Thursday, January 31, 2008


I had no sisters or brothers growing up -- a kindred spirit, but something more than a brother -- my first sisters were at the Brethren/Hutterite farm where I lived awhile in the early seventies. Sisterhood has come on strong of late, though. And last best.

She's written this poem, and I asked if I could share it here.

When I am gone
Remember that once I laughed
Great gulping gasps
of delighted rollicking roars
of merriment

That once I delightedly ran over the
new spring grass
with tender bare feet
feeling each blade bend
beneath them -
and the sharp scent of green emitted
by each broken blade of grass.

That once I had skilled hands
that competently guided new life
to slide into the world with
great splashes of thick, slick water
streaked with the blood and mucus
of reality
and coaxed the first gurgling cry
of outraged life from that
small bit of humanity in my arms

That once I could seek and find
the secret positions and
hiding places of infants
as they floated within
their mothers
in their private seas

Remember that I wept huge bitter tears
over a marriage that faded into dust
within my surprised bosom -
and that my sobs were torn from
my most inner being
I had birthed babes and now knew
I was birthing dust

Remember that I mourned -
but remember that I went on
that I wore the black
but replaced it bit by bit
once more
with the colors of life and joy

When I am gone . . ..
that I lived.

Monday, January 28, 2008

Blessed clean water

The pump
[posted by risa]

We awoke, on Sunday morning, to snow, which we had less than half expected, and it continued falling until 4:30 in the afternoon. Electricity faltered at 11:30 a.m., and seemed likely, as turned out to be the case, to remain off for some time, as "all circuits were busy" in the direction of our utility's tireless but understaffed emergency crews. We got down lanterns and trimmed wicks, and took stock of the situation.

Our biggest concerns were water and poultry. A pipe or joint has suffered separation somewhere, and we have had, for several days, no access to the well.

We both dressed for the weather, I for the first time in a decade slipping on my rubber boots, of the better sort known in England as "wellies," and headed out. Last summer I made a yoke from a curved, stout tree branch, with four-gallon buckets suspended from plastic baling twine, and plied the creek with these to supply the birds and for flushing and the like. I then investigated under the house, crawling, with a flashlight, into all the tight corners near the various pipes, and finding no sign of a leak. So it had to be outside somewhere.

The pumphouse stands about ten feet beyond the West Window, and encloses the second well on the place, a six-inch diameter pipe ninety feet deep, with an injection pump and an air-tank for pressure. It's strictly a (previous) owner-built affair with sawdust packed between the inner and outer walls, which has sifted down onto the cement over the years and lends the whole thing the atmosphere of an ancient ice-house. It has its own inhabitants; once the pump stopped abruptly and we found that a tree frog had insinuated him- or herself between the electrodes in the switch and proved unable to sustain the charge.

A quick look around with the flashlight indicated no leak here, either, so it must be in-ground. A metal pipe dives through the cement into the ground, parallel to the house, where it is connected outside to a black PVC mainline which travels more than fifty feet around the south corner and tees into the mainline from the first well, a 25-footer in the greenhouse, currently in disuse (and likely to remain so while the poultry live here) for household purposes.

I dug about by the side of the pumphouse and located the black flexpipe line there, fourteen inches deep, following it for about three feet.

No leak.

This was going to take awhile, and supplies in the house would run low. I could call for help, but the plumber who had done no more than hook up the new hot water heater had charged $425 for that, so it looked to be a solo operation.

We're both girls, but we do have some division of labor. I paint, plumb, electrify, roof, fence, mechanic, mow, till, and bake; she splits wood, makes kindling, tends fires, raises chickens, does laundry, prepares the lioness' share of meals, and runs the appointment calendar. We alternate the vegetable garden, she one year; I the next. Too much at stake there...

Under the house, I had noticed two hose-bibb drain spigots, of very clean brass, that I did not remember having seen before, at the elbows of the supply pipes to the second bathroom sink. The one on the left would be the cold-water line. Back to the pumphouse. Hmm....

Rooting about in the garage, I found a short hose of the type used to connect a washing machine to the house supply; female at both ends. It would need gaskets, which I stole from garden nozzles.

