Another Other Place

   Recently in New Mexico I was made so aware of the living force in our most precious commodity, water.

Above is a photo of Abiquiu Lake at very, very low water. This has been the condition of the country for the last decade of drought, water vanishing into the thirsty air and seeping into the ground, day by day, year after year.  Those clouds that look so filled with promise seldom let down much. Often you can see the rain, see it as a veil beneath the clouds, but in a phenomenon called virga, it evaporates before it reaches the ground.

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I am still under the spell of a land formed by the absence and the sudden return of water. I am still marked by understanding how local water is, how suddenly it can change terrifying old bones of a landscape into fertile production.  And I am still moved by the evidence of people who have lived in this region through these many hundreds of years.

Especially, three sites we visited stay in my mind.

As you drive Highway 84 near the settlement of Abiquiu you might see, off to the north side of the road and marked by a large white cross, an adobe structure crumbling into the sands. It is all that remains of a community of Spanish settlers, established in 1734. Some 20 families lived here, around a plaza which featured the small church building dedicated to Santa Rosa de Lima.

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Though the site was abandoned in 1747, in a time of intense discord between the native peoples and the Spanish in-comers, the church itself was in use into the 1930s. Today it settles humbly back into the soil from which it came. Inside, there are signs of continued reverence for the site.

In a corner, and in several other niches around the building, are poor roses struggling to establish themselves. A jug of water has a note beside it: Please water the roses. We did.

A weathering sign at the parking lot tells us the dates of Santa Rosa de Lima, April 30 1586 to August 25, 1617, and prays, “When we serve the poor and the sick we serve Jesus. We must not fail to help our neighbors, because in them we serve Jesus. Amen.”

The desert sun and wind, and the sometimes rain, wear away at the building, but someone cares for the place. Someone keeps trash away. Visitors seem to be quiet and respectful.

A little further east, on the south side of the highway, is a small turn-out and parking area. It’s not marked on the roadway, but across from the parking lot is a trailhead which leads to an upward track.  It’s a well-made trail that skirts, at a distance meant to keep hikers at a protective margin, an ancient Pueblo site. Persist a while — it’s not more than half a mile, but you will want your water bottle — and you will come to the crest of a knoll that gives a map-like view of the remains of the village of Poshuouinge (say it po-shu-win-gay). Apart from aerial photography, you are unlikely to have such a distinct look at the lay-out of a village site. (Not long ago someone taught me a subtlety of speech. She said she does not like to use the word “ruin” for such places, because ruin suggests annihilation and the end of something. These people, the Pueblo descendants, are still with us, still making lives in time. So I call this kind of place a site. I no longer call them ruins, no matter what the sign at the trailhead says.)

A map board at the viewpoint shows the village in plan,

but you can see it yourself so clearly, the board is hardly needed.

There is holiness here, too, the holiness of deep time and souls gone before. In places like this, the air holds something difficult to grasp, but which is tasted in our own breath as we stand above it. I have examined bits of broken pottery that hold the imprint of the fingers of the potter. A likewise imprint exists on the land and in the wind.

(Here is a teaching moment, a small lecture. Just as you do not go into someone’s home and pocket little things to take away, you do not take away the bits of material culture you find in ancient sites. Removed from their context they have no value to understanding. Stored in a drawer in your garage, they have no value to you, either.  What do they say about anything if they are mounted for display in your den? Their value is in their place. Left here, they can speak to the next people who come along. It’s a matter of respect. Pick them up, look at them, wonder what they tell you. Enjoy the moment. Put them back.)

What might have caused the people to leave here? It was long before the Spanish arrived to disrupt native lives and traditions. The river appears to have moved away from the flat if the rendering is correct, but not so far as to make life uneasy. A couple of springs still rise nearby. It cannot have been water that drove them from their homes and gardens.

Water on my mind again. Right now this valley of the Chama River is surprisingly green. In a hoped-for but unexpected gesture from nature, there has been some rain this spring and early summer.  It takes so little to waken the desert.And it wakes with such sudden exuberance, it is almost possible to forget, for a moment, what lies just away from the river, just away from that sweet spot where a prickly pear blooms.

It is this:

and this:

The White Place, Plaza Blanca, where the elements have carved what seem to be lines of penitents making their long way through time.

It is a kind of horror to contemplate the forces at work here. Without markers, without telling, this place is as holy and mysterious and deserving of respect as the shrine of Santa Rosa and the site of Poshuouinge. Such deep time lies revealed naked here that it is impossible not to understand, suddenly, how small our own time is.

So where am I going with all this? I’m wandering. I’m reminding myself of place and time. The river flows nearby and gives life.

Time flows over it all and takes life, or turns it into something else.

And we pass by along the way, wondering a little now and then whether we mean much in it all.

