Country Living Series

Tuesday, August 15, 2017

The lovely people of Backwoods Home Magazine

Weekend before last, Don and I made a rare trip together. We drove to Oregon to attend the Mother Earth News Fair. I've always wanted to attend this event, and when the Duffys (Dave and Ilene) graciously offered us hospitality, we took them up on their offer.

The Duffys, by the way, are the publishers of Backwoods Home Magazine, which had a booth at the event. I've written for BWH for years, and you'll never meet lovelier people. Two of their children, Sam and Annie, are now publishing the excellent spin-off magazine Self-Reliance.

Don and I hadn’t traveled together on a trip for, oh, probably 15 years (usually one or the other of us has to stay on the farm).

We’ve gone to Oregon plenty of times separately on business, but never together. We weren't in a hurry, so in fact when we missed a critical exit to take Hwy. 395 south and found ourselves on the way to Seattle, we just shrugged giddily and took an alternate route that eventually connected us with Hwy. 84 toward Portland. Who cared how long it took to get to our destination? We were on the road together!

We crossed the Columbia River at Biggs. It was very smoky from distant wildfires.

We managed to hit rush-hour traffic in Portland. This reminded us of how wonderful it is never to have to deal with rush-hour traffic.

The Duffys are wonderful, hospitable hosts. They made us feel completely at home. Don and Dave shared a couple of beers on the deck, Ilene and I cozied up for some nice conversation as we prepared a spread of food for a Saturday evening gathering of many guests, and in all ways they treated us like family.

Here are some of the people who manned the booth over the weekend (left to right): Sam Duffy, Dave Duffy, Annie Tuttle (Dave's oldest daughter), Jessie Denning (BWH's managing editor),and Tim Denning (Jessie's husband). The disembodied arm on the right is Don's.

Ahem. One of the biggest attractions at the Mother Earth News Fair was the book sale. Ahem. We might have picked up one or two volumes.

On the way home we stopped briefly at Multnomah Falls but didn't linger long.

Here's a tugboat pushing a grain barge up the Columbia River.

As we got closer to the Idaho panhandle, the dry baking desert of eastern Washington gave way to wheat fields...

...where the harvest was taking place.

We left home on Friday and returned Monday. Just a fast weekend away -- but it was such a treat to travel together! Since we'll soon be empty-nesters, we're going to investigate the possibility of traveling a bit more in the future.

Saturday, August 12, 2017

The kindness of neighbors

Last night was our turn to host our weekly neighborhood potluck. Unexpectedly one of our neighbors handed me a small gift bag, with instructions not to look inside until everyone had gone for the evening.

So just before bed, with the kitchen tidy and the house quiet, I opened the bag and found...

I nearly burst into tears. I'm not normally a fan of knick-knacks, but this one blew me away. The fact that these kind people had gone out of their way to find a lovely picture of Lydia, then have it enshrined on this ornament, touched me deeply. I treasure it.

Thursday, August 10, 2017

Farm snapshot

I was watering the garden today when I noticed a welcome visitor. Here's a tire of Cream of Saskatchewan watermelons.

As I watered, I noticed this little guy.

They say the sign of a healthy garden is all the wildlife hanging around. I sure like the above visitor over the one below, but I guess it's all part of the game.

Just a little farm snapshot for your day.

Saturday, August 5, 2017

What are they teaching our kids?

Here's my WND column for this weekend entitled "Teaching our kids to be 'safely sodomized.'"

I was -- ahem -- a bit steamed under the collar when I wrote it.

Thursday, August 3, 2017

Mystery owl

We have a couple of owls hanging around here, and I don't know what species they are.

They're medium-large owls. At first I thought they were short-eared owls, but the photos on Google images don't match:

Short-eared owl from Google Images

Nor do they appear to be a Northern Hawk Owl.

Northern Hawk Owl from Google Images

Typically these mystery owls are audible (in pairs) in late evening, all through the night, and into early morning. Notice the yellow eyes and black beak. They have a harsh screeching cry, unlike the melodious Great Horned Owl's call. From my days as a field biologist, I'm very familiar with Great Grey owls, Barred owls, and Spotted owls, and know without question this isn't any of those species.

Yesterday morning I caught some shots of the mystery owl. I was on maximum zoom and frequently taking photos through a screened window in very early morning light (meaning, dim), so the photos aren't always clear or focused.

Below are the clearest shots I took. Any thoughts about the species?

UPDATE: You guys nailed it! It certainly seems to match with a juvenile Great Horned owl. In fact, here's a YouTube clip with the very sounds we've been hearing: begging cries. Since we have NOT been hearing any adult Great Horned owls nearby, I can only conclude these two youngsters (we always hear them in pairs) have just been booted out of the nest and are trying to figure out how to be adults.

Wednesday, August 2, 2017

The completion of our orchard

If you recall, we planted our baby orchard a year ago in May: Four each of apples and peaches, and two plum trees. We also planted two walnut trees in another location. These all supplement the two already-mature pears we have in the garden.

While growing fruit trees in giganto-tractor tires is completely experimental, so far we're delighted by the results. The young trees are strong, healthy, and bearing fruit.

