|ABOUT TRUFFLBERT FARM||
Just when I thought that I had run out of farm stories to tell, I hit a deer in broad daylight coming home from town. I have always complained that the left rearview mirror on Ted’s car blocks my vision when I make a turn in that direction, and this confirms it because I have no recollection of seeing the deer in the road, only Wendy pointing to my left and saying, “Look out!” before the thump. I put on my brakes and skidded only slightly. She turned to see it lying in the road, and since we were less than five minutes from home and there is really no place to pull over, she suggested that we let Ted and Eric deal with it, and, in my cowardly fashion, I agreed. I did honk at an oncoming car which was my signal to be careful ahead in case the deer was lying in the driver’s lane. It is interesting that of all the neighbors we have I am the one in 32 years of driving this road to hit the deer. I remind Ted every time we return to the farm at night on Territorial Highway to watch for the deer and to go more slowly. Before whenever I’d hear of someone hitting a deer, I’d think of a movie I saw long ago where an elderly man, who, because of his poor eyesight, no longer has a driver’s license. However, he needs to reunite with his dying brother, so he takes his riding lawnmower across country roads, packed with his endless supply of bologna sandwiches, and he encounters a woman outside her car kicking a dead deer. She is so angry because it is the third deer that she’s hit that year, and they have ruined that many cars for her. These things are always more humorous when you think that they can’t happen to you. The next scene is him at a campfire roasting venison. I know that the deer are always a problem, and I’ve been careful until the time when I wasn’t so lucky. Everyone to whom I’ve told this story is sad but has assured me that I’m not to blame, especially if they’ve lived in the country where this happens often. I know that they mean well, but they haven’t killed a deer. When we are at the farm, we are always aware of the deer. In the morning, they feed on the fallen fruit in the orchard in front of the house, which is entertaining for our grandchildren to see while they are having their breakfast, and sometimes a herd of a dozen does and fawns awaits us as we enter the driveway on our return home in the evening. Ted’s greatest fear has always been that he will run over a new-born fawn when he is mowing the grass in the orchard for the first time in the spring. Fortunately, that has never happened, but he has come close. So, they are part of our farm life, eating from the totes of nuts we’ve gathered at harvest or bedding down in the barn as if they owned the place. They are not awed or afraid of us. They seem to tolerate our existence and probably celebrate when we’re back in California. Then, they don’t have to wonder at me barking at them in an attempt to chase them away or listen to the tractor plowing and disturbing their rest. I have always enjoyed seeing the deer on the property and noticing when there are twins born in years of plenty. We can even track their growth from year to year when we see them lose their spots but still follow their mother in their feeding ritual. One spring I was reading in the living room and was blessed to see outside my window a doe taking her new fawn out while she fed. It would leap and run while she dipped her head to eat and raised it to check for danger. They were completely unaware that I was watching. However, my closest encounter happened approximately five years ago when I was taking Ronan and Griffin for a walk to the pond. They were about seven and five. To the right of the path, I spotted a place where the blackberry vines had put out flowers as well as ripe berries, and I wanted a picture, so I asked the boys to be very quiet as I held my breath and leaned in for the shot. We were just around a curve on the path, and suddenly a young doe came charging down the lane. When she spotted us, she was about three feet away. It seemed like an eternity that we all stood frozen looking at each other before she came to her senses and turned left, leaping across Coyote Creek, and ran into the forest. I hope that the boys were not too young to remember this. Oh Deer! 2 Although we rarely see a buck, I came across one, who was as surprised as I was, on an early morning walk down Powell Road, and two years ago when we returned to the farm for the harvest in late September, we found that we had a young buck nesting in the grass behind the shed. He was used to having the property to himself until we arrived, and we watched, from inside the house, as he leaped up onto the raised beds that contain the grapevines outside our bedroom, and fed on the grapes and leaves that he found there. I even took his picture one night through the window as he helped himself to what he could reach by putting his hoofs on the gnarly trunk and stripping the vines. We called him Spike because he had small horn buds, one longer than the other. We got used to each other, and one afternoon as my friend and I were sunning ourselves and reading outside the house, he came to investigate. I thought that he might be tame enough to eat a carrot that I fetched from inside the house and laid on the path to the shed, but he surprised me. It was not enough of a temptation for him to stay. I knew from my experience with the peacock that it was not a good idea to tame a wild animal unless I was prepared to care for it. I wasn’t helping by making the animal unafraid of people either. I have never allowed anyone to hunt the deer or even wished them dead, despite the fact that they are overgrown pests. We have a fond relationship: they eat things on my property, and I, in exchange, get to watch them and try to walk one slow step at a time and stop in order to get close enough to photograph them. When Ted and Eric returned to the spot that Wendy and I felt was the crash site, they found a place up the road to park the car and walked both sides, but they did not find a deer. Assuming that we had directed them to the wrong place, they drove all the way to Gillespie Corners without seeing an animal. They were amazed at how little shoulder there is on the road and how close the edge is to the small river below. The spot that I directed them to is the same place where Paul’s mother Trudy went off the road and was lucky enough to have a tree keep her car from going all of the way downhill to the water. The fact that they found nothing could have meant that it had been removed by the motorist at whom I honked or it might have picked itself up, dusted itself off, and returned home. That was my fondest wish, but the fact that the car had a fist sized crack under the lower headlight where something struck it hard enough to require the panel to be replaced, and the trim around the wheel well was hanging loose by the time that I got home, although Ted snapped it back into place, made that wish highly unlikely. There was also some grayish fur caught in the tire between the rubber and the hubcap, not a good sign. Just as we were thinking that we’d still be able to go skiing in Bend later in the week, Eric spotted a steady drip coming from underneath the car, but it turned out to be a damaged water reservoir for the windshield wipers, not something more serious. I thought that the incident had not bothered me until I went to bed and started to think about it. I felt my heart pounding. It took me an hour of deep breathing for it to go away. I still do not have an image in my mind. I don’t see a deer standing in the middle of the road. I only heard the impact. I told the insurance adjuster that it ran into me. It must be what the crew of a bomber feels after a run. They did their job, but there is no guilt because they do not see the devastation or the people harmed. The next day going into town, Eric found the deer across from the Mile 31 marker. He took pictures, and he tried to keep the information from me, but I decided that I wanted to see when I found out. Now, just the word “deer” makes me flash on the young buck with small horn buds lying by the side of the road, and I am like the Ancient Mariner doomed to retell the story again and again to assuage my guilt. Seeing the picture did makes all the difference. I hope that it wasn’t Spike.
There may be other ways to make jam, but I only know one: the Grandma Arlie way. She taught it to Ted and me, and at least two of her grandchildren. I, in turn, have taught everyone who came to the farm for a visit during blackberry season: my daughter-in-law, her mother, my principal, my teaching friends and, often, their children, Eric’s friend Gene, my aunt Dorris. In fact, Dena and Nicole Rinetti entered their finished product in the Lane County Fair and won third place in the children’s division…. third place? Obviously, the judges didn’t even taste it.
For years I made blackberry jam at the end of August by myself, or with Ted’s help, as Christmas presents for the clerical staff at Burbank High, as a thank you and a bit of recognition, and for my friends and family. Since it can only be made one pot at a time, I often made 12 batches in order to have enough. That would yield me 84 jars, enough for gifts, personal use, and thank you presents throughout the year.
One time, I needed a secretary to type up the extensive print-ready copy of the semester final that the department would use. There were three versions of the same two-hour test. I asked her what she wanted as compensation, and she said, “Two jars of jam.”
Some few would return the empty jars to my school mailbox, and I’d fill them again, with new lids for the next year.
Because I also picked the wild blackberries, the jam was very fresh: made the same evening when it was cooler. On rare occasions I had to buy berries because they weren’t ripe when we left at the end of August, and they were gone when we returned in late September for harvest. It was always a problem in later years when I was working, too, and had to be back at school by mid-August.
I’d wait and wait for the berries to ripen, and, if I were lucky, I’d just be able finish it before we had to return to California and the opening of school. Sometimes it was so fresh that on our trip home, jar lids would still be popping, announcing their vacuum seal.
As usual, I feel the need to write down the process, and the best place to begin is with the ingredients and the equipment I use:
Three pints of berries per batch (preferably wild, very ripe, organic and freshly picked)
Certo (one envelope per pot)
Sugar (7 cups per batch)
Lemons (the juice of half a lemon per batch)
An 8” ricer on a tripod with a long wooden pestle (because that’s what Grandma Arlie used)
A 12” high stainless steel pot (when it boils, the liquid rises)
A 12” wooden spoon
A 7” saucepan for boiling lids and rings
One toothpick (just wait)
Dishwasher for sterilizing jars (or a kettle of boiling hot water)
Half pint jars (7-9 per batch)
A wooden cutting board, if you’re working on tile or granite
A series of five stainless steel bowls (a huge one for catching juice, one for storing 4 cups of juice, one to hold the seeded “sludge”, and two that will hold 7 cups of sugar)
A juicer for the lemons
A large strainer (for rinsing the berries)
Two measuring cups, one that holds four cups and one that holds a cup
Shoes, not just socks (this is important… so that feet don’t get scalded with hot liquid jam)
Two rubber spatulas
Assuming I’ll be working alone, I ready the scene by placing several thicknesses of newspapers on the countertops, under the bowls that will hold sugar, over the area where I’ll be juicing berries, and on the wooden cutting board where I’ll be pouring jam. I even place sheets up the walls behind where I’m juicing to protect the paint from being spotted with purple.
