Archive for the ‘trees’ Category

Josh B., where are you when I really need you?

January 17, 2008

Buster and I are back. We had a grand adventure, as promised.

Buster is my little truck. I’ve never named a car before, but I’ve never had one wink at me in the dealer parking lot before either. It felt like he deserved a name.

Buster is the first car I ever bought all by myself (I mean without the help of a male person of some sort or other). I got a good price without assistance, and after somewhat over 100,000 miles, I think I got a pretty good little truck, too.

For the last 10 days, I’ve been a “residency assistant” at my old MFA in writing program. One of the blessings of being retired (and there are many) is that you have a lot of freedom in arranging your schedule. So when the call went out for program graduates who could come for the 10-day residency and do assorted stuff, I raised my hand.

My responsibilities were nebulous, mostly introducing writers at their readings and doing a little airport ferry duty. Buster becomes important in this part, because the airport runs were all on Sunday and Monday. You may recall that we had a little snow and ice those days.

Buster performed like a champion snow car (frankly much to my surprise), slipping occasionally but getting us safely from here to there past spinouts, head-on collisions and rolled-over semis. I never even had to chain up, which hurt my feelings not at all. The Monday morning trip to the airport over Hwy 30 took nearly 4 hours. The return trip, when things were thawed, was just over 2 hours.

In exchange for these light duties, I got to attend 10 days of lectures and readings by world-class writers, drink a LOT of Keoki coffee (just what my bronchitis needed, I’m pleased to report), and eat fresh seafood for a week or so in Seaside. I’ve OD’d on Dungeness crab and razor clams. The paying folks spend about $2,000 for this experience. I got it for free.

Long days of readings and writing craft discussions were topped off with evenings of sincere discussion of the curvature of space/time, Frank O’Hara’s “Lunch Poems,” games of Catch Phrase, and other really important matters.

So I’m back. One of the things I found in Seaside was my Mario hat. I was sure it would improve my power star accumulating ability by leaps and bounds. But the truth of the matter is, even with my magic hat, Major Burrows is still kicking my butt. And I thought we had mole problems on the golf course. . .

So, Josh–what do I do about this guy? Several times I’ve had him running down the trail holding his rear in pain. Then he turns around and offs me, and I seem helpless to prevent it. Any suggestions?

The forest damage from the December storms around Seaside and Astoria is mind-boggling. Picture a hillside of a couple of hundred acres with a half-mature forest on it, thousands and thousands of trees 20-25 years old at a rough guess. All but about 50 of the trees are simply blown over, lying flat on the ground. The “survivors” are all broken off about halfway up. There’s not a single tree intact. It was like a massive explosion or meteor strike or something. It was one of the saddest things I’ve seen in a long time.

I’ll write more tomorrow, but after all that fun and frolic, I’m really bushed tonight “and so to bed.”

Josh, I’m counting on you to tell me how to finish off Major Burrows before I throw the Wii controller through Ralph’s TV set.

Goodbye to 2007, reflections, and a few interesting discoveries

January 1, 2008

And I wish I could say I’m going to miss this year, but the truth of the matter is, it’s been a mixed bag, so I don’t know if I will or not. But at least it’s been interesting. . .

Yesterday I heard of a Scottish custom for celebrating the changing of the calendar that I really like. At midnight you open the front door to let the new year in, then rush to the back door and open it to let the old year out. Beats the heck out of getting smashed and throwing up all over yourself and everyone close. . .

But I couldn’t help but wonder: What if you reversed the order and let the old year out before you let the new one in? Would it stop time for the moment? (I’m not usually this weird but I’ve been listening to a series of lectures on physics, and the lecturer has me thinking about the non-absolute characteristic of time. So that speculation isn’t as far fetched as it seems.)

There’s an article in the current issue of Archaeology magazine about the henge builders (think Stonehenge). One of the things we discovered this year was that we have our very own henge on this place, although it’s made of trees, not stones.

One of our serious landmarks is a very large (over 200′ tall according to my astrolabe) pair of Douglas fir trees. They escaped the logging that was done in the early 1960s (just before Ben bought the place) because they functioned as the tailholt for the tower cable (an anchor that holds the lower end of the cable in place). A piece of the cable still sticks out from where they have grown together over the years. They’re very very lovely, but that’s not the most remarkable thing about them.

