Solar Production 2016 and 2018

Solar Production 2016 and 2018

Sunday, December 30, 2012

New Paths

            Mud Season starts in November and lasts through April in our yard. For the first few years, it wasn't too bad, but the growth of a few trees and the steady pat of feet and movement of bikes  through a narrow alley has totally obliterated the grass near the “Delta” entering the back yard. I put down stepping stones a few years ago, but they barely held the mud at bay this  very rainy November. When the cats  tracked mud all the way onto our clean pillows, I was done. I pulled up the stones and relocated them to the pathway through the arch, ordered two yards of “hog fuel”—basically shredded cedar bark—and spread it out. It’s pretty lovely—rich brown, spongy underfoot, and organically scented.   Eventually we’ll need to run it all the way down the yard to the compost piles and back gate—but, right now, our feet are clean.

Winter Minestrone:

Chop an onion, saute in olive oil

2 large carrots
2 parsnips
1 fennel bulb

1 chopped sweet potato
1-2 cups of cooked beans (dark., beany ones are best)
1 jar of roasted tomatoes-- or a can

Salt, pepper, fennel seed, a bit of crushed red pepper, some red wine, and a parm. cheese end if you have one handy

Cook for about half an hour-- do not overcook or the sweet potato will fall apart!

Eat with new bread for supper.

Wednesday, December 26, 2012


.5 lb of cream cheese
.5 c. of butter, room temp
1 egg
cream butter and cream cheese together, then add egg

Mix dry ingredients together, then add:

2.5 c of flour
2t BP
.75 c of sugar
.5 t salt
.5 t mace
.5 t cinnamon

Add chunky stuff later!

.75 c of ground almonds
.5 c  raisins or currants
.5 c craisins
grated rind of one orange.

Divide dough in half. Roll out in a rough circles about half an inch thick, fold in half, and bake-- 350 oven, about 20 minutes.. I like a rougher circle, because I like the textured edge for nibbling without it being really noticeable!

Make a thin frosting with confectioner's sugar and milk-- maybe vanilla or orange juice-- and drizzle over the top.

Freeze leftovers for a Feb. treat....

Saturday, December 15, 2012

Lucia Day

Lucia Buns
It's quite grim out there today-- high of 40 degrees and rain blowing against the house. But we went out for the Annual Lucia Day walk at 8 AM this morning; we are Hardy Folk. And, as always, once out, it is lovely. Grey morning, damp air, cocoa and buns in the shelter of an old barn, then the walk up the hill, white tailed dog leading the way....

Happy dog.
Up the hill...
It's snowing at the top!

Garden settled in for the winter


Lucia Buns:


2T yeast, dissolved in 1.5 cups of warm water, with a teaspoon of sugar
Stir in 
1c. ww flour
1c wt flour

Let sit for 45 minutes

Mix in
2c for pureed squash
.25 cup of oil
3T molasses
2 c of wt flour
2c of ww flour
2t salt
1t cinnamon
.5 t cloves

Turn out to knead, adding flour as needed for a soft and happy dough.
Let rise for 1-2 hours, then shape rolls. Place raisins for eyes...

Rise again.

Bake in 350 oven about 35 minutes. Brush with milk while still hot for a soft crust.

Sunday, December 9, 2012

Shabbat and Global Warming

Democracy Now has been covering climate change talks all week, live from Qatar. The news has not been good; despite some impassioned pleas for action for the Philippines and the College of the Atlantic, not much happened. I listened before work in the dark early morning and then walked to school, passing huge vehicles—it is a universal opinion in Corvallis the OSU students drive the biggest trucks in the country-- on the way. I was a little freaked out when I hit campus and ran into Julie, our PE and Sustainability teacher. She is always optimistic; if people are given the information, she believes, they will make the right choice. “We need to talk with the staff,” she decided. “What would we—could we—say?” I thought, “that would get them out of their cars on a damp November morning?” I had no answer.

This weekend, my friend Maureen mentioned a similar conversation with her rabbi, who wanted the congregation to take some steps towards climate change. He is an earnest and thoughtful man—but he still flies East several times a year to visit family. She had no answers, either.

So, this is what I’ve come up with, right now. I think we need to reclaim the Sabbath, Shabbat, the Day Off….whatever your faith calls it. On that day, we do no work. We do not drive. We do not shop. We even—gasp—turn off our electronic devises. Instead, we turn inward, however that looks for you. It may mean sleeping late, or staring out the window. Meditate Do yoga for an hour. Walk around the neighborhood and meet your neighbor’s new Senior rescue beagle—the one in our neighborhood is pretty sweet. Talk with your family and have friends over for dinner. Bake bread and maybe some sticky buns. Read. Write. Hang out in the library. Draw. Play football in the field. Do whatever you need to to reconnect with what is really important in your life, rather than driving yourself crazy in the world. It will take some organization and commitment—it won’t be an easy transition to a day of rest. If you are not driving and not shopping, you might run out of milk for lunch.

I think this may be the beginning of the answer. It disconnects us, at least for one day a week, from consumption, which is directly related to greenhouse gasses. It brings us back to ourselves, our families, our immediate neighborhoods. And I know, after several years of neighborhood activism, that people make changes when the problem, whatever it is, hits home. We need to come home, at least once a week.

Winter Lasagna-- a good dinner if you're home all day

Note-- you do not have to precook the noodles. Nor do you precook or peal the squash.

 There are several steps to the process.

Step one:

1 delicate squash, chopped
1 bunch of kale or chard, chopped

Step two:
Mix together:
1/2 lb of mozzarella, shredded
1 cup of ricotta
pepper, maybe a little nutmeg

Step three:
saute an onion and some garlic
add two large cans of choppedtomatoes
basil and parsley

Step four-- assemble, in a large baking pan:

two scoops of sauce
one layer of noodles-- I like the whole wheat ones
half of the cheese, spread out
the squash and chard
half of sauce that is left
another  layer of noodles
the rest of the cheese
the rest of the sauce

Bake in the oven about an hour and a half, 350 degrees
Let set of a few minutes before cutting

Sunday, December 2, 2012

Consider the Harvest

It’s Short Winter—the pause between Harvest and Yule— and time to evaluate the growing season. (Long Winter comes after New Year’s, when it feels like the clouds will never lift again). It has been raining steadily for days; there is thirteen inches of rainwater in the barrel I left by the leaf pile in the driveway several weeks ago. The clouds have moved in again for another bout this evening.

We have food stashed away all over the house—40 pounds of various squashes, 60 pounds of onions, several varieties of apples, some beeswax, ten fruitcakes, and a couple of cabbage are tucked into the larder. There are about one hundred pounds of potatoes in milkcrates under the cellar stairs. In the cellar, on the shelves, are rows of canned and dried fruits—peaches, plums, apples, cherries, blueberries, figs, all picked within a bike ride of the house—as well as roast tomatoes in convenient half pint jars, jars of grape and cherry juice, pickles, and honey. The other side of the shelf holds dried beans, oatmeal, and whaet purchased from local farmers, and bulk goods, like tea, tuna fish, and Annie’s Mac and Cheese, that we order from the co-op. Even though our garden is buried under leaves and the CSA has ended, it is easy to eat locally right now. We just walk downstairs. It was a good year in the valley.

