Monthly Archives: December 2013

The Great Escape

Living in the country means interacting with wild animals on a regular basis. We pull into our driveway at night to find it’s full of deer. Elk pass through our field to get to our neighbor’s hay bales. Quail keep trying to roost in our fantastic straw-lined dog fort. The animals usually vacate once you’ve made your presence known. Sometimes, they need your help.

Our carport is coveted by many in the valley—it’s three-sided, roomy and stable. We own ice scrapers for our windows but haven’t had to use them, and our car and truck started even when the temperature dropped below zero for days on end. The owners of this house very thoroughly covered the interior ceiling and the top third of the walls with bird netting to keep the resident starlings, mourning doves, and magpies from moving in (a flock of pigeons has taken over the nearby old barn, so their concerns are not unfounded). But like any barrier, what keeps out can also keep in.

The other day I passed through the carport to take the garbage out and heard a Steller’s jay carrying on. Such noisy birds! It took a few seconds to realize the bird was only a few feet away, in the rafters. Inside the bird netting.

Center: Little Lost Ms. Steller's Jay

Center: Little Lost Ms. Steller’s Jay

The plastic netting had been painstakingly stapled to the rafters and exposed studs at close intervals, but the bottom wasn’t closed off between the studs. This bird had landed below the netting and then, who knows why, flown straight up and then been unable to retrace her “steps” back out. Her squawks were panicked and frequent, reminding me of the time a scrub jay got into our house in White Salmon, and I had to chase him down wearing leather gloves on so I could carry him outside.

As demonstrated with our eviction of a squirrel in Portland a year ago, one must create an escape route and then usher the frantic creature toward it. Mike was still at work, so I would have to be methodical. I studied the rafters. I wanted to remove as little netting as possible to avoid having to replace it later. I noticed that there were some wasps’ combs near the entrance to the carport—perfect! I could kill two birds with one stone (so to speak; no offense, Ms. Steller’s jay). I carefully peeled back the corner, ripping the netting as little as possible.

Then I had to convince the bird to go over there. There was enough loose material to physically allow it; it was just a matter of ushering her. I had act like two people, and I had to be tall. I grabbed a broom and a stepstool and set up at the back of the carport. I whooshed the broom this way and that, trying to corral her toward the open corner. After a couple of false starts, she darted in the right direction, and was off! She lit into a nearby tree and told her story to anyone who would listen.

I don't mind wasps, but not in the carport

I don’t mind wasps, but not in the carport

Meanwhile, I dragged the stool over to the open corner and pulled the wasp combs out. Just another day in the country.

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Heading Toward the Light

It’s Solstice. Shortest day of the year, longest night. Now, we start heading toward summer again. Yes to that.

We had a fresh snowfall yesterday, so this morning Mike and I took the puppies out cross-country skiing on the acreage adjacent to our house. They are learning all kinds of things, so this was just one of many lessons. To follow alongside and not wreck the tracks. To pace oneself; not run circles at the beginning and wear oneself out before the route is complete. To stay with one’s pals and not go running off to eat deer poop. Cap’n, with more border collie in her than golden retriever, was obsessing over the confounding tips of our skis, which kept disappearing under the snow and then reappearing—they must be controlled!! This kept us from going very fast most of the time. But it was just practice. First time out.

First time skiing!

First time skiing!

All in all, the trip was a success. We skied about 30 acres, climbing the slope and then ending with a long glide back to the house. The puppies went straight to their beds for a nap.

Solstice is a time for reflection. Quietude. Can’t do much outside, or for very long. Better to sit in a cozy place with a warm drink and stare at a fireplace, or a lighted tree, or a book, or children playing, or puppies napping.

I’m 44, probably midway through my life (if I’m lucky) or midway through my adulthood (if I’m not as lucky). At this point I feel pretty comfortable with everything I do. Driving, work, marriage. How people work. I feel like I’ve got a handle on things. There’s been a lot of practice along the way, and a lot of lessons learned.

