Wednesday, October 06, 2021

Virtual Oktoberfest

We've often gathered a few acorns to plant and of these, some have been peeled and thrown into the grinder once or twice each year -- we can't seem to be bothered with getting the tannin out, so a token quantity of them disappear into the barley meal for October porridge -- but this year, as I was sitting with Daughter in the secret garden, we noticed about fifty jays flying back and forth, back and forth, from the oak tree across the street, with something white-ish in their mouths when outbound. I'd love to show them to you but my camera is rudimentary.

This was new to us, so we looked it up, and it turns out oak groves are planted by jays, who cache even more obsessively than squirrels when the fit hits them. On a site back East, more than 30,000 acorns were distributed from one small stand of oaks in a matter of days. 

Our jays are the western Scrub Jay and one has been observed planting 5,000 acorns in a season. Makes me feel I can retire from this activity, as I'm surrounded by real pros.

I have been having some of the last bowls of zuke-with-whatever and sometimes, as fresh tomatoes have been plentiful and won't be, I take the steamed vegs as shown here and blend them with about an equal quantity of tomatoes, and that's my tomato soup recipe.

Meadow mushrooms have come up, and so today's menu is mushroom tomato soup.

We have let the ducks into the garden and they are cleaning up choice weeds and bugs. Much of this activity involves shoveling mud with their beaks, so we must remember to keep buckets of water there for them, so they can clear their air passages from time to time. 

They're also eating quite a lot of my chard greens, but the stripped leaf midribs are still useful and we have enough of the greens to share. 

We had trouble getting water to the roots of the vegetables this year, as the drought turned the soil into iron even underneath the deep mulch. So after a few inches of rain (yes, real rain!!!) I've begun breaking things up a bit beneath the mulch with a spading fork. I do have a broadfork, but I think I'm getting too old for it. The idea is to lift everything about two inches, rather than turn it over, as in spading, tilling, or plowing. This should aerate the heavy clay and make for a bit more of a water reservoir.

With the arrival of the rains, we have spruced up the dining room a bit, as it is the winter's living room. I've swept around the wood stove, filled the wood basket with kindling, set a bench from the outside round table by my chair as my tea and mending table, and put up a little display on the dining room table. 

Neither of us empty nesters eats at the table. Beloved uses it as her desk; my desk is the one inset into a cubby by the wall across from the stove.

She sometimes takes it over to do story time for the clan.

With the garden display behind her, Story Time becomes a virtual Oktoberfest.

Wednesday, September 22, 2021

Polishing that begging bowl

After the storm, things dried up pretty quickly. I walk around the premises and take note of what's still available.

The hens are getting tired of the dropped apples I've been bringing them, so I'll back off, but they still want grapes, of which I continue to find clusters missed by industrious towhees. I've also begun cooking spaghetti squash for them, which takes eleven minutes in the rice cooker. Most years I've left that job to the stock pot on the wood stove, but it is not yet wood stove season and there are a lot of these squashes.

I see, from a couple of dropped pears, that Bosc and Anjou season is upon us. So I grab a couple of flats and gather them in.

 This means it's time to have a look at the quince as well. I pick a batch, perhaps a third of what's available.
There's only moderate interest in baked fruit in the family, at best, and I'm out of canning jars. Much of all this is likely to go to the hens as well, along with the remaining tomatoes. Last year I began canning tomato sauce about this time; this year I'm all done.

In spring there is the Hungry Time, when there is relatively little to eat. In fall there can be another kind of Hungry Time, when the heart of the gardener and food preserver is hungry to provide, but the family and friends are like "enough, already!" 

There are gleaners about, and I may overcome my partially pandemic-induced shyness to have them in. 

I'm so fond of my solitude that it's hard to say, yet, how this is likely to turn out.


The heat and smoke have finally let up enough to allow me to spend unstressed time in the hut.

There is a poem, written by Shih-Tou in the 700s, quite famous, called the Song of the Grass-Roofed Hermitage.

Here's my version of it, updated to my own part time hut-life. Understand that while there may be some biographical truth in it it's mostly just aspirational. Alas, huh?

I've built a fiberglass-roofed hut
where there's nothing to take away.

After eating,
I conk out.

When the hut was completed,
it was a children's playhouse.

It had long been abandoned —
covered by blackberries.

Sometimes I live at the hut,
trying out Nagarjuna.

No need to go shopping.
No movies, no popcorn.