Here, it was a really good year for potatoes. Moving the extra beds into our backyard and bringing the potato beds home made a huge difference in production. I was able to monitor and water just enough to produce our largest crop ever. Some people may be able to pull off an allotment garden by visiting twice a week, but I can’t. We had a bumper apple crop as well. I dried several quart sized bags for Christmas presents and made extra applesauce. Next year, I’m going to juice them and can the surplus. Jean next door had an exceptional cherry year and we both benefited. We also had good luck, although some weird moments, with the bees. In the valley, it was a good year for squashes and carrots.

We had a few problems, as always. Stringy green beans have been an issue for two years now, but this year, the green beans just did not grow. They sprouted, came up about six inches, and stopped. Weird. Wax beans, in the same bed, were fine. It was also not a good squash year; I planted them in the furthest bed, which has always been a problem area. The same plants that took over the year before just sat there.  I moved the blueberry bushes out of that bed and into barrels, which wandered all over the backyard, looking for a final home.

I learned a few things. First, there should be more than one spring bed. One for leafy plants that we chow down on and empty by mid-July, like mustard, broccoli, radishes, and peas.  Another needs to hold the early in, but long lasting crops, like celery and cabbage. I still have celery plants in the spring bed, which I trimmed last week for soup. There’s still a small cabbage or two out there as well, fenced off from the chickens. With three more beds, the contents have to be managed tightly so that all are chicken tractors before planting time. I need to study the furthest bed, to see why it does not do well. And, I have to manage the beehives so that we do not have the very weird stack of boxes that is balanced in the back yard right now.

All in all, it was a good year. Not great, but good. Now is the time to eat from the root cellars, read books, and visit with friends. Next year begins on New Year’s Day, when I break out the seed catalogs.

Winter Squash Bread

1.5 T of yeast, proofed in--
3 cups of water, warm
1.5 T salt

1 cup of cooked, mashed squash
.5 t cloves or cinnamon
6.5 cuips of flour—half whole wheat, half white

Mix, cover, let rise on the counter for two hours. Place in the fridge overnight to cool and firm up a bit. The next morning, divide in half, form into balls, and bake on a baking stone until done—about 40 minutes. 450 degree oven

You can bake both loaves at once, save half of the dough for a few days, or form some into Lucia Buns or Thanksgiving rolls.

Saturday, November 24, 2012

Giving Thanks

It’s the Thanksgiving Tradition—What are you thankful for this year? We circle the table—people are thankful for friends, family, health, a decent job they love….and I—I  am thankful for my neighbors. I am thankful for my neighbors, who show up at council and committee meetings, speaking truth to power, striving to save our commons for our joint future. They step up, state their names and addresses, and speak. Sometimes their voices shake, until they warm to the subject, but they speak.

 I am thankful for Lori, who used powerful visual images to convey the absolute massiveness of a new development, forcing the city council to reconsider its approval and the developers back to the drawing board for the third time. The sticking point?—solar access for a small house across the street. Common goods.

I am thankful for Tom, who raises issues constantly in front of city officials, who was on the front page gesturing towards a parking lot one evening, saying “They want more variances than there are cars in that lot!” He is always there, hanging fliers, talking, listening, writing letters.  What about the rest of us, who live here? What can I do to help? Common goods.

I am thankful for Stewart, who goes to every meeting, shares his huge body of knowledge with the rest of us, and shakes his head vehemently when he does not agree with the speaker. He has taken new activists under his wing, pushing us forward, explaining the intricacies of the city budget. Common goods.

I am thankful for Harry, who raises my food organically, shares his knowledge of farming and writing with everyone, and organizes ballot measures to prevent GMO crops from being raised here in the valley, where they will contaminate not only organic food, but also organic seeds. Common goods.

I am thankful for the long lines of people who show up to fuss at meetings, protesting when a few developers make huge profits by destroying our neighborhoods. And those same people show up on a sunny June morning to photograph every building in the historic neighborhoods around the university, so we know what we are about to lose. Our history, our culture, our unique town. Common Goods.

And I am thankful that I know these people—and all of the others--, who bring their own voices and skills to bear on huge issues, who continue to speak and fight, who teach me, every day, how to become a better activist and citizen. 


Monday, November 19, 2012

Pie Social

            The Pie Social began with the belief that, here in the Pacific Northwest in November, people will gather to drink hot coffee, eat pies, and talk—for hours. It’s been proven true for three years now. The Pie Social happens somewhere around Thanksgiving and is a chance for us to kick off the indoor potluck season with all of our local friends.  It’s easy, too. Bake a couple of pies and find the coffee maker, make sure there is nothing major growing in the bathroom. No huge meals or house cleaning. No pretending to be in a decorating magazine. Everyone invited has been here before, usually when we were in the middle of a project.
            The afternoon was, as always, blustery. Rain gusts came and went, sounding on the metal roof vents. Clouds were low over the hills. The air was brisk— bracing on a quick walk. The house smelled of pie. Cats napped on the window bench. People converged on the dining room, clutching pies, sweeping in with leaves picked up from the pile in the driveway. Soon, everyone had a hot beverage and the conversation began, echoing off of the high ceiling. Peach pie. Two pecan pies, one traditional, one with chocolate. Pumpkin pie. Rice pudding. Cranberry tart. Everyone had a slice of each—some lager, some smaller. Kayli Kitty came out, looking for a lap.
            Outside, the world grew darker and windier. Evening falls quickly in November. Chickens roost at four-thirty some afternoons and this was one of them. The dining room becomes a small stage in the evening, lit from within, the French doors framing the scene. Today, it was a gathering of people, engaged in the ancient art of conversation around a table, littered with the crumbs of pie.

Chocloate Pecan pie filling:

4 eggs
2 oz of unsweetened chocolate, melted
½ cup dark corn syrup
1/3 cup of brown sugar
½ t salt
1 t vanilla
2 ½ cups of pecans

Mix all together. Pour into pie shell and bake at 350 degrees until set and a little puffy on the edges.

Wednesday, November 14, 2012

Fall Leaves

Early November is leaf gathering time. Because we are the only gardeners on our street, we gather all of the leaves on the block—maple, locust, oak, and poplar—in a rolling recycling bin, and then haul them into the back yard. One nicely packed bin covers a 10 by 4 foot bed perfectly. I try to work early on Sunday morning, weather permitting (it is no fun to pick up armfuls of leaves in the rain), but, sometimes, I need to be out later in the day. I lock Lucy the Grey Cat into the bedroom so she does not roll in the street and head out, oblivious to the stares of passing motorists. Rake and pile, rake and pile, rake and pile. The garden beds fill up, back to front. An occasional kale or collard plant pokes out from the cover; the leeks are snugged in all around. I try and harvest the carrots before I cover them because slugs munch the green tops and the root is lost. Once the vegetable beds are filled, I clear out the flower beds, cutting down the fennel and asters, and cover them as well, first with fig leaves, then with red maple.

This year, our neighbor hired a young man to clear out the leaves on the apartment complex across the street. He dropped them all into our driveway while I was at work—it was no more effort, he said, and it saved a trip to the landfill. I came home one brisk grey afternoon to a mound of brown and gold leaves; when I moved them into the backyard on Saturday, they were already starting to steam and break down. A lovely, wine-y, earthy, leafy smell came from the pile. By late afternoon, the garden was put to bed for the winter. For a few months, nothing will happen in the back yard but a bit of chicken prowl, a few bees searching for hazelnut pollen, and tree pruning. It’s good; we all need a break.