John Muir wrote, of another place,

One is constantly reminded of the infinite lavishness and fertility of Nature — inexhaustible abundance amid what seems enormous waste. And yet when we look into any of her operations that lie within reach of our minds, we learn that no particle of her material is wasted or worn out. It is eternally flowing from use to use … and we soon cease to lament waste and death, and rather rejoice and exult in the imperishable, unspendable wealth of the universe, and faithfully watch and wait the reappearance of everything that melts and fades and dies about us… (My First Summer in the Sierra, John Muir)

He was happier in his world than we have any right to be today, and to quote such words that could not imagine the elemental brink on which we stand may seem frivolous. But even now we need to hold onto the knowledge that this world, which can live on quite well without us, is a work of long time.


Published in: on July 16, 2019 at 4:23 pm  Comments (8)  

Another Place, Another Farm: Santa Fiora, Italy

  The plan began a year ago when my friend Betty wrote to say she’d found an agriturismo, a farm in Italy, available to rent by the week. “It has four bedrooms!” she wrote. “Four bathrooms! It would be perfect for four of us!” Agriturismo is an Italian portmanteau word combining agricultura and turismo. Another form is agrivacanza, a farm vacation. It’s a way small holders in Italy can increase income by devoting part of their farm property and time to hosting guests on holiday. In the US, where this kind of vacationing is also on the rise, it’s called a Farm Stay.

I agreed, it would be just right for four of us. And in the next months she filled out the list of travelers: Herself, myself, Isabelle, and Marcia. Three of us had traveled together already, to a rental cottage in Ireland. The fourth, Marcia, was a friend I hadn’t met. But really, did that matter? How bad could it be? Witness my usual approach to travel: It’s only a week. Or two weeks. How bad can it be? (Experience does not necessarily confirm this cheery outlook, but in general, it’s a good way to go into an adventure.) Sure! Let’s go! So we reserved the farm for dates after Easter (two of my companions are Episcopal clergy and could not be away from home at Easter), and before the summer crush of tourists. No tourist wants to share an outing with other ones of the same.

The farm is called Podere Asche (po-‘de-ray ‘as-kay), Ash Farm in English.

We agreed to meet, we four, at Heathrow Airport in London. They are all east coast women and could fly together. I, as a west coaster, would arrange my own flight to join them there. It worked seamlessly. When I cleared security at Heathrow they were all having lunch in a sandwich bar inside the airport. We cheered, embraced, and hoped our luggage would be as easily united. By early evening we were checking into an overnight hotel in Pisa. Of course I made the essential tourist photo of the one thing everyone knows about Pisa. It was almost accidental since we saw it only because our taxi driver took our request for a restaurant to mean, naturally, near the tower.

Agriturismi are not likely to be handy to airports. They’re outside the cities. They are, after all, farms. We had reserved a car for the next morning. It was a sleek black long Peugeot with exactly space in the back for suitcases for four, and exactly room for four women with their carry-ons. I sat in the front passenger seat with my backpack between my feet and Betty’s bag between my knees. Betty drove. I was to be navigator by virtue of my Italian language and my cellphone map thing. Cellphone map thing not withstanding, I had a paper map of Tuscany spread on my lap. Away! The road leads… well, somewhere, anyway. We headed out of Pisa in exactly the wrong direction. Apparently you cannot have enough navigation aids.

Never mind! We turned around, and added not more than half an hour to our drive to Santa Fiora. It was a glorious drive through mountains embroidered with woodlands, olive trees, and meticulously kept vines.

Santa Fiora is remote from larger cities. Dante wrote of this town, “e vedrai Santafior com’ è oscura” which is to say, “… and you will see how remote is Santa Fiora.” In the context of the poet’s visit to Purgatory where souls crowd around him in grief and suffering, Santa Fiora is interpreted as a place of safety and healing. Even now it is distant and, nestled in mountains and forest, it is beautiful. A town of 2,600 souls, it has Just Enough.

Just enough people, just enough of restaurants, shops, churches, public services, just enough of a town near enough to other towns, far enough to be it’s own settlement. From the town center a narrow-winding street runs downhill to Podere Asche, past the town square, apartment homes, fountains, and steps into courtyards. Within a mile it is yet narrower, passing between stands of forest and pasture enclosures. The distance between the town and its rural surroundings is short.

And suddenly, we are there.

Podere Asche, is a beautiful stone house on a hillside surrounded by woodlands, streams, neighboring farms, and a collection of clucking and bleating animals. This is in no way like a hotel stay, and not even like a B&B where breakfast takes place with a hostess piling eggs and sausages onto your plate. It is delightful private accommodation. We see our hosts daily when they come to feed the livestock, deliver firewood, or hand over eggs, but we are left to ourselves to shop and cook, to make our beds or not, to open windows, to walk and wander…

So, then, what do you do when you’ve broken loose from guidelines and guides and you are not on a tour? You are on your own in the spring in a lovely little town.

After your breakfast of freshly delivered eggs and fried pancetta you visit the chickens and toss them your scraps. You compliment the rooster on his fine plumage.

And you admire the goose setting her nest.

And then maybe you take a walk in the nearby woods where perhaps, though you are not sure, you may be trespassing, but you see no one who might tell you, so you linger.

You come upon the oddest thing there in the woods, which gives you a creepy start for a moment, before you realize it is a carved stump stuck in a tree, not the wild spirit of a forest pig peering at you.