Though the hut is nine feet square,
Nowhere is there a place not here.

Within, an old nun
gawks out the window.

With her "instinctive knowing what to do"
she trusts being/time.

The neighbors can't help wondering —
what's going on in there?

For now, the old crone is present,
losing track of Meaning.

Knowing she does not know up or down,
she looks straight ahead.

A wide window below green cottonwoods--
five star hotels can't compare with it.

Just nestling in her zero-g chair
all things are settled.

Thus, this mountain nun
doesn't squint at circumstances.

Living here she no longer
hankers for escape.

Who would proudly arrange place settings,
trying to lure guests?

Doing as a Buddha does
cannot not be what a Buddha is.

Thusness can't be
looked toward or away from.

Meet the lineages and spiritual friends,
absorb their guidance.

Salvage fence boards to build a hut
and don't give up.

When your begging bowl breaks,
which it will, relax into your day.

Open your face
and walk, de-stressed.

Thousands of teachers
babble, but the message isn't garbled.

If you want to benefit
from dwelling in your hut,

Don't expect to be polishing that begging bowl


Sunday, September 19, 2021

That which refrains from selfishness

Smoke continued to ooze down the canyons into our area, following the river, off and on throughout the first half of September. I photographed the sun, and sent the image to a friend, who complimented me on my photo of the moon. By unintentional omission, I had misinformed him.

When the Air Quality Index reaches 200, Jasper Mountain fades from view, like a ghost retreating into the shrubbery. I, too, fade from view, putting up curtains in the doorways round the living room and sitting close by the HEPA filter. A couple of times in recent years, the AQI went over 400, and many have experienced that this year, but for us the prevailing winds have kept away the worst of it.

After almost one hundred days, some rain came. Not as much as in Eugene nearby, and nowhere near as much as in Salem (as usual), but something. The air has cleared for now, and the surviving plants have perked up a little.

We generally put in a patch of zinnias for their cheery proletarian vigor. They encourage us to keep our chins up in these times.

With so much of the world now under the sway of propaganda, I have thought a lot about representation. Conclusions I have tentatively reached are maybe no more coherent, objectively, than anyone else's, but if you are interested in the mutterings of this old nun, read on.

In Baldessar Castiglione's Book of the Courtier, there is a discussion of meaning, in which one disputant imputes it to words, and the other questions him in the Socratic manner:

I would know then, quoth the Count, whether this stile and measure which you speake of, arise of the sentences or of the wordes?

Of the wordes, answered Sir Frederick.

Do you not think then, quoth the Count, that the wordes of Silius and Cornelius Tacitus are the very same that Virgil and Cicero use? and taken in the same signification?

Sir Fridericke aunswered: They are the very same in dede, but some yl applyed and dyverslye taken.

The Count aunswered: In case a manne should pyke out of a booke of Cornelius and of Silius, al the woordes placed in other signification then is in Virgil and Cicero, (whiche should bee verye fewe) woulde you not then saye that Cornelius in the tounge were equall with Cicero, and Silius with Virgil?

Then the L. Emilia: Me thinke (quoth shee) thys youre dysputation hathe lasted to longe, and hathe been verye tedyouse, therefore it shall bee best to deferre it untill an other tyme.

Dang, Emilia. Just when we were about to get somewhere. 

All communication is by way of "signification," from the shortest grunt or raising of an eyebrow, to Shakespeare read or enacted. Whether implied or explicit, the form is algebraic, in order to assert --

A=B, B=C, ∴ A=C

or refute.

A=B, B≠C, ∴ A≠C

A one-word reply to a query is an implied sentence, whether it is itself a subject or its modifier (A), a verb (operator), or object/object's modifier (B). 

We say, as a cautionary aphorism concerning the pitfalls of communication, that "the map is not the territory," which is certainly true, but civilization is made up of these maps, and we rely on them in the sense that a map giving you directions to a dock on a given lake should, when followed, lead you to within a stone's throw of said dock.

A bad map (misinformation) may be a mistake, which happens a lot, or one created for ulterior purposes -- disinformation.

Disinformation is when some one gives you a map with purported directions to the dock, knowing that if you follow it you will instead drive off a cliff. This is uncivilized behavior. It makes use of the rather widely, if vaguely apprehended imprecision of communication -- words and other signage -- to undermine trust or to relocate trust to those who would deceive. If everything is at least a little untrue, then surely you can ignore the little inconsistencies in our snake oil, yes?