The most remarkable thing about this pair of trees is that on the winter solstice, the sun sets right between them. It’s a beautiful thing to see and a good thing to know (especially if calendars should disappear one of these days, not a totally unthinkable event in these interesting times).

It’s very cold since the rain stopped, but that has its advantages, too. I started the kitchen stove first thing this morning because it puts out heat so much faster than the living room stove. So by breakfast time I had a hot oven, and we were able to feast on skillet-baked cornbread, bacon, scrambled eggs, and fresh, sweet orange wedges, the kind you only seem to be able to get in the winter.

One of this year’s real plusses is that I’ve had the time to become very good friends with my wood cookstove. I haven’t attempted a cake yet (mostly because none of us particularly likes cake), but I’ve run just about everything else through it. I’m getting very spoiled.

I discovered a piece of cookware I don’t have (Ben says that’s impossible). I don’t have an apfelskiver pan. I think that’s a very good thing. They look like a great deal of trouble to bake, and I suspect that other apple things taste as good or better. So I’m not looking for one.

And of course, I discovered White Lily flour. I’m still making discoveries about how to use it, when to mix it with other flours to get the desired result (for example, scones made with pure White Lily flour are too cakey for my taste, but if I add a little hard wheat flour (about 3 parts WL to 2 parts hard wheat) the texture is perfect.

And speaking of scones, you may remember that one of my goals was to find the perfect scone recipe. I hit it second time out, so now I’m messing with various additions for flavor. I used to think that apricot scones topped with apricot or peach jam were the best, but that was before I added some crystalized ginger to my plain scone dough.

The local co-op has a million varieties of organic crystalized or candied dried fruits, so I’m not through experimenting. But it’s hard to imagine anything better than that ginger. . .

One recent discovery is wonderful. Living off the grid as we do, I’ve become somewhat of an expert in flashlights. We’ve tried a number of LED mini-maglites with varying amounts of success. The problem with most of them is that a) they cost about $20, and b) they may be very bright up close but they don’t project. But I stumbled onto this weird little mini-mag (brand Performance Tool, made in China, of course, in a variety of bright metallic colors and basic black, but since I rarely chew on my flashlights, I doubt that there’s a problem here). It’s about 4 inches long, fits nicely in pocket, purse, or glovebox, uses 3 AAA batteries (don’t know the life expectancy yet, but with the LED lamps I’m expecting wonderful things), and projects its brightness about 25 yards (or roughly as far as you can shoot accurately with a pistol, even a good one). I liked it so much I bought a bunch of them ($3.50 each at Bi-Mart) and have scattered them around in useful places. I even have one by the stove for an oven light. And since I ended up for some strange reason (tied, I’m sure to a battery-buying binge I went on when I moved out here) with a surplus of AAA batteries, I think I’m getting a double hit here.

I think I’ve finally identified my mystery birds, and it’s so dumb that I really feel stupid. But I think the birds with the beautiful song are sparrows, house or song, I’m not totally sure. But if that’s the case, I can’t believe we’ve never had them around until this year. But they can come sing to me any time.

And of course I’ve discovered Super Mario Galaxy. I’m sure it will take me the rest of the winter to finish it. Most days I play only during the evenings when the generator is running and during the times I’m not busy getting dinner together or the leftovers put away. I’m trying to average one star a day, but some days I don’t play at all, so then I have to try to make up for it. The stars are getting harder and harder.

I think I’m basically too impatient to be a very good Wii player. My favorite approach is to run full tilt at whatever is my target. But sometimes my speed is better than my accuracy. This often leads to a less than satisfactory result. Come to think of it, there are a number of things that I approach exactly the same way, sometimes with exactly the same result. Hm-m-m-m-m-m. . .

Here’s what I’m hoping for in 2008:

  • Peace
  • More good weather than rain
  • Peace
  • A satisfactory resolution to my brother’s troubles
  • Peace
  • Lots of visits with friends
  • Peace
  • Some good writing
  • Peace
  • One belly laugh (or more) every day
  • Peace

You get the idea. . .

Now once again I have lumped so many topics together I’ll probably get another note from that guy who complained before, which is OK. At least I knew he read the whole thing. . .But I’m going to sign off. I’ve got to go write a poem about Appalachia, and I’m not sure where to start.

