Category Archives: Wallowa Days

Winter Feast

Winter holiday preparation is basically an extension of harvest time. It makes sense, since most of the holiday season takes place in autumn. Homes are turned into a kind of indoor sukkah, festooned with trees, branches, and berries. Special music is played that is forsaken the rest of the year.

And the food! People whip up more cookies than anyone could ever eat, fancy milky cocktails, roasts and pies and snack mixes to fish from little bowls while playing cards and board games.

This year was no exception for Mike and me, except in the sense that we poured it on more than usual. I’ve known for a long time that we are not typical people when it comes to expendable income. While most Americans save their money for vacations, tickets to sporting events and concerts, or weekly shopping trips to a mall, Mike and I favor quality groceries. This autumn has been especially good to us, so I’m sharing a few pictures of our bounty.

It all started this summer, when my colleague Sara asked if I wanted any apricots. I documented canning them as well as some peaches that I bought. When we had windfall apples in our yard, I made applesauce. A friend who was going on a cruise and needed to unload a bunch of half-ripe tomatoes and peppers unloaded them on me.

Late-season surprise

Late-season surprise

But here’s where it really gets good. Our friends at 6 Ranch posted a contest on their Facebook page in September. They wanted to trade a quarter beef for something. “What’ve ya got?” they asked. People offered fence-mending, firewood, maps, carpet cleaning, a weekend in Bend. Mike offered to record their family history. 6 Ranch being a “century ranch,” one of Oregon’s oldest operations, this was a smart bid. He won.

In order to store that much beef, we finally bought a chest freezer. Then, we had a chest freezer to fill, so I ordered a half-pig from Carman Ranch. The local FFA has a fruit fundraiser, so I ordered a case of grapefruit from Texas. A friend told me about a fishery on the Oregon Coast that ships tuna straight from the cannery. Done.

Beef!

Beef!

Beautiful Christmas ham

Beautiful Christmas ham

At our Winter Solstice party, people brought gift-jars of the food they had put up during the summer. Anyone who had pickles pointed out that they were “for Mike.” (They had seen my blog post.)

And then my colleague Lisa said that her significant other was in Bandon, taking orders for oysters. Not much of an oyster fan, I wondered about Dungeness crab. This is a New Year’s tradition for Mike and me. Last year, the best we could get was frozen Alaska king crab legs from the Safeway.

There's gold in them thar hills!

There’s gold in them thar hills!

A few days later, Scott pulled into our driveway with two dungies. And some still-squeaking cheese curds. And persimmons. And chanterelles. I buried my face in the box of mushrooms and inhaled the mossy, earthy scent of Western Oregon.

Wallowa County winters are long. But, we will eat our way to spring.

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Foiled by a SmartAppliance

I’ve talked up my crafting friend Ivy in Get Your Pitchfork On!. She can make anything! She made a poppyseed cake covered with daisies when Mike and I celebrated our wedding in Portland. She lines up rocks and leaves on her tables and her walls. She doesn’t just make fruit jam, she adds things like cardamom and lemon rind. She has a special egg-scrambling technique, which I have documented but haven’t shared with you yet. In due time.

In May, Ivy and her friend Ria came out to visit. Ivy brought a special gift-project: wool mittens! She had knitted them already and wanted to felt them in our washing machine. It was funny to try on mittens on a brilliantly sunny and warm day.

They're kind of big!

They’re kind of big!

Kristy Athens

Wool mittens and lilacs–not usually in the same picture

Note to Wool-Felters: Don’t try to felt wool in a new washing machine!

Ivy’s usual method is to dump extra-hot water into the drum and add the unfelted mittens, then agitate until they have shrunk down to the desired size. We bought our washing machine last year, shortly after moving to Wallowa County. It has a computer. It sounds like a arcade machine when you turn it on. The lid locks while it’s running. This machine determines the size of the load by weighing it, and if there isn’t enough in there it won’t run. It wouldn’t run.

Ivy tried a couple different methods to fool the machine into shrinking our mittens. Eventually, she gave up, hauling four sopping, still-oversized mittens upstairs and hung them on the porch rail to dry. She brought them back to Portland and washed them in a dumber machine, and they came back to us just in time for cold weather!

I hope you all have such a gifted, crafty, and generous friend!

I ❤ Ivy

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Solstice Tree’s Revenge

Because of my school schedule, Mike and I got a tree a little early this year (early by rational standards, I mean, not capitalism standards). We’ve cut trees from “u-cut” lots and off our own land before, but never on public land. We wondered where to go.