Examples abound. Advertising as an industry, which drives much of commerce under competitive marketing, deliberately disinforms with skillful use of fallacies.

"Guys: the red car in this commercial is fast. Fast cars bring fast females. Buy this red, fast car and you will find fast females."

Examples of attempts to repair such damage also abound.

 "Dudes, this may be a red car but where are the stats that show it is fast, and can the source be trusted? In any case, not all women can be persuaded that your owning a red car or a fast car or a red fast car is a sign that you are potentially a satisfactory mate. Maybe try being genuinely kind and attentive instead."

And so on. War theorists tell us that one who defends loses, so civility has been losing for some time now. Hence the enormous profitability of the ad industry.

Communication, being algebra, is necessarily metaphorical; that is, subjects and objects are representative rather than the things themselves, and there's a certain interchangeability, as when the Pythagoras theorem is applicable to many different rooflines. 

The assertions and refutations run on the use of equivalencies between symbols and things and also between things and other similar or dissimilar things, with some examined and unexamined premises, and maybe some intent to inform or deceive.

I think that, largely, informing is a peaceable or cooperative venture, misinforming is ignorance at work (I do this a lot), and disinforming is a form of warfare. Disinforming fills up the lines of communication with noise until the modems, so to speak, grind to a halt. How is this different from bombing bridges and railroads?

Many seemingly innocuous behaviors, especially some forms of academic or political or social gatekeeping, are made up of words that have in them no especially loaded intent strung together in sentences that have very loaded intent indeed, spoken or written to specific targeted audiences in order to create advantage to some over the interests of others -- and the end result can be that a little bit more weight is added to a given population's burden of survival -- as a long, slow process of genocide. 

The basis of much, if not all, of this campaign of disinformation is Social Darwinism. It's the view that the competition half of Darwin's discussion of competition and cooperation as the drivers of evolution is the only driver of evolution -- that "competition is the good." It's a deliberate misreading of Darwin, in order to provide a rationalization for violent authoritarianism.


Whew. Would ya like some tea? 

There are a variety of map systems that are functional, or at least internally consistent, without the intent to deceive. To give but one example, we have Buddhism (you knew I was going there, right?).

Buddha's insight, which is that an individual person is to some extent illusory, individuality being a temporary conjunction or nexus of contextual entities which are themselves temporary conjunctions or nexuses of contextual entities, leads to something like an opposite view to that of Social Darwinists. 

As the "meaning of life," in Buddha's view, lies in one's context and not in one's essentialist sense of a competitive destiny, to participate creatively rather than destructively in one's context may be regarded as the good, one evidence of which is that one may find increased well-being and contentment in so doing.

In the sermon at Benares, he posited four truths which I'd like to very loosely paraphrase thus: life is messed up (dukkha); it is messed up because we are competitive (greedy, attached); the way to stop being messed up is cooperation; here's how we cooperate (his eightfold path): right view, right resolve, right speech, right conduct, right livelihood, right effort, right mindfulness, and right samadhi or concentration. 

Or as I might put it, 1) see that cooperation is better for us than competition, 2) resolve to cooperate, 3) choose information over disinformation, 4) choose cooperative behavior, 5) engage in teamwork for cooperative ends, 6) resolve to see all this through, 7) be aware of the impacts of our behaviors, and 8) get some practice in the most basic of all non-competitive activity, which is centering down.

It's often said that "enlightenment is practice and practice is enlightenment." The behavioral practices that "right conduct" is said to break down into are, usually, do not lie, do not steal, do not kill, do not abuse sexuality, do not abuse substances. In other words, enlightened behavior is that which refrains from selfishness, that is, refrains from "social Darwinism."

To see how these principles would play out in society, I can think of no better introduction than E.F. Schumacher's essay on "Buddhist Economics." 

Written by a devout Catholic, by the way.

Tuesday, September 07, 2021

I didn't grow the shredded cheddar

The smoke plume has been rolling in and out daily, but today it's hanging on grimly, mostly at about 3000 feet, for which I suppose we should be grateful, because it's not exactly nice down here where we are. AQI was 215 earlier at our location and it looks like it's around 176 now. Small favors. 

