Monthly Archives: February 2013

Winter Is Only as Bearable as Your Boots

One day in November, on the same day that Mike and I attended to our pile of mending, Mike also prepared his boots for winter. I tend to treat mine when I put them away for the summer, but Mike wears his all year and waterproofs them right before winter sets in.

When we were on the farm in Washington, Mike invested in a pair of Wescos. There are a number of high-quality companies across the United States, places where skilled craftspeople still make their footwear by hand. West Coast Shoe Company is one of them. Favored by loggers, welders and motorcyclists, they are built to last.

When Mike bought his Wescos at their showroom in Scappoose, Oregon, they didn’t offer high-tech silicon sprays or other chemical compounds; they gave him a bottle and a jar of beeswax-based sealants. Every fall, he rubs the solid beeswax into the leather, and then he drips the liquid wax onto the stitching, tilting the boots slowly so it soaks into every crevice. He removes the laces and false tongues, and covers every centimeter.

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We try to be a family that values quality over quantity; neither of us owns very many pairs of shoes and boots, but we own good ones. The process of caring for them reconnects us with each piece of leather, from the backstay to the toe cap. Refreshing shoes that are not meant to last one season and then be thrown away (or donated to a charity, the guilt-free way to throw things away …), but a lifetime, makes us feel like we’re at least putting a dent in our global impact. And the shoes reward us by keeping our feet warm and dry for another season.

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Sexual Violence Culture

A couple of months ago I read about an Oregon woman, 21, who was asked by her 24-year-old neighbor, whom she knew, for a ride into town. Once in the car, the man pulled out a gun and ordered the woman to drive into the mountains, where he sexually assaulted and then murdered her. Readers’ comments beneath this online article shrugged off the episode either because of where the woman and man live, or because the woman allegedly had a “reputation.”

Once at the gynecologist’s office in rural The Dalles, Oregon, I was filling out an intake questionnaire for an annual exam. Because I am a writer and, by nature, think about big-picture things, I answered the question “Have you ever received unwanted sexual advances?” with “Hasn’t everyone?” The doctor did not appreciate that I was being philosophical; she spent ten minutes asking a series of pointed questions until I assured her that I was safe in my home.

I’ve done no research to back this up, but I think it’s safe to say that anyone and everyone, female or male, experiences an unwanted sexual advance at least once in their lives. A stare, a brush-up, an inappropriate comment. I write this not to decrease the seriousness of harassment but to out it as a problem for everyone, not just “white trash” or “sluts.”

When it comes to more serious advances, the perpetrator is usually someone the victim knows. In a rural area, this gets especially tricky because the victim will probably also know the perpetrator’s family, and they hers. Most rural cultures still revolve around traditional male and female roles, which can lead to women being doubted when accusing a man of sexual assault and can cause women to not report a crime at all, because the prosecution of the rapist might affect a family member’s or friend’s ability to pay their bills. This can make bringing a rapist to justice—if it is even attempted—a protracted, ugly affair.

I did some editing work for a domestic violence shelter in the same town my doctor’s office was in, and learned a lot. The executive director, Tara Koch, is a tireless advocate for people who want to leave violent and/or abusive relationships, and her staff and volunteers are brave supporters of them, collecting food, household items and money. She and her staff have an uphill battle.

Rural law enforcement officers do not always have the training to understand and appropriately deal with domestic violence patterns and issues. They usually lack resources to investigate domestic violence calls, and are physically at risk when they investigate them, especially when answering calls to remote, secluded homes. And they may have personal conflicts of interest, or convictions that are at odds with the rights of women.

Discussing rape and domestic violence can be uncomfortable. But the more stories are told, the more women will realize they do not have to bear the burden of sexual assault and domestic abuse alone, and the more abusive men will realize it’s no longer something they can get away with. Doing nothing will only allow it to continue.