Then, I load the jars into the dishwasher and put it on rinse cycle to sterilize them and keep them hot so they don’t crack when they’re filled with the hot jam. (There’s no soap involved in this step.) This is a huge improvement over boiling jars in a kitchen that is already going to be too hot.
The jar lids and rings go into the saucepan on medium heat until the water boils. Then, I turn it down to low for the remainder of the time.
I measure out 7 cups of sugar into a bowl and add the juice of half a lemon. (I consider this the secret ingredient.) I actually measure out two of these bowls to stay ahead of the game. I can pour one of them into my cooking pot on the stove, which awaits the juice.
I cut open a Certo packet and leave it standing up near the area where I will cook.
The sink must be cleaned in order to accommodate the berries. I rinse them in cold water (three pints at a time), picking them up in my two hands to inspect for spiders, twigs, and moldy berries before I place them into the strainer to drain before I juice them.
Now, I’m ready to juice the berries. I place three pints into the ricer and plunge the pestle into them circling it round and round to allow the juice to flow out of the holes in the sides and bottom.
If they are especially juicy, and I’m especially energetic, it can splash, so that’s the reason for the apron and the newspaper on the walls.
The key to this is knowing when all the juice has been wrung from the berries. My test: when the seeds stick to the pestle and don’t slide down or seem to be glued there, then, I know that I’m done. At this point I transfer the seeds remaining inside the ricer (what we call the “sludge”) to a separate bowl by scraping the pestle with a spatula.
I measure the juice, at this point, and hope that I have four cups. If so, I add one tablespoon of sludge to give it authenticity, not enough seeds to annoy the eater, but enough to make it look like jam. (On the last batch, if I do not have 4 cups of juice, I have three choices: change the ratio of sugar to juice, go out and pick what I still require, or add whatever I need in apple juice. The latter is only done in emergencies.)
All of this is poured into the waiting pot filled with sugar and lemon and stirred until it is mixed before turning on the heat to high medium. It is important to stir this frequently so it doesn’t stick to the bottom and burn. It doesn’t have to be a constant stir, though. I usually use this time to clean and juice the next batch of berries when I’m alone. If you don’t have a spoon rest, then place the wooden spoon across the top of the pot so you don’t lose track of it.
It will take the first batch of jam about 15 minutes to boil, making the most delicious smell and creating a wonderful magenta color.
When it starts to boil, I count out 60 seconds while I’m stirring. When it reaches a rolling boil, one that cannot be stirred down with the wooden spoon, I know that it is time to remove 9 jars from the dishwasher and turn them over to drain on newspapers.
Then, I return to the pot, stirring as I add Certo to the mix. I count 60 seconds again while I stir.
Now it’s time to turn off the gas (or propane as it is here on the farm) and ready the jars for filling by turning them over and placing a row on the wooden cutting board. My board is only long enough to hold six jars, and I can’t put a second row behind them because it doesn’t work well when I’m pouring the huge pot of very hot jam. The extra jars seem to be in the way.
I, then, use the tongs to pull enough lids and rings out of the boiling water to dry on the newspaper, and I’m ready to pour.
This is a tricky task. The pot is heavy and unwieldy, and the liquid is composed of hot sugar that would make a terrible burn, so I am always respectful of this event. I use oven mitts to lift the pot, and I take a Sumo wrestling position, bending my knees and keeping my back straight as I pour. The pot at no time touches the glass jar.
No liquid can remain on the top or sides of the jar where the lid will be screwed on, so timing is important. I stop pouring at a higher level than one would think necessary to fill the jars because the jam settles and more needs to be added if the jar isn’t full enough.
I stop pouring and get ready to move on to the next jar, but there is usually a final drop. I transfer the pot to the next jar, placing the drop into the waiting empty jar. Sometimes it lands on the glass ring and must be carefully wiped off holding the very hot glass jar gingerly and wiping with a wet paper towel. (I often muse that it would be a mean trick to give someone a jar where the lid is stuck on with the sugary glue, but if you’ve every received a jar like that, it was not done intentionally.)
When I’ve filled six jars, I know that there is more, but not how much. A batch can vary from six to nine jars. I’m never sure, so I always have extra jars waiting. Sometimes it depends on how full I’ve made the jars. Now is the time to look at the first ones that I poured into and decide if they need to be topped off. This is another time to be careful of accidental drips on the rim.
When I’m satisfied that the first six are full, I make a second stand, placing two or three more in an “L” shape on the cutting board, so as not to bump the pot on the full glass jars, and if I’m feeling strong, I hold the pot with one hand and use a rubber spatula to scrape the last bits into the final jar, although that last bit can go into the next batch.
This may be what causes me to sometimes get an extra half jar. (A half full jar can be filled with jam from the following batch or used as our tasting sample or our breakfast jam.)
Now, I return the pot to the stove, and it’s time to place the lids on the newly poured jam. I carefully hold the very hot jars with the tips of the fingers on my left hand while I screw down the rings with my right. Often they do not go on straight or easily the first time. As many times as I’ve done it, I still have problems, and I can never use oven mitts in this step because they’re too unwieldy.
At this point, I know that I shouldn’t move the jars any more than I have to. I usually wait until the next batch is just about ready, and then I gently move them so as not to break the gel. I put them onto a place that is impervious to very hot items. Moving may or may not be what can make the jam runny, but I’m not taking any chances.
The next batch can be made without cleaning the pot. That’s great news, and I return any unused jars to the dishwasher and punch “rinse” again. I cut another Certo packet and stand it up, put all my equipment back in its original place, wooden spoons, tongs, oven mitts, for the next go round. Usually I’ve rinsed berries, juiced them, measured out sugar and lemon for the next batch while I was waiting for the previous one to boil, so I’m ready to go once more. If I’m efficient, I can make a batch every 20 minutes.
When I’m done, I can appreciate the delicious smell which fills the house and taste the cool jam. I look at the beautiful jars, and, again, as Beowulf did, “I joy in the work of my hand.”
Then, it’s time to clean up..........
I roll up the stained newspapers, smiling at the fact that no counters or walls were harmed in the process, and I use my one toothpick to push the recalcitrant seeds out of the holes of the ricer.
As I’m working, the jars begin to vacuum seal, and the popping of the lids makes me laugh. From bush to jam jar in only a few hours; it’s enough to make Grandma Arlie proud.
If you were not brought up as a child picking blackberries, as I was not, then you need some basic instructions, which I have learned over the twenty years that I’ve been at it. This is what I’ve learned:
1. Naturally, the best blackberries are grown near the water, but the stream is often hidden by the runners which are loaded with leaves and fruit during the peak season. So, never stretch to pick, even the juiciest berry, if you haven’t checked that there is solid footing in front of you in case you lose your balance. You need only fall into the creek once to learn this, but I’d like to save you the pain of being hauled out over the prickly boughs as you are extracted from your new position. I knew this, and yet I broke my own cardinal rule. Greed will cause this to happen. I wound up in a “ballerina at the barre” position with one leg on the bank and one in the water.
2. Fortunately, I was not picking alone, which is the second rule. So, I yelled “Ted” for my husband. He kept asking, “Where are you?” and I kept telling him to follow my voice. He did and found me, but I was reluctant to have him pull me out over the thorn-filled branches. I couldn’t even get my elevated leg down to give myself traction, so I was forced to have my rescuer to pull me out by both arms. Apparently, this August, Kathie, a friend, found herself in a similar spot when she and Renee were picking on the tractor bridge near the barn. She landed in the stream on both feet in blackberry vines which covered her so that only her curly little head showed. She was also not raised picking berries as a child.
3. Dress properly for the occasion. The older the clothes the better. Blackberry stains just do not come out that easily. Long sleeves and long pants are a must, even in hot weather. Because of my tendency for “hot flashes” I usually eschew both, and I have the scratches on my arms and legs to show for it. Once, I stepped on a very old and stout vine with one shoe and raked its large thorns across the bare shin of my other leg in the process. It took a long while to heal, and it’s not as elegant as having a ski injury. I’d recommend gloves for the same reason, but I can’t pick properly or fast enough to use them. Therefore, I wind up with scratched and stained fingers on my right hand. Usually the blackish-purple color stays around my cuticles and under my nail tips for a week after the event. Neighbor Nancy assures me that this is why ladies always wore gloves to church. They were never able to get their hands clean after gardening. Once I tried rubber gloves, which gave me the dexterity I needed, but I found my hands sweating inside such an enclosure.
4. A hat is a nice touch too, but you won’t need it if you pick in the shade, which is the fourth rule. Go early in the morning or late in the evening because it is hot work otherwise.