German Apple Pancake: This feeds two of us...

First, place a pat of butter into a large cast iron pan and place in a preheated oven-- 375 degrees-- until the butter is melted.


3 eggs
3/4 cup of milk
3/4 cup of flour
1/2 teaspoon of salt

Beat until smooth, pour in the pan, and place in oven. Cook until it puffs, about ten minutes.

Meanwhile, sautee 2-3 sliced apples in another pat of butter and several tablespoons of brown sugar. Cinnamon is nice.

Put the pancake on the plates, pour the apples over, and eat!

Tuesday, November 13, 2012


If I were going to present at the Mother Earth News Fair next year-- a very cool event, I might add-- what should the topic be? What do you all want to learn? I'd have about an hour...

Sunday, November 4, 2012

Planting Garlic-- Project Creep

  1. Survey the bed. The corner posts on one side are seriously rotten.
  2. Go inside for a cup of tea.
  3. Shovel out dirt from long side of the bed.
  4. Find the piece of 4 by 4 post left over from the last project.
  5. Find the saw.
  6. Cut the post piece in half.
  7. Find the hammer and long nails.
  8. Place the post—of course, it doesn't quite fit.
  9. Dig some more.
  10. Untangle hair from blackberry bramble for the third time.
  11. Trim the blackberry bramble and put it in the compost.
  12. Dig out the bed a bit more.
  13. Pound on the boards.
  14. Remove rusted nails.
  15. Place posts and hammer into place.
  16. Pick up potatoes unearthed in digging process.
  17. Chase the cat.
  18. Refill the trenches and rake the bed smooth.
  19. It’s starting to rain—again. Find all tools and put them away.
  20. Walk to the Farmer’s Market for garlic to plant.
  21. Plant garlic—60 cloves.
  22. Sow ceremonial wheat in the second third of the bed.
  23. Layer bed with straw and leaves.
  24. Place chicken wire over the entire bed to discourage cat and chicken action.
  25. Chase chickens off the bed.

Monday, October 29, 2012

Halloween Rituals-- moving towards the long, dark time

1. Storm Windows are up.

2. Tomato plants are pulled and in the slow compost circle.

3. Pumpkins are carved, the seeds roasted.

4. My shoes are sitting by the fire, waterproofed.

5. Another blanket is on the bed.

6. The pantry is full and tidy—canned food, wheat, onions, oatmeal, beans…

7. The food dehydrator has been washed and put away.

8. We skate around the house in slippers.

9. No more tomato and basil dinners; we are moving towards baked beans, muffins, squash.

10. Leaves are going on the garden beds.

11. There is a candle on the kitchen table for dinner.

12. Green grass, grey skies.

13. Damp raincoats and wooly hats.

14. Laundry barrel is drained and shoved under the counter.

15. The horizon is gone to clouds.

New England Baked Beans

I use my round, brown bean pot, but you can use a crockpot or a casserole dish.

3-4 cups of white beans, cooked, with some of the bean water
Onion, coarsely chopped
1-2 T of dried mustard
3-4 T of brown sugar
1T of salt
2-3 T of molassess.

Mix thoroughly, smell for balance of sweet and sharp, and pour into the bean pot. Bake in a 350 degree oven for two hours, until it is all lovely and brown and bubbly. Eat with new bread and some steamed veg.

Sunday, October 21, 2012

Homesteading, defined

` I call our home an Urban Homestead to evoke the days when people traveled west, settled on a piece of land, and went to work to improve it, turning it into farmland. Was this always the best decision for the land? Probably not. Did they all remain on the land?—not at all. They moved to town, diversified their skills, became a community. So, Homesteading is not about self-sufficiency; it never really has been. It is about site repair, rooting in place, developing community. I like to think of our homestead as the center of a series on concentric rings, the permaculture concept of zones, where things most often used are the center, things less often needed further out.

Right here, at the center, is our home. Recipe box, fireplace, purring cats, reading nook, stove, each other—the things we use all day, every day. Around us are the herbs and greens for dinner, potatoes and onions, canned and dried fruit for breakfast, tools, bicycles, chickens, bees, and rabbit—daily interactions that may, in the middle of winter, require boots to reach. It is a densely planted, intensely worked1/10 of an acre, but that is not large enough for us to become self-sufficient, even if we wanted to. We cannot grow the wheat and beans, corn and barley, sunflower seeds and milk that we need for our daily calories—never mind the occasional orange, hunk of parmesan cheese, chocolate, and tea.

When we move out, we become part of the greater community. We just came back from the Fill Your Pantry event, where we bought wheat berries and oatmeal, four types of dried beans, flax seed and sweet onions to store in the basement. Combined with vegetables from our back yard, the CSA box, Sunbow farm, and the winter farmer’s market, Tillamook cheese, and milk from Monroe, they will form the backbone of our winter diet. We need to move outward for many other things as well. Someone else fixes my bike and our lawnmower; I buy my clothes from downtown stores; we eat dinner at local restaurants more often than we should, some weeks. My cat is known up and down the street for accosting people for patting. Others come in, as well. Homesteading is about having a tall orchard ladder that a friend borrows for apple picking and returns with a gallon of just pressed cider. It is the sound of someone else picking our figs into a large paper bag.

We reach out to others for community support; knowing that Sandy down the street is going to call in the party at the townhouses on Thursday night gives me a feeling of safety and connection. When we go to a lecture or concert, Mark scans the crowd and reports on the people he knows. I am always running into someone’s mother—although they don’t always admit it right away. As winter comes on, this ring pulls in closer through potlucks and craft nights, rituals and long winter walks in the damp woods.

Homesteading is also about protecting your place, not just by farming carefully, but also against outside forces. We do this when we testify to City Council and work on committees, listen to others outside of our own neighborhoods to gain perspective, form groups to defend our town from outside development. You can’t close the door on a small homestead; what happens around you hits too close to home (literally, sometimes).

We are also deeply rooted in this place, this greater bio-region known as the Pacific Northwest. Over the years, it has become home for us—Mark comes from Tennessee, I am from New Hampshire. We have learned the wildflowers; we know where to find

Fawn Lilies in the spring and plump blackberries in September. We hike in the mountains and along the coast. We understand the patterns of the weather. This is all part of homesteading—the Cascades are part of our outermost circle, even though Mary’s Peak, our local mountain, tells me when to plant my beans every spring (not before the snow has melted!).

So, we are homesteading. We have planted ourselves, literally and metaphorically, in this place that we have, in Adrienne Rich’s words “come to love.” And I think that is the real nature of homesteading— loving your place.

XVII (from ”Twenty-One Love Poems”)

No one’s fated or doomed to love anyone.

The accidents happen, we’re not heroines,

they happen in our lives like car crashes,

books that change us, neighborhoods

we move into and come to love.

Tristan und Isolde is scarcely the story,

women at least should know the difference

between love and death. No poison cup,

no penance. Merely a notion that the tape-recorder

should have caught some ghost of us: that tape-recorder

not merely played but should have listened to us,

and could instruct those after us:

this we were, this is how we tried to love,

and these are the forces they had ranged against us,

and these are the forces we had ranged within us,

within us and against us, against us and within us.

