Tag Archives: jon rombach

Recycling Day

I talk about dealing with trash and recycling in Get Your Pitchfork On!—at our place in Washington, there was (in my mind, at least) an epic battle between Kristy the Female versus the reigning King of Sh*t Mountain. We took our waste to a “transfer station,” so-named because it was en route to other locations, including a landfill located in nearby Roosevelt. This landfill also took in garbage from Hawai`i, which subsidized our fee.

In Wallowa County, recycling happens in town and trash goes straight to the landfill, which is about six miles out of Enterprise. As the oft-mentioned-in-this-blog Jon Rombach noted in November, you never know what you might find there.

In the local newspaper, the Wallowa County Chieftain, Rick Bombaci investigated what actually happens to the recycling. At the transfer station, it’s sorted a hundred ways ‘til Sunday via a bunch of small doors—where does it end up?

A place for everything ...

A place for everything …

... and everything in its place

… and everything in its place






His research was eye-opening! Some things are reused locally: Glass ends up crushed and mixed with gravel for the county’s roadbeds; motor oil is burned in the furnace of the road department’s office. Paper, on the other hand, is shipped to China. Not cardboard, just paper. I was glad to see that electronic waste is not shipped to China, as their processing of it is well documented and not pretty. It’s processed in Vancouver, Washington.

Do you know where your trash and recycling go?


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Take Me to the Woods

Have you ever noticed that part of the magic of art is timing? A painting or song can resonate with one person and not another, or resonate with someone at age 30 but not 50.

My friend Jon Rombach keeps popping up in this blog. But he keeps being in the middle of a good story! I’m singing his praises this time because, well over a year ago, he gave me a book to read. In fact, he didn’t even give it to me; he gave it to my husband Mike, who was up in Wallowa County for a little creative-time solitude.

The book is We Took to the Woods by Louise Dickinson Rich, published in 1942. I didn’t know anything about this book or its author, and I was in the middle of whatever city things I was doing, and I put it on the shelf.

Mike and I went to visit Jon in April for my birthday, and I had long forgotten about the book at that point. Maybe Jon had too, as he didn’t mention it.

A couple weeks ago, I started packing for our impending move to the same Wallowa County. If we’d known we were going to move there ourselves, we might have chosen a different vacation destination, for variety’s sake. It’s safe to say we are drawn to the area.

In any case, I was packing books and came across this old hardcover. Oh yeah—that book Jon sent my way! Jon is an entertaining writer, as evidenced in his blog, so I should have known any book he recommended would be the same.

Available in paperback these days ...

Available in paperback these days …

We Took to the Woods was a great read! Rich is sort of a Betty MacDonald (The Egg & I) of the East Coast, but more enthusiastic about living in a remote place and not critical of the shortcomings of her neighbors. (Though, to be fair, Rich went by choice.) She describes a number of activities that serve as entertainment as well as historical record, such as working a cross-cut saw or running logs through a series of dams. She describes how people interact with nature—as participants or as tourists—showing how in the last century nothing has changed but the gear. And she prefers as her winter footwear wool socks under rubber-soled tennis shoes. Total badass.

What I like about her approach is that she neither glorifies rural living nor demonizes it. It is harder than city living; it is worth the effort. Same thing I was going for with Get Your Pitchfork On.

I’m glad the right time for me to read this book finally arrived!

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Gone Fishing

Sometimes you want a big party on your birthday, and sometimes you just want to get away from it all. This was one of the latter years for me, so my husband Mike and I drove up to Wallowa County, Oregon, to visit our friend Jon and get some R&R.

This is not Jon’s first appearance on this blog—I wrote about his fancy firewood bundles last summer in my value-added marketing post.

We arrived late Saturday. Tucked into a corner of our guest room was a work table laden with shiny streamers and baubles, tools and small drawers—a fly-tying station. Jon is an avid fisher—and why wouldn’t you be when you’re a short drive (country-short, at least) from dozens of pristine mountain rivers? He promised to take us to a friend’s ranch on the Imnaha on Sunday and give me a fly-fishing lesson. The last time I fished was in about 1978. I barely remember it.

The next morning, we packed a lunch, fishing gear and the dogs into the pickup and took off.

Getting to Imnaha is a commitment—it’s 45 minutes from Enterprise, nearly on the edge of the state. As we drove into the Wallowa Mountains, snow flew. I looked out the back; the dogs were unfazed by the crust they were acquiring. Mike and I looked at each other. This was going to be some chilly fishing! But by the time we passed between Inmaha’s two buildings we had dropped a couple thousand feet. The sky had cleared and the temperature had risen at least 15 degrees.

But we weren’t there yet. We turned north for about ten miles, following the Imnaha River, until we ran out of pavement. Then we drove another ten on gravel. This road twisted up and into the mountains, around blind hairpin turns that revealed incredible views of the Imnaha River valley. We were so remote that we came across two bighorn sheep in the road! The dogs had already shaken off their snow-jackets and ran from side to side in the cab, anxious to explore.

Eventually, we wound down to the river’s edge. Jagged peaks rose up all around the narrow, grassy river valley we were in. The Imnaha ran hard and fast, swollen with spring snowmelt. Jon jogged down to survey the water and returned to get the gear. I would have drowned in his hip waders, figuratively if not literally, so I fished from shore.