5. Have the correct equipment. I prefer a strainer that is about 12 inches across. It is lightweight. That may not seem important, but when a vessel is filled with berries it is cumbersome. Because there are holes in the bowl, I take along newspaper to set it on and extra aluminum bowls to fill in a shady place.
6. Technique is important too. The abovementioned bowl is cradled in the left arm, resting on the left hip (or in your case the right if you are left handed.) I don’t put the strainer on the ground because I use it as a weapon against the briars. Oftentimes the berries are just out of reach behind a bare limb. In that case I wield my strainer to the rescue. I use the bottom of it to keep the offending branch away from my scratchable picking arm and keep it depressed until I’m finished stripping the vine I’m attacking. It also helps to have the bowl under a cluster of berries to catch the ones that fall because they’re so ripe that a touch sends them to the ground. It is frustrating to pick and lose it in this way or to have a nearby gem get bumped and go to Mother Earth. We have a saying when we harvest the nuts, “No one wants to pick them twice.” Oldtimers used buckets, which were heavy and a strain to carry in the opposite hand. They may have been skilled enough to pick with both hands, but I am extremely right handed so it doesn’t work for me for both reasons. I often step on branches and hold them down to get to choice berries, and I’ve been known to take a long vine by the tenderest of front leaves or by the unripened berries in the front and gently stick it on a nearby branch to keep it out of the way temporarily because the best berries are usually up high or shaded by the new growth. Therefore, a ladder is a good tool if you find a place that you’d like to pick extensively. It can be rested on the springy vines and tested before you climb it. I’ve found wonderful productive places that I’ve left my ladder to be returned to at a later date. One such place was on the far side of the creek in the west field. Paul was keeping sheep there, and I’d go in the evenings when I was here by myself. They’d scamper away when I first arrived, but forget my presence as time went on. I’d be at the top of the ladder as they gradually returned to the foot of it. All I had to do was to whisper, without even turning around, “You’ve forgotten that I’m here, haven’t you?” and they’d panic and run away again. It’s been my observation that animals: deer, squirrels, turkeys, sheep do not really see you if you don’t move or speak.
7. Selecting the berries is really an art passed on from prior generations and honed from experience. The secret is that all berries which have turned dark are not ripe. Usually the ripest one is at the point of the vine. It may be surrounded by others that seem to be the correct color, but they must be checked carefully. The correct one will look fuller, more swollen, than its neighbors. If it comes away from the vine easily, it’s ripe. Never tug on a berry to pick it. If it has to be forced, it’s not ready. If you doubt me, taste the berries you’re picking. You’ll see. Also, tasting while you pick gives you a clue as to their flavor. There is no sense picking watery ones or ones which are too seedy. If the berry mushs in my fingertips, I eat it. Not only do I deserve it for the hard work that I’ve done, but a mushy berry just dissolves when it’s rinsed. If you’re lucky, and you’re in a good spot, you’ll find a cluster of ripe ones, and then you need to place your picking bowl underneath it so that none are lost. I have a small hand, but I can usually collect six ripe berries before I put them into the strainer. Greed coupled with efficiency will strike even me, but I should know better by now. Again a dropped berry is a lost berry, fallen amid the brambles at my feet. So, I have my own number; you will develop yours. I also know about focus. I try not to look for new berries while I’m working on the ones at hand. I have the lost berries and garnered scratches to prove what distraction causes.
8. Finally, enjoy. It is a wonderful time. I let my mind clear of any thought except selecting the perfect berry. As Beowulf was known to have felt about battle, “I joy in the work of my hand.” It is satisfying to think that I didn’t toil to plant or water these blackberries. They are the bounty of nature that I am collecting.
The peacock walked shyly out of the forest in July 2010 to see what all the noise was about. It was only my three grandchildren happily splashing, shrieking, and swimming in the pool at Trufflebert Farm.
He was curious, but when I grabbed my camera to follow him, he strolled back into the trees, moving slowly enough to show me that he didn't see me as a danger, but fast enough to let me know that I'm not his friend either.
A week later when Ronan, Griffin and Sarah left for home, he returned, keeping his distance from the house. I watched him eat the seeds from the grass which was now waist high in places. He would grab the stalk at the bottom and run the stem through his beak until he reached the seeds. Then he'd swallow these and move quickly on to the next bunch.
Each day he come closer and closer to the house, and I'd go outside and sit on the stucco wall and talk to him even though he was often behind me. I had left him a trail of bread crumbs from the shed to where I was sitting, and he seemed to be listening to me as I chatted about the bobcats and mountain lions, and bears in the forest and asked him if he had a mate and where she was. I decided that I'd let him eat out of my had if he come close enough when suddenly he put his long neck straight up and ran away. "Wait," I said. "I have more for you," but he had spotted Bootsie, the neighbors cat which sometimes crawls under our shed.
I approached the crouching kitty and said, "Bad cat. Leave the bird alone." I knew that I could give the peacock some extra time to get away by scratching her head and neck. I even tore the remaining bread crusts into bits and fed them to the kitty.
The peacock did stand his ground though. I had noticed his huge claws and the thorn on the back of his legs. that resembles the spur that roosters have to use in a fight. When he left it was in a dignified stroll, as if to say that I wasn't rescuing him; he could take care of himself and had faced worse enemies than a housecat.
Aside from him eating seeds, I wondered what else he ate. As I was complaining to a neighbor about the deer earing the plants in front of my house, she suggested that it might be the peacock. So, I covered the remaining flowers with netting and began to feed him lettuce leaves and strawberry tops and tomato bits. I didn't really want to have him depend on my meals because when I returned to California, he would again be wild, but I enjoyed doing it.
When I had friends over for dinner on the front porch, he hung around waiting for us to throw him food. The last night that they were visiting, we ate by candlelight in the sunroom, which is composed of long windows and glass doors on three sides. As I got up from the table to get something and turned my back to the outside, he flew at the window twice with his claws spread. It was dark, and I don't know what caused him to be upset. We really didn't know that he was even outside watching us. I think that he wanted to be included in the gathering. When they left, Prince pecked at the red polish on my friend's toes. I assume that he thought that they were something delicious to eat. Then, I had to pitch grapes into the grass next to the driveway in order to get him off of the road so their car could leave.
He rewarded by donations of food by leaving me soft swirls of poop all over my patio and pool deck. They spiraled upward like dark brown ice cream servings. I had to be careful whenever I stepped outside that I didn't land in one because he had taken to searching throught the glass doors to locate me when I was inside the house, and these deposits landed wherever he had been waiting. He was also drinking from the swimming pool and hunkering down on the warm cement near the back doors in the evening before retreating to the forest for safety at night, so there were piles everywhere.
As a child growing up near the San Diego Zoo, I had seen many peacocks. They ran wild there, and their cries were loud and constant. Someone told me that they could be heard two miles away. This peacock, however, was quiet and alone. As I watched him preen, I noticed that his tail was scraggly, and he had some rust colored feathers just slightly exposed on his right side. I'd never seen that color feather before on a peacock, and I wondered if he weren't sick. There are coyotes and raccoons in the forest behind our house, and I'm sure that he looked like a good meal to them no matter his condition. I can picture them snapping at his tail feathers as he flies, just in time, into a nearby tree to roost for the night.
I started calling him Price because I loved the small crown of black feathers that formed a crest on his head, and I knew that he was not old enough to a a king because his tail was lacking enough feathers to drag on the ground such as older peacocks have. His chest and body and neck were the most amazing iridescent blue-green color; his tail had those wonderful feathers that look if they have blue eyes at the tip. He was so handsome that I wondered why there wasn't also a female peacock to keep him company.
And I noted his similarity to our wild turkeys that must have been jealous of his beauty. He has the same body shape, and he moves in the same way, sticking his S-shaped neck out as he steps forward seeming to push himself along. However, he is beautifully colored, and he has his crown and his tail of eyes, which he did not open for me because he had no need to threaten me with it and wave it inward as I'd seen the male turkeys do with their display.
I worried about him when he didn't appear for a day, and I'd step outside, facing the forest, and do my best imitation of a peacock call, as I remembered hearing it at the zoo. It is something between the cry of a crow and the wail of a baby. He would appear soon after, and I'd be happy that nothing had happened to him. I did wonder where he came from. Sometimes peacocks escape from zoos and arboretums, but we had neither out in the country. The only explanation that I could think of was that he was the great-great-great grandbird of some peacocks that neighbors kept on a nearby farm. They were, we later found out, growing marijuana, and used bull mastiffs as guard dogs and peacocks to warn them about intruders. I had spotted one of their peacocks at the top of our south field one morning years ago when I was having breakfast and looked out the window. No one would believe me. They tried to tell me that it must have been a turkey, but I know a peacock when I see one. Would it be possible for peacocks to breed in the forest and still be around several generations later?
I also worried what would become of him when we had to return home after our vacation at the farm. After I left, my god-daughter looked on the Internet and found a ranch about twenty miles away. They already had 30 peacocks, and they were willing to come and get Prince if she could capture him and put him into a dog carrier cage before they got there. So, that's what she did.
And that's where my beautiful prince is now, safe among friends that are almost as beautiful as he is.
When the hazelnuts harvest is two weeks late, and we are trying to get nuts ready for the holiday market, it gives a new meaning to Thanksgiving.
