Solar Tracking

Solar Tracking
How low can you go? Snow and ice and cancelled school.

Sunday, October 8, 2017


After a long, cold, record-setting wet winter and an August full of the smoke from forest fires all over the West, these golden Autumn days have been a real gift.  The nights are cool, the days are warm, and the grass is green again after a few soft, all day rains. All of the fall flowers are blooming in my yard, deep purple round faced asters bounce against the long yellow bands of goldenrod. The bees hover above the round bed and feast on the fallen, cracked open, ripe figs before packing the last hive box full for the winter.  I am also moving food inside—potatoes, figs, tomatoes, and winter squash—and changing our diet to reflect the new season. In the afternoon, the cats and I bask in the sun, lower in the sky, but thicker, richer light because of it. The Harvest moon shines over us all at night, lighting my hands as I clean out the herb beds after dinner, not quite ready to move inside for the season. 

Friday, September 29, 2017

Fall Figs

Crickets. Half moon light.
Ripe, soft figs-- harvest by feel.
Rain is coming soon.

Sunday, September 17, 2017

First Rain

            We knew that the seasonal shift was coming. Rain on Sunday. All across the state, people have been hoping for the change; the wildfire season has been bad this year. Fires. Smoke. Blocked roads. We need some dampness.

                On Friday, we dug the potatoes from both beds. I’ve been letting them dry down for several weeks so that they would store better, but it was time. We pulled 94 pounds in about an hour, then cleaned up the Three Sisters bed as well. I harvested a big vase of sunflowers that had volunteered on the potato plot. After dinner, I picked a basket of figs from the tree and set up the drier. The air was dry and clear, a perfect golden afternoon.

              Saturday was partly cloudy, a soft grey gold morning. Mark cleaned up the space under the stairs where we store our potatoes while I cleaned the kitchen, harvested a basket of tomatoes, and cooked them down to sauce. I watched the bees work the goldenrod and apple mint, bringing in flashes of deep orange and bright white pollen to the hive.   In the afternoon, we shifted fences and brought the coop onto the Three Sisters bed, where the chickens rustled joyously in the corn stalks until bedtime.  We brought the lamp in from the outside dining table before we went to sleep.

                This morning, the world had changed. The sky was soft grey with layers of clouds. We went hiking at the wildlife refuge and stopped half way around to pull on rain coats. The light in the woods was dim, filtered both by clouds and by leaves. Back at home, we hauled in the things we do not want to get wet—the hammock, some plants for my classroom that I had just repotted, the tablecloth and pillows—and settled into the dining room. Do you want a fire? Mark asked. Yes, I did. And here we sit, with fire, tea, cats, and books, watching the rain come down and hoping that it is moving inland, to the forest fires still burning in the Cascades. Maybe we will have baked potatoes for dinner.

Friday, September 8, 2017

Chicken Info

There are facts that no one tells you when you are thinking about raising chickens in the back yard. None are deal-breakers, but still, it would be nice to know.

1. Chickens are really dinosaurs.
2. Chickens are wily creatures who can walk fences if they want to lay an egg somewhere else.
3. Chickens eat small rodents alive.
4. Chickens lay small eggs for the first few weeks. They are cute-- but you feel wrong, somehow, eating them. Like you are eating a baby.
5. Chickens practice Labor Coaching, loudly.
6. If you have chickens and someone finds a loose chicken near-by, they will knock on your door at 7:45 AM to find out if it is yours.
7. You are the Big Chicken.

Also, blue jays will eat honey bees. How, I do not know.

Sunday, September 3, 2017

Canning Season

  It is canning season. The garden is full of tomatoes, fruit is ripe everywhere, and school is about to start. Because we were gone for six weeks of the summer, I am not preserving as much as I usually do. This winter will be the Eat Down Winter, when we finally clear out that jar of salsa from 2014 which has slipped to the back of the shelf every fall despite my best efforts. There are way too many half pint jars of jam downstairs  for any small homestead as well.  “Eat More Jam” is posted on the fridge as a reminder.  Still, there is canning to be done.

                Small batch canning works well for our household—there are two full time eaters and we focus on eating locally. My goal is about 95% local produce, which is not impossible or even unreasonable with a little planning. Right now, I am saving tomatoes for the winter. Thirty pounds from Sunbow were roasted and put up in half pint jars early this week, perfect for pizza, soup, and pasta this winter. I cooked down two soup pots full for sauce—10 pints. There are already dried tomatoes on the shelf and tomato chutney in a far corner. A pile of black tomatoes balances on the table, ready for lunch sandwiches.