This smoke is coming mostly, I think, from the Gales Fire and the Chaos Fire. The Chaos Fire has reached the famous Bohemia Mountain and Fairview Peak to our southeast. I hear the Oregon National Guard has been wrapping the historic buildings there with foil and such for structure protection. These fires are over a month old and every day they find new fuels to expand into. It's a little unnerving as they are only a little over twenty miles away from me, as the crow flies.

From CalTopo

From PurpleAir

Here's the sun from when the AQI was 215.

 Sometimes Jasper Mountain is visible across the river and sometimes it is not.

The garden is very, very dry, no matter how much of our tiny well I throw at it. It's also full of flea beetles. They show up in late August after the aphids slow down and are here right on schedule. Beloved pulls up any kale that has about succumbed to the bugs and tosses it into the poultry yards, where it is greeted with joy. Dust flies as the birds tuck in to the greens with the extra protein. They have eaten all their grass once again this year.

We're still getting lots of summer crops, even so.

There are plenty of cucumbers and onions. I've cured and brought in all the spaghetti squash, and have continued to make apple butter and tomato sauce.

I wear an N95 mask and try not to stay out too long. 

This year, as has never happened before, I've run out of canning jars before cidering season, but there are plenty of unopened jars from last year, so it's no biggie. I've considered letting folks from around here pick the rest of the apples, but with Delta at its peak, I'd just as well stay isolated. Our hospitals have been run ragged.

Not that dropped apples go to waste; they help feed the soil organisms and mycorrhizae underneath the trees, and the mycorrhizae help feed and water the trees. But I'll take many for the chickens. 

We're about ready to shrink and eventually give up the flocks, but not today.

I'm not up for stoop labor this year, but I use a sharp little sickle blade on a long handle to pick up downed apples and pears. Stab, rap against basket to let the apple fall in, repeat. It's a soothing rhythm.

The hens do not favor anything with the skin whole, so I cut up the fruit before presentation. Excess tomatoes, cukes and zucchinis get the same treatment. They will eat it all, but they want to start with open fruit.

We cup up winter squash for them during the fall, winter, and early spring, but those we soften by boiling a bit in a stock pot on the wood stove. So it's a wood stove thing, which we can't start doing yet as fire season is on for the foreseeable future. In fact, it's supposed to get to 91F today, but that won't happen with this thick layer of smoke.

As I am mostly confined to indoor activity at the moment, my thoughts easily turn to the kitchen.

It's a time of year when I can indeed do fall things but get to continue with summer things. I'm still bringing in a gleaned baby zucchini, a missed potato, a stalk of Fordhook giant chard, a ripe Rugers tomato, and making a fantastic all-homegrown lunch. Well, almost. I didn't grow the shredded cheddar.

Slice the potato, chard stem, and zuke thinly and steam for five minutes in the rice cooker, with a clove of garlic in the steam water. Dice up the chard greens and a tomato and have them ready when you remove the steamer basket from the rice cooker. Season all to taste and combine in a bowl. Add shredded cheddar and cover bowl with a lid for three to five minutes. The greens will wilt to a dark green and the cheese will melt. Serve. Eat while watching, through the window, the wildfire smoke slowly dissipate.

In adversity, there is always found something that gladdens the mind; in prosperity, one is liable to meet with disappointments. -- Hung Ying-Ming, Discourses With Vegetable Roots. Tr. Yaichiro Isobe

Friday, August 27, 2021

One can always hope

In recent years, our summers have fallen into a pattern. Although summer here has always been a dry season, with often no rain between about July 5 and September 5, that season has expanded until it seems to run from about March to November. One consequence of this expansion has been that, at some point, we expect to see a cloud suddenly appear over the vicinity of Fall Creek, about twenty-five miles away. 

This is not a water vapor cloud.

 As the cloud approaches, we button up the house and turn on the HEPA filter. 

This year's fire has not garnered much press, and most people don't even seem to know its name. It's the Gales Fire, some 16,000 acres so far. It has killed a firefighter and burnt up several miles of the upper Fall Creek valley. Media, when mentioning it, refer to it by its management name, Middle Fork Complex, and say it is near Oakridge, but that's because the MFC icon on maps splits the difference between the locations of twelve or so lightning fires that began on the Middle Fork Ranger District on July 29th. With so much going on, especially south of us--

[NOAA-HRRR smoke map]
 --our neck of the woods has become distinctly non-newsworthy. Nevertheless, we keep a wary eye on what's happening east of us, and also periodically remind one another that conditions for new fire starts are far from over.