Normally, in early October, the nuts are swept into windrows by the Florry after they've fallen to the ground, vacuumed up by the Weiss-McNair, taken to the dryer, cracked, sorted and resorted in plenty of time. However, this late harvest forced us to pull the 1930s Rube Goldberg-like "Mave Nut Harvester" out of the barn where we sorted 2000 pounds by hand on an area of level ground where the debris could be left as fertilizer.
Because it had rained the week before, the tractor and attendant heavy machines were not able to be used first. That necessitated tree shaking and hand raking before we could begin the process. This was done by a hardworking crew of five. When the weather cleared we proceeded to the Mave.
It takes four of us to work the Mave. This machine is about fifteen feet long with a trailer hitch at the front, and a platform at the back which rest on large wooden blocks for stability. It has an axel with four tires in the middle, and two gas motors to drive several 10 foot floppy rubber belts. One runs the fan that blows off the chaff, and one runs the mesh conveyer belts that carry the nuts. Originally it was steam powered, I've been told.
Because the vacuum is as good as its nickname, the "GETZUMALL," it collects everything under the trees and spews nuts, broken shells, dirt clods, grass, leaves, rocks, old nuts (not picked up last year), and turkey poop into a tote which holds 700 pounds. This box is delivered to the front end of the Mave where someone with a large nut shovel must slowly drop a scoop into the bin that is a 2 foot by 2 foot square, narrowing to a smaller square at the bottom. From there the nuts ascend a five foot conveyer belt that is an 18 inch wide open fretwork and looks like a series of wavy graphs. This allows the dirt and smaller stones to drop through to the ground before they reach the next step. Here the nuts pass by a fan that blows off anything lightweight through a chimney that is curved on one side so the the debris goes in one direction away from the machinery and workers.
There is a long metal tube, 10 inches in diameter, that runs the length of the Mave to the end. It spits out of the fan unit in a high-powered column of air at the backend that a person does not want to walk in front of because dirt, small stones, and anything that is too small to remain on the belt. The belt then levels out and drops its load into what we call a squirrel cage, composed of a series of long pencil thin ribs with half inch spaces in between that allow anything smaller than a nut to drop through to the ground. This cage revolves, spiraling the nuts to the final conveyer belt at 90 degrees to the first, where three of us workers wait to sort and bag the nuts. This belt is really too short for a long look at what is dropping from the squirrel cage onto it. It is only about three feet long, and two of us pick the remaining broken shells, rocks and old, small, or misshapen nuts and drop them into a tub beneath our feet. There are still curled leaves and some turkey scat that is hard enough on the outside to survive the trip, but just soft enough to stick to your fingers into as you sort. The noise causes us to wear earplugs and the exhaust from the motor usually gives us a headache, even though we are working in the open air.
I mention this because we usually pick without gloves since there is a danger of getting clothing or gloves caught in the moving belt. One harvest, our partner, Renee, caught the flap of her bib overalls in the belt grid. Since there is so much machine noise involved, no one at the front end could hear her calling for help, so everyone must know how to use the safety switch to turn off the motors in an emergency. She was saved from injury by another worker's prompt attention and action.
You would think that the repetitiveness would give a worker plenty of time to muse, but really, I must keep my eyes on the conveyer belt in order to spot what needs to be discarded. It is wonderful if a person is ambidextrous because he/she is more adroit than a person such as myself who can only work with one hand. I stand at the top of the conveyer belt and use my left hand to push back the fast-traveling nuts so that we have a few more seconds to examine them. Then, I eliminate the debris with my right hand. Sometimes, I can point to my partner to pick up something I've missed, and sometimes I miss a turkey poop on purpose, leaving the responsibility to my partner. All the while the platform on which I am standing is vibrating, and I am careful that my toes don't get caught between the edge of the machine and the block on which it is resting.
When the person shoveling is too enthusiastic, we on the back line have to speed up. It is like being Lucy and Ethel on the chocolate candy conveyer belt, and we are in fast forward mode until someone jumps off the back, goes to the front, and complains.
I know not to let my mind wander; I must not look into the squirrel cage in anticipation of what will drop onto the belt, and at the end of the day I close my eyes and see nuts and rocks and dirt clods (the size of nuts) going by inside my eyelids.
The third person stands facing the end of the last belt where the nuts drop into netted orange citrus-type bags. He/she can't really help sort because there isn't enough lead time to see what's coming, but he can spot bad items that have traveled to either edge of the belt and pick up those. His main job is to see that the sacks don't go over the top. They hold about 30 pounds of nuts, and there is a handle that flops the flow from the belt to another sack when the first one is full and is being taken off and tied. Then there are a few minutes to put a new sack in its place before it is time to fill it too.
During the first sort on the Mave, we don't weigh the full nut sacks. That is left for the second sorting, after the nuts go to the dryer, which is an easier sort as most of the rejects have been removed. During the second sort the nuts are bagged in 25 pound increments to simplify the math at selling. One harvest, I got so good at estimating the desired 25 pounds that I earned the nickname "La Oja" for my stellar efforts. Most of the sacks were "spot on" when they were weighted.
If we are lucky, we get a break every hour. We usually can't work more than a couple of hours before the machine breaks down, either it is clogged with grass and leaves or a stone or nut has stopped the conveyer. Whenever that happens, we unpaid volunteers do a little internal cheer, anticipating a brief rest until the problem is fixed. This year we had a man stop by to buy nuts when a breakdown occurred. He spotted the problem, crawled under the Mave to retrieve a very large stone that was wedged out of eyesight by the workers and holding up our progress. The least we could do was give hime a bag of nuts for free. Instead "the boss" charged him half price. We're not a charity, after all.
The sacks go the the dryer for a week, come back and are sorted again for quality. They are then ready to go to market.
We are thankful the six dry days we had, four of them sunny and cold, for the friends and agricultural workers who helped, and for the many other blessings that the farm provides. Happy Thanksgiving!
If you’ve ever been stuck in gridlock on your way to or from work, or if you’ve ever considered buying an electric vehicle just so you could ride in the diamond lane, then you’d enjoy our 25 minute commute to town on the Lorane Highway.
It is such a joy to meander through the countryside seeing grass fed
cows; ancient barns that are going, going gone in their various stages of decay; wildflowers, like Queen Anne’s lace and lavender everlasting pea (a cousin of the Sweetpea but without the scent); tiny bus huts where children wait in the rain; or clearcuts as they scour the hills and then grow back again with replanting over the years. I never tire of the views.
It is so infrequently traveled that last July (2013) bold copper thieves
dug up the underground bundles of wires confident that very little traffic
passed by and they could do their deed in broad daylight and never get caught, although it left us without telephone service for three days.
It is only at night that the curves seem sinuous without lights of any
kind, save a cozy farm off the road or the large confident illuminated cross
high above one bend. Without radio reception and without the moon, it seems a very long trip then, even though we know the road like the back of our hand.
It was long ago on one of those trips that we invented the car
The rules are fairly simple. Any car coming into town as we are going home is worth a point. Motorcycles are worth ½ point, although we round up at the end. If we pass a car ahead of us, we subtract a point, and that can be a dangerous proposition in the dark if you are the driver and your number has already been reached. The score is exact, no “closest to” in this game, so there’s rarely an outright winner. That’s what makes it so sweet.
We start at the beginning of the highway in town where the road T’s, and
we must make a left turn. At that stop we must pick a number and not waiver. There are many considerations at that point. I think that the riflemen on the plains of long ago called their calculations Kentucky windage, and they wet a finger and stuck it up into the air to see which way the wind was blowing. Ours are much more elaborate. We have to take into consideration what month it is because traffic, and I use that term lightly, is usually heavier in the summer than the fall or winter.
What day of the week is it? People have been known to go into town later on the weekends. What time of day is it? Twilight encourages the winery visitors to return home by this route, and only a few diehards are traveling when every farmer and school child is alreadyin bed.
So, it’s trickier than it might seem.
When we have guests and are returning to the farm, we encourage them to
play this game with us, and we tell them that we’ll go first picking our numbers to show them the range. Seven has always been lucky for me, and Ted usually likes to pick nine if he has to go second.
Visitors find this hilarious, and select huge numbers in the twenties. They can’t imagine passing so few cars in nearly a half an hour. We remind them that we will probably be the only car going in our direction.
At this point, children like to fudge. When their number is reached and they
are normally out of the game, they ask to change their number, and we let them, saying that since it’s their first time, we will be lenient. Sometimes they ask, “What is the prize?” I told one boy, “It is the privilege of taking us all out to dinner” at which point he asked his parents if there was enough money in his college fund to cover that. That’s how overly confident he was.
The truth is that the winner only gets bragging rights, and we take those
very seriously. When we’ve come to the second“T” which is Territorial Highway and about five minutes from home, a number holder can get cocky. A chant of “I won. I won” might be heard just as a final car rounds the bend to ruin that score. Or, as happened once, a car pulled out of a neighbor’s driveway in the last half mile just as we were approaching our own farmhouse.