Saturday, October 13, 2012

Fall rains

The rains have begun. They started yesterday, while I was at Breitenbush, an old hot springs “resort” in the Cascades. The clouds moved in during the morning; the light faded and shifted into the leaves of the vine maples and poplar trees, which glow under cloudy skies. Slowly, the patches of blue sky against dark green mountains disappeared. Then, one, two, ten raindrops, and the rains began.

After one hundred days of dry weather, we are ready. The ground is hard. The plants are dusty. The grass is dormant. It’s been a good fall. Tomatoes and figs have ripened, there are fields of pumpkins waiting to Halloween, we’ve had several long hikes more than we expected. It’s even been warm enough to shower outside well into September. The cats and I have basked in the late season, late afternoon sunshine on the front doorstep, classroom sets of papers abandoned to the sunshine. We can’t complain. We need the rain.

When I came home last night, Mark and the cats were sitting in the cool damp twilight. They were glad to see me. We started the first fire of the season, closed all of the windows, cooked a few s’mores after dinner. When we went to bed, Kayli was sleeping on the back of the chair, nose tucked under paw. The rains are here.

Homestead Flan-- we started making this when we first had chickens and more eggs than we could eat for dinner.

2 eggs from the back yard
pinch of salt
1.5 cups of milk
6 tablespoons of honey from the backyard

Mix together.

Put a tablespoon of homemade jam on the bottom of four small glass ramikins and put the ramikins in a glass pan, surronded by water to thier waists. Pour the gg mixture in and move gently and slowly into a 350 degree oven. Cook until set, about 35 minutes.

Sunday, October 7, 2012

I’ve been considering two principles of permaculture this week: Distribute the surplus and The Problem is the Solution. The first is easy—the second, not so much so.

Distribute The Surplus happens, formally, twice a year. In the spring, we send off the extra tomato starts into the world. I’ll start eight to twelve seeds for each variety, which means, in a good year, we have about 80 extra plants. They leave home in April. People now wait for the announcement. In fact, Nancy starts asking several weeks in advance. The other event happens in the fall, when the fig tree comes ripe. The branches bend down almost to the ground, heavy with fruit, in late September. It ripens over the course of several weeks, coming to a halt only when the fall rains turn figs into fig bombs. It has been dry a long while this year, so we have an extended harvest. I’ve made fig jam and dried about five quarts, so I am about to pound the sign into the ground. “Yes,” it reads, “You can pick the figs. But be respectful of the garden plants.” Strangers and friends will be harvesting our fruit all week long. Distribute the surplus. It is good karma.

The problem is the solution has puzzled me for a long time. It sounds good—a change in perspective, in thinking, can resolve the problem. But how does that play out? This Saturday, I think I figured it out. It was a home football game and the Beavers have been winning, which means more “Go Beaving” in our neighborhood. We are not fans of the Beaver Bellow so we left town. We climbed up to the top of Rooster Rock, with a lovely view of the Cascades as far as The Sisters in the smoke hazy distance. We spent the afternoon reading and writing on the mountain top, listening to the wind in the firs and the quiet buzz of a few flies. It was lovely. It solved two problems for us as well—we never leave town in Fall because we are too busy and we don’t like the Beaver Bellow. The problem is the solution. Two problems solved. We came home to a potluck supper with friends.

Applesauce Cake from the mid-seventies (can also be made with figs)

2.5 cups of flour (half whole wheat is nice)
1.5 cups sugar
1.5 t baking soda
.25 t baking powder
.75 t cinnamon
.5 t cloves and allspice

1.5 cups of applesauce (or squashed figs)
.5 cup of oil
2 eggs
handful of raisins and walnuts

Mix dry ingredients together. Mix wet together, add wet to dry. Pour into tube pan or a 13 by 9 inch pan.

350 oven until done

Tuesday, October 2, 2012


My Father and the Figtree

By Naomi Shihab Nye

For other fruits, my father was indifferent.

He’d point at the cherry trees and say,

“See those? I wish they were figs.”

In the evening he sat by my beds

weaving folktales like vivid little scarves.

They always involved a figtree.

Even when it didn’t fit, he’d stick it in.

Once Joha was walking down the road

and he saw a fig tree.

Or, he tied his camel to a fig tree and went to sleep.

Or, later when they caught and arrested him,

his pockets were full of figs.

At age six I ate a dried fig and shrugged.

“That’s not what I’m talking about! he said,

“I’m talking about a fig straight from the earth—

gift of Allah!—on a branch so heavy

it touches the ground.

I’m talking about picking the largest, fattest, sweetest fig

in the world and putting it in my mouth.”

(Here he’d stop and close his eyes.)

Years passed, we lived in many houses,

none had figtrees.

We had lima beans, zucchini, parsley, beets.

“Plant one!” my mother said.

but my father never did.

He tended garden half-heartedly, forgot to water,

let the okra get too big.

“What a dreamer he is. Look how many

things he starts and doesn’t finish.”

The last time he moved, I got a phone call,

My father, in Arabic, chanting a song

I’d never heard. “What’s that?”

He took me out back to the new yard.

There, in the middle of Dallas, Texas,

a tree with the largest, fattest,

sweetest fig in the world.

“It’s a fig tree song!” he said,

plucking his fruits like ripe tokens,

emblems, assurance

of a world that was always his own.

Fig Jam   1/3 cup red wine vingear 1T red wine 1/4 cup honey 1/3 cup raisins 2t ginger, fresh or candied   Simmer until syrupy   Add 2 cups chopped fresh figs 1/2 t mustard seeds 3 cloves 1t Balsamic vingear   cook until soft.   Can-- 10 minutes in steam canner or boiling water bath   Eat with cheese on bread all winter  

Monday, September 24, 2012


It is the weekend of the Fall Equinox, a time to gather in the harvest, count up the blessings, ask forgiveness for the sins of the year, and prepare for the winter. Get your life into balance before the long slide into the Dark Times of Winter. It’s been a lovely fall here in the Northwest this year—warm and sunny, dry and clear for days on end. I believe we should shift our school calendar to reflect this season—stay in school during the rainy month of June and be free in September. But school has begun, both high school and college, and the struggle for balance continues.

Last Thursday night, I witnessed a rather frighteningly out of control party. At ten past ten, I heard some voices and decided to walk around the block and find out where the sound was coming from. I waked past the house o the corner and there were about 20 people there, loud, but approachable. “Okay,” I thought, “I’ll come back to them when I finish my lap.” By the time I walked around the three blocks that consist of our party watch lap, at 10:30, there were cars parked in the streets, people screaming at each other, hordes of large aggressive males walking towards the house, taking up the entire sidewalk, and about 150 people in the yard, with more coming. They were all consulting their cell phones. I called the cops. They arrived quickly.

