We’ll be driving down the Interstate at 70 per when Larry will say See him? He has spotted a coyote far off in a coyote-colored field of grain, or a tufted owl deep in the forest, or a field mouse grooming his whiskers — things no other mortal will notice, at least certainly not I. Where? I always say and he’ll say, Oh, sorry, too late.

Which is why it’s more than strange that this huge fir tree went unnoticed by either of us. Joe called on his cell Monday to say that he’d found the perfect drill placement for the new well on our property. “Right by the big fir tree,” he told Larry.
“What fir tree? There aren’t any fir trees by the oaks,” Larry said. “Didn’t think there were any fir trees down there at all.”
“City people,” Joe must be thinking. “Don’t know a fir from a rosebush.”
A form of oak-blindness, I think.


So this is Joe, and drilling began yesterday.


Joe’s rig:


Larry, seated at the base of the huge fir tree, supervising the procedure.


We returned today to the drill site, and I’m sorry to report that the first attempt has not been a success. Joe estimates that his hole will only be able to produce 5 gallons per minute, which is threshold enough water to run a home in which people want to take showers and do laundry, for example. He has drilled down 100 feet and found a small seam of gravel sandwiched between layers of blue clay, but is convinced that he can do no better here by the huge fir tree. An estimate. He won’t know until he lowers a pump into the hole and gives it a try.

So now what? We had decided to drill a new well after being advised that it would be too difficult and expensive to pump water all the way from the existing well at the old house. (Which, by the way, offers 16 gallons per minute.) Different story today, as Cathy, Joe’s wife and assistant, has been regaling me with stories of other wells they’ve dug this summer. One such affair has the home across the highway and a half mile up the Coburg Hills away from the well. Do we believe this? Maybe not, but surely then, we could pump water from Well A to Homesite B. Oh, it’s about the money? Ah, got it.

Yet we have now altered the land. This is our first tangible entry into a beautiful landscape on which early people burned the grasslands, which is said to harbor an elk herd, deer and a threatened woodpecker. We have to take this seriously. Are we sure our presence here will be a positive intrusion?

At a pig-roast this past Saturday (yep, and it was delicious) I was interrogated by a friend who said she just wanted to know one thing about this adventure. “Why?” she asked. I gave her my stock answer, but the real answer is more layered. We want to care for this gorgeous land, and we want to do something important and meaningful with whatever time we have left, and we just simply love being outside, walking, discovering. We want to know things. I asked Joe if the aquifer beneath us has a name and he does not know, but I want to find out.

In the meantime, here are the berries which have homesteaded on the Hundred Acres, from which I’ve already made more jelly than we could eat in a year. But how can I leave them all for the birds, great flocks of which are certainly enjoying their share. Believe me, there are enough for the entirety of Benton County and well beyond. Come on down!



“Grandma, what does it feel like to be 74?”
Hmm. “I would say it feels about like being 54,” I tell my granddaughter. I realize this is not helpful, as she, of 14 years, doesn’t know what being 54 feels like, either.
She takes a pinch of my skin and admires the length of time it takes to resolve back onto my arm. I used to play this same game with my own patient grandmother.
“But when I look in a mirror,” I tell her, “I feel more like 94.” Maybe I’ll banish mirrors from the little farmhouse we plan to build.

Yesterday afternoon, we met with the road guys at the farm. These are Warren — not Farmlandia, although he does look the part — and Brick, son-in-law of friends. We were surprised, and pleased, when Brick showed up (makes sense that his profession is in the building trades, right?). We’d just begun to talk with them about the route our driveway will have to take when the well guys arrived. Not Joe, we’ll get back to him later.

Larry and I split responsibilities, and I got Road-guys. (Lucky, as they are super smart and funny and fun.) We set out in Warren’s truck, Brick in the back seat, up to the house site. Meanwhile, Larry climbed into Well-guys’ blue van, and the two vehicles lumbered up the hill. From my vantage the blue van looked exactly like a giant beetle with spare pvc piping strapped on top like antennae.

After thorough discussion, after Well-guys left and Larry joined my crew, further appointments made, provisional recommendations noted, I observed that I wanted to walk back down to check on the apple tree we had newly found. Yes! The seminal apple tree! “I’m so proud of you,” Brick said, on his departure. Sub text? Proud of us? Because we’re doing this “at our age?” Or am I too sensitive?

