Archive for November, 2006

Thunderstorms, Thanksgiving, and other things worth a passing note

November 26, 2006

It’s amazing how quickly we get spoiled. I’ve lived with dialup at the farm for literally decades. I had DSL about 10 days. Now suddenly it’s gone, the result I suspect of a rather massive thunderstorm we had Thanksgiving day. I’m sure I’ll have it back tomorrow. In the meantime, I’m cursing download times and wondering if it’s really worth it.

Thanksgiving has come and gone, and we all survived. Wednesday, of course, was National Throw Fl0ur Around the Kitchen Day. The result was a giant mess. But the products–two pumpkin and one pecan pies, a couple of dozen croissants, the prep on virtually all of the vegetables (yams, broccoli, little bitty onions)–made it all worth it. Thursday morning as guests were arriving there was only a little potato peeling to do.

I’ve never cooked a turkey in my new wood stove until this one. The turkey I bought, about 20 lbs., would have fed the whole valley. It’s a good thing I bought the new stove. I had planned to barbecue the turkey, but the bird was too large for the Weber. It was nearly too large for the new oven, so it wouldn’t have had a prayer in the old smaller one. We’d have been chainsawing the bird in half so we could cook it. It literally filled the whole oven–cleared the door latch by about 1/8″. But the result was the most beautifully browned bird I’ve ever cooked, looked like something out of Gourmet magazine. Tasted good, too. We were nine for dinner, so we’re still eating leftovers.

I can’t believe I ever found time to work. There is so much to be done each day, but no deadlines, just plenty of demands. You can pick and choose which ones you satisfy. Most of my stuff is put away, just some minor tweaking to do in my office. When I moved, I found two gargoyle replicas I bought at Oxford. I’m going to mount one each on the bookcases on either side of me as I write. The two I elected to bring home are “Pain” and “Despair” (I chose them for their looks, not their sentiments). This seems like an apt source for either poetry or prose–between pain and despair. We’ll see.

Still storming. This morning we officially passed the “twice as much as our previous record” mark for rainfall. We’re over 28 inches for the month now. But we haven’t floated away yet. . .

It’s all about outlaws

November 16, 2006

I’ve already gone to bed once tonight, but my brain won’t let me sleep. It keeps doing free association around a particular theme. Maybe if I share it, I can drift off for some well-deserved snoozing. We’re having a monster storm, but my DSL is up, and now so am I, so you’re getting to hear, once again, what’s on my brain.

In another life on another blog, I once shared one of my favorite bits of movie dialogue. It’s from a B movie originally titled “Steelyard Blues.” The movie ran as a sleeper second feature with a piece of junk called “S*P*Y*S.,” which I think was supposed to be a play on “MASH.” Both movies had Donald Sutherland in the lead. Neither ever caught on, but “Steelyard Blues” is a treasure. I may take a quick break and go check Amazon to see if it’s available on DVD. I own only a few movies, but I’d buy this one for sure.

In the dialogue, “he” has just been released from prison. “She” is a local prostitute who used to be his girlfriend and now services the local sheriff. Here’s the bit of dialogue that has stuck in my brain for–who knows?–about 30 years:

She: What do you know? You’re just a common criminal.

He: I’m not a criminal, I’m an outlaw.

She: What’s the difference?

He: I don’t know, but there is one.

What brought all of this flooding back tonight was a houseguest we had for the last couple of days, a friend of Ben’s from his youth. With a few phone calls, Ben managed to connect the houseguest with another friend from the same period, someone who would truly fit the “outlaw” description, at least in his own mind. He’s very hard to reach, because he spends his life in fear of apprehension by “the law.” Is it justified? Who knows? But from personal observation, if the law is looking for him, they’re not looking very hard. But something in the whole flimflam seems to feed a very necessary sense of self-drama.

After the conversation, our houseguest’s wife asked, “What’s your friend up to?” And houseguest replied, “Well, he’s a hippie. He’s been a hippie since before there were hippies.” And Ben called from another room, “And his mother was a hippie before that.” And that started me thinking about outlaws.

Here’s a dictionary etiology of the word:

outlaw adj.

Word History: The word outlaw brings to mind the cattle rustlers and gunslingers of the Wild West, but it comes to us from a much earlier time, when guns were not yet invented but cattle stealing was. Outlaw can be traced back to the Old Norse word tlagr, “outlawed, banished,” made up of t, “out,” and lög, “law.” An tlagi (derived from tlagr) was someone outside the protection of the law. The Scandinavians, who invaded and settled in England during the 8th through the 11th century, gave us the Old English word tlaga, which designated someone who because of criminal acts had to give up his property to the crown and could be killed without recrimination. The legal status of the outlaw became less severe over the course of the Middle Ages. However, the looser use of the word to designate criminals in general, which arose in Middle English, lives on in tales of the Wild West.