A good, non-leaking garden hose would be next on the list; most of these had gone into the chicken business, but I tramped out to the garden, where the deer fence was on the point of collapsing from snow accumulation. I shook the fence all round (Beloved was doing the same to the poultry netting up at the barn), waded through snowdrifts composed half of snow and half of frozen and blasted celery and chard to the irrigation post, untwisted the baling wire arrangement holding the rain-bird in place, and rescued last summer's garden hose from oblivion beneath the snow. This I dragged round the house, connected it to the washing-machine hose, the washing-machine hose to the spigot on the pump, the other end of the garden house to the cold-water-supply spigot in the house's crawl space, closed the valve to the house-supply pipe, opened the valve to the pump spigot, whooshed a bit of air into the tank with a convenient bicycle foot pump, and made for the house, just as an apple-cheeked and very wet Beloved got there.

"Throw the pump switch and we'll see how it does."

"Oh, wow! Okay."

We listened to the air rushing out of the faucet for about twenty seconds, and then blessed clean water poured from the kitchen tap, in quantity. We ran around collecting jars, jugs, and pitchers, and had collected about fifteen gallons for the house, when -- poof -- the power to the neighborhood went away and stayed away.

Talk about perfect timing. I believe she said something about being my love slave for life for this (increasingly rare, these days) display of competence, but one says anything in a moment of enthusiasm.

All this work we did without injury to ourselves, and so I planned to follow the outside line from the other end, along the south wall, back to the pumphouse, today, it being dangerous to drive in to work this morning. But I made the mistake, in the early light of dawn, of leaning too far over while pouring a bucket of creek water to flush, and heard a tiny pop in my lower back. So, when the power came back on, at about eleven, I did what anyone in like circumstances would do.

I sat down, in my robe, with a heating pad behind me, and went blogging.


Saturday, January 19, 2008

Dark brown soil

Window farm[posted by risa]

I got up feeling that I ought to do somewhat, it being Saturday and my only shot at living large. But it had been another long week of driving in the dark, working, and driving in the dark, and sleeping, so I kind of circled around the bedroom, like a dog circling its bed, and lay down and conked out for another hour.

This sort of thing has been on the increase lately; and I can only read journals like Path to Freedom with the sort of unease that one feels when one's train has left the station and one is not on one's train. But there you are; pay the bills and do what you can about yourself when the strength and the opportunity come together. When they don't, take a nap.

At length my day off began, Beloved being on hand to have coffee with me, and we gazed into the fire together -- and maybe dozed a bit more, who knows. And, if the weather had stayed as it has mostly been for, like, the last eighty days, that might have been that, but the sun came out for a few hours. By eleven o'clock, I got my feet under me, and they stayed there for awhile. It was an almost unfamiliar sensation.

We had talked about setting up a "starts" operation in the West Window, which we haven't done for a few years. We have bought more and more plants and fewer and fewer seeds, and would like to reverse the trend, and do more seed saving as well.

I pulled the bench away from the window and set it by the long table, being sure to put the leak-catching bowls exactly where they had been, except on the bench and not on the floor.

It would be nice to get to the re-roofing this year, but I might not.

No surprise there. The money for it has just not happened, and there's less flexibility in my lower back every year. And we're leery of adding a loan just now... s we listen to the drips and joke about them being a kind of elevator music.

I spread our remaining clear polyethylene along the floor beneath the window, seven feet by two. This would catch any moisture escaping our "farm."

I went out to the potting-shed side of the barn and assessed the available geegaws. There is a set of freestanding steel shelving, the kind with wood-tone on the shelves and little iron curlicues down the sides, not as tall as I remembered it, with five shelves. Some cinder blocks supporting some wooden racks in the "greenhouse" end of the room. Lots of empty containers. Some not so empty, with last year's soil still in them. After wrestling aside the stacks of woven-wire green garden borders that had been piled between me and these treasures, I brought bricks to stack up underneath the racks in place of the cinder blocks and dragged them all out into the sun, along with the spiderweb-festooned shelves and the containers and swept everything down with an old fireplace broom.

So far so good, but the cinder blocks were proving too heavy for me. Some of this is old age, some of it my hormone regimen. Lots of women are stronger than I am, but they're not me... we have a hand truck, so I went to the garage and dug that out -- more shifting, banging and, I'm afraid, a bit of language -- hauled the cinderblocks in by the West Window and set them up, two by two.