We had left room in the orchard for additional trees or other perennials. After some discussion, we decided to plant hazelnuts. Why hazelnuts? Because these are only one of two types of nuts that grow in our region (the other being walnuts), and unlike walnuts, they bear much sooner (walnuts can take up to 15 years to yield).

So last fall, we ordered four hazelnut trees through our feed store: three Yamhill (resistant to eastern filbert blight) and one Sacajawea as a pollinator (two different varieties are needed for cross-pollination). They arrived in early April and we brought them home.

But we weren't ready to plant them yet. We needed to prep the tires and holes, so until that happened, we tucked the four pots of trees in the barn through the late spring. In late May when the weather improved, we carted them into the garden so they could get sunshine and be more easily watered.

But of course, the wind instantly knocked them over.

So I tucked them against a fence facing the prevailing wind direction, and tied them in place.

And there they waited, patiently, until such time as we could prep their permanent location.

In early July, we assembled the biggest tires we had, and Don cut off the top and bottom sidewalls.

Using one of the sidewalls as a marker, he marked out where to dig the holes to plant the trees.

Then, using the tractor auger, he augered three holes in each location, which then "joined" to make one large hole in the heavy clay dirt.

He then churned the clay-y dirt with sand to loosen it, and backfilled the holes.

In late July, he maneuvered the tires into place over the holes.

We pushed and pulled and got them as close into a tidy alignment as we could.

Don mixed up the filler for the tires: a combination of topsoil, compost, and sand. Then he filled each tire to the brim.

At last it was moving day for the trees. Because the temperatures have been so hot here, we've only been doing outdoor work in the very early morning, so we took things step by step over a few days. The first step was getting the trees over to the tires.

Within an hour, the wind had knocked the trees over, so I carted them immediately outside the fence, the logic being the prevailing wind direction would just push them into the fence and they wouldn't get knocked over.

This worked fine until this morning, when we went to actually plant the trees. Wouldn't you know it, today we have wind coming from a contrary direction.

In each tire, we dug a hole...

...then cut the cardboard-ish pot almost off the tree before settling it in the hole. (I know the pot is designed to be planted with the tree, but for us it's just as easy to cut it off.)

We repeated this with all four trees, and soon they were all planted.

Don put three screws in each tire and then anchored each tree with baling twine. (This is temporary -- we'll collar them with rubber for permanent anchors.)

Although they came as a tree, hazelnuts sprout constantly from the roots and quickly form shrubs. According to one source, "Growing hazelnuts as a shrub can make it easier to hand-harvest nuts as soon as they ripen, as they are ripe nearly a month before they drop." So -- we won't trim back the sprouts.

The last thing I did was paint the variety on the outside of each tire, so we know which is which.

As far as we can tell, this completes our orchard. There are no other trees we feel a particular interest in planting. We like the idea of growing as many perennials as possible on our homestead (less work!), and nuts are an excellent source of protein.

Tuesday, August 1, 2017

Navigating the old-fashioned way

I grew up using maps to navigate my way around. Back in those dark ages, of course, there was no other alternative (except to stop at a gas station and ask directions). As a result, people of my generation have the ability to carry a map in their head, so to speak. If they need to find an urban landmark, they find it on the map, take note of important cross-streets or other particulars, and -- using the visual in their brain -- drive to their destination.

That was then, this is now.

GPS has changed all that. Maps are becoming so scarce that when I needed to find a fresh map of Spokane to replace the one we had (it was literally falling to pieces), I had to go to several different stores (forget about gas stations!) to find one. In some places, employees just shrugged and explained there was no call for maps anymore, so they no longer carried them.

Which is why, when my husband spotted an article in the latest issue of Popular Mechanics (motto: "Your 'complimentary' subscription will never cease! Bwahahahaha!'), I thought he was joking: "The no-GPS road trip: An interstate journey into self-reliance."

It seems a brave pioneer decided to do something daring and adventurous: to take a trip with just -- just! -- a road map. No GPS, no Google, no electronic aids of any sort.

Why did he decide to do something so counter-intuitive, so anachronistic, so -- so primitive? Well, the author admitted the major downfall of GPS: There is "an atrophying sense of direction and inability get anywhere without a digital Sherpa."

The author embarked on a city-to-city trip, but mistakenly believed it was possible to navigate a densely urban area while using a state map. So he decided to stop and pick up a city map, and found the same issue I had: no one carries them any more.

More frustrations arose on his trip when it came to restaurants. His decision about where to stop for food had to be entirely based on whatever billboards, road signs, or other visual information he passed. But he did discover a happy side-benefit: Whenever he stopped to ask directions, people were happy -- delighted -- to be of assistance.

When he successfully concluded his trip, he felt proud of his accomplishment. "I reactivated the inner compass that once guided me," he noted in the article. "It wasn't infallible, not accurate to three meters, but it was useful, like knowing how to do division on the back of an envelope even though your phone has a calculator."

I don't have a smart phone, and I hope I never do. This article illustrates, in part, why. Smart phones do NOT make people smarter.

And young people may never develop the ability to visualize a map in their heads. Sad.