The best to all of you in 2008. Stay in touch.

Gardening and the right to life

May 18, 2007

Lord, I am tired. Spring here is that time of year when everything has to be done at once for the rest of the year to happen as it should. This is complicated by the fact that for the last 7 years or so I’ve worked in town and was here an average of about 40 hours a week, including sleeping time. For the last 4 years, I was also going to school and burning up my vacation time with residencies and my weekend time with studies and papers, so frankly, everything was a mess. So I’m playing catchup.

I’m in triage mode. My daily activities are to some extent determined by what will cause the most damage if it’s put off another day.

The garden is very high priority at the moment. We have a short growing season, and if I want to grow hot weather things like tomatoes, I have to monitor every available opportunity to do soil prep and so forth and plan it in such a way that I’m not having an impact on the ability to do some things like tilling with power equipment at a later date. It’s been nuts.

But I am determined to grow a ripe watermelon at least once in my life.

I know things will settle down in a couple of weeks when most things are planted and it becomes mostly an issue of keeping water on. In this regard I have created a monster for myself this year, resurrecting four separate flower beds and a full garden, not to mention the hanging baskets and herb benches and all of that stuff. Plus I have about 24 baby trees in pots to nurture.

I’m a lousy gardener. I don’t have the strength to cull out the weak or extra plants. I want them all to grow, so tomorrow instead of thinning things like the spinach starts I’ll be carefully transplanting them and applying extra water to help ensure that they all survive. It’s stupid, but to just yank out surplus plants seems so wasteful.

If you haven’t already figured this out, I love growing things. I love the changing of the seasons, the way things struggle to make their way on the earth, and I really enjoy helping them out a bit.

Today Brenda and I visited a couple of neighbors up the valley who grow plant starts, and tomorrow is going to be one of those days that makes my body hurt. I was much saner than usual about my purchases, because in the forefront of my thoughts was this refrain: “If you buy it, you have to get it in the ground.”

But I’ve still got about 30 pickling cucumber plants to go in and God-knows-how-many Bodacious corn starts, and green and purple basil, Sugar Baby watermelons, and three kinds of onions. I have my home grown starts–four kinds of squash and long seedless cucumbers. I also have a bunch of herb seeds (special nightmare those-if the weather holds they’ll have to be watered at least three times a day). The herbs are critical for making the squash a gourmet treat and the little cucumbers into crispy pickles and the tomatoes and jalapenos into wonderful fresh salsa.

The cauliflower, broccoli, and an exorbitant amount of cabbage are growing leaps and bounds. The beans are up and thriving, the raspberries in full bloom with their early crop, the blueberries setting fruit, the little plum tree and Royal Anne cherry loaded with fruit.

Plus we have to get the new blueberry harem netting up, which means finishing the weeding in the last third of the bed and laying down the rest of the wood chip mulch. I was tired when I started this. Now I’m exhausted.

Some reasons to like trees that have nothing to do with global warming

May 1, 2007

Let me begin this post with an apology to Jenny. She has waited so patiently for pictures of my trees, and I know she’d really rather see the exotics I purchased recently.

But Jenny, by the time you asked for pictures, most of them were already planted, and being a foot or so tall in their great big anti-beaver wire cages, there isn’t much to see. I tried to take some pictures, and even I went “ho hum” at the results.

However, I am going to post some pictures of a few more mundane varieties and hope they aren’t as mundane in New Zealand. And what these trees have in common is that they were each basically sticks a foot or less tall when I planted them. So I have great hopes for my new ones.

 This Western Red Cedar was my first “rescue” effort. I rescued it from an office building landscaped lot. It was a volunteer from God knows where. There weren’t any cedar trees in the immediate area. I looked at it and realized that the maintenance crew was just going to yank it out next time through, called the management company and asked their permission to dig it up. Granted. It’s now about 14′ tall and very pretty just off my back deck.

Western Red Cedar

Western Red Cedar is what is known as a “climax” species. It will grow in virtually total shade and eventually take over the forest. Before the big fires of the 19th and 20th centuries, much of western Oregon was covered with giant cedar trees.