Usually I am not driving, and the person who is at the wheel, unlike me, is especially competitive. He has been known to wait at Gillespie Corners an inordinate amount of time for a car to approach from the left before he makes his right turn if that vehicle will secure his chosen number. He has waited at our last left turn an unusually long time for the same reason, and don’t forget the passing technique to gain back a point.
I keep track by bending a finger into my palm so I don’t lose count.
Sometimes we get talking and then the approaching car score is disputed,
but when you’ve jabbed a nail into your hand for any amount of time, the number is irrefutable.
In the last few years, we have been surprised at the number of cars
going into town in the dark since the local winery opened its restaurant for
dinner. One summer evening we counted 29 cars in amazement. It has thrown off our whole game.
There’s been talk of moving somewhere less populated because of this turn of events. After all, the city has added about a thousand people a year in the last thirty years that we have owned the farm. Idahois one candidate often
discussed, but I can’t go there. I’m too old to work on a new set of variables.
Besides, who would keep an eye on the scenery?
"The best-laid schemes o’ mice and men
/ Gang aft agley…” Robert Burns
For us to drive up from California to fertilize in the spring, all of the planets have to be aligned. Primarily, the weather has to be clear
for a long period of time because the ground has to dry out for approximately
four days so that the heavy machines can travel up the steep hill of the South
Field. Then, the weather has to stay clear for another six days so that the work can be done. Next, we need to locate organic fertilizer. Finally, the manure has to be available and delivered by the date that we
arrive. These things so rarely come in combination that we have not fertilized in the last two years, mainly because of the weather. However,
when the smell of finely composted organic chicken manure permeates the air, and I know, with my eyes closed, that I am once again on the farm.
It took two days for us to drive here, and it took two hours for the fertilizer truck to deliver its load once it had reached our driveway. Ted had ordered a load of gravel to be deposited on the road from the bottom of Powell Road to the place where we usually deposit the manure at the base of the South Field. All was in readiness.
However, the delivery truck was 70 feet long, including the cab, and making a right hand turn from Powell Road into our driveway was the first problem. Ted and Ken had to remove the front drive gate by lifting the support posts. That allowed the cab of the truck to pull forward a little more in order to make the 90 degree turn without wiping out our fence.
The load can’t be dropped at the base of the driveway because the land is too swampy there, and using it as a staging area makes it too far from the largest field, wasting valuable loading time. So, ideally, the truck should continue along the road to the bottom of the South Field and deposit everything there.
That just wasn’t going to happen. In addition to the weight of the truck and cab, it was carrying a load of 29 tons of fertilizer or 58,000 pounds, for those of you who remember second grade mathematics, and the route that we had directed the driver to take involved another right hand turn so that the rig could circle our U-shaped driveway to allow the cab to be pointed outward when it left. So, when I first saw the truck, it was jackknifed at the top of the horseshoe.
At that point it was
necessary to back up the cab and straighten out on the original road. That was no easy move, and it became necessary twice to hitch the big tractor to the cab and pull it out of the ruts in the mud that it had just made during this maneuver (which sounds a lot like manure).
Now, the driver was getting frustrated. Even if he made it out to the drop off spot, he’d have to back all the way down the driveway, around the initial sharp turn, and the length of Powell Road before backing into Territorial Highway, which is a busy thoroughfare. He had already made a two hour trip from Canby in the north, and he was dealing with people who are obviously farming stupid. He had done us a favor by coming out on a Saturday to make the delivery, and he’d spent more time than he’d planned
already and the load was still onboard. Also, he’d done so much braking that the air reserve in his hydraulic system had run out, and now he had to wait for it to be replenished before moving again.
In his frustration, he mentioned that it would be easier for him to manipulate his rig when the load was dumped, and he suggested that we should have called him out when it was dry. But, being Oregon, I said that that wouldn’t have been until July and by then the spring rain necessary to work the fertilizer into the soil would have been over. Somehow, he didn’t seem to care and suggested, “September.”
We debated the best place to put the load, and I thought of the bottom of the hill where the road makes a wide apron from the mailboxes to our driveway. It is paved, and we would use up all the fertilizer and leave it
clean. Ken was worried about the neighbors’ complaints, since he will be here when we are long gone back to California. My next idea was to deposit it in Ken’s double parking area, which is covered with gravel and, at that point in time, right next to where the truck was parked.
Instead, it was agreed that he should dump everything in the southeast corner of the North Field, basically across the top of the horseshoe where he’d attempted to make the second right hand turn and on the right side of where everything now rested. And so that is how three hills of the finest composted chicken manure that money can buy now rest across from Kenny and Renee’s house. Let’s just say that they won’t be opening any windows any time soon, and it will be quite a while before she considers hanging out washing to get that fresh air scent that can’t be achieved in the dryer.
Let the unloading begin. Mike, the driver, backed up farther than we’d planned, opened the back door, and started the conveyor belt of heavy rubber flags that run inside the truck bed and push the manure out. The flaps then come under the truck and return to the front of the load.
This goes on until the truck is empty.
I made Ted stand next to the largest pile, there were three, and, although it mounded over his head, it did not meet my expectation of 29 tons. That first row of trees in the North Field will undoubtedly grow to gigantic heights or get fertilizer burn and die from their proximity to the manure.
With his load gone, Mike proceeded to the second opening of the horseshoe in an attempt to go around our driveway and head down the hill, except that he ran into the same narrow turning radius. On the far side of
the driveway was a mound of the winter’s collection of branches from tree
trimming. This potential burn pile, that was as wide as our house, prevented him from taking a wider swipe at the turn. Just when we thought that he was stuck again and honking his horn for assistance, he quickly backed the trailer portion up the grassy knoll in front of the house in a maneuver that only a pro could have successfully completed and returned to the
horseshoe, where he’d entered, now making a left and heading down the straight part of the driveway to Powell Road. Apparently, it was easier to manipulate the rig when it was empty. He apologized for scraping the apple
tree on his way in to my driveway. In fact, he had missed it completely. I told him that in my humble estimation, “I can’t believe the turn I just saw.
You are the man!”
Kenny signed the paperwork, and, before he left, he asked Mike, “If we need more, "can we call you for another delivery."
I think Mike was snorting with laughter when he said, “Sure, just give us two days. Call the office.” which translates into“trucker talk” as “They couldn’t pay me enough to make this trip again.” I told Ted that this should teach us not to be so hard on our previous delivery man, Newman, who came in a dump truck, took out the bank of mailboxes at the
bottom of our driveway, and, repeatedly, got stuck in the mud at the bottom of the South Field. By comparison, his deliveries had been a piece of cake.
He was an old timer who loved his work, and I remember his assessment of the load of composted steer manure that he brought to the farm, “just like fine chocolate” when he described the smell. Apparently, he was not a great fan of chocolate, as I am, or he’d been consuming some with a higher cocoa content than I was accustomed to.
Newman is also remembered as the one who made the wooden wheelbarrow out of old barn siding that I annually fill with flowers, and every year that he delivered to us he’d eyeball the sinking barn at the corner of Powell Roadand Territorial when he made a stop.
However, dropping off manure is only a small part of the fertilizing process. If you have two workers, it speeds up the job. One person drives the small tractor which is hooked up to a spreader. This is essentially a
wagon about nine feet long and 5 feet wide attached to the PTO (Power Transfer Output – this isn’t correct, but it is what we agreed to call it.) of the
tractor. The back end is open and a horizontal bar with a spiral of three-pronged fans pushes the manure out after the chain drive with small rollers has moved the load forward from the bottom. It holds only one or two
scoops of manure placed there by the driver of the big tractor with the front
scoop or bucket.
So, one person goes through the orchard with the spreader, holding the gas pedal down to the floor, moving the small tractor slowly. In a ten foot swath next to each tree, he (Remember, it’s a boy job.) releases the handle that causes the manure to drop. It saves fertilizer not to spread it in a continuous line since the trees are 19 feet apart.
Meanwhile the other worker returns to the staging area to scoop up another bucketful and return to the place where the trailer will run out of manure. This process goes on and on up and down the rows for six days until all of the fields are done, as well as the vineyard and the fruit orchard in front of the house, and the jobs are rotated when the small tractor driver’s calf muscle has cramped from exertion.
We did have to order more fertilizer, but this time we requested half the load and a smaller truck for delivery, so another 15 tons were delivered in record time. In addition to putting manure in all of the beds around the house, there will be plenty left over for fertilizing next year, and it will be covered with a tarp above the road to the pond where we traditionally place it.
Over the years, on many occasions, I have been privileged to stand in a green field and feel the breeze while I worked, pausing to watch the clouds and marvel at the low growing daisies in the grass and the perfection of dandelions before they burst. Whenever I think of the farm, I smell that particular headiness of growing grass, and I think I’m home.
I do not remember ever smelling chocolate.
It’s always interesting to be able to live long enough to see how a long range project worked out. The farm is one of those plans, and thirty years later so is the pond.
First, the pond does not belong to us or to Trufflebert. It is the property of Bill Roskam’s four grandchildren. He purchased the land adjacent to the farm after Weyerhauser had completed their clear cut. He replanted the land in fir trees, exceeding the required code, with the intent that his grandchildren would profit from the sale of the timber when they were older, and Paul advised him to scoop out the swampy area that abuts the road, which winds around the bottom of our South Field, to make a pond.