Later you walk into town. If it is market day, you see an astonishing array of goods under tents. Wild boar meat (cinghiale), leaner than farm pork, loaves of bread, cheeses in the round from which the smiling woman will cut you a hunk, pastries, vegetables, bottles of wine, and cut flowers.

Around the corner are handbags, shoes, hats, dresses and shirts. Down the way are kitchen utensils. One vendor displayed vacuum cleaners next to an assortment of broadswords. And of course, every seller is so very pleased to see you, so quick to note you are foreign, so generous to offer you, only you, a cut-rate price. If you are successful in negotiation you leave feeling you have achieved something, but wondering whether the man’s poor grandmother will really go without her dental work because of the parting price of that orange leather handbag. Even at the final price, you have a feeling you might have been taken. But you like your handbag and you have a wonderful sack full of choices for dinner.

Tuscany is full of festival days. On your very first day in Santa Fiora, you find choirs singing on the steps of the town hall, one after the other, giving out folk tunes, church hymns, and popular songs. You’re certain you were told what the occasion was, but you don’t remember.

Because, it seems, the very next time you go uphill to town, it is another party. It is May Day, and the piazza is alive with a marching band, with a table offering wine and cheese, salami and world peace all in one serving, and the local Communists, all seven of them, parade across the square with their red banner.

The neighborhood watches from apartment windows above the square.

When you come back to Podere Asche, the host’s sheep watch you make your way down the lane.

On the way, you have gathered salad greens for later, wild lettuces, escaped cilantro, feral mint leaves, dandelion greens, thyme, and woodland sorrel.

You are sublimely happy. Your friends are congenial, you explore together or not, you eat together in the evening even if you have not shared the day, and you share it across the table.

Another day perhaps you drive out together and visit hill towns and monasteries. Another day you go in pairs, to lunch in the town. Another day you go alone, maybe with your sketchbook. You visit the beautiful Peschiera park with its lake where gigantic trout swim, who once fed the town, and where the Fiora River bubbles up beneath a small chapel with a ceramic panel by Andrea della Robbia mounted above its door, and some little duck gives you the eyeball.

One day it rains, but you go out anyway. You haven’t seen all the town. You haven’t met all the people, though some of them already are nodding in recognition as you walk by.

Your host brings you wild cyclamen in a fist, which makes you all smile and you put them in a glass on the table. They last the entire week.

But the week is flying by, and too quickly. Too soon you will look back from the narrow track to see Podere Asche returned to its own people.

You haven’t made the sketches you meant to. You haven’t gotten past the sense that your 40 year-old Italian makes you sound like Tarzan (but given another week, another two, it would be better). You press between the pages of your notebook the drying posy you took from a basket of them on a holy day in a church downhill from the piazza, and you wonder whether you could someday come back.

Could you have your own little apartment there? No. But perhaps you could come back.


Published in: on June 12, 2019 at 7:19 am  Comments (6)  

Nesting Instinct

The days bend shorter, the dahlias put on a show (my friend Barbara and I make a pilgrimage to the Dahlia Festival each September, just to fill ourselves with the glory of the changing season),(my fingers just typed “flory,” and I almost left it there as a happy portmanteau word for the glory of flowers each autumn),


The flory of the Swan Island Dahlia Festival

and it’s this time of year again when vegetables are rolling in from the garden at a pace faster than they can be consumed. The canners are boiling in the kitchen where the temperature is around 100 degrees, and something inside a woman wants to start putting things by for winter.

It’s apple-picking and saucing time:


It’s pickling time, too, and we have

Dilly Beans on their shelf,


Bread and Butter Pickles,










Mexican style hot carrot pickles,


and pickled eggs in a giant bottle.16aug_eggs2_cr_sm

The tomatoes in excess of any possible fresh

consumption are jarred and stored in their ranks,


and there are still more to be eaten, so many we have tomato sores in our mouths, but we keep on adding them to salads and plates, and making tomato sandwiches and tomato gravy and fried tomatoes. And there are peppers, too, waiting for their pickling piper to show up.


These are a pretty little pepper called Biquinho, from Brazil, and just coming ripe now. They are intended for pickling, to be used in salads. We first found them at a Brazilian restaurant in Portland where they are part of the “market table” salad bar. Pretty soon we will have to bring them into the greenhouse if they are to finish their season.


Deeper in the garden, the frost isn’t yet on the pumpkins, but they are ready for it. Ours are Rouge vif d’Etampes. It’s a beautiful French heirloom, once common in the markets there. It deserves to be kept in gardens. It grows easily and large, is sweet inside and beautiful outside.


I can’t stop taking pictures of them!


The summer squash are at last beginning to fail while the winter ones are ready for taking. The one below is Thelma Sanders’ Sweet Potato Acorn squash. It’s much like the more familiar dark-skinned acorns (we called those Danish Squash in our house when we were kids). As we know to be the case in other things, the skin color makes no difference. The meat inside is golden and sweet.


The hay is in the barn, so that culinary detail is taken care of.


