Monthly Archives: March 2014

Ode to a Subaru: 288,923 Miles and Counting

Our Subaru Forester is on hospice. At nearly 300,000 miles, it has bearings in the transmission and the rear differential that are too expensive to fix.

I am not sentimental about cars. I named only one car, in high school (Fifi the Fiesta), and I loved only one car, an Isuzu Trooper that I bought in 1993 with my own money. I put a bumper sticker on the back that read: “This is what a radical feminist looks like.” I sanded and repainted the rusting bumpers myself. I learned how to replace the oil and change a tire. I drove the Trooper around proudly, like it was an extension of myself.

A year later, a driver blew through a red light in front of me. The Trooper was totaled. I was unhurt but devastated.

After that, cars became tools. Sentimentality for a car is doomed.

In 2001, Mike and I were in the market for a new vehicle. Not new-new, of course—who buys a car new? They lose half their value when you drive off the lot; everyone knows that. But something a little bigger than our Volkswagen Cabriolet and not quite as janky as our Toyota LE van (which had been broken into and/or stolen so many times that you had to start it with a screwdriver). Five-grand-ish.

Lacking enough savings, we went to our credit union only to find that financial institutions had essentially stopped lending money for used cars. We could have put a car on our credit card, but the interest would be ridiculous. Our best option was … a car dealer. We found a salesman who was experimenting with an “Internet special.”

The Subaru Forester we ended up with was absolutely luxurious compared with what we were used to. Six-CD changer! Power sunroof! Power locks! Power windows! (We actually asked for crank windows; which we couldn’t get if we wanted the sunroof, which we very much did.) You could drive on the highway and have a conversation, rather than listen to the roar of the leaky window seals.

My dad was leery; he and my mom bought a four-wheel-drive Subaru wagon in 1978 that was a “total lemon” (this is a cleaned-up version of my dad’s description of the car). I grew up believing Subarus sucked, but my high school friends who had ventured west after graduation, to rustic places like Colorado and Alaska, all swore by them. By 2001 Mike and I had been in Oregon for six years, long enough to have ridden in dozens of friends’ Subarus, and realized it was the right car to balance road trips with gravel logging roads.

When we moved to the Columbia River Gorge in 2003, our neighbors asked, “Do you have a four-wheel-drive?” When we moved up Alder Slope last fall, our neighbors asked, “Do you have a four-wheel-drive?” Yes, we do.

Since 2001, this Forester has been in every Oregon county except Lake; back and forth to Minnesota; down to San Francisco; up to Seattle. It busted us out of our snowy driveway in the Columbia River Gorge a hundred times. One of its first road trips was to Hat Point in Wallowa County, 21 miles from the remote town of Imnaha, on a one-lane dirt Forest Road with 1,000-foot drop-offs. It has never broken down on us once.

Now, I used to do community outreach for a hospice, so I can’t pass up this teachable moment to clear up a common misperception: Hospice is about quality of life, not crisis management. Being on hospice means there is something wrong that can’t be fixed; it doesn’t (or shouldn’t) mean imminent death. If it’s done right, comfort care can make the last few months of life comfortable, less stressful, and even enjoyable.

Okay, back to the program. So the Forester probably won’t last the rest of the year. It’s fitting for its life to end in Wallowa County. We’re still gunning for 300K. The engine has some leaky gaskets but otherwise is fine. We’ll keep putting oil in. Living up a rocky dirt road certainly isn’t doing the bearings any good. We’ll see. Whenever the time comes, I will have nothing but respect for this tool that has served us well.

Living up a dirt road=perpetually dirty car!

Living up a dirt road=perpetually dirty car!


I ❤ Wallowa County

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Springtime Strawberry Pot

I finished my finals for winter term! To treat myself for this incredible feat, I went to the local plant nursery. I know it’s too early to think about planting anything, plus we don’t have garden beds, and building some would be a huge job, as we’d have to put in 8-foot fence to keep the deer out of it. I just went there to walk amongst plants and smell the foliage and dirt.

But something was waiting for me! A bright blue strawberry pot. When I was a kid, I used to hang out with adults all the time (they were much more interesting than children and they didn’t make fun of my glasses, hair or anything else). One of my neighbors in Springfield, Illinois, where I lived in kindergarten, had a strawberry pot. I was fascinated by it–all the little nooks for the daughter plants, and strawberries themselves, growing on a plant! I’ve always wanted one.

This nursery is just getting started for spring, so there’s not a lot there yet. But there were little strawberry starts! My winter-term treat materialized.


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The Future of Female Farming Entrepreneurship?

Note: I am smack-dab in the middle of writing my final papers for the winter term of my graduate Food Systems & Society program at Marylhurst University, so I am, once again, taking advantage of work I produced last term to serve as my blog post. Plus, I added a new venue: The Lostine Tavern, which is in the middle of a crowdfunding campaign to re-open its doors this May! I am very much looking forward to it!

Chapter 6 of Together at the Table and the piece “Five Faces of Oppression” make me especially interested in the small-farm and local food phenomenon occurring in the county in which I live, Wallowa County, Oregon. Because of the area’s relative monoculture and relative poverty, the study of privilege takes an interesting tack.

In “Five Faces of Oppression,” Young notes that “… for every oppressed group there is a group that is privileged in relation to that group.” I find this distinction important: One group is not necessarily consciously lording over another group in order for the latter group to lack the same opportunities and rights. This is certainly the case in Wallowa County, where men operate most of the businesses, especially the county’s lead industries.