I vaguely remember a special incentive was that if he signed up with the local water district and allowed them to use the pond if there were ever a fire in the neighborhood that this willingness to share the water resulted in some type of financial compensation from the county as it was being dug.
I choose to believe that Paul told Bill that it was the right thing to do,
and he signed up for that reason.
Although we didn’t own the pond we enjoyed looking at it, and later we did plant several Weeping Willow trees at the eastern end of it in memory of Ted’s mom and dad, and two stately sequoias overlook it on the back side of the south slope where we buried their ashes. Sadly, these no longer belong to us either, since we split the property into two parts about 12 years ago. However, we’ve always thought of the pond as part of the farm.
It became fun to walk to the pond in the spring and summer, especially on a hike up the road to the meadow beyond it. In May, the Scotch broom is always glorious, making the whole hillside to the right of the path buttery yellow where it has taken over, and in the fall, at harvest time, the sugar maples, which line its western bank are wildly red and orange, showing off and confirming that the nights have turned cold.
The pond is where Eric and Wendy’s yellow lab, Scooter, learned that he could swim. As a city dog he was unaware of his talent until he came to the
farm. Timidly he went into the swimming pool, behind the house, coaxed by Eric, who trained him where the steps were located so he could exit in case he fell in or if he felt too insecure. (We had built a pool at our home in Sun Valley, and our Springer Spaniel had fallen/jumped in at night and almost drowned because he did not know how to get out again. So we knew that this was an important lesson.) Scooter was a reluctant participant, ears back, wild-eyed, looking for a way to escape. He couldn’t wait to get out of that swimming pool.
Later, we all traipsed to the pond for a real swimming lesson, one suitable for a farm dog. His example would be Lily, Lisa’s older yellow lab.
We lofted large sticks into the pond for Lily to retrieve, and she demonstrated her love of the water for Scooter. He watched at first, and
then he jumped in. He swam smoothly out to the stick to fetch it for us, his tail moving back and forth like a rudder, and then he kept on going. He looked over his left shoulder as if to say, “Hey, I’m really good at this,” and we could not get him to return to shore. He swam and swam out of our reach, and we called and called, but he was now blissfully in control.
Finally, we pretended to walk away down the road on our way home. That brought him out carrying the stick, and he shook himself all over us bystanders and trotted home with a new-found confidence.
When the backhoe dredged the pond, they found that the basis was steel gray clay, which is good soil for retaining water. An intake pipe brought in freshwater from the nearby creek and an outtake pipe at the bottom of the dig sent it back into the creek about 200 feet later. Today the creek still runs into and out of the pond as well as around the outside.
The pond is also at least 100 feet wide, and it took two years of rain for it to fill. There were constant worries that the dam would collapse or that the
outflow would get plugged up and the water would crest the dam, but nothing like that ever happened.
I’ve been told that every fisherman dreams of having his own trout pond, so when it was suggested that we stock the pond, Ted jumped at the chance.
So, one summer we loaded two brand new 30 gallon trash cans into the backs of our cars and headed to Noti, about 40 minutes away, to buy six inch trout at Troutdale Farm.
They have several ponds with fish of different sizes, and we gauged what we wanted and ordered them. The owner asked how long before we returned home, and we told him that we had other errands to run on the return trip. He refused to sell us the number we wanted. He said that there wouldn’t be enough oxygen for them unless we returned ome immediately. (This has stuck in my mind as so much a picture of what a small farmer would do, and since I only know of farmers in Oregon, it, to me, is so Oregonian. I don’t believe that any business person in California would have denied me what I wanted on ethical grounds. It is one of the things that I like about Oregon. As someone raised in California, it is my experience that there I would not be denied. Caveat emptor! My inexperience would be my problem. If I arrived at home with two containers of dead fish, then so be it. Perhaps it is because we rarely run into people who know or care what they are doing, and I am at their mercy that I feel this way.)
So, we did, and the pond remained stocked for about four years.
At the beginning, we needed to feed the fish until they became established and could forage on their own. We purchased fish pellets, and in the evening we headed to the pond with the required amount to cast into
the water. I still remember the wonderful cool smell of the water as the fish broke the surface to feed. It was a thrill to see them jump, and I know now how privileged I was to have had this experience.
The next year when they were large enough to be interesting, the Martinez boys spent the day fishing, and we enjoyed a fish fry that evening.
Then, things changed. First, we found dead fish washed up on shore with holes poked in them. It wasn’t until someone walked back to the pond at the right time of day that we realized that we had been providing a blue heron with his daily meals. I didn’t get a long look at him, but one day before he took flight from the south end of the pond, I saw him and was struck by his size. Imagine the wingspan of a pelican on long stilt legs.
It was breath taking and aggravating. We were an unofficial heron
preserve. At least he was alone.
What he didn’t eat, the renter did.
We don’t know how this man got himself into financial trouble, but before he left, he had his motorcycle repossessed and after his electricity was turned off for non payment, he hooked up the refrigerator in the house to the separate electrical source that serviced the pool on the bill that we paid for, and he’d cleaned out the pond. (After he left, we found a jar of Pautzke’s green label salmon eggs in our refrigerator.) Now, there were no
The beaver constituted another threat to the pond. I remember finding the branches gnawed to a pencil point that is their trademark. Again, it was my Girl Scout training that led me to inform everyone that “We have beaver in the pond.”
They moved in one year and proceeded to dam up the creek for their own use. They plugged the intake to the pond with twigs and mud. Then, they frolicked nearby in their new water world. The summer that we found them, Ted would head out every other evening with a shovel over his shoulder to break down the new dam that they’d created over the pipe leading into the pond. From the road, through the trees, I could just see their living quarters. I never heard the tail slapping on the water that they exhibit when there is danger. Instead, I imagined a small red light, like the portable ones that are thrown onto the roof of a police vehicle when a chase is in progress. I thought that the beavers must have one at the ready to flip onto their roof when they sensed that the man with the shovel was approaching.
I mistakenly believed that they only ate the bark from one kind of tree, the elm. I got this information, I thought from a program on the Nature channel.
Then, on one walk to the pond, I was astounded that they had felled one of the ten-year-old willows. What remained was a large upright piece honed to a point and the rest of the tree nearby, with a matching point, stripped of
bark and branches.
Even that would have been acceptable, but they overstepped and snacked on some of the hazelnut trees on the slope across the road from the pond, now known as “the last supper.” It is strange how your perspective
changes when you are a farmer. Anything that threatens your crop is fair game, even Bambi.
When Eric arrived for his yearly summer visit, he was more than happy to increase his hunting prowess from blue jays and squirrels and raccoons to beaver, and so after two were killed, the rest disappeared.
Over the years the pond has been neglected. The trees from the clear cut have grown tall, but weeds have infested the pond and no one mows around the perimeter anymore. Ronan, Griffin, and Sarah still like to walk there even if they have to slog through the knee-high weeds to throw stones into the water. They could do this for hours if I let them.
Then, last August as we were outside covering the swimming pool for the winter, I spied smoke at a fairly close distance. I gauged it to be at Gillespie Corners where Lorane Highway dead ends into Territorial Highway. As it
turned out, it was a little closer than that at Simonson Road. There was a column of black, but we weren’t terribly concerned because it wasn’t the wall of smoke that you’d expect from a fire in the forest. Nonetheless, we kept our eye on it, and it made us aware that we are surrounded by trees.
Suddenly, from the north a helicopter appeared and flew low right over our heads. Hanging underneath was the orange basket that you associate with buckets of water that are dumped on forest fires. It flew directly over where we were working on the pool, and Ronan, who was staying an extra week with us, was very interested. Then, it descended in a rush of wind behind the south orchard and even as far away as we were, we could see the trees being thrashed around by the force coming from the blades.
It took us a minute to realize that the helicopter was hovering over the pond and scooping up water to put out the fire. It went back to the fire twice before Ronan set off on a run to get closer to the action. He was too late to
actually see it dip into the pond, and I never thought of my camera until the
helicopter was returning home, flying away north over our front fruit orchard.
The gossip at the Lorane Country Store is like putting together a puzzle.
The next day as we stopped there for breakfast, they told me that a truck
had caught fire at the entrance to Simonson Road. We had seen the blackened carcass as we went by. I told them that the water had come from the pond near our house.
A larger tragedy had been averted, and a pond that had been dug and filled more than twenty years before had shown how interconnected we all
Ronan is only eight years old, and he doesn’t know the history of the pond unless he reads this some day. So, he saw one thing, but I lived long enough to see another.
The Deer at Trufflebert Farm
Although they are beautiful with their big brown eyes and their sleek tan bodies that bound gracefully when they run, we, at Trufflebert Farm, consider the White-tail deer as pests. For farmers who are trying to grow trees, they are more destructive than bears and have caused us a lot more work.