Interesting concept: “outside protection of the law.” I think I’m an outlaw, too, and that’s why this keeps surfacing in my brain. Galileo was an outlaw. Socrates was an outlaw. In fact, most of the truly interesting people in history, IMNHO, were outlaws. I think this is a good thing.

Now I truly am going to bed. Again. But I did shoot off for a few minutes to Amazon. No DVD available, but there is a VHS version. I just bought it. Ciao.

More about DSL in rural America

November 9, 2006

I’ve seen notes from several of you (and even had an e-mail or two) indicating interest in knowing how this is done. I probably won’t be much help here, except I can refer you to Pioneer Telephone Cooperative. I think they only have two offices. The one I dealt with is in Philomath, Oregon.

I got only sketchy details, but I think what happened is they acquired some super-dooper repeaters that let them extend the service further than in the past. There’s only one house past us on their service line. The modem they used is a ForceCom X100. Never heard of it, but it’s very small and seems to work very well. Only problems is the output from the transformer is 15v rather than 12v. It also is strictly a modem, so if I want to go ahead and add wireless, I’ll have to use my old DLink hub/wireless access point as a separate device. But I think I’m going to let things settle for a week or so, make sure everything works swimmingly, then call my actual broadband provider and see if I can get the NetGear to work. It has a built-in access point and hub. According to NetGear’s specs, I should be able to take my computer past the garden if I want, although why I would ever want to is beyond me.

Enough for now, I had to go to town today (I hate that), I’m tired, and I need to go cook dinner. Ben’s got my wood over heating up. Tonight it’s roasted lemon-pepper pork loin with garlic-roasted potatoes and a greens and avocado salad. It’s tough to live here in the middle of nowhere with no amenities. . .;^}

DSL on the Big Elk

November 8, 2006

It works!! I can’t believe it really works. They’ve classified my installation as experimental, but all I can tell you is I don’t see that stupid little pages loading green meter any more. My pages just pop up, the way they used to.

I’m still 11 miles from paved road, have no commercial power or other grid connection (except the telephone), but I do have DSL. It’s like Christmas coming a month and a half early.

And it’s stopped raining, at least for the moment.

I’d like to add a few words about Pioneer Telephone Cooperative. They are a terrific company, serving perhaps some of the least accessible places around, low population concentrations, difficult terrain, and so on. But the most amazing thing about them is the way they treat customers.

Never once in all of my dealings with Pioneer did I feel like a “customer.” I felt like a person. And I felt that I was dealing with other people, not with scripted customer service reps. Ladonna, Laurie (sp?), and Brian are all people I can imagine having a beer with sometime. They took my wishes to heart and made them happen. And they were gracious and warm about it. I can’t thank them enough.

One lane road, and other reflections

November 7, 2006

It’s official. We’ve now just tied the record for rainfall in November since we’ve been keeping records. It’s November 7. But between yesterday about 2 pm and this morning at 7:30 am, we had 5.2 inches of rain. The river’s up about 10 feet or so. Big logs are floating down from last summer’s blowdowns. Actually, they’re racing along, not floating gently at all.

But it’s been an interesting morning.

When I first came to the Big Elk as a visitor, the gravel road that takes you the last 10.5 miles had a sign at the end, one of those official highway signs that read “One lane road for trucks and buses.” Below the sign, someone had added a smaller sign that said simply “and cars.” The road then wasn’t much wider in some places than our driveway is now. You relied on turnouts (widespots) every mile or to to pass another car coming the other direction. If you met someone between these places, someone had to back up until there was room to get by. The road is much wider now. The county keeps it in pretty good shape because when Hwy. 20 is closed by accident or some such thing, it the most direct route from the coast to the valley. 

This morning I was sitting on the back deck watching the rain pound down when I heard a vehicle on the road. There was a huge crashing noise and a county road truck ground to a stop across from the house, then shifted into reverse and started backing up about 15 mph. Being nosy, I slipped on a jacket and walked across the meadow to see what was going on. Directly across the river from our orchard, about 150 feet of the county road shoulder had dropped 18 or 20 inches, creating what is known to the road folks as an “abrupt edge.” Only in this case, if you dropped a wheel off the edge, your whole vehicle would plunge 25 feet or so straight down into the river, the same one that is carrying all of those logs. So there was a lot of hemming and hawing, crackling of radios, walking around head scratching, and so on, and finally the crew put out a single orange post in the middle of the slide and drove off. I think they were conserving posts until they saw how much damage had to be marked, since they were only halfway down the road.