Wallowa County’s main industry remains forestry. The county’s main agricultural industry (45 percent) is beef cattle ranching. There is also farming, most of which is three kinds of hay for wintertime feeding of cattle (34 percent) and wheat for export (11 percent).

Leadership and activism being born in privilege (Allen, p. 161) may be easier to demonstrate in wider society, because there is more diversity in race, ethnic background, religion, social class, etc. Wallowa County is a bit of a monoculture. European Americans have dominated the county since the late 1800s, after they forced the native Nez Perce from the Wallowa and Imnaha valleys (“Chief Joseph,” n.d.). In the 2010 national census, 4.0 percent of the population identified as “minority,” and 2.2 percent identified as Hispanic (Northeast Oregon Economic Development District, p. 31).

Wallowa County has a 46.3-percent rate of self-employment (the Oregon average is 22.6 percent); however, the average income is $12,170 (Northeast Oregon Economic Development District, p. 15). Against this backdrop, a number of small farm enterprises have been launched in the past five years, all but one run by women:

  • Magic Garden: Farm-to-school project planted on land that was donated by a local ranching family (locations in Joseph and Imnaha)
  • Slow Food Wallowas: Chapter of Slow Food USA based in Enterprise
  • Backyard Gardens: Farmers market stand and CSA with delivery locations in Enterprise and Joseph
  • M Crow: A reclaimed general store that sells local produce and meat, and handmade items, as well as hardware, clothing, supplies, and other wares, in Lostine (the exception; founded by a man)
  • June’s Local Market: Produce and locally made value-added products such as canned jams and salsas, jewelry, and gifts, in Lostine
  • Wallowa County Farmers Market: Locations in Enterprise and Joseph, SNAP/WIC/FDNP accepted
  • Lostine Tavern (opening May 2014), being billed as a farm-to-table restaurant, co-owned by a woman and a man

Wallowa County Farmers MarketAdditionally, most of the non-commodity farming in the region is led by women. Of the eleven listings for farm/ranch operations in Oregon Rural Action’s Food and Farm Directory, seven have female sole proprietors, including 6 Ranch, a cattle and sheep ranch run by a mother-daughter team (Oregon Rural Action, p. 10-11).

While men still run the most lucrative businesses in Wallowa County, this influx of female food-industry entrepreneurs proves to be an interesting microcosm of a potential sea change within agriculture.

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Women’s Month Art Show

Yesterday, March 8, was International Women’s Day. That’s right, ladies, we get a WHOLE DAY! Par-ty!

Snark aside, International Women’s Day and the United States’ National Women’s History Month are important touchstones for considering the progress that has been made in the realm of women’s rights throughout the world. So long as we have public stonings, female circumcision, domestic violence, sexual assault, and education and income discrepancies, we continue to need to shine the spotlight on women and girls.

At one of my favorite places in Wallowa County, the Josephy Center for Arts and Culture, executive director Cheryl North Coughlan lined up an extraordinary range of programming to commemorate Women’s History Month, from brown-bag lunches that consider the role of women in ranching and farming and Title IX, to presentations by Eastern Oregon University’s Lidia Yuknavitch and Rebecca Hartman, to a showing of the Oregon Public Broadcasting documentary about Gwen Trice, The Logger’s Daughter.

The discussion of women’s roles in agriculture was, as you can imagine, extremely interesting for me. Wallowa County has what I think is an extraordinary number of women-run operations, and so I’m interested in learning more about that. The panel consisted of fourth-generation Oregonian rancher Jill McClaran, fellow ex-suburbanite and now CSA farmer Beth Gibans, and Wallowa-County-native-turned-East-Coast-urbanite-turned-Wallowa-County-native goat rancher Wendy McCullough, but there were plenty of other farmers and ranchers in the audience. The program was more of a conversation than a presentation. The older women expressed their envy of the young ones; in their day, women did just as much work as their brothers and husbands but, because of their gender, got no credit for their efforts nor had any legal or decision-making authority.

And, since the main floor of the Josephy Center is a beautiful gallery, there is also an exhibit (“Women’s Art, Women’s Vision”) that features local artists, including me! I was honored to receive an invitation to include some of my collage pieces. If you are in the area, be sure to check them out!

Kristy Athens Tradition collage

Detail of “Tradition”


At the Josephy Center opening night


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Spring’s Reclaimed Toys

Our puppies have loved and abandoned a number of toys. I get them at the local thrift shop, so they’re easy to replace. Some are destroyed to the point that I have to throw them away. Some have been left in the yard, and then snowed over, and then forgotten. As the snow has thawed, they’ve reappeared. They’re looking a little worse for the wear.

This lil' guy was once just a little bit smaller than the puppies

This lil’ guy was once just a little bit smaller than the puppies

Sad kitty cat

Sad kitty cat

Spring flowers in bloom!

Spring flowers in bloom!

Tug-of-war with the snow

Tug-of-war with the snow

Sad teddy bear in adorable overalls

Sad teddy bear in adorable overalls

Some sort of Disney character? A ferret with an eyepatch

Some sort of Disney character? A ferret with an eyepatch

Sad Sealy posturpedic sheep. 3/8, if I remember correctly

Sad Sealy Posturpedic promotional sheep. 3/8, if I remember correctly



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