Solar Tracking

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

Friday, October 28, 2016

Loose Connections-- the foundations of community

                Despite the sign reading “Corvallis: Population 56,000” on the way into town, Corvallis is a small community. Take away the 20,000 short term residents (AKA OSU students) and you have a village. And, after teaching English here for twenty years, I know a lot of people—or, more accurately, they know me.

                Last night was speed dating with parents, better known as conferences. I talked to 44 sets of parents, some with students, some with small screaming children, some with translators. You never know, when they sit down, where the five minute conversation is going to go, although I’ve developed some techniques for directing the discussion. At least five times last night, someone commented on my council run. One woman launched on a mental health is a cause of homelessness discussion (I’ll get back to her in a few months) and then remembered that there was someone behind her.  But the best moments are when you are teaching a younger sibling and the parents take a moment to catch you up on the older children’s activities. Married, working, kids….Parents are proud.

                This morning, I visited the library to find out about acquiring some books when they are de-accessioned. The Friends of the Library who were working in the sorting room were thrilled that I was going to be on council, reminded me that I had given them a tour of the back yard, and took me into the woman in charge of removing books from the system. We had a grand talk about the state of the world, how libraries are the foundation of a democratic society, and how the whole book sorting system worked, as I only see the warehouse end when I sort over the summer.  I left her with my name and the title of the book I was interested in.

                Finally, when I was raking leaves out of the street, an older man paused on the sidewalk. He had a big bag of cans and had been checking the neighborhood dumpsters for more. “Are you the lady who was looking for the cat?” he asked. I was and assured him that she had come home.  “Sometimes they just go walk-about,” he observed as he headed off down the street and I went back to work, using my new-old wheelbarrow that a friend repaired and gave to me last spring.


                These loose connections are the foundation of a functioning community. We all need the tight connections of family and friends, but we are floating in space without the constant interactions that tie us to a place and time. 

Monday, October 24, 2016

Tiny homes-- the solution to Oregon's housing crisis?

There is a deeply held belief in Oregon that tiny homes are going to solve the affordable housing crisis. At a forum last week, the Pacific Green candidate for county commissioner proclaimed that “People are dying to live in tiny homes! They were lined up around the block at a trade show to see inside one.” I sighed. People love to look at tiny homes—and they are very cool--but do they know what it is like to live in one?

                When I was eight, my parents decided to sell the house they had built in Hampstead, New Hampshire and buy a camper so that we could travel around the United States. It was 1969. We spent a year visiting trade shows and RV lots, looking for our new home. I was in love—all of those tiny, well-designed spaces for living….We found the perfect camper; it was a couple of feet longer than the others so that it had a side door. The inside was a very modern harvest gold and tweedy brown. My parents promised that the space above the cab was mine, so I lined it with my books, packed my clothes in the overhead compartments, and settled in. Our new puppy found her space under the table. For a year, I ate dinner with my feet resting warmly on the dog.

                The trip was amazing. We drove across the northern U.S., camping in state parks and along the road. In Washington, we spent a week on the Olympic Peninsula while I roamed the empty foggy beaches with Honey. We camped one night by the side of 101, where my father said you could “spit a mile” straight down. It was cool and misty. My mother lit the gas lamp which provided both heat and light and cooked dinner. I walked down the road while I waited—the camper was a golden beacon in a dark world. We ran out of money in California, worked for a few weeks, stopped in Las Vegas (where I won over twenty dollars in the nickel slot machines), and drove quickly across Texas to Florida, where we had family.

                We spent the winter living in the camper. It was not a hardship. In Florida, you live outside. We set up a table, chairs, and pretend classroom on the space beside the camper. The showers were down the road a bit; the laundry room made a great hair drier.  One campground was set in the “Gardens of  Light” where colored lights lit up palm trees along boardwalks. There was even a swimming pond. My parents worked. I went to school. We were normal; several other families lived in the park with us. Florida schools were set up for transient students.  In the spring, we came home. By fall, we had a house. Even so, my mother and I spent summers in the camper in New Hampshire, settled in alongside my aunt’s house on the lake.  Twenty years later, I made the same trip, living in my VW vanagon for three months—and many smaller trips since then. I love living in small spaces.

                That being said, tiny houses are not the solution to an affordable housing crisis built upon the rising costs of land because of demand and an excellent, strong land use law. It would be far more efficient to build studio apartment complexes on the same land; apartments are less resource intensive and expensive than hand-built tiny homes and provide the same level of independence as well as protection from the rain.