Pears are still hanging on, waiting for their moment. These are Comice:


Oh, and…

murder1_cr_sm there was an unfortunate day for some chickens. They are now resting peacefully in the freezer. They are not fryers but stewing hens waiting for their day in the winter pot. Chicken butchering day is also custard dessert day for us. Old hens still have a supply of egg yolks inside, and it would be a terrible thing to waste them.


Having a satisfied feeling about the larder now, I feel it’s time to settle in for an evening of knitting, and to finish up a nice sweater project.


The nest is feathered and it’s time to sigh and be content.





Published in: on September 26, 2016 at 7:51 am  Comments (8)  

It’s a Fair Day

13aug_fairpie2_smsmIt’s County Fair Time again!

Fairs: you either love them or… it’s expensive, it’s hot, it’s dusty, it’s crowded, the food is bad, it smells like animals, all the vendors are con artists, and my feet hurt…

All of those things are true.

I love the County Fair.

County fairs are a cheerful remnant of simpler times, when people came together to sell, to buy, to share their work, to compete a little, and to perspire in common under the summertime sun. At the fair we can eat overcooked corn on the cob, sausage on a stick, sugary lemonade, and pie from the Methodist pie concession. We get advice from the County Extension booth, and admire the gigantic tractors,


or sit on them,


or drive them.


We gaze upon the patient cudding cattle mothers and marvel at their size,


and we eye the flat-backed steers on their way to the judging ring,


overseen by the haughty llamas, superior in every attitude


to the slumbering pigs,


the smiling, slumbering pigs.


Who cannot love a sleeping pig?


At the fair you can learn how to milk a cow.


You can admire the curls of the visitors.


You can buy a thrill,


or try your hand at winning a — whatever that was,


and eat pink stuff until you are ill,


and you can save your soul.


Or you can sleep it all off with your friends.


And then you go to the crafts hall to appreciate the prize-winning handwork which sometimes shows a fine sense of humor!


And some of it is lovely and detailed.


And you look to see whether you won anything with your own entry. And you did! You won a blue ribbon on the brown wool sweater in the front of the case!


So you take your tired feet back across the parking lot, and you drive home remembering that you didn’t actually ride the thrill ride, and you didn’t eat any cotton candy or a sausage, but you did have a piece of pie.


And since it came from the Methodists, you will probably not be punished for it later.



Published in: on August 17, 2016 at 1:31 pm  Comments (20)  

Tansy Dance, Pasture Parties, and Br’er Rabbit

We are just back from two wonderful weeks in Italy (sunshine, food, seashores, food, music, food, art, food…) with a group from Portland’s All Classical radio. Casting a loving eye over our little farm, I immediately espied an infestation of Tansy Ragwort. Ugh. I do realize it must have been there before we left, but until it raises its bright, happy, bad-smelling flowers, you can miss it in a pasture.


Pretty, isn’t it? It’s an invader, though, and can kill livestock in grazing fields. Tansy ragwort (Senecio jacobaea or Jacobaea vulgaris) is native to western Europe, arriving here in the 1920s. By the 1950s it was a terrible scourge, killing thousands of livestock animals who fed on contaminated hay. Pasture lands across the west were golden with its late summer blooms.

Time out for terminology: Senecio jacobaea, commonly called tansy ragwort (or just ragwort, or ragweed, or stinking ragweed, or stinking nanny/ninny/willy, staggerwort, staggerweed, or stammerwort, dog standard, cankerwort, mare’s fart, cushag, benweed, bunweed, bundweed, beaweed, bowlocks, curly doddies, or curly head, kettledock,  slavewort, fizz-gig,  felonweed, stanerwort, or yellow perils)

Illustration Senecio jacobaea.jpg (This image is in the public domain because the copyrights of the original work of art have expired. It is a reproduction of a painting by the Swedish botanist C. A. M. Lindman (1856–1928), taken from his book(s) Bilder ur Nordens Flora (first edition published 1901–1905, supplemented edition 1917–1926?).

is not the same weed as Tanacetum vulgare, Common Tansy,  or bitter buttons, cow bitter, golden buttons…

 This work is in the public domain in the United States because it was published (or registered with the U.S. Copyright Office) before January 1, 1923. It is a reproduction of a painting by Prof. Dr. Otto Wilhelm Thomé (1840–1925)Flora von Deutschland, Österreich und der Schweiz

which is, all on its own, a fairly noxious, invasive plant from mainland Europe. This one has historically had some medicinal and culinary applications. It is still listed by the United States Pharmacopeia as a treatment for fevers, feverish colds, and jaundice, and has been used as an insect repellent. Tuck it round you in your coffin to ward off worms.

That may be about enough on the distinctions of tansies, but you can clearly see the problems with naming. Look for the raggedy leaves to spot ragwort.

Beginning in the 1960s Senecio jacobaea was greatly controlled through the introduction of insect predators: the cinnabar moth, the tansy ragwort flea beetle, and a seed head fly. Unlike so many well-meant introductions of species intended to control others, this one seemed to work, and not to have unforeseen negative consequences. Farmers and university scientists believed tansy ragwort had been all but annihilated.