This mountain ash was a seedling from a tree in a house we once owned. It is now nearly 20″ tall and has beautiful white flowers in the spring followed by brilliant red berries.

Mountain Ash

This is a redbud tree (actually two planted in close proximity). The Arbor Day Society sent me this one when I sent them a teeny bit of money.


Here’s a closeup of the blossoms:

Redbud blossoms

This Japanese red maple is a very slow grower. I took three seedlings from a house we lived in. The tree there had been planted when the house was built about 90 years ago and was nearly as big as the house. A friend called it “the sort of tree you would buy a house just to get.” That’s pretty much how we felt about it, too.

Japanese red maple with rhododendron

This tree opens a purple red, gradually becomes green and bronze, and in the fall turns neon red. It is truly spectacular most times of the year.

There are lots of reasons I’m feeling very friendly toward trees today. Not the least of them is that I’ve spent most of the last three days gardening. Ben tilled about half the load of BS into the garden. I got all that stuff I bought planted, and it’s supposed to rain tomorrow, so I actually put some seed in the ground, too, so nature can water it for me.

As I was cleaning up, Ben showed up with some dahlia tubers that a neighbor sent down, so I had another 45 minutes or so of planting and digging to do. I’m dog-tired, and I can’t help but contrast the amount of work the garden takes to get a great reward with the teeny amount of effort it takes to grow fine trees here in my sub-tropical rain forest.

But now I read that planting trees in the northern latitudes actually contributes to global warming because they absorb sunlight. I’m going to ignore that little piece of information and keep planting them.

Oh, and one more reason to like trees: Last winter we had to take down some of the fir trees Ben planted more than 30 years ago. They had taken out the power lines (we don’t care, but the rest of the valley sure did) and were threatening the little cabin across the river. A logger friend came down and cut them for us. The power company repair crew offered to knight him.

Today the company that bought them picked them up to take to a mill. These are the first trees Ben has logged that he actually planted. It was a full truckload.

Log load

A big load of B*S*

April 28, 2007

I’ll bet you think this is going to be another pseudo-political post (“pseudo” because I do my best to ignore politics, as impossible as that is). But you’re wrong. It really is a post about a big load of bulls***, or probably more accurately, cows*** or steer manure.

I took a bunch of pictures of growing things today, and this will help put them in context.

Ben came home last night with the “exciting” news that Sterling, a neighbor up river, had a big pile of manure he needed to get rid of. “A gardener’s dream,” Ben called it, “aged for several years, nicely composted, ready to go in the garden without burning it up.”

I pointed out that we really didn’t need additives in most of our garden. I had just bought a small bag of sterile steer manure for the brassicas, and I thought it might be enough to feed the corn as well. But Ben was not to be deterred, asked me to call Sterling with my sweetest gardener’s voice and ask him what he’d charge to deliver it. “There’s about two pickup loads there, it’s perfect,” Ben said.

So with some trepidation about this whole thing, I called and arranged delivery.

Today Sterling showed up with about 20 cubic yards of aged manure in his rock truck, about three-four times as much as we can use. But this is Ben’s project, not mine. I was just the negotiator. He’s been moving manure the rest of the afternoon, and he’s arranged to give some of it to our neighbors.

Here’s what our garden looks like:


It’s about 40’x80′. It started out to be 40’x60′, but we added some at the end to put in a mini-orchard. You can see the raspberry patch and a red cherry plum in the foreground. It’s had its first rough till, and by Sunday it will have had the final till and gardening will begin in earnest. And it will have a whole bunch of manure tilled into it.

You can see there’s a substantial fence (8′ tall) around it. This is necessary if we are to enjoy any of it rather than feeding the deer. The vehicle in the middle is the little RTV with a dump bed, parked there so I can load the back with crabgrass and blackberry roots I dug out of the rose bed at the far end. Just behind the RTV is the blueberry patch:

Blueberry bushes

I have six varieties, two early, two mid-season, two late. But they all seem to come on faster than I’m ready for them. Here’s what this year’s crop looks like so far:

Blueberry blossoms

The early berries are the ones that get as big as quarters, and they are my very favorites. This year for sure I’m making blueberry scones.

That’s it for today’s garden report.  I took some tree pictures as well, but this post is so huge they’re going to have to wait for the next one.