We spent the rest of the weekend in Eastern Oregon, camping on the Metolious, a beautiful cool clear fly fishing river lined with campgrounds and summer houses. Our favorite campground is near Camp Sherman. It is not trampled by too much love AND there is a great little store within easy walking distance. Mark visits it at least twice; he loves the sandwiches and iced tea and they have ice cream sandwiches as well. It is dark and quiet; for some reason, few people camp after Labor Day. We napped and read, went hiking into Marion Lake on Saturday, and had a fire in the evening. A raccoon stole our apples off of the table, but that was all the night life we had to deal with. We came home on Sunday afternoon, still spacey from the hours of peace and quiet. I started a batch of Challah in honor of Rosh Hashanah and Mark did the laundry. On Sunday night, we will watch the Harvest Moon rise from Chip Ross Park. Peaceful rituals carry us a long way in autumn.

Round Challah for a sweet year

I use the “Fresh Bread in Five Minutes a Day” system from Mother Earth News

1.5 T of yeast, dissolved in 3 cups of warm water
1.5 T salt
.25 cups of honey
1 or 2 fresh eggs from the back yard
3 T of melted butter
6.5 cups of white flour

Stir it all together, cover with a plastic bag, and let rise on the counter for two hours. It will be a wet dough.
Toss in the fridge overnight.
The next day, take out half of the dough and form it into a ball. You will need flour on your hands. Let it relax on a bed of cornmeal for about 20 minutes while you preheat the oven to 450 degrees.
Slide into the oven, onto a baking stone and bake for about 40 minutes, until it thumps hollow, not damp. It will brown because of the honey.


Monday, September 17, 2012

Potato Harvest

This was my first post. As we just pulled 119 pounds of potatoes out of two 4 by 10 foot beds (a new record!), I thought I'd repost it. You really don't want to read my other piece for the week, which is how to call in a noise complaint. :)

            It’s been warm and sunny, but the light has shifted to golden and the potatoes are ready to be dug.  After lunch, I gather the wheelbarrow, six paper  bags, a water bottle, and a few hand tools and headed down the street to the second  garden.  Three raised beds are covered with dried, crunchy old potato vines. I push them aside, plunge my hands in, and haul out a huge red potato, followed by three or four small ones, pop them  into the bag, and move onto the next plant.
            Digging potatoes is like a treasure hunt. You know there is something down there—somewhere—but not exactly where or how much. There are always surprises—a huge potato that could feed a family of four, a migrant clump of red potatoes in the blue potato line, one that has dug itself deep down into the bed, below all of the others.  You never know. Slowly, the bags fill up and the scope of the harvest is clear. This was a pretty good one. The red potatoes did really well, but the rose fingerlings, usually a strong producer of complex, lumpy, knotty tubers, were sleek and thin this year. Why? Was it planting time? Water? The new beds? Or are the tubers starting to peter out, succumbing to disease?  I wonder as I dig, thinking about next year.
                Why do I plant potatoes every year? They’re cheap to buy, even the organic varieties at the market, and ubiquitous.  There are lumpy, dirty, and decidedly uninteresting as a plant. And, according to old diet theories, you shouldn’t eat too many—starch is bad for you.  But, for the last five years, I’ve planted five or six varieties of potatoes, first at the community garden and now here, in the second garden behind our rental. There are many reasons.
First, they are an excellent community garden crop. They don’t need hours of care, once planted, and no one knows what they are, so no one messes with them. Avery Garden has a harvest problem, but no one ever harvested my potatoes, buried under straw and dirt, hidden by dead vines.  You can go in at the end of the season and haul them all out in a morning.  The first year, the haul was much larger than I expected and my bike could hardly handle it. I barely made it across Western without spilling the harvest all across the highway. After that, I brought the trailer and Mark.
Then, there is the genetic component. I feel very close to my Irish roots when I dig the potatoes.  This is not something I had to study to learn, like I had to work at how to change the oil in my old VW Rabbit. It feels natural, like sliding bread out of the oven using a peel. I have done this before. Dug trenches, cut the saved tubers, buried them in the ground, weeded and watered, and pulled them out to the root cellar, to be eaten all winter.  I love eating  my own potatoes.
And that may be the crucial reason for this work. In a world that is rapidly sliding towards chaos—we are not going to be able to keep importing our food from around the world much longer—I am working towards a more direct food supply. I’m not participating in a Think Tank on Peak Oil. I am not fussing about carbon offsets to balance out my supply of tropical fruit through the winter. I am not depending upon others to feed me. In the small way, I am independent. We are, at my house, Potato Independent.  We will eat the potatoes that we raise and then, when they are gone, we will not eat potatoes until they come again.
So it’s warm afternoon, with fall coming on. The plum tree and grapevine down here are also calling me—but that’s another day’s work. Right now, I am hunting potatoes. One hundred and five pounds of potatoes, to be precise. And, when I am done, I’ll put them in milk crates and stack them in the space under the cellar stairs, where the temperature is always about the same, and be greeted by their earthy fragrance as I move up and down, putting by food for the winter.

Nova Scotia Potato Soup-- the best

Chop up onions and potatoes, twice as many potatoes as onions
Cover with water, barely
Simmer for hours-- a crockpot could be handy here. The longer it cooks, the sweeter the onions are.
When you have a lovely brokendown sauce, add a big splash of milk, a large spoonful of sour cream, some dill, salt and pepper. Taste.

Eat with fresh bread and green salad. For days....

Sunday, September 9, 2012

Fence Repair

We’ve spent the last week working on our backyard fencing situation. We already had a nice new gate, built by Mark Meyer last spring, wide enough to bring a bike through, but the rest was a post and rail sort of construction along the alley, which created a slight visual barrier, but not much else. When we acquired chickens, we fenced them in with bits of chicken wire stapled to the fence. It worked, mostly. Gracie, the Houdini of chickens, found all of the weak spots one fall and we plugged them up. We were down to a bi-monthly escape, and that was tolerable. But, last spring, a dog got in somehow and killed three chickens, including twelve-year-old George. At that point, we knew something had to change. At the same time, the fence around our rental developed a seriously threatening lean. So, we replaced the rental fence and hauled the six foot pieces of cedar down the alley to our own backyard. Mark began dismantling them as I considered our construction options. We discovered that we could use almost all of the old fencing, as the nails would land in different spots and the rotten bottoms could be trimmed off.

First, we needed a serious pruning/cleaning up of the two old hazelnut trees that frame the back yard. I asked around and Mark Meyer was willing to come in with his chainsaw and clean them out in exchange for an Orange Pound Cake. He spent two evenings right before dark working on the stubs of old branches that I had trimmed over the years and the brushy rootball that was creeping over the fence line. His work was much better than the professional guys I hired last winter…and they did not work for cake. When he was done, I yanked out the brambles and ivy and thrust them into our neighbor Al’s extra yard debris container.

We’ve  cut boards to fit the uneven ground, curving the bottoms up over the rootball, dropping the fence top down as we move away from the corner brush pile, and running part of the fence under our art installation of a repainted garage door left over from the garage to dining room conversion of a few years ago. A recycled wood fence is not something you can just measure, cut, and attach. There’s a lot of flex in change in the run down the alley. We're not done yet; there's more to do.

So far, it’s been a big hit with the neighbors. Most of them know about the chicken massacre. They have also done some chicken herding, so they understand the concept. Dogs cannot see in; chickens cannot see out. Everyone stays where they belong. I think they also like the height. Except around the brush pile, where the fence is six feet high—the chickens were walking to the top of the pile and hopping over quite neatly last spring—the fence is no higher that the old rails, so you can still see in as you walk by. Lots of people like to peer in, check out the crops, watch the bees, feed the chickens, pat the cats….the new fence doesn’t stop any of that interaction. It is not off-putting or unfriendly. And it’s all recycled wood, which is pretty fine and free.