Okay, down the hill, through the gate, and we found another possible building site. “NO!” Larry making it clear that no, we are not reconsidering the hard-won primary site. But it’s very pretty, and I imagine a picnic table under the canopy of the little grove of oaks.

The apples are small, hard, green, abundant, and actually, quite good. No idea what variety, but for now, let’s move on. There are “streams” dissecting the property, which the Road-guys tell us must be addressed with culverts, practically the size of those governing water LA receives from Owens Lake. Huh.

The streams are dry, just now, or mostly so. But deep. And we need to cross one of them in order to return to car, or retrace our many, many steps back up the hill. So Larry finds a likely spot, carefully jumps across, then turns to assist me. This is where I am reminded of that little conversation about being 74. This is crazy. If one of us misses, we crash about four feet into the crevasse. Really not good.

And then we have to cross again, and yet again. I begin to see pretty little foot bridges crossing these treacherous “seasonal water courses.” I reel myself back in, and we head for the Hilton motel in Corvallis where we’ll spend the night.

So what does being 74 feel like? Like just life. Being more careful. Not skiing anymore. Getting more tired after the 18 holes of golf we played the next morning at Trysting Tree on the OSU campus. Having lunch at a brew pub and noting a table of old women next to us, who have the same haircut as mine. (Must grow that braid I always imagined pinning atop my head.)

My dad famously subtracted 10 years from his actual age, down to government documents, down to lying to his doctors. At the time, it was a story I loved to tell. Funny. Like he could fool anyone. Now I know. Being 74 doesn’t feel different, but people treat you as if you are different. Disabled, in a strange way. So now I get it. Way to go, Dad.


Hot. A hundred degrees. This is how we fight:

I am silent. Why does he always have to be so negative? Okay, so it’ll be expensive to connect the electricity. It’ll be expensive to build the road. We knew that, we planned for it. God. He didn’t even notice the berries I picked. So what if we can’t find water up on the hill? It was just one man’s dumb opinion and anyway, we already have a well.

He is silent. Doesn’t she ever listen? The man said it was just clay, sticky, thick clay. No water. We were stupid to buy this place before we knew about the well. Stupid. Now I’ll have to pay to dig a well I already know won’t produce. And she just sits there like some Pollyanna, oh everything will be fine. It’ll cost a fortune to pump all the way from the old well, and there won’t be enough pressure when we do. Somebody has to be realistic. It’s not “fine.”

So we ride home without talking. We listen to the new/old Michael Connelly and the miles go by. Finally I ask a question about the story and the ice thaws a little. Nothing changes, we are who we are, and apparently always will be.

We drove down that afternoon, happy that the well guy had called back, that he could meet us this very day. Amazing! His name is Joe and he drove up in an old pick-up, of course. As Vik sometimes remarks, “there’s a Portlandia episode just writing itself,” and I wonder if there’s a rural Oregon corollary: Farmlandia. That’s Joe, the well guy. Jeans, of course, bit of a belly on him, bit of a 2 day beard, big smile. “Climb in, we’ll just drive up to the site, have a look.”

At least it’s air-conditioned in the cab of his truck, and we lurch up the hill. He looks for a bare spot of land on which to park, concerned that somehow his hot engine will start a fire on the dried grasses. All these lumps are ant mounds, he says, but when he kicks one over to show us, there are no ants. As before, when the septic feasibility agent was here. Ant hills, but no ants in sight. So? Aliens, maybe? Cows, I’m thinking.

Joe makes his observations, says he wants to examine neighboring well records, and we should drive around to see if we can talk to someone. On the way back down the hill, he shows us a photo of his new granddaughter, 6 months old, adorable. So old shoe, this Joe. Of course, I like him.

We approached the same neighbor that we’d met when John, the realtor, was scouting the area. She’s very friendly, helpful, and I’m glad to have met her. People don’t neighbor too much, she tells us, just go about their own lives, but are amiable enough when they meet. She couldn’t answer Joe’s questions about the depth of her well, but says they have never run out of water, and as they run a horse farm, use a lot for the animals. This seems to be good news, as her home is not far from our site.

