember those cukes I dumped? We bought another batch, took care of them properly, and making pickles moved to the top of our list. Making pickles is something I do with my bestie, Vik, but we couldn’t get our schedules coordinated, and cucumbers wait for no man, so Larry had to fill in. Did an excellent job, too. Nine jars of dills and bread & butters, looking good. And where are we going to store them? Hmm. This is bad. Means we have to get those two new stand-alone pantry cupboards for the garage. Is there room in the garage? Only if we move the current shelves which hold extra garbage bags, shoes and boots, etc. So where does that stuff go? Remains to be seen. In this way, one job begets another. Almost Biblical?

Next up, yellow-jackets. According to the nice bee-keeper Larry ran into at Shonnards, it’s a bountiful year for the unpleasant insects. Not enough freezing weather to keep their numbers down, then the long hot spell, all the rotten fruit on the ground, whatever. We wouldn’t care, but they won’t leave us alone, making it impossible to be outside when they’re active. So. Yellow-jacket traps. We have 4 hung around the area we like to inhabit, like our garden, our porch. Not the orchard, where there are millions of them, as we’re cautioned not to hang the traps around food. The activity is mesmerizing. Hundreds of the beasties swarm around each trap, desperate to get at the attractant, whatever that is. If they determine how to get in, they can’t get out, and soon die. Cruel? I guess.

But come evening, they cease and desist, and the land belongs to us again. We spent the evening watering the fruit trees, which we weren’t able to get near during the day. The crickets have begun to sing at dusk, a sign that fall is upon us. (Yes,I know they don’t actually sing.)

Excuse me, but what about your chickens? Weren’t you so eager to get home from the Baltic so you could get your little family of chickens?

Yes. Do you remember that old rhyme about the house that Jack built? This is the cat that killed the rat that ate the malt, etc.? It’s like that. We can’t get the chickens until we can move the coop. We can’t move the coop until Grant can bring his skid steer to lift it. He won’t bring the skid steer (to build the last fence as well as move the coop) until Jarod has dug the pond, and Jarod can’t dig the pond until Ryan discs and harrows the field, and today’s news? Ryan’s tractor has been hit by a car on the road and won’t be repaired until next Thursday. Any further questions?

But now, the Golden Gophers are on TV, playing New Mexico State, and all farm activity is hereby suspended. Go, Gophers!

HOME AGAIN FINNEGAN

Home again! I’ve just dumped 5 pounds of pickling cukes into the pit (wait, I haven’t told you about the pit. I’ll get to that) We picked them up at Sauvie Island Thursday afternoon, fighting jet lag, and it said right on the bag: Take cucumbers from bag, refrigerate, and use within 2 days. But did we listen?

But a word about our trip. Fourteen days cruising the Baltic Sea. We do know better than to leave our garden in August, and the only reason we would do such a thing is friendship. We were celebrating Ursel’s birthday, and wouldn’t miss it for all the apples in our orchard. So it was a fascinating, magic, frustrating trip! See, it was a special “German language only” cruise. I’m about 1/4 literate in German, Larry not at all, so it was deep immersion. Very deep. But to see the German cities, Russia, and the beautiful Estonia, Lithuania, Latvia was powerful, even if we couldn’t understand a word the tour leaders were saying about them. Look at the difference between a Russian port and a Lithuanian: There’s such energy in the lands who were freed from foreign occupation, who retrieved their own languages.

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Finally, though, my homesickness worsened and I was desperately happy to retrieve my passport and climb on the plane. Yes, me. “Don’t be such a house-cat,” my mom used to admonish me. “Where’s your sense of adventure?” I believe my sense of adventure is hiding out somewhere along with my naturally curly hair, blue eyes, and that 3 extra inches that would have let me reach the top shelves.

So here we are at the farm. Good news: Look at Larry’s flowers! Our prune tree! (Yes, I know, the proper name is “Italian prune plum”, just like “hazelnut” is the hoity toity “proper” name for filberts.) We have a modest collection of pears ripening in the garage, some excellent squashes, and massive cabbages. (I just learned that it’s possible to can sauerkraut without a pressure canner, so if I can succeed in making some, we’re golden.) Yes, we like sauerkraut.

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Some bad news: Those trees were thirsty! A yellow-jacket disputed my rights to the pear tree, with an itchy, swollen arm as result. Don’t know how she’s doing. I’d show you a photo of my stung arm, but that would be weird.

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Some really bad news: Here’s a photo of a huge tree I’d decided was the grandfather tree on the property. For perspective, look at the fence around it. I know it’s a bad photo, sorry . . .

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We took a walk around the perimeter this morning, and here’s what we found:

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We can hardly get over the size of the thing. At least it tip-toed around the fence instead of crushing it, but it seems unstable, and while we’ll ask Sam, our Tree Guy, I don’t imagine we can just let it lie. The tonnage of the it. We don’t know when it went down, if there was a heavy wind in the area, but it is just nature being Nature, so while it saddens me, I have to accept the loss. I guess we always have to accept loss, hey? Sometimes I say pretty dumb things!

But now it’s afternoon, we’re still tired, so nap time at the Viehls. Oh yeah, I said I’d tell you about the pit. Seems our earlier composting efforts were useless, but we had to provide for the garden debris that would be forthcoming. Like spent tomato vines, sunflower stalks, and so on. Yes, we have yard-debris collection, but that means hauling stuff down to the barn, then out to the road. I remembered how my parents disposed of garbage by digging a deep pit. Aha! We had Ian, working on the fence around the garden, use his excavator to dig a trench at the back of the garden, where we can toss things like, well, garbage, of the non-meat variety. Sounds disgusting, huh? But oh so correct for people posing as conservationists! Next year’s lovely compost!

And now, good night. Yawn.