Finally, clearing out the brush has allowed the fall blooming crocus to sprout up and, this fall, I’m going to bring back some more day lilies and asters, so there will be more flowers and herbs and less trash along the alley. Over time, it’s going to be a good example of site repair—making a pretty ugly spot look beautiful through time and effort, not money. And that pleases the whole neighborhood.

Orange Pound Cake (easy with a kitchen-aid mixer):

1 cup of butter, softened and creamed thoroughly with 1.5 cups of fine sugar
add 4 eggs, one at a time
measure 3 cups of flour, with 1 t. of baking soda, baking powder, and salt fluffed in
measure 1 cup of buttermilk and one t. of vanilla, and the rinds of two grated oranges
add half the flour, half the buttermilk, beat, then add the rest of the flour and buttermilk
Pour into a tube pan or two layers. Bake at 350 until done—toothpick test

Gild with either the juice of the oranges, mixed and heated with a little sugar or some lovely chocolate gouache frosting.

This also works with lemons—and maybe some lemon curd….

Monday, September 3, 2012

Gloating time

Late August in the Pacific Northwest can be a stressful time—we are pulled three ways. The mountains call; the air is cool and the bugs are gone, so it is perfect backpacking weather. School is starting, with all of its painful indoor meetings before the kids come back. And the tomatoes and apples, peaches and blackberries, are all pouring in at once.

This last week was apple and tomato processing central in the kitchen. I harvested at least a bushel and a half of Macintosh apples off of our tree in the front yard, climbing up the 14 foot orchard ladder and stretching as far into the tree as I could to grasp the last, biggest, reddest apples from the central branch. After tucking them into the basement, the whole house smelled of apples for a week. I sliced and dried many of the iffy ones and chopped the bruised ones into applesauce, using my new food mill to strain out the seeds and skins. We have, right now, 5 quarts of dried apples and fifteen pints of sauce, which should keep us this winter. I dreamed of latkes and applesauce in December while the puree bubbled in the pot. There are still three trays of fruit in the basement for fresh eating, as well as pies and crisps. It is nice to be apple independent this year.

On Wednesday and Thursday, I hauled home about fifty pounds of tomatoes from Sunbow. The first 22 pounds rode home on my bike on my last day of work for the summer and were processed after a long afternoon of school meetings. The second round was finished on Saturday. I sliced the fat, red fruit in half—or, occasionally, thirds—laid it on sheet trays, and slid it into the oven to roast. Forty-five minutes or so at 350 degrees wilted and concentrated the flavor. I then transfered them into half pint jars and processed them in the steam canner for thirty minutes. I can get a good rhythm going when I have time—two sheets always roasting, the canner always dancing, the metal milk crate slowly filling. While everything cooked, I cleaned the rest of the house. By Saturday evening, there were 55 halfpints of tomatoes sitting on the basement shelf, waiting for winter pizza and pasta, and soup. The rest of the years tomatoes will be dried or turned into salsa—small batch, when you have time after dinner projects.

The basement shelves are filling up. Before the tomato harvest, there are still huge holes. I’ve made pickled beets and plums, dried and canned plums and peaches, blueberries and cherries, strained honey, and created a few dried herbal tea blends, but there are gaps. Now, the shelves are almost full (which is good, because we are almost out of jars) and it is time to gloat. When I bring something new down, I have to shift jars around and then, when everything is resettled, admire for a few moments. Gloating season has begun.

Sunday, August 26, 2012

Sister's Hike

Each city in the Northwest has it’s own mountain in the Cascade range—an icon of the place. Seattle has Mt Rainer, Portland Mt Hood and, to a lesser extent, the rounded dome of Mt St Helen’s, Salem claims the pointed lines of Mt Jefferson and Eugene and Corvallis have The Three Sisters. After that, the Willamette Valley narrows and disappears, and you lose the long flat expanse which allows the mountains to dominate the landscape. The mountains are always to the East, a solid presence in our lives. We watch for them in winter: ”The mountain was out today” indicates a lifting of clouds and a glimpse of white against the grey sky. In the summer, we study how the snow melts and, in autumn, when it comes back. On a strikingly clear day, we count how many of the chain we can see—sometimes we’ll see Mt Hood from the hills around town, occasionally, hiking in the Cascades, I’ll make out Mt Rainer to the north and Diamond peak to the south. That is a good day.

Mark and I just spent a week hiking around the Three Sisters—our Cascade Mountains. We’ve taken dozens of day hikes and several backpacking trips into the area over the years, but never the fifty mile loop around the three dormant volcanoes. The timing is tricky; there is a limited window between three weeks after snow melt (and mosquito hatch) and school starting. We nailed it this year.

The loop starts out at 6000 feet near a small lake on the shoulder of the North Sister—a craggy, glacier ridden peak. The lake—beautiful, but too well loved, really, to allow overnight camping—is on a ridge that the winds dance around all night long. We woke at 6:30, packed, and headed south and east down into Douglas Fir forests and streams. The first day was pretty—walking through the trees—but not extraordinary. A good day to work out snack times and backpack issues. After a night on a green and brown woodland pond, we moved into the extra-ordinary….

First, a lush meadow where three deer stared us down and a dozen marmots frolicked on a warm rock outcropping. Flowers bloomed. Then we climbed to 7000 feet, slowly, steadily, each step bringing more of the mountains into view. Rounded South Sister appeared on one side, the craggy ridge of the aptly named Broken Top on the other. We moved out of Doug Fir and into pine, more twisted and broken as we went. Finally, at the high point, we were on an open pumicy plain, scattered with tough alpine plants. Ten more steps, and the Green Lakes (and lunch) lay before us, 500 feet down. We camped by another lake that third night, on the shoulders of South Sister this time.

The fourth day, we turned the corner of the trail and headed north on the wetter western side of the range. We struggled uphill through Pumice Slog speckled with tough, drought tolerant plants like Dirty Socks (think warm, dry, deep sand with a full pack), crossed ridges, and dropped into lush lupine meadows—waves of bright blue flowers, sparked with pink monkeyflower, red Indian Paintbrush, white Valerian, and yellow groundsel. The warm dry air was sweet with the scent of blooming lupines. Small cool mountain streams threaded their way through the fields. The trail danced between Douglas Fir and Mountain Hemlock; rise out of the majesty of fir into the mystery of hemlock, and then drop back down, depending upon slight changes in elevation and moisture.

At the same time, the view of the mountains to our right shifted. We spent the fourth night staring at the north side of South Sister, sitting in the tent hiding from mosquitoes, wrapped in sleeping bags, with hot tea, as the sun went down, bringing out the rusty reds of the peak and woke the next morning to deep frost and some cat ice on puddles. That day, while we walked, the dark, sparkling cone of the Middle Sister’s south face appeared; a mile later, we saw the glaciers on her north side. These were all new views for us; we were at least a day’s walk in on all sides. Then, the North Sister reappeared.