But now, the climate has changed. We’ve had some weather recently that pleases the tansy ragwort, and is not so salutary for the cinnabar moth and her friends. The clever, patient tansy ragwort has taken the opportunity to surge into prominence again. It’s interesting that while horses and cattle fall to the toxins in tansy ragwort, sheep are unaffected. Our sheep could safely graze in an invaded field. But, though sheep have been suggested as a biological control for ragwort (Journal of Range Management), I have noticed that if there are alternatives, the sheep disdain it. So I was out there yesterday lopping and bagging flower heads and pulling the stems from the ground. The idea is to get it before it does this:


While I was cutting and pulling and sweating, I noticed the resident gophers have been partying again. I see this mostly in spring when they turn up all kinds of pottery and glassware in their mounds, signs, I believe, of their tea times and other imbibings underground. I imagine them celebrating their own waking to the season and their lively romantic carryings-on.


Sometimes I am surprised at remnants of what must have once been treasured pieces of fineware. It seems gophers are none too careful with their belongings.


But yesterday I truly blinked at what came up from below: a substantial length of plumbing pipe and joint ejected from the household to the surface, along with a piece of broken window glass.


What on earth, if you’ll pardon the phrase, can be going on down there?

Having filled my quota of feed sacks of ragwort heads, I thought it was time to gather some blackberries in the afternoon. They’re just coming on here, with those big stem-end first berries scenting the summer air.


It’s another nasty plant, really, the Himalayan blackberry. “Invasive and difficult to control,” say the university websites. That does not describe their savage attitude toward passersby. But I believe that if your landscape is overtaken by a fruit-bearing invader, you might as well make the best of it. I rummaged around and found my milk jug with the string attached, and headed out to the sticker brush.


Do you remember the story of B’rer Rabbit and the Wonderful Tar Baby?  Do you remember how the worst, the very worst thing he begged not to happen to him when Br’er Fox caught him one day was to be thrown into that briar patch? “Please!” he begged. “Do whatever you want to me, hang me, skin me, cook me, pull off my legs and ears, but please don’t throw me in that briar patch!” So, being that foxes and rabbits are always fussing with each other (in the 1888 Charles C. Jones, Jr. book Negro Myths from the Georgia Coast Told in the Vernacular, it is a Wolf, but the relationship is constant), Br’er Fox did just that thing. He threw that rabbit right into that briar patch. Where, it turned out, Br’er Rabbit was most happily at home because that was where he was bred and born, right in those sticker bushes.

I remind us of this tale only because, I might say, not everyone is comfortable when they end up tossed into the briar patch. Picking berries I made a small misstep, and the branches beneath me weren’t there, and I tumbled right into Br’er Rabbit’s house, and I did not like it one bit. There is nothing to do but save the bucket of berries as you are going down, and then prickle yourself out as carefully as you can.


I wish I’d been that rabbit.




Published in: on August 8, 2016 at 12:43 pm  Comments (4)  

Off the Farm: The Sylvia Beach Hotel

I suppose it’s a little late for this post, since we made the expedition at the beginning of December. But I promised to make blog posts (I promised!) and we had such a good time, I want to share it.

For years we have said, “We should just go there,” meaning to spend a couple of nights at the Sylvia Beach Hotel


in Newport, Oregon.  For years. Perhaps 20 years. So when we decided that our Christmas present to each other this year would be to do something together, to go someplace, to have a weekend-long play date, the Sylvia Beach seemed the perfect choice.

For those who don’t remember, Sylvia Beach was a bookseller, born in America but living most of the time in Paris. Between the World Wars her bookshop, Shakespeare and Company, was a gathering place for young writers of the Lost Generation. Visitors to the store could buy or borrow controversial books banned in the U.S. and Britain. Sylvia Beach stocked the shop with her own preferences, she encouraged writers, she encouraged publishers to publish them, and she published, herself, James Joyce’s big, difficult, and banned for indecency book, Ulysses, in 1922. That was Sylvia Beach, the woman.


Thanks to Wikimedia Commons, the free media repository, for the use of this image of Sylvia Beach at Shakespeare and Company in 1920.

Sylvia Beach, the eponymous hotel, is another thing. Like the woman, it is imaginative. It is elderly (neither of them was always that). It is individual and fun and funny and beautiful. It is courageous: the hotel has no TVs, no radios, no wifi, no telephones in the rooms. But it has books. It is full of books, authors, writings, pictures, details, jokes, and good, good food at the Tables of Content dining room. It has a reading room with soft chairs and a fireplace and a view to the horizon across the Pacific Ocean, and a loft library above. It has jigsaw puzzles on a table and urns of hot spiced wine in the evening. It is a creaky, cranky old building that embraces its visitors, if they will let it. Inside, you can hear the wind outside. You can, without much effort, even feel the wind. There is a wardrobe in reception  filled with rain gear, but the hotel makes you hope for such foul weather you will stay indoors.