This is, of course, not to say I know everything—I’m smart enough to know that a lot of people are much smarter than I am. Plus: I’m enjoying my graduate studies; I still want to improve on fiddle and bass; I’d love to pick up Spanish again; I intend to learn to fish while I live in Wallowa County.

I’ve been around long enough to be beaten down by life a few times. Some of those times have been especially hard to take, and hard for me to shake. Starting over can seem like regression; how many times am I going to liquidate my possessions at a yard sale only to replace them shortly thereafter? But maybe it’s like shedding a skin. Or a rebirth; a new chapter. A new year is coming, I’m 44, and I feel like it’s important to look forward. So I’m going to make an effort to leave behind the darkness of past injustices and head toward the light of new opportunities.

As I typed that, a deer and her fawn walked past my window, down the driveway. Following the sun. I’m going to take that as a good omen.

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Responsible Online Shopping

This time of year, gift-giving is on most people’s minds. Let’s say you want to shop locally and support local artisans and businesses—great! But what if you live in a remote area with limited offerings? You can only give your relatives the same crocheted pot holders so many years in a row. And if the roads are too treacherous to go to the nearest city (in our case, more than an hour away)? You might have to resort to online shopping.

But that doesn’t mean you have to throw your values out the window. There are online options that still honor the idea of “Buy Local,” even if it’s a little less direct. I am partial to Etsy, where makers of handmade things can create their own “shops.” Like this shop, ithaka literary ephemera!

ithaka literary ephemera

Yes, this is a thinly veiled plug for my collage art

But I don’t just sell things on Etsy—I have also purchased soap, lotion, pajamas, oven mitts, clothing, jewelry, Christmas tree ornaments—even an iPhone case made in Michigan of Forest Stewardship Council-approved cedar! Currently, I’m considering handmade dog beds and collars …

Etsy isn’t even your only option! I found an article that sizes up different sites pretty well, here.

Etsy sells some food items—I have bought bitters, vanilla extract, and honey—but not groceries per se. Which brings us to the food-buying clubs! They are popping up all over the country. The basic premise is a bunch of consumers banding together to qualify for discounts on food, usually organically grown. Sometimes the purveyor is a farmer or rancher, sometimes an amalgamator, sometimes both. There is usually a drop-off site; the food delivery does not go directly to your house but to a central location in your community, and you go pick up your box. Buying clubs differ from CSAs (community-supported agriculture) in that there is no up-front cost and no risk—you only pay when you have purchased a delivery. Further, you choose what you receive. Buying clubs are often run by volunteers, like cooperative grocery stores, so you might be asked to help here and there with a delivery.

One of the biggest buying clubs in the Pacific Northwest is Azure Farms, based in Dufur. They are a “both”—they offer a number of processed items, even non-food items, and also sell the grain they grow in north-central Oregon. I requested their catalog when I was still in Portland, and haven’t signed up yet, but plan to this week! A friend who lives in Pendleton, about one and a half hours from here, is in a buying club that works with organic farms in the Southwest United States and Mexico—last week she posted photos of her avocados and grapefruits. I was more than a little envious; might need to establish a buying club stop in Enterprise …

People in cyberspace are trying to collect information about small farms and co-ops in directories and “food hubs.” Here are a few:

Local Harvest


Healthy Food Access

The greenest business transaction is one, in cash, that supports a neighbor. But when that isn’t possible, buying responsibly using the internet is the next-best thing!

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Winter Puppies

The smart time to get a puppy is in the spring—the days are warmer and longer, and it’s easy to get a puppy outside for exercise and training. As you might know from a previous post, Mike and I got a puppy in October. Two, in fact. In October. I never said I was smart.

I know winter is a bad time to get a puppy, because I’ve done it before. We got Phynn in December 1997. But we have been blocked by circumstance from having a dog for so long that I feared something would come up between now and spring that might foil our plans. We decided to go for it.

And so, here we are, in the middle of a deep freeze with two ten-week-old puppies.