Back at our place, the men talk. Joe has called someone, and they have a conversation by speaker phone about the land formation here. I take a plastic tub over to collect some ripe blackberries. So hot! I’m soon dripping sweat, and the berries are lush but mostly out of reach. I stomp down the dried weeds and thistles to reach into the brambles, thorns catching my shirt, my pants. I need loppers to let me get into the patch, but I manage to pick a couple of pints. I’ll cook them down, get the juice and add it to the first batch. Still not enough to make jelly, but I’ll be back.

So I’m happy. Joe has left, and I climb into our car. Larry says he wants to check on “that” pole, and disappears down the road. What that heck? Which pole? Where’s he going? I decide I’ll drive over and pick him up. He gets in. “Well, that was discouraging,” he says. “To say the least.” He slumps into the seat. Stupid. We are so stupid.

I turn the car around and we head home to Portland.



Okay, Pasadena isn’t all that urban, but I did wonder what the CA Viehls would think of our farm. Larry and I got there first yesterday, and suddenly the lower meadow/pasture looked dried out, weedy. The sun was too hot, a couple of turkey vultures circled, the blackberries were angry with thorns. You’ll note the change from the introductory photo at the top of this blog. No longer exactly your green, lush, countryside.


“Just exactly how big is a hundred acres?” Charlie asked as we hiked past the first row of hawthorne, into the second section before the hill.
“Put it this way,” Charlie, “Andrew said. “A football field is 1.3 acres.” This interesting bit of info (where did that come from, Andrew?) stopped us in our tracks.
“Including the stadium?” from Charlie.
“No, just the field.”


“Well, the swimming pool could go here, anyway” Charlie said, making lemonade from this lemon — a weedy patch of ninety-some football fields.
“It’s pretty far from the house,” I told him.
“Okay then, we’ll build a zip line. That’ll be very cool, because we can just let go over the water and it’ll be so great.”
While Charlie was dreaming of the improvements that could be made to this raw hundred acres, Andrew had his camera out and was recording the “before” shots. All of the photos on this post are his, and here’s another: (Be sure to click on the images to enlarge them!)


The above photo is from the building site, but the air was hazy with dust from all the harvesting round about, and you can’t see what is really there. Rolling hills, agricultural land under plow, and the coast range foothills to the west. I sound as if I’m trying to sell you something, and I think I am. I hope you like this place as much as I do!


Into the woods. Much cooler, in the old-fashioned sense of temperature. These are the oaks growing on the slope, which should be thinned by 60%, according to USF&W.

We descended into the eastern woodsy landscape by the creek. And I made the mistake of mentioning poison oak. Well, there is a little, and one sure doesn’t want to touch the stuff, but it does not, contrary to the alarms of my Pasadenans, jump out and twine about your legs. What with this concern, and the disappointment of the creek, Muddy Creek, let’s recall, I feared I’d lost them.

I should mention Amy here. Wonderful girl, fits between her two brothers like cool water between a tsunami (Charlie) and a deep, underground cavern (Andrew). She’s quite practical, and if there’s poison oak, she’ll simply step around it.

But Charlie is irrepressible and moves on. We should build a running track, so that he can train for the Olympics. That will be after he orbits the earth in his home-made satellite created from used M & M wrappers. And a climbing wall, adjacent to the swimming pool will be nice. He has turned his back on the creek, thank you, and will find relief and comfort in the tiled, blue waters of a California-style, ordinary, everyday swimming pool, with its adjacent in-ground Jacuzzi.

So we can see that we have quite a lot of work to do: dig a well, create a road, build a house, satisfy the aims of conservation we had in mind in addition to raising another Disneyland.

But I’m saving the best for the last. Finally, the county has responded and YES, we are approved to build a house on the site we’d selected. Now the work, the real work, not the fantasies will begin. On Monday we’ll contact a well digger. And continue to keep our fingers crossed that he/she will find water under our hillside.

Photo creds to Andrew Viehl for the gorgeous scenes. Thanks!


On my post of July 26, I discussed a document that Not-My-Doctor wanted me to complete called a PULSE. This morning, a friend gently corrected me, pointing out that the form is actually known as a POLST, meaning Physicians Order for Life Sustaining Treatment. So it’s not PULSE, it’s POLST, and I was too PISSED to pay sufficient attention.

Okay, it is a good idea. We old people never know when the shoe may drop and it’s good to be prepared.