Shortly, big tandem rock trucks started showing up, and the crew came back and starting moving rock around with the blade they mount on the front of each county pickup each fall (mostly to clear slides, I think). But within an hour or two, the road was back and the markers gone. Quite amazing to watch. We drove back up the driveway to check our culverts again, and found a huge snag that had crashed down the hill. We managed to push, pull, kick, and roll it off the driveway. Road’s open for now.

But it did cause me to think about what else I might want to add in my pantry in case we couldn’t get out of here for a week or two. We’ve got lots of canned goods and baking supplies, and bread baked in my wood stove is hard to beat. But I think a box of evaporated milk might be in order.

I just saw animals going by two by two. . .

November 7, 2006

Just kidding, of course, but we’re now over 9 inches of rain in this four-day storm (or perhaps it’s really two storms–we did get a bit of a break very early this morning, the quiet woke me up). Our record, since we’ve been keeping records on our own, is 13.8 inches in the month of November. And it’s only the 6th, with four more days of rain forecast. . .

Ben asked me tonight if it feels weird not to be packing up and running off to town to go to work. And the funny thing is, it doesn’t. It mostly feels wonderful. It’s kind of like before I re-enrolled in school several years ago and could actually take vacations. Now I’m done with school, finished both that bachelor’s and the master’s as well, it’s all paid for, and I’m unemployed and have lots of free time to write (or will have, if I ever get finished moving in).

I know longer feel quite like Ma Kettle (for those of you too young to get this reference, please google it–I don’t have time to explain). But after ten days of unpacking, sorting, and two trips to the dump/recycling center and two to the local charity resale place, I have my guest room and living room pretty much back. My office is next. It’s usable, but it isn’t pretty yet, and it will be.

Over the years, I think I’ve been subconsciously planning what I wanted to look at. I realized after the first two full growing seasons that I couldn’t turn the whole place into a park. The brush grows so fast it’s just hopeless. So I had to be selective. But when I look up the hill from the house, what used to be an 8-foot wall of brush is now a garden. The green is broken up by a blue spruce, a Japanese red maple that buds out purple, becomes bronze, then green, and then a neon red in the fall, and a vine maple that I’ve had to fight a bit to keep. They’re sort of like weeds around here, and every man that sees it wants to cut it out immediately, but this year, for the first time (and I think thanks to some selective pruning and tree cutting around it) it turned that wonderful gold, the same gold as the tamaracks turn in eastern Oregon just before they lose their needles. As gray as it is with the rain now, it still just glows outside my window.

Below the house I have another Japanese red maple and a wonderful cedar tree. I rescued the cedar from an office building landscape bed. I walked out back and saw this little stick growing in the plantings, and thought, “That’s a western red cedar and the maintenance crew is just going to rip it out.” I called the building management and explained I wanted to dig it up, and they thought that was a great idea. It was about 10 inches tall, just a stick with a fringe on top. I put it in a pot and brought it out here and planted it, watered it, fenced it (in case the beaver got this far up the hill), and petted it occasionally. It’s now 12 feet tall and actually looks like a cedar tree.

Now it’s time to go cook some linguini to toss with the leftover roasted chicken, a cheese sauce and a sprinkling of parmesan, and add some steamed fresh vegetables. My stomach is growling.

The affair, of course, became a triangle

November 6, 2006

I suspect my readers are generally pretty smart (especially since I know a lot of you personally), so I’m sure you’ve already figured out that my slightly sappy reminiscence of yesterday was only part of the story. The kind of thing that warms the cockles of your heart (what a silly expression–the clams in your chest?) but really doesn’t convey much information. But since you’re such an intelligent bunch, I think you already know that there was a third entity involved in all of this–the farm. It’s time to tell you about “the farm.”

We live on 100 acres of what might be the most beautiful property I’ve ever seen. We’re in a little valley that runs off the west slope of Mary’s Peak, the tallest mountain in Oregon’s Coast Range Mountains. At something approaching 4,000 feet tall, Mary’s Peak isn’t much by western U.S. standards, but it has a wonderful distinctive profile. It looks a lot like a humpback whale rising up, and when it’s surrounded by these sort of seafoam-like clouds (as it often is), the resemblance is striking. And it’s visible for miles in almost any direction. When I see Mary’s Peak, I know I’m almost home.