The final leg of the trail left behind the lush meadows for dramatic lava flows. There were several eruptions a thousand years ago, which is quite recent in geological history. The terrain is rough. The trail climbed over the Opie Dilloc pass at 6900 feet, totally exposed to the sun and wind. We moved slowly, carefully over the rounded pumice stones, red and black mixed together underfoot. They slip and slide and rattle downhill. Last afternoon light, tinged with smoke from a forest fire not too far away, turned everything golden and obscured the peaks around us. We paused at the top, looking for the rounded red butte that rises over South Mathies lake, where we began. The last night, we dropped down to the larger north lake, surrounded on three sides by trees and one by a grey and brown lava flow thirty feet high. We have been here, to this specific campsite, before and felt like we are coming home. The next morning, it was a quick two mile trot down the trail for a second breakfast in the small tourist town of Sisters—the smoke so thick, now, that we could not see any of the mountains—before we drove two hours home.

The trail around the Sisters was the most beautiful and varied hike I have ever taken—and I have walked into the bottom of the Grand Canyon and seen the oldest exposed rock on the planet, crept along the Knife Edge of Mt Katadin at the end of the AT in Maine, and circumnavigated Mt Rainer in Washington. It is in my own backyard. I do not have to fly anywhere, or drive for days, to get there. I can do it all again next year, if I wish. And, on grey winter afternoons, when I am biking out to the dentist—who just happens to have a office located high on a hill, where you can, if you are lucky, glimpse the Cascades—I can see them from town.

Wednesday, August 15, 2012

Lammastide Light

The light changed on Lammastide morning this year. I woke up and the dawn light was more golden, less clear, and coming into the bedroom from a different angle. High Summer was gone, right on schedule.

When I was a little kid, living in New Hampshire, this shift of the season’s light was the first one I remember. Maybe it was because it always occurred within a few days of my birthday and the acquisition of a new lunchbox and a fall sweater, but it was sad sight. I’d wake up one morning and all of the humidity we’d been living with for months would be blown away, leaving the sky clear, clear, bright blue. Just lovely. Perfect for showing off the changing maple leaves in a few weeks and eating Macintosh apples—but, also, dang. School’s going to start soon. Back inside. As I grew older, it was also a signal to travel, leave town, head for the mountains. Trails empty out the week after school starts, but the days are perfect for walking and the nights tolerable for sleeping without long underwear and a wooly hat.

Here in Oregon, the Lammastide light change is different. It comes, not from a change in weather, but from the field burning and dust stirred up from the grain harvest. It’s a warmer, deeper sunlight and you may see columns of smoke rising on the still air from far away. The result, however, is the same. School’s going to start. Head for the hills one more time. The morning I woke to the change in light, I rode out to Sunbow. We spent several hours pulling pigweed and nightshades from a tangle of winter squash vines, balancing on one foot, hopping over vines that could not be redirected out of the pathways. When we finished, Harry nodded. “Well, that’s it on weeding,” he said. “Let’s shell some dried fava beans.” And that was it. The season shifted from growth to harvest.

Wednesday, August 8, 2012


            First Caveat: Greywater is illegal in Oregon.  Always check your local regulations!

            Second Caveat: Do not allow your greywater to overflow onto your neighbor’s veg. patch. It’s not healthy and, here in Oregon, enforcement is on a complaint based system. No one complains, no letter asking you to cease and desist.

            That being said, I’m glad no one measures the outflow of water from our house in the summertime. Very little leaves the property.  I hate to waste things, including water.

            We used to have a fairly complex system of capturing the shower and laundry water based upon some modest changes in plumbing, two fifty five gallon blue plastic barrels that smell faintly of tamari, and a small water pump. After three showers, the water was pumped up from the basement and poured on the  flower beds. It worked, but it had some flaws. The barrels overflowed occasionally, the water smelled a little skuzzy, and Mark was always muttering about the carbon footprint of the pump, as well as the loud, growly, squeally noise it made while pumping. Then, while walking home one afternoon, I spotted an old tub by the side of the road. “Free” the sign proclaimed. We hauled it to the backyard, built a shelter around it using old wood from a shed, plumbed it with a hose that reaches to the basement utility sink, and attached a short drainage hose to the bottom. Total cost—35$ and two trips to Searing Plumbing and Electric, where they did not give me a funny look when I came in with my questions. Hot water shower. Drains directly into the flower beds. No need for the pump. No nasty smell in the basement. As soon as Mark realized that, when he used the outdoor shower, he did not have to clean the indoor tub every week, he was sold. We stuck with the barrel and pump system for the laundry, but, as that works out to one barrel for four loads, I usually drain it while hanging the last load. No smell. The dish water has always been simple. One dish pan. One five gallon bucket. One chart, complete with flamingo fridge magnet, charting where the water is to be poured next.
            There are a few common sense ideas to keep in mind when considering greywater. First, figure out a way for the water to drain quickly into the ground, rather than sitting around, breeding who knows what. Second, don’t pour it directly on plants you plan on eating soon. Third, think about your soaps. They need to biodegrade. Here in Oregon, I don’t worry about build up in the soil; the long slow rains leach everything else out of the soil, so why not a little soap residue? If I lived in a drier climate, I might need  to consider the issue. Finally, watch what the water washes—laundry water that washed diapers might not be ideal for flower beds and fruit trees, even. There is a great, inexpensive  book on greywater systems by Oasis. We poured over it for several years before loaning it out to someone. You can do all kinds of cool things with your household water, establishing wetlands with reeds to filter the water before it seeps into the ground. However, after all of our experiments, the simpler the system, the more likely you are to use it. 

Tuesday, July 31, 2012


I've been writing for myself for years, tracking the development of our days (it's handy to keep notes to resolve disputes and to remember NOT to bury the cucumbers in other plants next year). My friends read my posts and comment on them-- but, I must say, it's pretty darn exciting to have People I Do Not Know reading my stuff.  Thanks!

Monday, July 30, 2012

It has begun. Last Tuesday, one member of the book sorting team for the Friends of the Library book sale walked in with a plate of chocolate zucchini bread. “We’ve had enough sautéed zucchini,” he announced. “Great,” someone said. “Everything is better with chocolate.” The plate was empty by the end of the sorting. The next day, I saw a baseball bat sized deep green vegetable sitting on the counter at Sunbow. I nabbed it, hauled it home on my bike, and turned it into zucchini bread with fresh blueberries (seriously, the BEST addition ever. Better than chocolate.) and dried the rest for backpacking pasta dinners.

I don’t understand why people make fun of zucchini. We’re quite fond of it. What’s not to like about a bland, bulky vegetable that, like tofu, absorbs all flavors like a sponge and enhances everything? Maybe it is because we only plant six seeds: three lovely sleek raven plants and three long, funky trombochino, which produce 15 foot vines and fruits until November. We always have one waiting in the wings, but not a mound on the counter. Ok, so I occasionally break off a flower if we’re going away for a few days… When the plants are in full production mode, we might eat it five times a week.

Mon: Zucchini and rice frittata with basil and dill and fresh eggs

Tues: Green, Green Noodle soup (noodles, pesto, zucchini, onions)—total comfort food

Weds: Sautéed Zucchini with tomatoes and chard

Thurs: grilled zucchini on the little hibachi

Fri: Minestrone soup

Sat: Zucchini tucked into lasagna

Sun: Zucchini fritters with feta

And, probably, the drier is running, making zucchini chips for the winter, I’ve made a batch of Marrow preserves, and Mark brought a loaf of zucchini bread to work….