This decision turned out to be a process of elimination: the pamphlet that came with our $5 permit from the Wallowa-Whitman National Forest listed a number of off-limit areas. “Please follow these simple rules,” it read:

Cut your tree at least 50 feet from the road. Cutting is prohibited on active timber sales or areas planted with new trees. Cutting is prohibited on private land, wilderness areas, designated campgrounds, or existing tree plantations. Cutting is prohibited in posted old-growth areas or within a quarter-mile of wild and scenic corridors. Cutting is prohibited within sight of a state highway. Cutting is prohibited in the Baker City watershed (wherever that is), Anthony Lakes Campground or Ski Area, Starkey Experimental Forest, La Grande watershed (ditto), or Hurricane Creek or Lostine drainages.

Whew! Okay! Hurricane Creek was already out, as we know it to be the territory of leg-hold fur trappers. Every year a dog gets caught up in one of those traps. Not only is the trapper not liable, you can actually get in trouble for moving the trap! Never mind your poor dog. Having two curious dogs, we don’t want anything to do with Hurricane Creek until April, when the season ends.

Up the forest road

Up the forest road

Entering the national forest

Entering the national forest

Lucky for us, there are numerous routes into the Wallowa-Whitman National Forest that are just minutes from our house. We drove toward Ruby Peak, rumbled slowly up the forest road and parked almost in time to get Cap’n out of the cab to barf (she still has trouble with bumps and curves). Then we walked until we crossed into the forest and starting sizing up trees.

It didn’t take long to find a sweet little pine tree. It had a great shape, was the perfect size, and was not too far from the path (but not too close either—don’t want to bum anyone out on their nature walk by presenting a stump). We considered a few others and decided that was our tree.

I felt a little guilty, murdering a tree in front of its friends and family. But …

It took only a few swipes of the saw, and we were ready to haul it back to the rig. I pulled the permit tag from my pocket, but it was too hard to work the zip-tie wearing my gloves. I doffed them and started wrapping the tag around the trunk—OUCH!

I looked more closely at the tree. A spruce? We cut down a damn spruce??

As you stalwarts of the forest know: Never shake hands with a spruce. Each needle is just that—a needle. Unlike the friendly Douglas fir or grand fir, or even the elegant Ponderosa pine, the spruce does not want to be your friend.

Ow

Ow

However, the deed was done. It was still a beautiful tree; we would just have to be very, very careful when trimming it. Very careful.

Everything worked out

Everything worked out

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Pupversary

A year ago, we took home two fat, friendly, spotted puppies. Best idea we had all year, besides moving to Wallowa County. They’re coming right along. Here are some photos.

We picked them out at four weeks

Though they show promise here, these dogs really don’t care about balls

They used to both fit on one pillow!

If balls had eyeballs and hard noses, the dogs might be more interested

They would much rather run through the field than have leash training

On Wallowa County’s East Moraine, above Wallowa Lake

First trip to the coast. Happy birthday, pups!

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My Husband, Pickle Fiend

Everyone has a favorite food. For some people, it’s fried chicken. For some, apple pie. For my husband Mike, it is pickles. Mike can eat anything pickled, anywhere, any time.

The vinegar is too much for me. I can eat one baby dill. Occasionally. My Uncle Rick lived in Kaukauna, Wisconsin, and ordered his Old Fashioneds with a pickled Brussels sprout. When I was visiting and working on Get Your Pitchfork On! at my grandma’s place, I ordered the same simply because I loved my boisterous uncle and his passion for this lowball cocktail floating an enormous tiny pickled cabbage that took up half the glass. But I had to choke it down; those layers and layers of leaves can soak up quite a lot of vinegar! When he and my Aunt Betty sent me a jar after my visit, Mike ate them all.

Mike eats pickled beets. He eats pickled cauliflower. Pickled asparagus. Watermelon. Maybe not pigs’ feet. But maybe he’s just never tried one.

Pickled peppers from Wallowa County's Magic Garden

Pickled peppers from Wallowa County’s Magic Garden

Mostly, though, it’s cucumbers. When we sit down at a restaurant for any kind of sandwich, the order of operations usually goes like this: Place napkin on lap. Add condiments to sandwich. Offer pickle to Mike.

This summer we had three different jars of pickles in the fridge at the same time. Wouldn’t want to run out.

Our friend Sara gave us some extra cukes from her garden, and Mike didn’t waste any time.

Before

Before

After

After

Those jars lasted about 17 days.

On a trip to Portland, Mike received a jar of pickles from our friend Brooke, who had made them with her grandma. Mike’s never met a pickle he didn’t like, even just a little bit, but he’s still raving about those pickles. I’ve heard him drop the word “best” about them. They have a secret ingredient, which I’m not at liberty to disclose. The jar of leftover brine is still in the refrigerator. He doesn’t have the heart to throw it out.