 Tiny homes are, also, honestly, artisanal RVs. Would you be willing to have an RV park next door to your house? If so, I could support that. There are hundreds of dying RVs on the back roads of Oregon. I counted at least fifty one afternoon, driving from the Otis CafĂ© to the turn-off to Monmouth.  This was not a functional vehicle count, parked in driveways; these were the ones buried in blue tarps and blackberries. I’d be thrilled to haul them out, fix them up, settle them into a well-managed park, and rent them out for nominal rates to local house-less people. That seems like a win-win to me. However, it would not be a cool looking as a tiny home compound.

Finally, tiny homes are not practical in muddy, rainy climates, especially some of the smaller designs that do not have fully functional kitchens and bathrooms. They may work well in dry climates, where roommates can escape to the back yard for some space, but here, where we are often inside, they would be very difficult to endure. Walking to the bathroom is charming while camping in a yurt at Silver Falls or spending a night at Breittenbush Hot Springs; it grows old fast in a downpour when you track mud inside after every trip or when you do not feel well.  I challenge anyone who thinks that tiny homes are a serious solution to the housing crisis to try living in one for the month of January in Oregon, with their entire family and, perhaps, a wet dog thrown in for good measure.  
               

                

Sunday, October 16, 2016

Week in Hiaku

Friday:
Tea. Toast. NPR.
Two cats sleep. Fall rain outside.
Wool socks. Home morning.

Saturday:
Rain. Wind. Leaves. Yardwork.
Armloads of tomato plants.
Beds prepped for fall mulch.

Sunday:
Bald Hill Walk in clouds.
It is lovely to be out.
Typhoon is over.

Monday:
A day of meetings.
PLC. City Council.
People like to talk.

Tuesday:
Grey sky, mug, table, wall.
Red pen draws lines through papers.
Gold leaves. October.

Wednesday:
October Nineteenth.
Debate? Or Young Frankenstein?
The choice is so clear.

Thursday:
Ballots came today.
So weird. I voted for myself.
Charlyn Ellis. Ward five.

Sunday, October 9, 2016

2016 Harvest

2016 Harvest

Blueberries: 3 quarts dried

Peaches: 12 pints canned
                4 quarts dried

Plums: 6 quarts dried
                8 half pints of jam

Apples:  Sauce 12 pints
                6 half pints Butter
                5 quarts dried
                14 quarts of cider

Grape juice: 33 quarts

Figs: 6 quarts dried

Cucumber pickles: 8 pints
Dilly Beans: 4 pints

Tomatoes: 6o half pints roasted
                2 quarts dried
                9 pints of salsa

Pears: 5 quarts dried

Potatoes:  95 pounds, total

Honey: 11 quarts

Gooseberry jam:  5 half pints

Butternut squash: nine solid squashes

We’ve also brought in for winter 25 pounds of oatmeal, 50 pounds of hard wheat berries, five pounds of barley—and we will order onions, squash, and more beans as they come available.

Bold  indicates from our own back yard. Everything else is raised from within ten miles.




Sunday, October 2, 2016

Equinox Rains

                The rains came down last night, silencing crickets and drunks around midnight. I could hear the drops pounding on the greenhouse roof and then running off into the flower beds below, all night long. The gardens drank deeply. This morning, we woke up to grey skies, damp grass, soft rain. The house was chilly. While Mark showered, I chopped potatoes to roast in the oven and started a fire in the fireplace. After closing the windows and the doors to both bedrooms (we have an oddly old New England house for the West Coast), I pulled the chairs close. Mark made tea and set up the folding table. Each cat claimed a chair.  I found an ancient hand-knit heavy sweater from the era when my sleeves were way too wide but left my feet bare to soak in the heat from the fire.  We ate toast and canned peaches and potatoes by the fire, listening to NPR.

 Outside, the butternut squashes I harvested on Thursday and resting on a garden bench. I will bring them in today, out of the rain. I need to pick tomatoes, too.  The figs are taking up the moisture and turning into fig bombs; hopefully we picked enough low down and the cedar waxwings ate enough high up to minimize the mess. The chickens are sulking on their perch—they went from sun and a run to rain and a confined space last week and they are not happy about it. The grass is greening up.  Fall is here.


Oat Bread: The Fall Equinox Quick Bread
1.5 c oats
1.25 c buttermilk
6 T oil
.5 c brown sugar
2 eggs
1.25 c fresh ground whole wheat flour
1t BP and BS
.5 t salt
1 c currants or dried blueberries
Soak the oats and buttermilk. Add wet ingredients and mix well. Mix dry together, then add to wet. Bake in 400 degree oven until done. If you have a pan that tends to stick, line it with bking parchment first.