The guest rooms are each assigned the identity of an author: Alice Walker, Amy Tan, Dr. Seuss (look for the see-through toilet tank with a red fish and a blue fish in it), Emily Dickinson, F. Scott Fitzgerald, Ernest Hemingway (with papiermâché animal heads on the wall), Herman Melville (the floor slants), Jane Austen, J.K. Rowling (with a sorting hat on the bed post and a Nimbus 2000 hanging from the ceiling), Ken Kesey (watch out for the monkey wrench on the door), Lincoln Steffens, William Shakespeare, John Steinbeck, Virginia Woolf, Gertrude Stein, Jules Verne (if you wake in the night, be prepared for the sense you are being watched), Oscar Wilde, J.R.R. Tolkien, Agatha Christie, Mark Twain, Colette…

We stayed in Shakespeare. Of course we did. We had tickets to the Benedict Cumberbatch Hamlet on Friday night.


The room is full of Things. Fun things. Some of them have tags attached with references to Act and Scene, though for most you might have to work it out on your own. Scrolls, daggers, crowns, a throne, images, books, and a nice writing desk (that’s a Kindle on the desk, and it came with the guests, I’m afraid, not with the room).


And a good mattress, too. If you tire of reclining there with your Complete Shakespeare on your lap, you can wander up to the reading room on the third floor


where you can work on the common jigsaw puzzle


or look out the windows to the Yaquina Head lighthouse.


The first evening we walked two blocks to the theater for the National Theatre Live production of Hamlet. Reviews of the show have been mixed. I understand. Cumberbatch did well with an enormous role. But he was not happily supported, we thought, by the rest of the cast. Recorded sound levels were not consistent (editor? editor?), the lighting design was dreadful (major speeches lost in the shadows), passages of dialogue I know well were unintelligible because actors were speaking to the back of the stage! Meanwhile, Hamlet himself, Hamlet seemed remarkably sane and measured. Benedict is weirdly lean and handsome, and he is athletic in ways that make you gasp. He holds onto the character and to the scenes despite some really odd director’s choices. I would rather have seen it than not seen it, but I would rather have seen it better. But to bed! We took ourselves back to our lodging, sipped a cup of warm spiced wine in the library, and vanished beneath the blankets.

On Saturday we visited the Hatfield Marine Science Center where we met the new octopus, Montgomery. I have no photos of him because he really was new to public display, and we didn’t want to compromise his experience on that first day of having lunch in front of people. But he is an engaging individual who understands spoken English and will hide his ball so he can have it later. And then we went on, to the Oregon Coast Aquarium, where we saw


really mean fishes


and beautiful settings


and impossible streaming jellies


and lovely, ethereal moon jellies.

With weary feet we made our way back to the Sylvia, where a wonderful menu awaited us in the Tables of Content dining room. Garlic soup, duck breast with huckleberry sauce, barley risotto, a beautiful salad, and crème brûlée for dessert. Good, strong coffee — who would try to serve poor coffee to Oregonians? — and a delicious Port wine follow-up. Some after-dinner minutes at the jigsaw puzzle and we took ourselves again to a welcome bed.

Sunday dawned with heavy skies and a tossing wind. It was all the more tossing at the Head where we stopped on our way home for an ascent into the lighthouse,


ascent through the winding tower of iron stairs:


I have a history with these stairs. When I was 4, my great-uncle Gus took me up for a look around, and I simply could not come back down those 93 feet of open stairway. I’m sure I wept. What I remember is that the lighthouse keeper picked me up and carried me back to ground. I can still recall the smell of tobacco in his beard.

Inside, things seem tranquil. The bricked walls are thick enough you cannot hear the blustering sea outside. But we could see it through the tiny, heavy windows in the staircase:


It was a fierce day, the kind of day when sailors look for the light shining from that beautiful lamp through its first-order Fresnel lens:


Originally the lamp was oil fueled. Now it is electronic, and still as important as when it was first lit in 1873, when the day might have looked just like this:


Oh, the wind doth blow, and we left it behind to head for a hot bowl of clam chowder in Lincoln City before finding the long road home.





Published in: Uncategorized on January 16, 2016 at 2:09 pm  Comments (10)  

A Gathering and Departure of Gray-striped Cats

I think it is the Christmas letters flying back and forth: I am nagged upon at this time of year, pushed, and urged and reminded that friends look for my blog posts, and complain that there have been no new ones and they are tired of the old ones. And I admit: it’s been a year, about, since the last one. An annual blog post does seem like fairly little effort.

But what to write about?

In the last, I spoke of the several cats that had come to us, an abundance, it seemed, of gray-striped cats. Cats are desired on a place. A place with a barn needs cats to keep the rodents down. A place with a garden needs cats to keep the gophers at bay. In the interim between cats, when our beloved, efficient Yellowcat 10mar_yellowcat1  had expended all of her 9 lives, and the new cats were not yet established in their art, I lost a well-grown Benjamin Britten rose, a young lilac, and lot of dahlias from the garden. I lost tulip bulbs, and daffodils. Strawberries. Daylilies. Carrots. A place needs cats.