Beloved brine

Beloved brine

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Hiking in Hunting Season

As readers of Get Your Pitchfork On! know, my opinion of hunting has changed since I was twelve years old. If an animal is being killed for sustenance (not a trophy), I think it’s a reasonable activity. Still, as someone who likes to walk in the same natural areas as the hunters, it’s a source of anxiety.

I spent my first year of college in the north woods of Minnesota, at a German-immersion extension of Concordia College (this is a story unto itself). The orientation instructions I received in August advised me to pack an orange or red hat for hikes in the woods. My suburban mall-girl, lake-path-walking mind reeled. I could get shot? On a hike?

Since then I have, of course, been on lots of hikes wearing blaze orange. When Mike and I had our re-grouping period in Portland and I had to buy a rain jacket for bicycle commuting, I chose a bright orange one in hopes that I would soon need it for autumn hikes in the country.

And, here we are.

Even the dogs have gotten in on the act!

Even the dogs have gotten in on the act!

One afternoon in late September, an SUV pulled into our driveway. I went out to see who it was. A 30-ish man got out of his truck, gave me a nod and said, “Ma’am, I would like to request permission to hunt on your land on the deer opener, which is Saturday, October Fourth.” Must have been ex-military.

I explained that we didn’t own the land, and our parcel doesn’t go up into the trees, anyway.

“There are an awful lot of houses around here, to be shooting a rifle,” I said. He nodded again and politely took his leave.

After a while, I felt like maybe I was overstating my case. I mean, yes, the woods backs up to the farmed acreage that surrounds our house. But, was it really possible to be hit by a stray bullet?

A few days ago, I had my answer. Mike returned from a walk with the dogs, carrying an arrow. It had been stuck in the ground at an angle. Sailed downhill from the woods above us. A bad shot? Can one accidentally discharge a compound bow? We’ll never know how it got there, but it got there.

That looks sharp

That looks sharp

The chance that Mike or I or one of the dogs would have been standing in that very spot at that very moment is remote. This incident won’t keep me from walking our field, nor does it change my view about hunting. But—be careful out there, friends.

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Friends with Animals

Living in the country not only gives you access to open spaces, quiet roads, and friendly folks. It also gives you access to the friendly folks’ livestock!

This spring, my friends Carolyn and Eric invited Mike and me over to see their new babies. They raise Lusitano horses, a Portuguese breed. Beautiful animals. We got the full tour—the nursery, the geriatric pasture, the young females’ and males’ separate quarters.

Baby's first hay

Baby’s first hay

This suave dude reminds me of Robert Plant

This suave dude reminds me of Robert Plant

Around the same time, we were invited over to our friend Nancy’s house to see her baby goats. We didn’t make it there until a week ago, but they were still fun to hang around with! Nancy also gave us a tour of her incredible outbuildings—an old granary that will someday soon be the most spectacular guesthouse in Wallowa County, and a heritage barn. We climbed the stairs to the second level and startled a gorgeous, snowy-white barn owl from her roost. She glided silently overhead, and was gone.

Sweet goat that tried to eat the zipper-pull on my jacket

Sweet goat that tried to eat the zipper-pull on my jacket

Nancy and Mike contemplate the hay loft

Nancy and Mike contemplate the hay loft

 

Early September boasts Mule Days in Enterprise, which includes a completely non-motorized parade. Mules of every shape and description pull wagons and haul packs down the streets of the town. But the star of the show has to be the oxen pair brought by “Bushwacker Sue.” Their trailer rivals that of any successful touring band’s.

Look at this big guy!

Look at this big guy!

Okay, okay, so Bushwacker Sue is not technically my friend. However, she did chat us up about her gentle giants. I know I shouldn’t view my agriculture-centric county as one big petting zoo, but it sure is fun to live in close proximity to so many animals.

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Windfalls

Remember last week, when I was waxing poetic about the night sky? And I mentioned hearing crickets, and sprinklers, and Pendleton eating windfall apples? Well.

That night Pendleton, who has been housetrained for months, snuck down to the basement and laid an enormous, foul pile of heinous fecal gore on the floor. Mike gagged when he cleaned it up in the morning (lucky for me, I was asleep and oblivious). What could have caused this horrific display?

We have some gnarled old apple trees in our backyard. They could use a good pruning, but we don’t have a ladder and anyway, they aren’t mine and not everyone appreciates a “good pruning.” I didn’t bother to cull the fruits this spring, and now we have dozens of small apples falling out of the trees every time the wind blows. Pendleton’s been foreman of the clean-up crew.

At your service, ma'am

At your service, ma’am

But the dogs are not the only ones who like free apples. The owner of the house we’re renting, last fall, told us that he kept the gate open so the deer could come in and browse. Otherwise, they all go to the wasps.

So, the morning in question, once I woke up and said, “Geez, it kind of smells like poop in here,” and Mike said, “You think?” before he went to take a shower, I walked out into the yard to collect the windfalls into a bucket, so Pendleton couldn’t reach them.