Now, let me take this opportunity, when nothing is happening at the farm, to say how much I enjoy comments (and corrections) on my posts. Thanks, Sue for the above catch. Jeanne Ederer agrees with Charlie that we should abandon the farm idea, what with the cows and all, and just create a resort for the family. Sorry, Jeanne, not going to happen! Vik thinks I should reconsider the idea of a kerchief and lose the flip-flops. See what I mean? Great stuff, and I hope you all will keep it coming.

And we’re back to waiting. When will we hear from the County re the building site? We need to dig that well, build that road (gravel,by the way) before the snow flies. No, you’re right. I should have said “before the rains of November.” I’ll let you know!


“Come on, Charlie, take these dishes into the kitchen.”
“In a minute, Mom.” Mom is Allison, my daughter-in-law, and the Peter Viehls have arrived at Black Butte for summer vacation.
Charlie is “pitching” his idea (his word) for the Hundred Acre Wood, which he has not yet seen. He would like to include a swimming pool, a ground-level trampoline, a tennis court, and an ATV racing track . . .
“Charlie,” I tell him, “you can swim in the creek.”
“Too cold,” he says.

Everyone can dream, of course. But there will probably not be any swimming in the creek or elsewhere on the property. I think we’ve oversold our “farm” to the grandkids.

Yesterday, at the property, we met a group of five habitat professionals from the above alphabet of agencies to walk about and see what should be done in the way of restoration. Not a few surprises were in store for us.

Larry began by outlining the situation. Like, we’ve only owned the place for two weeks. We pretty much have no idea what we have and what do with what we have. We just want to improve it, improve the soils, the grasslands, the oaks, the creek banks. Let’s take a walk, then, we all agree.

Down to the creek, and on the way, Sam, of NRCS (that would be Samantha in more formal context) identified the fragrant blue, low growing herb-like plant that the bees were harvesting. Pennyroyal, which was used historically for various remedies, including abortion. UNSAFE, says my source on Google, may cause death. Right. But it’s pretty, blue, has a mint-like fragrance, and is an indicator species of wetland terrain.

Down by the creek, Jarod, of USF&W pointed out a cluster of poison oak. Everyone looks with disapproval at my ankle-length pants, tennis shoes with footies. They all wear, I notice, sturdy boots and denim jeans. Check.

“It’s an island!” they exclaimed. “Fabulous! You’ll need a kayak to get around down here come winter.” Hmm. Doubt it, as I’m not your water-sport enthusiast. Can’t see myself paddling down the stream or over to the island for watercress, or whatever. But onward we marched.

Onto the portion of the place we’d identified as our wetlands. Again, great excitement from the pros. Seems we have a huge drift of tufted hair grass. Native! We feel proud. Sam, who works in wetland restoration is particularly pleased.

Now we headed up the steep oak woodland. Which we think is pretty and cool. But no. The trees are far too dense, crowded, and should be diminished by at least half. Whoa. That would be a huge load of firewood, and what would it look like? Tom, of NRCS, the oak tree guy, says they really don’t know, but expect that over time, the trees left standing would develop the typical rounded shape of Oregon white oak, and the canopy would provide the shaded understory the area enjoys now.

Up to the savannah. We learn about the grassland which is not, unfortunately, native at all. Bentgrass where there should be fescue or orchid grass. And it needs “disturbance.” As provided earlier by native peoples setting fires, or elk and deer herds. As these methods are not available to us, it means chemical application, mowing, or, ta da: cows! Yes! The cows are back in the picture. But they should be rotated, fenced in, of course, monitored. This sounds fine, if the cowherd (is that the correct word?) agrees to terms.

Whew. We had a little conference standing on the hoped-for site of our little house, and all those folk from the agencies offered advice, the most helpful of which was to relax, watch the seasons unfold, decide what resources we wish to apply to the challenges, and to understand that they are eager to help us with our overall goal of restoration. As proof of that, we both had emails when we got back to Portland from a couple of them cataloging agencies and contact info and, most astonishing, an aerial photo of the property dating from 1936. Wouldn’t recognize it!

On the way back to our cars, Sam observed that our pear tree was sure amazing. Huh? We have a pear tree? We do, about 18 feet tall, at least, and laden with fruit. How had we failed to see it? Now I want to find one of those tall fruit harvesting sticks with a little basket on the end so we can gather the pears before they ripen and fall to the ground. I love this!