Meanwhile, the garden has, with some losses, survived the heat waves. There's still lots of kale, chard, onions, tomatoes, cucumbers, and some zucchini. The potatoes, less than last year's crop but substantial, are out of the ground and in storage. The winter squash, including all the seedlings grown from "Sweet Meat" labeled seeds, proved to be (alas) nearly all spaghetti squash, and the yellow blimps are hardening off to be gathered next week. I grew out a packet of corn, but that's for seed; I'll pull up the plants and hang them on the maple tree until the sweet kernels turn to "flint."

There are here three kinds of pears, and they bore well; the first to come in are the Bartletts. They seem to be turning a mushy brown within hours of ripening, so I have gathered them all green and keep an eye on them. When there are enough of them close enough to ripe to process, I turn them on the apple peeler-slicer-corer and load up the largest crock pot. If it's not a full pot I add enough apples -- Egremont Russet and Cortland at present -- to make a batch of chunky pear sauce and water-bath can them in pint jars.

It has not been a stellar berry year for us but I should not complain as I have managed to pick all the blackberries there is room for in the freezer.

Tomatoes have come in, never a great lot of them at a time, but enough, and I have been putting up spaghetti sauce, with an emphasis on canning in eight ounce jars, as none of us eats with anyone else these days.

I'm about out of jars, just as the tomato pace is beginning to pick up, and will be inviting friends to "glean" -- in this case, harvest many large baskets full of -- tomatoes, pears, and apples.

Maybe they'll take some spaghetti squash?

One can always hope.

Most of a lifetime has swiftly gone.
On the spiritual foundation not a single speck has been polished.
While indulging, life randomly passes day after day.
If you are called but do not turn around, what can be done?

-- Xuefeng, quoted by Dogen in Instructions to the Cook, tr. Leighton and Okumura

Saturday, July 17, 2021

Do such things and you will be such a person

 It's an odd sort of year; no snow, warm winter, cold spring, late frosts, early and record heat waves; few birds went away, few came, almost no wasps or yellowjackets, creek that dries up in June dried up in April, crops burned by heat in the daytime and cooled enough at night not to make fruit, and the Delta variant of Covid roams around outside, seeking whom it may devour, yet ignored by all the neighbors, nearly all of them enthralled by misinformation and by the autocrat who actually tried to destroy the nation and has faced no consequences.

 I've been spending most of my time on another site, combating the misinformation and trying to spread the principles of science and disaster risk reduction, not because I don't have anything else to do but because, increasingly, there's little else I can do. Many who have reached the age of seventy-two have much more active lives, many have less active lives. It's a combination of circumstances and choices we all made -- my tree-planting years were my best but they did cost me. 😎 So it goes. 

I may or may not, as well, have an undiagnosed case of Long Covid. Friends and I got together on the last day of February, 2020, agreed it would be the last such gathering for some time, and went home and pulled up our drawbridges. Within ten days, all of us were almighty sick, three hospitalized. No one tested positive, but those were very early tests, and our symptoms were certainly consistent with what we were hearing about the new disease. Luckily for my family, some of us had pulled together for a pod here on the homestead, and to make sure none of us brought in the virus, we had all isolated. I don't seem to have become a source of infection.

Here I am in isolation and recovery in the hut, 200 feet from the house. Food was delivered in the basket shown hanging at right. Such huts would be useful for many purposes, I should think, and not just to relieve homelessness, although that might well be the best use.

What have I been up to? Focusing on family, a few friends, the sangha, and stewardship (as able) of this acre.

In the garden we again covered everything we could with black plastic to smother bindweed and such, then gradually switched over to kraft paper, leaves, grass clippings, and chop and drop, all covered with a layer of straw.

The containers at left were an experiment to raise things without feeding them to voles. Voles wiped out our beets last summer, a new experience for us, and then exploded in population over the winter. But they have not done much this year, so far.

As much as possible, as usual, we raised seedlings from seed.

Mice were again too much for us in the greenhouse, so many things were raised in the dining room. Large seeds, such as beans, peas, corn and squash, are the most vulnerable.

The seedlings were then set out. A bit too early, though the last five years had lulled us into overconfidence. We had to do some replanting. I'm no longer able to work from my knees and have been using a narrow-bladed trenching shovel (example) as a trowel. It works a treat.