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Death Hill

While we lived out on our land, we had lots of visitors—from Seattle, Wisconsin, Texas, Minnesota, and even Germany! And, of course, dozens from Portland. Some came to help us with farm projects and some came just to play. One of our most frequent visitors was our friend, Laura Ross.

Laura would drive out to visit in her decrepit Volvo station wagon with a grocery bag full of steaks and whiskey. In 2004 spent New Year’s Eve with us. Little did we know she would stay a few extra days! The Gorge was hit with a huge snowstorm that weekend, and the road back to Portland was closed. But, as I mentioned in my recent post on Tattered Cover Books’ blog: when it snows lemons, you make frozen lemonade!

Tuesday is Laura’s birthday, so Mike and I (mostly Mike) whipped up a little video from that weekend. Laura makes her very first snow angel!

Happy Birthday, Laura Ross!

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Life on the Beach

As you think about where you want to put down your rural-life tent stakes, consider what kind of town appeals to you. In Get Your Pitchfork On!, I describe some of the archetypal towns in the rural United States. Farm towns, ranching towns, sports towns … coast towns. I specify “fishing towns” in the book to differentiate them from “tourist towns.” Most fishing towns are on a coast, but not all towns on a coast are fishing towns.

Visiting the coast is very different from living there. Walking your dog on the beach can be serene and relaxing on a still, 70-degree morning during your summer vacation—not so much on a blustery 40-degree morning in February with rain blowing sideways. Coast-dwellers wear knee-high rubber boots and hooded jackets for a reason.

The thing that all coastal towns have in common are the unique conditions related to the land’s proximity to the ocean. The water carries caustic salt and is in constant flux due to the tides and the prevailing winds. The temperatures tend toward moderate, with less fluctuation between the highs and lows. However, on some beaches, cooling summer breezes quickly disappear once you go inland, even a short distance, leaving you sweltering in your “coastal” home.

Any time I am on the coast I marvel at its fantastic ecosystems. Miles of sand. Cliffside trees that are permanently bent inland due to the constant pressure of the wind. Colorful starfish and anemones in tidal pools. Sea lions cavorting in the surf. Not to mention the unique worlds of brackish estuaries and coral reefs.

Not all coasts are the same—the beach in Maine is nothing like the beach in Florida. Even the Gulf coast of Florida is different from its Atlantic coast, and its northern climate different from the Keys. Because I live in Oregon, I can best speak to its coast. Last month, my husband and I drove to Pacific City for a few days of R&R. The house we rented was right on the beach—we didn’t even have to cross a street to get to it, just walk out and over a dune.

But the mark of living “right on the beach” was all over this house.

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The wind drives sand and salt air inland on a nearly continual basis and, because of that, everything made of metal—every light fixture, every doorknob, every hinge—was corroded. The windows were coated with a salty sheen.


The homeowner had built a wall between his and the next house to keep sand from filling the gap. The dune that had built up behind the house had been partially removed earlier in the year.

Further down the beach, hydraulic shovels were doing the opposite—building up the dune to keep storm surges from washing away the foundations of some homes that were a little too close to the water.


If you move to the coast and raise children, there is a good chance they will take up ocean sports. Be sure you and they understand the safety issues—rip currents, for example, are far more dangerous than sharks, sneaker waves or any other hazard.

I once was hiking along some boulders near a jetty with some friends. There had been a big storm the night before, and sand and jetsam were washed over all the rocks. I leapt from a tall boulder to a large, flat one. Instead of landing on hard rock, however, this particular boulder jiggled. I couldn’t get off it fast enough. JEEBUS-FRICKIN-GRAVY!! It was not a rock at all, but a sea lion carcass. I was very lucky to not break through the skin.

Depending on how close you live to the water, the constant roar of the ocean may become part of your daily life, so make sure you love it. I mention in GYPO a young girl who lives in Frenchglen, Oregon, one of the most remote settlements (can’t really call it a town) in the United States. She went to the ocean on a field trip with her class, and the noise made her feel crazy. She couldn’t wait to return to the silence of her pacific high-desert valley.

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