Ben bought the property in 1969. It was newly logged, so the first thing he did was clean it up and plant it with trees. I don’t know how much you know about coastal Oregon, but we’re in a sort of subtropical rain forest, and it’s nothing for a Douglas fir (which is really a variety of pine, but that’s another story) tree to grow six feet when the buds break.

Pause for a weather update: As of 4 p.m. this afternoon (the last time I could see the rain gauge clearly) it had rained 7.5 inches in less than 72 hours. That’s more than a tenth of an inch an hour. I rest my case.

The trees he planted then are marketable. Kind of like a long term annuity sort of thing. But they’ve logged so much around us that it’s great to be able to just let them grow.

We set out, about a year after the New Year’s Eve dinner, to build a 16×16 tool shed. We now have about 2300 square feet of house and several outbuildings, including the shed we originally set out to build, which of course became much, much larger. The house is much larger than I ever wanted, but when you’ve acquired 4-5,000 books (I quit counting at 3,500), there’s nothing to do but build a room for a library. Someone once commented that we had more books than some small branch libraries. At the rate at which libraries are being de-funded, that’s probably a good thing. We may be the only branch library some of our neighbors have in the not too distant future.

But I digress. We built the house about as far from the entrance to the property as you can get and be on reasonably level ground. Most of our property is mountainous and really only suited for growing trees. But we have 5-6 acres between the house and the river that’s fairly flat. That’s our “golf course,” although it also includes an orchard and a 60×100 foot garden that’s deer fenced (a necessity here if you want any produce for yourself).

There are 5-6 springs on the property. We’ve developed two of them, one for the house and one for the garden. The house water is like a little miracle. It comes from somewhere very deep in the earth. The flow doesn’t vary much year round. And it’s cold and clear and its like drinking fresh air. The garden spring is a little touchier. The trees steal more of its water, so flow in late summer can become an issue.

When we were young and feisty, we did everything by hand. Now we have two Kubota tractors, one with a backhoe and a slightly smaller one that tills the garden, digs postholes, and does other necessary things. We also have a riding lawnmower (for the golf course), an RTV 9000 (think 4-wheeler on steroids and wrapped in mink), a gas-powered golf course maintenance cart acquired second hand–great purchase, runs us around the place with all the necessary tools for about a gallon of gas a month–and assorted cars and trucks.

I’ll post some pictures before long, but right now they’re all on another computer, and I don’t have time to go dig them out. But I’m running out of chatter. If there’s something you’d like to know, post a question or shoot me an e-amil, and I’ll try to answer.

Notes from aboard the Pineapple Express

November 5, 2006

Warning: This might be a long post. I keep threatening to tell you about the farm, and I’m sure I will soon, but what’s occupying my brain tonight is the beginnings of a love story, and that’s what I’ll probably write about.

Our rain gauge is registering more than 5 inches of rain in the last 72 hours. Ben’s been out three times today to make sure all of the culverts are running free on our 3/4 mile-long driveway. And the rain continues to pound.

This is not abnormal. In a somewhat dry year, we get about 80 inches of rain. This kind of storm is what the local weather folks call the Pineapple Express. It surges across the Pacific Ocean from the general vicinity of Hawaii (hence the name) gathering water along the way, and when the air all full of water bumps up against Mary’s Peak just to our east, the clouds stop. Since they are too heavy to go over the mountain, they proceed to dump most of the water on us and our neighbors. Then they move on. But since the storm has come from the tropics, it’s generally accompanied by warm temperatures and occasionally rather exciting winds. It’s not been much below 60F degrees since the storm started, despite the 2-3 days of strong freeze we had just a few days ago.

But I’m sitting here listening to the rain hammering down, and I was jerked back to 1979. Ben and I, accompanied by my 4 1/2 year-old daugher and my 16-year-old stepdaughter (from a previous marriage) had come up from the San Francisco area to spend Christmas at my parents’ house in Florence (about halfway up the Oregon coast). A couple of days after Christmas, Ben said he wanted to go check out his property and asked if I’d like to come along. Mom and Dad agreed to keep the girls, and we promised them we’d be back in time to celebrate the coming of the new year with them.

Ben and I had been friends for more than a dozen years. We were both fairly recently out of long term relationships and sort of stepping gingerly around each other, not sure what direction things were going. We were all staying in Ben’s 27-foot Condor motor home (the same model, he was fond of pointing out, that NASA used to collect and contain returning astronauts).  It was very comfortable. I said sure, I’d like to come along. I had visited Ben’s place a number of times before as a house guest, and I knew how pretty the property was. And I was very much at loose ends.