Scouting the bank

Scouting from the bank

What we were hoping to coax out of this cold, turgid river were steelhead. These rainbow trout act a bit like salmon—they swim hundreds of miles down the Imnaha, then the Snake, then the Columbia, all the way to the ocean, and then fight their way upstream all the way back a couple of years later to spawn and die. Jon works for a rafting outfitter and has documented a number of his catches. Did I mention that he is a great writer?

First Jon introduced me to the fishing gear. I had already declined the waders, but was totally fascinated by the little box of flies he’d tied.

“You’re basically trying to drop something into the water that looks like food,” Jon said. Fish look for sudden movement, and dark and light patterns. The nymphs had shiny bits to catch the light, and fuzzy bits that would clump in the water and look like little insect bodies. He said that pink was good during spawning season. “Mine are showy,” he said, pointing out the features of his nymphs.

This one was made with deer hair

This one was made with deer hair

Jon explained how the fly rod works, a different technology from a standard rod-and-reel. Of course, the rods themselves are much longer, to aid in casting. Instead of relying on lead weights to give the hook loft, the line itself has weight. And there are little weights that you can put on your hook, called “heads.” Even with a head on your hook, it doesn’t weigh much, which is why fly-fishers actually get in the water on a wide river. (Plus, it’s fun to stand in the middle of a river.)

Some of the differences are purely aesthetic—the floating, round ball attached to the line that you watch to see if it dips into the water? “A bobber!” I said, proud that I knew something. “A strike indicator,” Jon corrected, and then proceeded to call it a bobber anyway.

Next lesson: Where to cast. He explained that fish like to hang out in calm water that isn’t too shallow; they avoid the strong current and the edges. What we were looking for, he said, was “soft” water, called the “seam.” Looking out, I could see a place where the top of the water smoothed out for about 20 feet. The seam.


The method of casting differs as well to accommodate the lighter bait and longer rod. The fly-fisher is nearly constantly in motion. Some people consider it an art form. Dry flies actually rest on the surface of the water to emulate flying insects landing. Even wet nymphs need to move often.

But Jon is a pragmatist; if there’s no need to do it fancy, don’t.

“Have you ever seen A River Runs Through It?” he asked me.



Subsequently, I was not being taught to whip the line around in the air like a lariat.

As Jon explained the timing of pulling the nymph back for another cast, Mike, who was observing from further up the bank, yelled, “Your bobber!” While I had been looking downstream, following Jon’s illustration, a fish hit my fly. But the fish recognized the fly wasn’t food and, since I hadn’t pulled up to set the hook, spit it out.

I kept casting, trying to focus on my form. After a while, Jon joined me—and then his rod snapped in two.

Sad fisher man

Sad fisher man

Since I was the only one doing anything, I practiced my cast a few more times and then called it quits. We went back to the rig and ate lunch in the sun. The scenery was so spectacular that it was difficult to leave.

Picture, do the talking

Picture, do the talking

Jon was disappointed that we didn’t catch anything; I wasn’t. I completely understand the notion that going fishing can just be an excuse to be outside all day! It was exactly the kind of birthday I was hoping for.

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The Art of Value-Added Products

For the most part, Get Your Pitchfork On! deals only with “farming” for one’s personal use, not for retail sale and certainly not for wholesale. However, I do discuss the idea of improving your profit margin on farm-based products by processing them into something more preserv-able and elaborate. This is generally known as “value-added.”

Take raspberries. Delicious. A country favorite! But they are extremely delicate and spoil quickly. If you plan to sell raspberries, your choices are:

  • Minimize transportation by selling them at the end of your driveway, or hosting a you-pick field (which brings a raft of other considerations).
  • Package them in those decidedly not-environmentally friendly plastic clamshell boxes.
  • Expect a large rate of damage, which is basically a financial loss (even if you eat the “losses” yourself).

But—if you take those same raspberries and make them into jam, syrup, or any number of other food items, you not only increase the price and eliminate loss by damage, you have something that travels well and has a much longer shelf-life.

Same with something like lavender. As a fresh crop, it’s basically just good-smelling purple flowers on sticks. But take those flowers and weave them into a wreath, or strip the flowers into a potpourri, or twist them into “fairy wands,” and you’ve got yourself a lovely home décor item! Or, get a little more involved and crush them to extract the oil for soap, lotion and other toiletries.

My mom makes beautiful “fairy wands” with her lavender

Splitting firewood is adding value. My friend Jon, who lives in Enterprise, Oregon, saw those $5 piles of firewood that people sell to campers and thought, “I can do better.” So, how did he improve on a great idea? Under the auspices of the Wallowa Mt. Campfire Company, he makes bundles that include matches, newspaper, kindling, and s’mores fixin’s, just for fun!

The most creative value-added item I’ve seen to date was brought to my attention by my friend, Annie, who was traveling through Sisters, Oregon. Her hotel’s grounds featured a small corral of resident llamas. The owners were really smart and, in their gift shop, stocked little stuffed llamas to which they added tags noting which llama it represents and a short description of her. Not only that, they named the llamas after human celebrities. Meet “Tori Amos” …

Brilliant! The hotel owners created a tangible item for a “product” that previously only existed as a memory. Now my friend could take home more than a photograph, and the hotel could keep a little bit more of her money.

You can’t take home a real llama, but you can take home a stuffed one!

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