When we planted the trees many years ago, our biggest worry was that the deer population would come out of the forest behind the farmhouse and nibble on the new plants until they had eaten them to the ground. So, we put each sapling into a plastic tube, but, as they grew, the leaves poked out of the protection and before we could replace it with a taller wrapping, the deer ate the new tender shoots on their twilight search for a snack.
We tried putting an electric fence around the property with three strings of wire. Not only was that expensive to construct, but it was in need of constant care. Each week we stopped at different places along the line and used a fresh piece of wet grass to test each strand. We placed it on the wire to see if it buzzed in our hands. That would mean that the battery was still keeping a charge. But sometimes it was us who received a jolt of electricity. That was shocking and made us doubt that the deer would want to bump into three strands and cause themselves any pain. So,we thought that we had solved the problem.
We never suspected that the deer would limbo under the bottom wire until we saw them do this. We always assumed that they would jump over the six foot fence as I’d seen a buck do in the garden of a neighbor when he was caught there eating her lettuce plants. He did not even need a running jump to vault a fence that was higher than my head.
We tried another trick. Someone told us that deer didn’t like the smell of Lifeboy soap, so we cut up bars and placed them in net packages and tied them to the non-electric part of the fence. Not only did that not work, but because it rains all of the time in Oregon, we had a lot of soap bubbles on the ground.
Out next experiment was with bags of bloodmeal, which is a kind of fertilizer. Someone read an article in a magazine that said that deer didn’t like the smell of that either. However, it seems that it was only us who found it stinky. It didn’t bother the deer in the least.
Over the years the trees grew tall enough so that the deer could not reach the leaves unless they climbed the trunk of the tree with their front paws and took the lowest branch into their mouth and zipped it through their teeth, stripping it of all of the tender leaves. We never guessed that they could do this either.
We had to give up policing the first ten rows of trees which were closest to the forest and decided that they were our gift to the deer, and even today, these trees are much smaller than the rest of the orchard because they had such a hard time getting started.
One would think that the deer would be finished when they could no longer reach the leaves, but, no, we found out that they also liked the hazelnuts when they fell to the ground. I don’t like them until they have been cracked open and the nutmeats extracted, but the deer chomp on them shells and all.
From my kitchen window, I watched them eating all of nuts that had dropped under the trees in a row near the house. Remembering that they do not bother houses where there is a dog, I stepped off the porch and walked toward them doing my best imitation of a barking dog. They stopped eating and raised their heads to listen. They were completely still. Then, they looked around and seeing a strange creature who only looked like a barking woman, they bent their heads and began to feast again.
Now that the trees are much older and very tall, we harvest the nuts when they fall to the ground. We have two machines that help us in this process. One is called the Florry, and it is used to sweep the nuts into rows so the Getzumall can vacuum them up into crates, which we call totes. These hold 500 pounds of nuts.
One evening when many of these totes were sitting on the grass waiting for the truck to take them to be dried, I saw a doe with twin fawns walk to the tote and begin eating out of the crate. These nuts took all day to collect, and I didn’t think that the mother deer should be taking advantage of our hard work. So, I stepped out of the house and waved my arms and told her to “Shoo.” The little ones ran away, but she stayed. As I walked towards her, I said as politely as I could, “Don’t be so lazy. There are plenty of nuts that we missed, and you can get those off the ground. We did not work all day collecting these so you could fill up on them.”
She cocked her head and looked at me with one eye and went on eating. She waited until I was almost close enough to touch her before she gave up. I think that she recognized me as the barking woman, so she knew that I was harmless, if not crazy, and she also knew that if we did not put a tarp over the totes to cover them at night that she would come back when I was in bed.
The deer sleep near the house. One even sleeps in the barn on the hay, eating the grain meant for the horses. I suppose that they know by now that we are not a threat. On my walks to the pond, I often see a flattened place in the bushes along the path, and I know that this is where a deer has slept recently.
One day when I was walking with my two grandsons, Ronan (5) and Griffin (3), to the pond, I stopped to take a close-up picture of the blackberries that were growing on the path. We were being very still, and I was holding my breath so as not to jiggle the camera while I was taking a close-up shot, when a deer rounded the corner running at full speed. He could not see us as he approached because of a bend in the road, and deer run so softly that we didn’t hear him coming. We were all surprised. He stopped, completely startled to find us on the path he had taken many times, and we were equally stunned and surprised by him. It lasted only a moment, but I hope that my grandchildren will never forget the day that they were almost run over by a deer.
In the summer when there are no nuts on the ground, the deer come near the house and eat my flowers. They especially like roses, despite the thorns, and they tread so softly that we don’t hear them at night even when they are eating the low hanging grapes in the arbor outside our bedroom window. I wake in the morning to find only the stems of the flowers and the twigs that held the grapes. That means that I have to put nets over my flowers, which takes me a long time to do. It is also not as pretty as letting the flowers grow naturally. I have tried using plants that are said to be “deer resistant,” which means that deer are not supposed to like to eat those flowers because of the taste. They certainly do not like lavender or any other herbs, but when I try flowers that they’re not supposed to be fond of, I find the next day that they have tried my petunias and spit them onto the ground. Why can’t they remember that they don’t like them before they bite into them?
These are all of the reasons that we think that the deer are pests. However, there is something wonderful about watching the mother deer and their fawns in the summer when we are eating dinner. They come every night at that time to see if any fruit has fallen from the apple and pear trees in front of the house. We are happy to let them eat these. We are only interested in the fruit that we pick from the trees. We also see them at night if we return home from town, and it is already dark. There are usually nine of them, and our headlights make their eyes shine, and, momentarily, they are frozen, looking up to see if they are in danger. Then, the approaching car usually makes them run away until they know that we are asleep and they can quietly return without being bothered.
There are several strange things about deer. One is that we almost never see a buck. The males hide out in the forest. Another is that like most animals around the farm, a person can approach them and get fairly close by taking one step at a time while their heads are down grazing if the person then stops and stands still. We must look like new trees that appeared suddenly, but they don’t sense danger unless we move or get inside their safety zone. Still another is that when there is plenty to eat, there are many sets of twins born, and we watch them grow from year to year. Also, deer rely on their ability to run away quickly. That is their gift. The newborn babies are the exception. Since they are unable to run away, their mothers lick them all over to remove any scent from them, and they hide them in the tall grass while they themselves go away to feed. Somehow they tell these babies not to move, no matter what, hoping that predators, such as coyotes and bobcats, will not know that they are waiting in the grass for their mothers to return. It is like a game of hide and seek. The danger for them at Trufflebert Farm is when Farmer Ted goes out to mow the tall grass. Even when they hear the tractor coming, they do not move, remembering what their mothers have told them, and they are in danger of being run over by the tractor.
The picture that I’ve included is one of a new-born fawn who was saved by Farmer Ted in June of last year. He found him very quietly hiding in the tall grass which is as high as the shoulders of a barking woman. He brought him to me so I could see his scared little face and his trembling body before he let him go home to his mother. That’s when I realized that something that cute should never be considered a pest.
Dear Friends and Family, I’m not sure that this story, with some of its gruesome details, is the correct fare. It is true, but be forewarned. Dorris
Mice, Rats, and Squirrels
When you live on a farm, you cannot afford the luxury of being squeamish. Mice, rats, and squirrels, especially where you grow organic hazelnuts, are part of life. If you’ve grown up in the city and missed the pleasure of encounters with these creatures, you might tend to think tolerantly of them in the abstract. However, after they’ve disturbed your sleep and gnawed on your new shoes, you are drafted into a life-long conflict. The animals are doing what they do instinctively: eating, nesting, storing nuts. You, on the other hand, have become determined that it will not happen in your house.
Children’s literature and animated movies have distorted the picture that suburban dwellers have of rodents, and these media have also done a great disservice to cats.
We’ve all seen the drawing of the arch in the baseboard that allows the mice to roam the house after everyone else has gone to bed, running amok in the kitchen and carefully bypassing the sleeping cat. Mice can talk to Cinderella and create a ball gown for her, and a rat can dream of owning his own restaurant in a film.
In real life, they are a nuisance as is anything else that comes uninvited into your home: spiders, carpenter ants, rats, squirrels, burglars, the undead.
It is very difficult to keep a country home free of mice, especially if it is old and set on a log foundation as Trufflebert Farm’s kitchen, front bedroom, and common room are. The problem is ongoing and never ending.
For years before we purchased the old farm house, mice had been making themselves at home in the walls, eating the rubber insulation on the electrical wires, storing nuts there, and venturing in for a nesting opportunity in a shoe or for a nibble of flannel sheet to line that nest. In earlier times there might even have been a cupboard full of midnight snacks.
When we moved in, we tried to curtail some of the access. We remodeled the kitchen and installed cupboards that had bottoms and backs that made them self-contained units. We didn’t do it intentionally, but the result was boxes that closed tightly and could not be entered if they were shut.
We also did our best to cover any outside vents with screening to keep the critters out, but they dug under the openings and got in anyway, much to our dismay.
Lacking a cat, we bought traps. These had to be baited and, unfortunately, cleaned if something was caught. Those became Eric’s jobs at night and in the morning when he was a teenager, and to punish us, he’d loudly announce to guests at bedtime, “Anyone feel like cheese or peanut butter, maybe rolled into a small ball?” when we’d specifically asked him not to scare our visitors by telling them that we had mice.