I then went down to the woodshed and came back with two old fence boards, dripping wet, covered with moss and algae, but sound cedar still, and cut them down to seven feet with a bow-saw. Wet wood likes to swell, and will bind a saw but you can cut level across the board, then turn it over and do the same on the other side, then give it a little whack with the back side of the saw and the trim piece falls right off. These I brought in and set up on the cinderblocks. Then the shelving came in and was set up.

I then filled two oblong 24" by 12" by 12": deep planters, with last year's planting mix and some humus, setting aside the worst batches, which showed evidence of slug and snail eggs, for the poultry. These I brought in, with a trowel and the remnants of a bag of planting mix, and set them up to the right of the shelving.

Beloved surfaced at this point. She's been organizing her office.

"I'll have some of this for my starts, I hope? Tomatoes, broccoli, and such?"

"Mm, hmm, the shelves. My farm is just the planters."

"Great! If I'm lucky, I can start next week." Her office is a few years behind. But she's really making a dent in it this time.

"Are there any seeds about?" I asked.

She got down a small shoe box.

"You don't need beans, I hope." She set aside her bags of beans and some other things.

"No, not planning anything fancy. What have we got here?" I pawed through the remaining 2007 envelopes, most of them ripped already. Marigolds -- nope. Zinnias -- nope. Sunflowers, sunflowers, sunflowers --she's really big on sunflowers -- calendulas, echinacea, morning glories -- morning glories?

"Somebody gave me those. No way I'm putting them in the ground."

"Holy camoly, I hope not. 'K, here we go: globe radishes, New Zealand spinach, Detroit beets, Buttercrunch lettuce." I tilted out some of each into my palm, stirred them with a finger, and shook them out as evenly as they would go across the dark brown soil.

With the trowel, I added a thin layer of more soil from the bag and pressed and smoothed everything down a bit. I was feeling rather pleased with myself by this time, and went to get the camera. You have to be a farmer at heart, I suppose, to want to record a blank expanse of dirt from which food might or might not grow.

Then I went back to the barn for a watering can, and stepped down to the creek to fill it from the passing water. I'd water down the seeds, park the can under their bench, and move on to a bit of woodcutting -- or maybe a nap.

The sky had by this time clouded over. I paused to admire the chickens, gabbling over their slug eggs. The first drops of the next rainstorm began clattering down.

Nap it is.


Wednesday, January 16, 2008

Beloved and I had a conversation

A photo on Flickr [posted by risa]

Finally made it to the reservoir; after months of rain we had a little break and I made the most of it. There would have been a little warmth in the sun, even, but the wind was steady from the east by southeast, and up that canyon, at the top, there is eight feet of snow. So I bundled up, and lasted about an hour and a half, what you might call refrigerated bliss. From sheer force of habit, I had a line in the water, and though it dipped twice, for what felt like nibbles from underaged whitefish, I brought nothing aboard, which was just as well.

No, seriously, some days you just don't really feel like reading a fish's entrails.

There were the usual assorted seagulls, with a smattering of herons and cormorants, and the massive rafts of coots. But almost no people. Maybe six -- with six miles of shoreline. I know the day was cold, but ... ten years ago, there would have been more than a hundred.

There are several possible reasons for this.

One is that there are way less trout. Trout don't reproduce in this water, because it is full of pikeminnows, who do, and who regard trout fry as the ultimate lunch, and because there are no gravelly creeks coming in. It's river water, but there is a dam above and a dam below. So the Fish and Game put trout in every year.

But, see -- in 2001, the Fish and Game put thirty thousand trout in here. This year, maybe 9,000 on the outside. Why less? Not enough money to really do hatchery fish any more. The money for that went "away," for things deemed more important than trout, or kids' education, or preventive medicine, things like frisking anybody with a funny last name.

The trout live five years on the outside, so the lake as a draw for fishing has waned quite a bit. That leaves it to the people that were terrifying me on a regular basis -- skiers and jet boaters. But they're not here either.

Where'd they go? I know a few. So I asked. The answers fell into two classes: "Well, had to cut back a bit." And: "Well, not as much time as I useta have."