                I can work this processing into my daily routine because of the steam canner I bought years ago from Territorial Seed. Rather than hauling out the big canning pot and rack, filling it with water, and waiting for it to heat-- which takes about an hour!—I can heat up  a batch of sauce, pour it into jars, and seal it in half an hour. The steam canner heats up in less than five minutes, uses about a pint of water to seal the jars (you pour a quart in, but most of it remains), and saves an immense amount of time and energy. I can prep a batch of apple butter, set it in the crockpot to cook down overnight, put it in jars in the morning, and have a box full of food ready for the basement shelf before I leave to prep for school in the morning.

                The jars are filling up, slowly and steadily. Every time I take a batch of something down stairs, I re-adjust the food already on the shelves to make room and spend a few moments admiring  my efforts. 

Monday, August 28, 2017

Late Fragment-- Beloved of the Earth

And did you get what
you wanted from this life, even so?
I did.
And what did you want?
To call myself beloved, to feel myself
beloved on the earth.

Raymond Carver wrote this poem as he was dying of cancer, looking back on his complex life. I read it to my classes on the last day of school each year, because that day is a little death in our lives, as the  classroom community falls away. I have painted it on boards to hang in the back garden, to remind us all of what is important. And, while I was traveling this summer, I was haunted by the words regularly. I am—we are all—beloved on the earth. But, on long drives, I changed one word and realized that we can also be beloved of the earth.

I am from New England. I have lived in Oregon for almost half of my life, but my first connections to place, to geography, to history, to reading the landscape were on the rocky coasts of New Hampshire, Maine, and Massachusetts. I learned the wildflowers, the ridgeline trails, the hidden paths of children through second growth forests. Later, in college, I learned about the architecture, how the landscape influenced development, and the history of the place. I walked for hundreds of miles on roads and trails and beaches. It was—still is—home.

I moved to Oregon looking for something new. For years, the place required me to rethink assumptions about the land, the people, and how we interact with it. I walked on the trails, but the wilderness was reluctant to let me enter. Perhaps it doubted my commitment; perhaps I had not moved far enough in, away from roads and traffic.   Over time—ten, fifteen years—I learned a second landscape. I planted gardens that grew as well as my previous New England jungles once I acquired  the local tricks of water and mulch. I identified wildflowers and  where to look for each in the springtime. I adjusted to the rhythm of the weather, the long grey winters, the golden late summers. I sat by mountain lakes in silence, leaning on my backpack, considering the universe.  One day, the landscape let me in. It happened so slowly that I do not remember the moment, only an awareness that I was on the other side.

And so, this summer, I realized that I am beloved of the Earth, as well. I am blessed with the ability to be at home, in a deep and thoughtful way, in two landscapes, not just one. This is a gift. I have one foot in the rocky waters of New England, the other on the lava trails of the Pacific Northwest, the Willamette Valley. Home.


Tuesday, August 15, 2017

Planning for Vacations

                Knowing that we were going to be gone for six weeks this summer—from the last day of school in late June until early August—I had to make some changes in the planting plan for the year. Basically, nothing that needed to be eaten or  processed could come ripe while we were away.

                Some things were just not planted this year. We have no summer lettuce or broccoli, no green beans, no runner beans. Beans need to be trained up twine for the entire month of July in order to produce anything, so they were out. Lettuce comes on and goes too quickly and then needs to be replanted.  Broccoli will get aphids if ignored.  We are missing these basic veggies in our meals, but I can still find them at the market or the farm, so we will survive. We will still have pasta with green beans, walnuts, and crème fresh for dinner.

                To fill in the space, I planted extras of other crops. We have more dried bushy beans in the beds, two beds rather than one. We have quite a few cabbages, both late and early. The early we ate before we left and a few held until we returned. I put in more winter squash, although I still planted two types of zucchini, one early and one that climbs, comes on late, and produces until November (which is, really a bit longer than you want it.) I planted a climbing cucumber, knowing that it would not really produce enough for pickles until August. I was right; there is a bowl soaking in brine right now.

                We arrived home right in time for canning season. The blackberries are ripe. The apples are ripe. The peaches are ripe. The blueberries are ripe. The gooseberries were waiting.  The eating plums were still clinging to the tree for a few days after we pulled in. Tomatoes will be ripe in a few weeks. The figs will wait until everything else is processed and will, hopefully, beat the fall rains.  The potatoes will need to be pulled soon, as will the beans and corn.  I am glad we did not stay way longer.

                Overall, we are missing some of the basic summer produce, but there are always cabbages and the six week trip was worth it.  Next year will be a garden-focused year.