In the thirty years that we’ve lived on and off at the farm, we’ve learned a lot about mice. We noticed that they run along baseboards, never across rooms unless frightened. We’d be watching a television program and see one scurry along the wall, under a door and into a room. It didn’t need a hole in the baseboard to return to its home because, we found, it could squeeze into any place that its tiny skull and collapsible shoulders could maneuver.
We found out that they are nocturnal and, if you are a light sleeper, you can hear scurrying when they become bold and enter your bedroom. A metal doorstop being moved slightly indicates that a mouse is running the perimeter in search of something to eat or shred.
Also, a mouse is attracted to warmth, so it is reasonable that you will find one in the wall near the wood stove, under the floor where the dryer vent is located, behind a stove, or near a heater vent.
In addition, precautions must be taken when you are away for a long period of time. Everything must be wrapped in plastic when you leave for the winter. Even that does not prevent them from gnawing their way into the package. A drawer is not a safe place either unless it is part of an antique chest which includes a metal sheet under the bottom that keeps a mouse from entering through the very tiny space between the
bottom drawer and the back. That feature taught us that the war with mice is a long-standing one.
I put food, such as flour and sugar, in the kitchen cupboards into hard plastic containers, just in case, and I cover the mattresses with old sheets because I don’t want to think that mice have been frolicking on the surface where I will sleep.
Also, mouse droppings look amazingly like lavender seeds, so it was not immediately obvious to me that one had made a bed in my new brown loafers that I had not yet worn but had been stupid enough to
leave on the floor of the closet. Closer inspection indicated either tear drops on the inner soles or remnants of mousie urine stains, making me understand the practicality of Cinderella’s glass slippers.
At least I didn’t go to church as my neighbor did in a dress with a twirly hem that had been chewed by mice, thinking that people were admiring me because of how lovely I looked in my tea length gown.
One time we returned in the spring to find that the buttons on the remote control unit had been gnawed, some completely off. Perhaps we’d been handling too many salty snacks or maybe plastic had become the new cheese.
Ted confessed to me when I told him that I was writing this article that he’s removed dead mice on at least six occasions as we reentered the house after a long vacation and not told me about them.
Although they say that no one has invented a better mouse trap, they have, and it’s called D-Con. We started leaving boxes of the tiny turquoise beads in the kitchen and bedrooms when we left for the winter.
The advantage was that there would be no bodies and no odor to greet us when we returned because the product caused the eater to dehydrate and go outside looking for water. Little did we care that it caused massive internal hemorrhaging. We didn’t have to think about our pets consuming contaminated carrion because we didn’t have any pets, and we didn’t have to deal with the odor of any long-dead corpses when we got back, so it never occurred to us that a hawk or coyote or bobcat or a neighbor’s dog might be harmed by ingesting the stiffened remains left outside. We can only hope, in retrospect, that they are probably too smart to be fooled by a dried up mouse anyway.
In a drawer we’d occasionally find a mouse which had not had the decency to drag itself outside to die; however, these were as dry and odorless as jerky, and once as I was reading on the couch a mouse stopped in the middle of the room so dazed that I knew that it had feasted on the poison. I went on reading, waiting for someone else to come home and deal with it.
What the directions on the box do not tell you is that before the mouse has gorged itself and gone outside, it has excitedly hoarded a pile of beads for later consumption between your mattress and box springs or in a rolled up rug.
So, when I had finished thoroughly cleaning the room where my infant grandson would stay for the first time, moving all of the furniture and polishing the floor, I was ready to unroll the rugs and place them. As I did, out popped a fountain of turquoise beads bouncing across the room like scattered BB’s, landing in the grooves in the wood floor and rolling under the bed.
Now I was horrified. How could anyone create a product that was so appealingly colored that a crawling infant might want to pop one into his mouth? That was six years ago and they have only just threatened to take D-Con off the market.
That necessitated a new form of control. So, we hired an exterminator who places traps in and under the house and checks them four times a year, even when we’re not around. The bait is contained in boxes and cannot find its way into the house.
We also have working cats, now, which live in the barn. They have so effectively eliminated the mice and gophers outside that we no longer have to mount an organic great gopher hunt at the end of January by tamping down the end of the tunnels and lighting sulfur fires at the entrances to asphyxiate the beasts.
We are resigned that we will never be free of mice, no matter how hard we try. At the beginning of our last visit, I washed a load of dust covers, without thinking to look inside the washing machine. As I was loading the dryer, I noticed black fuzz on the wet sheets. Further investigation revealed a dead mouse at the bottom of the washer. At least this time I didn’t have to wait for Ted to return to take care of the well-washed rodent. I got a paper towel, lifted it out by the tail, and deposited it in the trash barrel outside.
There is nothing funny, however, about rats.
I only have one personal and up close experience. My other stories are second hand.
One involves a neighbor who found one in his kitchen. He was so surprised as he opened the cupboard and a rat jumped out that he grabbed an iron frying pan and beat the creature to death. Then, the problem shifted to one of clean up. Lots and lots of blood. I never asked for the details.
The other one was strange. In the upstairs bedrooms, the floors are wood and there are some knotholes in the planks. One of those knots was eaten away, leaving a hole two inches in diameter. Whether it was done by a rat or a squirrel we’ll never know for sure.
But on one occasion I saw a rat. As soon as I walked into the kitchen after a long time away, my keen sense of smell told me that something in the room was dead and decaying. I looked in the cupboard under the burners and found nothing. The next day I moved the refrigerator out so I could see under it, and, indeed, there was a mess there, but no rat. I had triangulated the origin of the odor, and I knew that I was in the correct corner of the kitchen, but I still wasn’t successful in locating the rat until I began to clean the hood over the stove top and looked up. There he was, nose pressed to the screen covering the fan vent. He was long-dead.
I pride myself in always being able to find the best person for the job, and, in this case, it wasn’t me. I told Ted that I was going to take a shower and when I returned I wanted the rat to be gone.
And it was. He only told me later that it had been there so long that it had turned to mush, and he had to clean it from the vent. Again, a detail that we all could have lived happily not knowing.
Squirrels, on the other hand, seem cute. They have those beautiful fluffy tails, and they can leap in graceful bounds. Beatrix Potter wrote lovingly about them. Even a commercial in the 2013 Super Bowl had them making snarky remarks that people found funny. However, when you live on a hazelnut farm, they are the bane of your existence.
When the crop is ripe, they converge on the farm with the other animals that love free nuts: deer, bears, dogs, birds. They rush to collect as many hazelnuts as they can before we can harvest them. Squirrels store them in the walls of the house. They bury them in the ground where they later sprout into tree-lings. They “squirrel” them away.
When one of our neighbors built his new house, he found in the place where he intended to create a basement, underground squirrel storage rooms segregated into types of nuts: English walnuts, black walnuts, and, of course, hazelnuts.
The ones that they store in the walls, they prefer to count and roll when we are trying to sleep. It is like having a bedroom in a pinball palace. Pounding on the wall and threatening them with death does not faze them.
We’ve even had them enter the house on occasion. Once when Eric was napping on the couch, he awoke to a noise and found a squirrel scampering around the living room.
One even gnawed his way through the laundry room wall beside the dryer. He woke me, although I did not know what had awakened me at the time, and then he ran over my foot and back to this hole as I made my way into the bathroom. Of course, I had to disinfect my foot before I could return to bed.
Early on as inexperienced farmers we did several incredibly stupid things.
The first one I decided alone.
When we have the nuts cracked out at the dryer, we have no need for the shells. Then, I read how people burn them in their wood stoves and use them to line driveways or as mulch in flowerbeds. So, I brought back a huge, free load of organic shells and started to fill the flowerbeds before I realized how many actual nuts were left in the debris. Talk about setting out a buffet for squirrels!
The next poor decision was made by all of us who are partners in the farm. After our first major harvest, someone decided that if we lined the walls of one of the rooms in the barn with wire mesh to keep out the birds and squirrels, we could create a storage room by hanging orange sacks full of nuts from the rafters so that rodents could not reach them.
It took hours of work to complete, and the result was that squirrels can run along the rafters after they’ve found a way to get in. Then, they call their friends, decide upon a time, and chew through the sacks to reach the nuts. Simple squirrel logic. Ditto mice!
Fortunately, squirrels are easy to kill, and people like to shoot them for sport. So, we let people come onto the property and do just that. Ted and Eric like to help.
When we still had the wooden deck around the swimming pool, we knew that squirrels were living under it and keeping nuts there. One day Ted wounded one that ran under the decking with what he said the military calls a “sucking chest wound.” I can still hear that tiny creature gasping loudly for breath in my nightmares. I did what I had learned to do before in similar unpleasant situations. I left to take a shower while something humane was done by someone better suited for the job.
When that wood was removed to install a concrete deck, hundreds of squirrel skeletons were found alongside thousands of nuts and empty shells.
Mice, rats, and squirrels are three reasons why people who are city bred should not buy an historic farm and plan to grow organic hazelnuts.
However, there are many more wonderful reasons why they should.