Immediately after the frost came the heat. Our third heat wave reached 109F. Not only was this a record, but it occurred in June. We defended the crops by spreading foliage, mostly Japanese knotweed, over strings tied from tomato stake to tomato stake, and also spread it directly on the squash and potato beds. We watered as best we could, but are dependent on a single five gpm well for all uses.

It proved to be a good cherry year and we quickly bought a good hand-held stoner to take advantage. It will be, it looks like, a medium apple year and a very good pear year. The gardens are producing plenty of foliage but not as much actual food for the effort as in the last twelve years or so. I'm drying down greens foliage for vegetable powder, as usual, and expect soon to be making some apple butter.

A concern this year, again, is wildfire season. Last year the Holiday Farm Fire burned over 400 houses and then headed our way; we had to evacuate for the first time. And drought is much worse this year than last.

 a comparison of the national drought monitor for early march 2021 vs early march 2020. the map shows much more severe drought conditions especially in the southwestern united states

When lockdown began, in March 2020, we raided the teardrop, Tessa, extensively for supplies, and have focused on re-stocking her in case of another evacuation. Extremely large fires have already erupted throughout our region, and though we locally have surprisingly had almost no smoke and little flame, we feel this cannot last. So we have to be prepared to pull out of the driveway at a moment's notice.

I've adopted two principles. One is the motto: "Observe to predict. Predict to prevent." This is about disaster risk reduction, or DRR, which can be applied at any scale, including personal. Choices make hazards into disasters -- or don't. So I prep for fire as a socially responsible behavior. Also to run from smoke. 

The other is: "Everyone reaps what you sow." I thought of this one myself; it represents a distillation of the Buddhist Prajnaparamita sutras, which advocate for the view that wise choices are based on the observation that everything is made up of everything else and has no lasting separate identity.

Pain is DNA's way of protecting itself and its prerogatives, but I see no utility in gratuitously causing it. Community and compassion are also strategies adopted by DNA. This motto doesn't look into whether harm is even a thing, at cosmology/teleology scale; it simply provides a handy basis for what can be called ethical behavior. Here one abandons certainty and goes with trust.

Dogen said of emulating Buddhas: Do such things and you will be such a person. I'll try that.

Saturday, October 24, 2020

Work on details

The clouds of acrid, ground-hugging smoke having cleared away, and a few spits of rain having arrived, most of the neighbors are burning piles of the brush that enthusiastically sprouted up last spring. This has prompted a ruckus on the neighborhood app, where some object to being exposed yet again without being asked. They might be among the newer residents; generational locals have always burned and probably always will - a perceived right and rite of Autumn, like putting pumpkins by the front door.

We don't participate; we just chop and drop and let nature take its course. Not that this saves any carbon; or maybe it would, temporarily, if we had the oomph to bury the stuff; but I think it helps provide for the diversity of critters, seen and unseen.

In the field garden we have cut everything fine to get it close to the ground. We generally add barn waste and the like until February, then begin doing work in the beds. This coming growing season, like the one just ending, we'll likely cover all this with the black plastic again, perhaps in late January, and begin to uncover near to the end of March, bed by bed. This is to try and stay one step ahead of bindweed and crabgrass.

We did better than expected here; this was sod as late as March 11th. We've put away a substantial crop of seed potatoes, winter squash and pumpkins, and canned quite a lot of paste tomatoes as chunky sauce with onions, garlic and basil. No actual recipe. "Salt, olive oil and a bit of vinegar, to taste."

In the kitchen garden, frost has made its first visit, as shown by a touch of brown in the grape arbor. Basil has given up the ghost, and the tomatoes are thinking of following suit. The lettuce, carrots, onions, and of course kale don't seem to mind.

There should be a bed of beets in this photo but the gophers came when we weren't looking and took the lot. Well, we all have tummies.

With the beets gone, the gophers have targeted the roots of the Fordhook Giant chard. I find the stems arrayed in a wilting circle with some disturbed dirt where the root had been. I pick them up and find a quick use for them. Didn't want the root anyway.

Our collards and kale trees seem to be less to the gopher's liking and declare they are ready for the winter. We have found they can stand weather down to about 15F without covering; below that it would be prudent to do so.

Like last year, but less strikingly, August apples have clung to the trees late. I put up chunky applesauce until I ran out of canning lids. These are the Egremont Russets. This tree came to me at work in the pannier of a friend's bicycle, three decades ago. I rode home on the bus with it in my lap. Never turn down a fruit tree.

