Solar Tracking

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

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.

Tuesday, August 8, 2017

Hey Jude

Road Trip questions…..what was the first song that was yours, not something your parents played?

               The summer I was eight, my parents parked the camper in my aunt’s driveway for a month while the truck had some repairs done. We were about to travel across the country and the suspension system was questionable. They slept in the camper; I preferred sleeping in the house with my cousins. The boys slept in one room; I had a cot with my cousin Sherry, four years younger, in the adjoining room. We were all sent to bed at the same time; the parents were clearly done with us by about eight o’clock. Sherry and Steven went to sleep quickly. Roland, the eldest by a year, did not. He loved baseball, so he took a small radio to bed with him to listen to the Red Sox games. Most nights, I slipped over to join him. We would listen to the game, to the sound of our parents talking, drinking beer, and playing cards in the kitchen, and chat. No one cared. We were quiet. Every night that summer, the radio played “Hey Jude” at the same time, a few minutes after the game was over.  We waited for the song to begin, sang along softly, and then I would head back to my cot and sleep.  We did not quite understand the longing in the lyrics, but it spoke to us. And, oddly enough, I never heard the song during the day, when the radio was dominated by “Honey, Honey” and “When the weather is hot, you can do what you please.” It was a night song.

                Four years later, back from the cross country adventure, we moved in with my cousins again. The house was bigger—my parents had a room inside—another child had been added to the mix, but the situation was the same. Kids formed a pack that ran around just beyond the gaze of adults. On Saturdays, we were all left alone in the house while every adult went to work. We argued over whose turn it was to change Kevin’s diapers (he was only house broken for my father), watched bad television, went ice skating until we froze, and listened to music. Roland had acquired the Beatles compilation albums for Christmas and we played them over and over. Once again, we sang along to “Hey Jude.”  It was not my favorite song—the ending refrain went on too long in my mind—but we were loud.

                Three years later, Roland convinced our mothers that we had to go to Boston to see Beatlemania, a group of musicians who performed the classic songs, in authentic costumes, with a slide show.  Going to a show in the Big City was not common at that point in time; I doubt that he would have succeeded if the women of the house had not wanted an evening out, perhaps at the new Hyatt hotel on the waterfront. Whatever argument he used, they agreed. We drove into Boston, bought scalped tickets, which felt unbelievably adult, and went in. Our mothers drove off with specific pick-up instructions. (I believe they were late getting back…) The show was transformative. I understood, watching the slides and listening to the music, the connections between popular culture, current events, and music—something I was only just beginning to consider. And it was sad, too, to watch the group disintegrate over time, which I only sensed then and learned the details of later. I was transfixed. And so was my cousin, who always tried to be a Bad Boy, to be hip and cool. In that context, “Hey Jude” took on a whole new meaning, the longing to do well, to reach for something more.

                This was the last time I spent any real thoughtful time with my cousin. We were on separate paths by then. I was the Good Girl, the smart one, who took Honors English and read piles of books on the side. He was a Bad Boy, skipping classes, smoking across from the bus stop, messing around with girls. He did not graduate. At the time, I don’t think the adults really understood the problems that could cause; they had all done pretty well without high school diplomas. They would not be so causal now.   We all wanted something better; we just did not know how to get there. “Hey Jude” was written as a guide, if we only listened.  I still don’t think “Hey Jude” is the best song they ever wrote—but it sends me back to my roots every time.

Saturday, July 15, 2017

An Open Letter to H.D. Thoreau


I am afraid that the world has become a much noisier place than when you were living on Walden Pond. We have not listened to your words. I visited your old stomping grounds yesterday. It was a cool muggy day, overcast and threatening rain.  I teach your work to my students. We plant beans in your memory.

I stopped at Emerson’s house first as you would as well, where they talked far more about the portraits on the walls than about Emerson’s ideas, which is a shame, because I don’t think anyone really reads the man any longer. No time.   As you know, one was of Sumner, the friend who was beaten on the Senate floor for his positions on slavery. “Beaten, like yelled at?” someone asked. “No,” the guide replied, “beaten like hit. I think with a bat.” It was a cane, but that’s a small detail.  APUSH students love the story—who doesn’t like the story of a good fight for what you believe?  APUSH is all about memorizing dates and facts for attest at the end of the year; Alcott would not approve.  There is no recess in APUSH, no experiential learning. They read, listen, take notes. In some ways, things have not changed much since you were in school, Henry.

After lunch, I went to your grave. There was Emerson’s huge rock, dominating the ridge as he dominated the transcendental scene. And Louisa May, tucked in with her family.  Yours was buried in flowers and blocked by three people arguing over the national political scene. It’s bad, Henry. No one was been caned on the Senate floor—yet—but it’s ugly. In some ways, I think you all would feel right at home reading the national news. But you would never argue over tactics in the cemetery! Between the discussion and the road repair that was happening down the hill, I fled.

There’s now a trail over to your cabin. I know you came in and out of town via the railroad, but walking on or near the tracks isn’t legal any longer—someone might be hit and sue the railroad. We have become even more litigious than we were in early New England! So they put in a trail that wanders through the local wetland and by a bean field. The bean rows were straight and free of weeds. Someone had gone in with a tractor to cultivate that field, rather than using a hand hoe. Why? Time spent cultivating beans, knowing beans, is time well spent in philosophical thought.  But there it is, a perfect bean field. Well, almost. It had been flooded by rain last week. Your personal field has been taken over by third growth and returned to the woodlot.

Dog walkers like your trail, Henry. And women with phones do, too. This is the strangest thing. People now walk down a trail talking to someone miles away—this woman was talking to someone on another continent!—rather than watching for the wintergreen blossoms by the side of the path. You may even see two friends together, both looking at their phones, not at each other. We are a distracted society. We need your simplicity more now than ever.

People love your cabin. There is a broad path to the door—or the eight posts that mark the location in the woods. They write comments in the guest book like “the perfect house” and then head for the gift shop.  A ranger was lecturing a bunch of pre-college kids about your relationship with Louis Agassiz when I was there. Loudly. They wanted to add rocks to the pile by your door. That pile has grown since E B White was there; it is no longer a small ugly pile, but a large ugly pile.

But then they all left and I was able, for the first time all day, to hear the forest around you. There are still mid-summer birds and insects, the rustle of the leaves in the trees, the sound of pencil on paper in your little clearing, Henry. The pond is still there—no loons today—with a path down to where you gathered your water. In the near distance, the train still calls as it leaves town, but I think it is going faster now. And it is, still, just far enough away to block the sounds of humanity rushing about their lives, but close enough to walk into town to talk with a friend, one on one and face to face.