We had meant to have Gollum’s Precious and two from her litter to stay with us. Yellowcat’s standard of performance was so great that we thought it would take more than one cat to match her. But Gollum’s Precious, who had come as a wanderer and had what I thought was an uncomfortably large territory, made a mistake one day in regard to the road. So she used up all her lives in a moment, and left us. The kittens were on their own by then, two had gone to another farm home. That left us two for ourselves: Cobweb and Moth, little brothers in mischief.


In the fullness of time, we took them to the doctor for their exams and alterations. The vet told us, with actual tears, that Cobweb had a pretty serious heart murmur and would not be with us long. Well, we thought philosophically, he’s with us now, and he’s a happy little barn cat, 14jan01_Cobweb1_cr so it didn’t seem like we needed to take any action in the matter. It wasn’t long, though, before I found him one day,  curled as if in sleep in the soft springtime sun beside the path. He wasn’t asleep really, but had gone on before, leaving Moth to take care of the gophers.


This one cracked me open a bit. I am, for the most part, stoical about farm losses. When we lost Gollum I was angry, because that was the fault of a careless veterinarian. I was resigned when we lost Gollum’s Precious on the road, but we knew she was a stray when she came, and she had found a good place to have her litter, and then strayed again. I was philosophical when we lost a ewe a while before; she got herself rolled down a little hill next to the fence and couldn’t get upright, and I didn’t find her in time. I was even able to be calm when a dog raided our rabbitry and we lost 2 bucks and a doe.

But now my sweet, happy Cobweb cat had died and, though forewarned, I was tearful.

But we have Moth, who is ready, curious, underfoot, and … hardworking.


So, at the end of this year of cats, I would like to offer an homage to the lineage of Moth as we know it:


Gollum, feral visitor.


Gollum’s Precious, lady traveler.    


Gollum’s Precious and her kittens, the issue of two wanderers.

So, friends afar, here is at least one little blog post from me. I think, a year ago, I promised to do better. It almost seems superfluous to do so again. But… all right. I’ll try to do better.



Published in: on January 2, 2016 at 3:07 pm  Comments (16)  

A Winter Day in the Greenhouse

14dec_treelights_cr_smChristmas mail has made it clear to me I am a very bad blogger. “We miss your blog.” “No updates on your blog.” “So sorry you’ve stopped blogging.” OK. Truth is, I haven’t stopped blogging. I just haven’t done it lately. (And I’ve blogged at least as often as I hear from my Christmas correspondents.)

It seemed after a while that the farm things must be getting a little boring to you, dear readers. After all, every year the same plants grow, or don’t. The animal procreate, or don’t. The rain falls, or sometimes doesn’t, and we complain either way.

All right: Here is what I am doing today: I am trimming up the over-wintering geraniums in the greenhouse.

The greenhouse turns out to have been useful for a number of things. Last fall (a year ago), I moved a number of my zonal geraniums into the greenhouse to hold them over. I usually start them from seed in the spring, but I thought I’d see how they did inside. I remember my mother wintering hers over in the garage with little light and hardly any water, so I thought the glassed-in beds would be good for this. It was:

15jan04_geraniums_sm They got a little out of hand. And I didn’t, actually, get them planted out into the garden in the spring. So we have had a forest of happy geraniums in the greenhouse, though there was room for other things until summer advanced and we noticed they had fairly taken over the world.

It was nice in there in the spring and summer with the blooms, the scent of geraniums, and the everlasting nosegay. In April we had a bottle lamb from the sheep flock, one whose mother did her best but died when the lamb was a bare 3 weeks old. So Folly, as we called her since she was born on April 1, moved into the greenhouse where it was more convenient for us to meet her feeding schedule.

14apr_greenhousefolly1_cr_smShe enjoyed the geraniums, too. Folly has since then returned to being a sheep and lives with the other ewes.

In summer we had another blessed event, one we would have avoided if we could’ve. But when you live in the country, Providence brings you cats, and it happened that She brought us both a feral tom and a sweet, fertile queen at the same time. In a longer story than I will tell here, Gollum the tom, is no longer with us. But he left a little bit of himself behind. That’s Gollum’s Precious and her 4 grey-striped kittens.

14jul_kittens1_cr_sm We found a good home for 2 of them, and 2 have stayed with us. For a short time, while their mother was recovering from her female surgery, they all  took up residence in the greenhouse, which had been vacated by Folly, and where they learned essential gardening skills.


So the greenhouse has been successful for animal husbandry as well as botanical experiments. But really, really, those geraniums need to be taken in hand. Hard as it is to whack something so thriving, if we intend any use of the greenhouse in the spring, we have to do it. So here I am today, whacking:

15jan04_geraniums3_smThe mask is for the clouds (clouds!) of old pollen falling from the dried blooms.


There are benefits to this exercise: I’ll recover planting space, the geraniums will be, I hope, in splendid condition for planting out in the spring when they will have put on new growth to their now compact limbs, and: I find things! (I knew that trowel was in there someplace!)


It’s raining outside, and I could complain about that, but this is nice way to spend a winter afternoon in the garden. I once had a university professor who said, in regard to plants, “You have to hurt them to make them thrive. Cut them back!”