The main thing to watch is that their extremities not get too cold. That means long hikes around the outer reaches of our field are on hiatus, and many shorter walks are the ticket. Their feet were toughened up pretty well before the snow started flying, but they are still little bitty puppy feet. And their bellies are just an inch or two from the crust of the snow. Poor Pendleton gets an ice ball that forms around the hairs at the end of his little Johnson every time he goes out! However, they do expend a lot of energy bounding through the snow, so the shorter walk is still good exercise.

The house we are renting is well outfitted for dogs—gates are built into many passageways between rooms, and a bunker-style doghouse anchors the fenced backyard.

Speaking of the fence, we are waiting for the dogs to grow big enough that they can’t squeeze through the one panel of fence that has larger holes in it. Cap’n is particularly adept at escaping, especially now that the snow gives her a couple inches of added height.

I bought a bale of cedar chips for the doghouse-fort, but they didn’t work: Cap’n was constantly trying to eat the chips, and they were so odiferous that Pendleton wouldn’t go near it (cedar is a delicious smell to me, but not to him …). So Mike replaced the chips with straw, to great success. Even when the wind howls down from the ridge, the doghouse-fort is warm and dry.

Best doghouse ever! See the puppies in action at

Best doghouse ever! See the puppies in action at

Since the puppies have to be inside most of the time, it is imperative to give them lots to do. I get small stuffed animals and other children’s toys at the local thrift shop—way cheaper than buying official dog toys at the hardware store. I just make sure they don’t have any little pieces (wheels, hats, etc.) that can be chewed off. I’ve gotten a number of old blankets and towels (for wiping snow from feet and Johnsons) there as well.

Even with the inconveniences of wintertime puppy husbandry, I’m so happy we didn’t wait to get dogs.

Propane 101

When we lived in Portland, our furnace and stove ran on natural gas. They were connected to a network of pipes that brought gas into our house any time we needed it. Out in Enterprise, we’re still running on gas, but this time it’s propane. It’s in a tank in the yard. And we have to monitor it so we don’t run out.

We heated our house in White Salmon with wood, and the stove and hot water were powered by electricity, so propane is a new thing for us. When we started renting this house, part of the deal was buying the existing propane in the tank. It’s a 500-gallon tank, so this was no small bill! But when we leave, the owners will buy whatever is in the tank back from us, so it will all work out.

Propane is actually a by-product of mining natural gas; it has more BTUs than natural gas and, of course, is therefore more expensive because you can use less of it.

I called the propane supplier shortly after we arrived; the man who drove his big tanker up the hill to our house, Archie, was more than happy to take the time to answer my questions. In fact, he was rather pleased that I was asking any.

“Usually, people just want me to fill their tank and get going,” he said.

Archie explains how to read the dial

Archie explains how to read the dial

The lid of our tank is green to signify which company services it. Archie showed me the dial that indicates the amount of gas left. He explained that the gas is liquid under pressure; they leave “expansion room” in the tank (about 50 gallons’ worth) to accommodate hot weather. There is also a relief valve, which he said might pop every once in a while during the summer.



Archie carries a notebook in which he tracks all his customers’ usage records. From this, he could estimate that we might use 30 to 40 gallons a year for cooking, but 80 gallons a month from October to April because of the furnace. This year, propane cost $1.79 a gallon, but Archie said the price went up to $2.76 last year. At that price, propane is kind of an expensive way to heat a house!

Some people fill only a couple times a year; some have Archie come by once a month for a “top-off,” so it’s a more manageable and predictable expense.

Siting a tank is important: Near-but-not-too the house, near the road, not somewhere that a visitor will accidentally back into it with their truck.

This willow cleaved in a recent storm—luckily it was this half

This willow cleaved in a recent storm—luckily it was the far side

I wax in Get Your Pitchfork On! about the joys of heating with wood. If I had my druthers, this house would also have a wood stove. But, it doesn’t, so in the meantime I will enjoy not ever having a cold house because the fire went out!

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