Tuesday, July 24, 2012


In a teacher’s world, June is like Friday—half anticipation, half wild freedom--, July is Saturday, when the time stretches out forever and you can stare into space without feeling any outside pressure, and August is Sunday, when the light shifts, freedom becomes precious, and the cold classroom looms.

Right now, we are in the middle of July, the middle of Saturday afternoon. Yesterday, I climbed Iron Mountain with four other teachers and one six year old, who boldly lead the way for the last mile, waving a walking stick, backpack bouncing on her shoulders. We spent the weekend at Da Vinci Days, listening to music and watching the Kinetic Sculpture races. Last week, we were on a week long trip to the Red Buttes and NPSO annual meeting. For the last two weeks, I’ve been reading Harry Potter for an hour or so in the afternoon. There’s been time to drink tea, poke at plants in the gardens, set up the greywater system, and can some pickled beets and plums. Dinner veg comes directly from the back yard. Life is good.

I know, I know there’s quite a bit of work lurking out there. The preserving season is coming on fast; I have a bookshelf and two benches to build, four front garden beds to dig out, a photo survey of neighborhoods to finish up, and I promised my boss I would try and find some international lit that tenth graders who don’t like to read might enjoy. We’re planning a fifty mile backpack around the Sisters in late August. I want to go to Portland and Eugene. I need to practice my perspective drawing, so sketches don’t look like they are about to fall of the edge of a cliff. And there are books to sort, and weeds to pull, and cakes to bake for friends. August is coming on fast.

However, today, it is still July. The sun is shining on my laundry lines. Gladys is basking, wings outstretched. The bees have calmed down from our incursions last week. Scarlet Runner Beans and nasturtiums weave through the back trellises, tempting hummingbirds. There is still time.

Tuesday, July 17, 2012

Southern Oregon

Southern Oregon is the most ecologically diverse place in North America, rivaled only by the Smokies. It’s all about location and geology…

The land began around Mexico City and has been drifting northward for millions of years, picking up plants, mostly conifers, as it moved. It’s also full of sections of serpentine soil, barren hot patches on a trail hike where the soil chemistry is not good for growing plants. There is too much magnesium and not enough calcium in the dense hard rocks that came from the bottom of the sea. When the two continental plates rubbed against each other, the ocean’s did not slide below, as it usually does, but bobbed up to the surface “like a cork” and created long, slender patches of rough land, running parallel to the coast line from Southern Oregon down through California. There are plants that refuse to grow on serpentine soil and plants that only grow there and they switch off, back and forth, within a foot or two of the change. The lines between serpentine and not serpentine are really distinct; you can see them from a distance, from the road or across a valley. Geology directs evolution.

Southern Oregon is also a geological bowl and a crossing place—plants (and people) come up from coastal and inland California, and from coastal and inland Oregon—four distinct ecosystems border this place. When the climate changes, plants migrate in and either adapt and stay or die out. There are species that can only be found here…and lots of plants that look familiar, but a just a little different. When we hike in the Red Buttes Wilderness, I can hear Mark behind me, muttering… “Coral Root orchid. Forget-me-not, a little taller….ahhh, bear grass! Oh, nice wall flower.” as he recognizes the blooms. But there is also a lot of questioning mixed in…”What’s that? It looks like some kind of lily? Or is it an onion? And that one—a mint? Smells like some sort of mint, but look at those bracts underneath? What do you think?” It’s a constant commentary as he bends over to examine yet another plant. He’s not the only one; there are dozens of professionals who have spent their entire lives bent over these plants and they all showed up for the Native Plant Society meeting last weekend and gossiped botany and geology for hours.

Southern Oregon is also a catchbasin for people. It is where the alternative left and right come together, live and let live, just keep out of my business. Small holdings line the roads through rolling valleys and up the hills—off the grid wooden cabins, trailers covered in blue tarps, tidy ranches and split levels with yard ornaments, and a few huge McMansions are all mixed together on the back roads. We are always amazed at how many people are tucked away in the hills. Signs indicate the variety of view points; there are as many supporters of Ron Paul as there are references to Buddhist teachings. Recently, the Applegate Valley has been discovered by wine growers, and their huge iron gates with stucco pillars add to the landscape, but little has really changed. People move in when the culture changes, some adapt and stay, some leave. It’s all about evolution, a constant slow change in the land and landscape.

Thursday, July 5, 2012

Bee Swarms-- Part Two

Bee Swarms—Part Two

We have a new hive….and Mark suggested it. This is huge, as he was adamantly opposed to beekeeping in the back yard for years. “What if some drunken idiot knocks the hive over and gets attacked by the bees?” he worried. My response was, always, that’s their own damn fault for trespassing and being stupid, but he never quite believed me. Since we’ve had a hive, he’s changed his mind and he’ll even peer into the comb and hold the smoker for me. He’s very interested in the theory of beekeeping and hive management so the idea of adding a new hive of a different style was appealing.
We ordered a Warre Hive kit from BeeThinking in Portland. The design combines the best of two types of hive—the familiar stacked boxes (known as Langstrom Hives) and the horizontal top bar hive that I have in my back yard. Basically, it is a series of smaller stacked boxes without foundation combs—it uses the same “top bar” technique that my other hive does and thus allows the bees to construct their own comb to their desired sizes and shapes. It’s easier to harvest and more natural—but does lead to some funky cross comb (which, by all accounts, I’m supposed to mold into straight comb every week or so…).

The hive kit was lovely. The cuts were sharp and we were able to assemble it on our own with no arguments. Maybe it was the American Dream pizza on one end of the table, or Lucy wandering through the stacks of lovely smelling cedar, or the chance to use Power Tools (the new drill), but it was a peaceful evening assembly. We constructed one hive box, the quilt box, and the roof in about two hours, pausing frequently for pizza and cherries.

Last Saturday morning was transfer time. Rich was in the back yard by 8AM, cup of coffee in hand, big box of tools beside him, sawing a piece of wood to fit over his Langstrom Nuc hive (basically, a same box about the size of the white cardboard one that had been bee home for a week now). The plan—place the swarm comb into the nuc hive and then stack mine on top, with a big hole to encourage upward mobility. Over time, the bees would leave behind Rich’s box and occupy mine. Quickly, Rich cut several pieces of wood to bridge the gap between the two hives, then moved to the bee yard under the hazelnut tree. The transfer went fine, except for a piece of comb, covered in bees, that fell to the ground—the merger of the two hives not so much so…He had not checked beforehand that the measurements were accurate, so the rigging didn’t fit. “No problem,” he muttered confidently, making the needed changes as bees swarmed around him, looking for their home, wondering what he was doing up so early in the morning. (The same question had crossed Mark’s mind…)

Once the attachment was complete, bees began to move in. The queen was inside, it was early in the morning….they marched from the old cardboard box into the new wooden one in a steady stream. A few flew around, bewildered, for an hour or o, but they were all re-hived by bedtime. Since then, they have been moving in and out, bringing in nectar and pollen, building lovely new comb—all in the lower box. No one was moved upstairs this week.