Published in: on January 4, 2015 at 4:12 pm  Comments (7)  

Woods Walking on a Snowy Afternoon

A snow day off from work calls for a walk in the woods. I took two today, one in the early morning, just after feeding the animals, when I could look back at a moment of clear sky in the west.


And one in the afternoon when, though a certain gloom had fallen over the woods and the snow was just beginning to assert itself, I couldn’t stay inside. Like a little kid on a day out of school, I put on my boots and hat and headed out again.


I found I wasn’t the only one walking in the woods. The beginning of a snowfall, before it’s deep enough to hide the evidence, offers all kinds of clues to who shares the woods.

Here, in the morning light, are the tracks of a rabbit heading into the brush.


And nearby, the skittery  footprints of some little rodent making her way across the path.


Bird feet, two by two, hopping, hopping:


I have to admit, some of us leave less elegant notes on our passing:


But now, sound the doom music, the rumbling kettle drums, the minor chord of danger nearby…

A coyote makes his way uphill through the snow. See the marks of his toenails ahead of the pads. Imagine him moving along the trail he knows so well, sniffing the air…


His tracks run in a straight line, trotting through the woods except for evidence of a moment when he paused… To whiff the scent of prey just missed? To scratch?


Here, a crossroads: rabbit and coyote. Which passed first? The coyote follows the cleared track. The rabbit keeps to the brush except for a half dozen hops to the other side.


just like the bird who crossed here:


The bird has the advantage of flight if caught in the open. It seems that, on this occasion, the two shared ground but not time.

Oh, and back home again, we have Brer Cat, who had emerged from his briar brush to inquire whether meal service had arrived.


It had.


Published in: on February 7, 2014 at 3:52 pm  Comments (7)  

Gone in a Gust

13oct_fallcolor_smUsually, it is a gentle slide through September to the chills of October. A bit of briskness in the mornings, an evening when you want the warmth of sweater sleeves, the scent of leaves decaying at the margins of the driveway, and you become aware the season is drifting away from summer into autumn. But this year, on the very day of the Equinox, as if a switch were thrown, September slammed the door on late summer and flung itself into early fall. A friend sent a note saying the first windstorm left two trees down across their driveway. Smoke hangs over the woods and pastures as woodcutters begin to burn their slash piles. Mud lies in the track through the woods.

But, true to the nature of the season, we are just now in a span of gorgeous autumn days with early chill and afternoon sun, and I have to say, as much as I love September, I might love October more. The harvest festivals that come now are a notation in the seasonal round, marking this as the time of plenty when the summer crops are in storage and the autumn ones are about to fill our baskets and barrels. As I write this, a pan on the stove is simmering with pears in wine, and the scent of cloves is drifting through the house. I’ve just dug and brought in most of the geraniums from the garden. We haven’t had anything but a touch of frost yet, but a real one isn’t far away. I’m digging some things out, and putting others in: some roses I started from cuttings last spring, some Berberis I rescued from the “dead and dying” bin at one of the nurseries and that seem to have recovered from their trauma, some tulips for next year’s bloom.

It’s been a helluva year for Chanterelles in the woods. We’ve put them up in the freezer (sautéd in butter with some garlic, then frozen in 1-cup portions for future convenience) (Is it sautéd or sautéed, in English? Or sauté-ed? ). We’ve dried them, for use in stews. We’ve used them fresh in omelets, spaghettis, on toast, with rice, in a scramble, on pork chops, with chicken, with a rabbit… We’ve given them away up and down the road, and in town. It is the Year of the Chanterelle around here. The bag, of course, is the point of it all, but it’s the looking-for that is the very best, that thrashing and clambering into the woods, falling over logs and sliding down banks, the eye peeled for that flash of gold in the duff. 


Gold has always led men and women into folly, and chanterelling in the woods is no less wild and unseemly in its way than the quest for yellow metal in the hills.

Just writing of it, just writing, starts the bell ringing in my chest, and I grab up my bag and head again into the firs and maples and salal.


I’m back now, and settled down.  I found a few to put in the sack.


Other harvests: we have late apples now and pears, potatoes curing on a rack, still some eggplants in the garden, green tomatoes now giving permission to take them for green tomato gravy, red cabbages hoping (I suppose) to become our traditional autumn red cabbage dish (vinegar, molasses, brown sugar, apples, onions, smoked pork of some variety, bit of salt, coarsely shredded red cabbage, and let it cook until it is good).

Did I mention apples? Sometimes we share.


A thread of geese has just skeined overhead, gabbling and arguing as they go.

You ought to see the load of berries on the hawthorns in the forest.


There is the other thing that makes October a fine month. It’s a month when the veil begins to thin between this world and another one, the one that makes our hair stand up a little on a dark night. By the end of the month, we will be looking over our shoulders when we go into the woods because, it seems… didn’t I just feel something there, behind me?



Maybe it isn’t too early for my hair to shift a little.

OK, now. Just one more image of my most recent pass-time. I can’t help it. It’s gold.


Published in: on October 13, 2013 at 6:59 pm  Comments (10)  
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