These answers are related. Cut back means the price of gasoline (and/or gasoline-intensive toys). Not as much time often seems to mean working longer hours, or too many other irons in the fire, such as watching the kids while one's spouse works a different shift. Or trying to fix something that once meant a call to the plumber or the electrician.

Boats are staying under the tarps. Many of the toys are for sale, and aren't being picked up quickly.

My journey to the reservoir was eight miles there, eight back. I did glance at the gas gauge and think, is this a good idea? I had thought about that before, but never with quite so much stomach-area anxiety.

I passed houses I had been seeing for over thirty years. More of them are going longer between paint jobs. More things are lying about in the yards. People aren't smiling much. They're waving less. They face away from the road, shoulders hunched.

Some of the malaise I'm encountering is about the O&C lands. The Oregon and California Railroad was deeded every other section of forest land in much of Western Oregon as a means of financing the railroad, so that crops from the Willamette valley could go south on railcars. The more than 3 million acres was to be sold to settlers, but the railroad decided in 1903 not to continue selling, a violation of their agreement. It's said that over 1000 railroad managers, politicians, and hangers-on were indicted in what proved to be fraudulent land sales anyway.

The federal government reasserted ownership (paying the railroad the $2.50 per acre that they would have gotten from selling the lands properly in the first place) and placed these lands under Interior, with Bureau of Land management oversight, and allotted a portion of the revenues from timber sales to Oregon counties.

We have never had much of a tax base in Oregon. It's a vast place, so we are 13.6 people to the square km, 39th in the nation. Try taxing a rock's personal income. You can walk from my house to Idaho, if you're careful to zig and zag enough, without meeting a single person. And this is, really, in spite of all the cows and cornfields around here, the suburbs. So the O&C money pretty much made our infrastructure possible.

The BLM has often shown more interest in the well-being and happiness of large logging firms than the Forest Service, whose practices, while sometimes questionable, have generally been more sustainable. Much of this wood went overseas as raw logs, skipping the millhands and the local economy, except for the O&C county revenues.

And then the easy trees were mostly gone. Blame for the sudden reductions in harvest went to "coddling" of Spotted Owls, but the fact is that when you go out and look, the easy clear cuts have already been done, and the hard-to-do ones are most of what remains, not so competitive with Indonesian or Canadian wood as the logging companies would like.

There's a lot of second growth, trees under a hundred years old, that could be harvested under commercial-thinning stewardship rules. But that kind of contract, which provides a lot of employment and not very much profit, is not favored by the big outfits, who have machines costing five hundred thousand dollars and more sitting around rusting.

What they want is to keep doing the big trees that their machines handle best (less than ten percent of those remain). Not necessarily faulting them for thinking that way; if I had my money tied up in a yarder that can swing 160,000 tons of logs a year, I'd be anxious about that rust too. But that's not where I would have put my money ... if I had that kind of money ...

So the current administration will provide for these big fellas and their yarders, and not for the small outfits that can handle the smallwood that's most of what remains; and they'll do so without requiring that they give back to the state and counties where the trees are growing -- the O&C money had begun to dry up, it's true, but now that tap has been even further turned off, essentially shutting down the flow permanently.

Without access to the vast amount of money to be made, by a very few, under the new rules, counties in Oregon, which had already eliminated many programs, will be much less in evidence. Library services, health services, police protection, and road maintenance are all taking the same kind of hits as the yards and houses that I see along the road to the reservoir -- which is cratering as time goes on.

I'm not saying all this is about bad things being done by wicked people, though I do think that there's quite a bit of that; I'm saying change is taking place, and accelerating.

We do still use gasoline around the place.

On my way back from the Reservoir, I stopped to fill two 2.5 gallon cans at the store down by the river.

It came to $15.00 even.

While I paid the cheerful young man at the pump, I wondered about his future. Then I wondered about mine not that there's so much of that in my case, but still --

I'm supposed to retire in 1219 days. There's a fund, and a better one than most around here, and I'm in it. But that money is going to be shrinking faster than I can put it in.

When I got home, Beloved and I had a conversation about the fences, the grass, sheep, goats, poultry, and what are now called chicken tractors.

I went to bed half dreaming of a bike trailer for hauling hay bales too...