So we drove up the coast. His land is about 2 hours from the lakefront place my folks owned for years (now owned by my baby sister). We came up and spent several days. And here’s where the rain comes in.

Ben went out each day to walk the land, check the trees he’s planted, and do whatever it is he does when he’s cruising around here on his own. I sat in the Condor with the rain pounding on the roof and re-read Thoreau’s Walden for the first time in about 15 years. I don’t know how to describe the pull of reading this wonderful piece of work in the setting for which it might have been written. But the room was warm, the words were warm, and the company was great. I was ready to chuck it all and go off and be Mountain Girl. And the rain pounded on the roof.

On December 31, I reminded Ben that we’d promised the girls we’d be back to celebrate with them. We packed things up, decided to have a fancy New Year’s dinner in Newport, and head down the coast. When we got to Newport, the restaurant parking lots were jammed and it was clear we really weren’t going to manage our dinner easily. I said I had all the makings of a spaghetti dinner in the refrigerator and suggested that I just cook for us. Ben thought that a great idea, and we drove through Newport to the huge parking lot overlooking the jetty and parked there.

The rain was still pounding on the roof, but while I was busy chopping garlic and onions, there was a pounding on the door as well. It was the Newport police, come to tell us that we couldn’t camp in the parking lot. Ben had been a Newport policeman for a couple of years, and the men who came recognized him. When he explained that we weren’t camping but just preparing for a quick bite to eat and we’d be on our way, they wished us a “Happy New Year” and left. I continued cooking. Ben bustled around rather furtively, saying that he would set the table.

I finished the spaghetti and tossed a salad, then started carrying the food out. I almosts dropped the salad when I saw the little dinette table covered with a red checkered tablecloth, candles burning in candle holders, stemmed wine glasses, and an open bottle of Chianti beside them. I think that was when I had my first flash of “I could live with this man.”

So I hope you’ll forgive me the walk down memory lane. It’s the rain, pure and simple. Ben and I celebrated our 25th anniversary a little earlier this year, and it’s nice to still feel in love and loved.

Progress report, on various fronts

November 4, 2006

Today the following things happened:

The 300-pound dresser made it to the top of the stairs and into the bedroom. Thank you Pablo! I can get through my hall again facing forward. And I can even put my clothes away, as soon as I get all ten drawers put back in in the right sequence.

The great blue heron was back for another round of fishing, flying so low I thought at first I was glimpsing a sports car on the gravel road.

My computer equipment appears to have all survived the move. I haven’t tested the printers yet, but everything else is working GREAT!

Pioneer Telephone left me a message telling me that they would be able to provide my DSL line “very soon,” something about repeaters being installed as LaDonna left the message. These people are very cool, and I will post about them later (after I really have DSL). But I’ll bet I have the first DSL installation in the US that is 11 miles from paved road. And when they’re done, I’ll bet it works.

Thank you all for your comments. It’s fun to know you’re reading my trivia.


Moved, but not moved in

November 3, 2006

With any luck, this is the last time in my life I will have to do this. I think there are very few things that I hate as much as moving–both the packing and the unpacking. It’s far more work than I thought to smoosh a two-bedroom apartment into a four-bedroom house. Part of it is who I am. Both residences had fully equipped kitchens. And part of it is Ben, my other half. He never met a piece of furniture more than twenty years old that he didn’t like immediately. So now we’re in the unpack, shift stuff around, decide what’s really necessary mode. But once it’s done, it’s done.

But there are the breaks. . .This week alone, a great blue heron flew by my deck so close I could see its eye watching me. A bald eagle, equally close, displayed its deadly beak in warning. And a downy woodpecker spent most of the week building a nest about 30 feet from the back porch. She looked at us each time we came out, but since we didn’t threaten, she went right on pecking her hole and spitting the wood chips out. I’ve never seen that before. And today, there were two 4-foot long salmon in the gravel bar below the orchard. We’ve had more than and inch and a half of rain in the last 24 hours, so the salmon will be humping it up the river soon.

I’ve reconnected with several of my writer friends on the coast, and I’m starting to get really excited about being here. I know the moving part doesn’t last forever. . .

Enough for tonight. I know I promised to talk about the farm, and I will, but for now, I’m tired, and the stairs are still covered with stuff that has to be moved up before bedtime in case the house catches fire. Always leave your exits open.