While I was out there, a doe walked up to the fence, as if to claim her autumn meal. The dogs went crazy. I calmed them, but the deer stayed put. Opening the gate is something of a formality, as any deer can jump a four-foot fence without even thinking about it. But she was, rightfully, afraid of the dogs and stayed outside the fence.

I wanted to scare the doe off, so I threw what I had in my hand at her. As soon as I did, I realized it was a bad idea. The apple fell short, and then rolled a foot or two toward the doe. She didn’t jump or even move, just considered it, and then took a step toward the apple and gently picked it up, staring at us while she ate it. That was not the message I was hoping to send.

I left the dogs in the yard and scared the doe off. She’ll be back; this is where those nice people throw apples for you to eat!

Mike’s and my yard-maintenance routine has included picking up poo-piles and refilling holes that have been dug. For the next few weeks it will also include regularly collecting windfalls, depriving deer, dog, and wasp.

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Stargazing

I was a bit disappointed to learn, my first summer back in a place without light pollution, that August’s Perseid meteor shower was going to be washed out by a full moon. The other night, I received a consolation prize.

I had finished my homework and was about to go to bed, when I realized it was pitch black outside. And relatively warm. I poured myself a nightcap, put on a sweatshirt, turned off the lights in the house, and carefully made my way down the steps to the backyard with Pendleton the dog.

It took a while for my vision to adjust. I closed my eyes for a minute to coax my pupils to dilate wide enough to take in the pinpoints. At first I saw only a few, then a few more, then ten times more, then twenty times more. After fifteen minutes or so, the Milky Way was fully visible, stretching across the sky toward Ruby Peak.

It’s all about waiting for the stars to come to you. I even caught a few shooting stars, perhaps remnants of the Perseids. I had to stand in a place that my vision wasn’t blocked overhead by the apple trees in our yard. What I should have done was walk out into the field, but I didn’t want Pendleton to rustle up any deer that were undoubtedly bedded down out there.

Mike and I were recently in Portland, visiting friends. Our friends’ kid was showing Mike her new bedroom furniture, and he pointed out that, from her bed, she could look out the window at the stars. She gave him a blank look. He remembered that you can only see a few stars in the city; not anything to impress a nine-year-old.

Standing in my yard, I was reminded of getting up at 4 in the morning every night last winter to let the puppies outside. In January, I regularly heard the Great horned owls conversing. Now, I could hear cows yelling, sprinklers whooshing, grasshoppers singing, and Pendleton munching on windfall apples.

I wished I could bring my friends’ kid out to our yard, so she would understand what Mike was talking about.

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Honey, I Canned the Peaches

Whenever I engage in domesticities such as canning, I refer to my bible, The Encyclopedia of Country Living. As I’ve noted in this blog, most recently when I canned apricots, I love its author, Carla Emery. And sometimes, love means you can tell someone to go jump in a lake.

I’m not someone who particularly enjoys process. So, just like e.e. cummings talked about the joy of “having written,” when I talk about the joy of canning peaches I am talking about the joy of having canned peaches. The act itself involves anxiety, minor burns, and swearing. I work really hard not to cut myself.

I put in an order with a local farmer for peaches a month or so ago, and they were finally ready on Thursday. I picked up my lug, and yesterday loaded my dishwasher with jars and set everything up: vat of boiling water, cutting board, steam canner. I consulted The Encyclopedia of Country Living, which had Carla’s instructions as well as my notes from past years about how many jars I’d used.

Canning prep

Canning prep

Carla wrote: “If you’re slow you can drop the fruit into water containing 2 T. each salt and vinegar per gallon water to prevent darkening. But I just work fast.” I filled another vat with water.

I was careful to buy freestone peaches so I wouldn’t have to deal with the stones sticking into the fruit. However, the peaches were just slightly underripe. Unlike Carla, who was a full-time back-to-the-land homemaker and could can her peaches at the exact right time, I have a schedule, and that schedule allowed me to can on Saturday. Not Wednesday, when the peaches would have been ready. By next week, they’d be too far gone. Now or never.

The result was that only a few of them separated the way they were supposed to. Mostly, I had to cut around the stone, which had stuck in one of the two halves, and then dig it out with a spoon. Even though I doused the peaches in boiling water, the skins only sort-of peeled off. Mostly I had to peel them with a paring knife. This was fussy.

“I just work fast,” Carla said. Go jump in a lake, Carla.

It was a good thing I had prepared the vinegar-salt water.

But, as with any problem, if you keep working at it you’ll eventually lick it. And I did. And my February-self will thank me!

See, that wasn't so bad! Now, go ice those burns

See, that wasn’t so bad! Now, go ice those burns

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