As the weather changes, I spend more time in the hut. It has proven to be an extreme heat collector in summer, in spite of my efforts, but as winter comes on, I can settle in, brew tea, watch the rain come down, Zoom with fellow Boods, and perhaps write the occasional blog post.

  Baizhang Huaihai was asked by Yunyan, “Master, you work on details all day.
Who are you doing it for?”
  Baizhang said, “There may be someone who requires it.”
  Yunyan said, “Why don’t you let that person take care of it?”
  Baizhang said, “Because that person may not have the means of making a livelihood."

Thursday, October 01, 2020

Swimming upstream

 A sunny and bright day, not so long ago, I sat down for a Zoom zazenkai and three hours later, saw intense winds rushing through the orchard, laden with fresh brown smoke. That smoke came from fires some distance away, the Lionshead and Beachie Creek mostly. I had been thinking of the Lionshead as a central Oregon fire and Beachie Creek as a small one near Detroit Reservoir, but in the wind they both blew up, ran together and have since devastated some 400,000 acres, some lives, and many, many buildings.

A number of other large Oregon fires sprang up in the next few days, the nearest to us being the Holiday Farm Fire. In less than twenty-four hours, it ran over 30,000 acres of the McKenzie River canyon, and approached us over the next week, coming within about twelve air miles at the top of the Little Fall Creek drainage.

Although the evacuation zone boundary was drawn along the river, about a mile and a half away in the photo above, we chose to decamp to Eugene for a few days, just in case. Many of our neighbors did the same, and as we were packing, we noted a number of horse trailers heading west.

It doesn't take us long to pack, because in fire weather we pull Tessa the Teardrop out of the garage, load her up with supplies, and keep her hooked up to Henrietta, the '99 Ranger. 

We were at Daughter's house after a twenty minute drive. 

At the time, Daughter, a health worker, was not in our current Covid pod and we had to use indoor potential-exposure protocols, hard on all concerned. Space was at a premium, so I slept in Tessa with the vent closed and hoped for the best.

Normally we would head for the coast under these conditions but this time the smoke was almost as bad and ... pandemic considerations.

Although Daughter has a tight house and decent filtration, local AQI rose above 500 and everyone suffered. Having the weakest lungs I went down hard and began a coughing spell that lasted well into the next week. I should have been admitted to a smoke relief facility but ... pandemic.

After a few days we went home and toughed it out in the old house. Here, you can just see the white roof of Gogo-an, the meditation hut, in the middle distance.

We were caught between HEPA filters so we put a furnace filter on the box fan, which helped some.

Currently the Holiday Farm Fire is holding at about 173,000 acres. It has burned 430 houses and caused loss of life. A near thing for us, but for others it has been nearer than near. _()_

There have been a couple of smoke-clearing rains, and we've resumed most of our homesteading activities. 

It's October and temperatures are in the high eighties when there's no smoke, so the late tomatoes are very happy and have unexpectedly come in by the bushel. I'm currently making tomato sauce and struggling with less-than-ideal unmarked canning jar lids provided, from far, far away, in used Ball canning-lid boxes (all we could get) -- there seems to be some kind of scam going on.

Looking at the history of our big local fires, I see a pattern. 

Fifteen years ago, the Clark Fire covered 5000 acres on Big Fall Creek. Three years ago, the Jones fire covered twice that. This year, the Holiday Farm Fire was more than fifteen times the size of the Clark Fire and ran west right past it almost into Springfield. I think these Cascades fires are moving west as we dry out and closing in on us in the valley, including here at Stony Run Farm.

 The water table is dropping, the soil exhales moisture faster than it used to and plants are extremely desiccated here at the moment, even with the inch or so of recent rain. 

Had the high winds persisted for another day, this fire would have run down the ridge above Little Fall Creek right to us, and the river would not have presented a significant barrier. Another similar year and all bets are off, especially with more lightning than we had this time.

The continued drought with increasing chance of fire, combined with unhinged roving vigilantes in the neighborhood looking in all the wrong political places for arsonists, leaves us feeling that our time at Stony Run may be drawing to a close. We may have to retreat to Daughter's urban college-town place to live out our days -- there is a plan for that, which might include the addition of a tiny house (easy on a fifth of an acre).

To which end I'm continuing to work there. The back room I've added to the house is in constant use already, and this week I re-roofed the meditation shed/potting room/workshop.

As I see it, a salmon swims upstream until it can't. So we might as well swim upstream.