Some Oregon Agriculture
Just before my birthday this year, I took a little trip to Lane County to visit with my friend Bea and several other members of her extended family. I hadn't intended to write anything about it, since I've written about the area several times before. But I saw a few interesting things, so here's a brief travelogue about that trip. No pictures because I didn't think I'd need them. And no recipes either. (Oh, wait, there will be a recipe for tofu mayonnaise on the website because Bea and I are trying to lose weight. I've lost 7 pounds and seem to be stuck there, but when I summon up the self-discipline, this diet works).
When I can, I always take the "blue highways" rather than the Interstate since I spent so much of my life commuting on I-5. This time I went down the Willamette Valley east of the freeway and returned up the valley west of the freeway. We've had a fairly mild summer, so things are still pretty green and the roadside ditches are full of wild sweet peas and Queen Anne's Lace -- or Cow Parsley, I didn't usually stop to look for the tell-tale tiny deep-red heart blossom. But once, at the end of the trip, the traffic was bad enough that I was just creeping along for about half an hour and all the lacy white plants I passed then had it. Usually when you pick Queen Anne's Lace, you thinks the heart flower is a tiny bug and try to brush it off, but it's not. Brushable OR a bug.
The most dramatic thing about this drive, though, was evidence of open field burning in Oregon's grass-seed fields. The huge billows of smoke that loft over the valley when a farmer sets off a field are pretty dramatic and can often be seen 50 miles away. I saw at least half a dozen of them this trip, quite a few burned fields and many ready to bale and torch. That's the cycle -- raise the grass-seed, harvest it and take it to the co-op silos for selling, then bale the leftover straw (if any, depends on your harvesting method) and then torch the stubble to get rid of weeds and bugs and other vermin (mostly voles, a plague in Oregon). Plow it under and it's ready for next Spring's sowing. Oregon produces between 60% and 75% of the world's grass seed, in multiple varieties and in multiple areas of the state -- a contribution of nearly $400 million to Oregon's annual economy -- most of it in the Willamette Valley.
But, of course, nothing is simple in this world and the people who live in the Eugene/Springfield area at the south end of the valley are inundated with grass-seed pollen and, in the burning season, smoke that has a severe health impact on many people and makes the environmentalists crazy. When I lived in Eugene, I had to send my dad to the Vet's hospital in Portland when the burning season was in full swing.
And, as a matter of fact, grass-seed burning is responsible for one of the few times my picture has been in the paper and the ONLY time on the front of the Metro section, above the fold. This was in the late 70's when I first started lobbying for the City of Eugene. We had a bill to limit the number of acres that could be burned, to regulate when burning could happen (under which weather conditions) and to encourage alternatives to open burning (pulling a little fire-breathing sled around the field, fire-side-down). The picture came about this way. The mayor (Gus Keller for those who want to know) and I were sitting in the balcony of the state House of Representatives for the vote on our bill, listening to the debate, re-counting our votes, etc. The photographer snapped us just as the tally board flashed the count -- and we had lost by one vote! An interesting picture -- not my best. Of course I remember who the legislator was who voted against us when I thought he would vote with us. I had had his MOTHER call him, for heaven's sake. If a guy won't vote the way his mother asks him too, what can you do? Not only that, he didn't tell us he was a No! Gosh, I'm getting a little upset just writing about it 30 years later, even though eventually we got most of what we wanted -- the following session. Interestingly, when I was in Eugene this week, they were talking about another run at tightening the regulations, this time with the county taking the lead. That's some progress -- the county also represents rural areas, not just the effete, hippy, tofu-eaters of Eugene.
Another thing I noticed driving down the valley was the gardens and chicken yards and the efforts that people have made to keep the deer out of their gardens and the hawks and eagles out of their chicken yards. Many variations on fences, screen covers, and, by the smell, predator poop piles. But, that protection also generates great produce stands along the road. And, I was hopeful that Steve's garden was doing as well. Sure enough when I got to Bea's, their garden was producing three kinds of tomatoes, zucchini, onions, peppers, hot peppers, corn, turnips, beets, -- everything was ready for phased harvest, except the Brussels sprouts. (An aside. Before I moved to Oregon I had no idea how those miniature cabbage heads grew. And maybe you don't either. Here is a fine picture. Bea and Steve's Brussels sprouts were just starting to "head." But in addition to the garden, the wild blackberries were in full production and I brought back lots of those as well as a sample of everything from their garden (except the Brussels sprouts). But no cucumbers. Maybe Steve doesn't like cucumbers.
Every morning we sat in the living room and watched the neighborhood ospreys. Just across the street from Bea's place and up the road 20 yards, the county (or maybe the electrical company) has built an osprey nesting platform. Osprey are fish-eating raptors that have been brought back from the brink of extinction -- another victim of DDT -- by (believe it!) government programs. And, as it turns out, the program is also helping the bald eagle population. Bea's grandsons, Michael and Jesse, saw this in action recently. As they were down at the (McKenzie) river doing a little fishing, they saw the resident bald eagle cruise over the river and then by the osprey nest. Hmmmm. Easier than chickens. So the eagle just dived into the nest, claws down and snatching, and swooped away with one of the two osprey chicks. The parents, according to the guys, followed the eagle and his/her prey all the way across the valley and up into the hills, screeching and diving, but to no avail. The chick was lunch. And the lone osprey young adult left in the nest is now well protected as he/she learns to dive and fish from a snag visible from Bea's living room. As I've noted before, it's a jungle out there.
I had a more civilized encounter with the jungle environment when Bea and I went to visit her middle son, Gordon, and his wife, Joan. These are the mighty hunters and fishers of the family, and small-scale farmers. I've bragged on their pigs and bacon and sausage before. This time we were after home-canned Albacore tuna. Gordon had told us earlier that Joan wouldn't allow him to go tuna-fishing any more since they had such a fine supply in the panty, so we thought we'd help him out.
We went to visit them without announcing our intentions. Bea says they're always home (at least during the week). But when we got to their place, no one was there. We wandered about a bit, admired the flowers and bubbling pond, went into the house (which was unlocked), tried calling everyone's cell and pager numbers, left the camp stove on the porch that Gordon was to fix for Bea, and eventually, just as we were about to leave, Gordon drove up from the back lot, chiding us roundly. "If there's no one here," he said, "just drive down to the barn!"
In a few minutes, Joan arrived from a shopping trip to town, so we all sat down to evening refreshments and baby pictures. The baby pictures had three incarnations. First a new grandson, about six months old now, adorable and unformed, as almost every person on earth is at that age. More interestingly, accompanied by his 6-year-old sister who is incredibly beautiful and photogenic. I won't tell you her name, but I suspect she'll be famous.
Second, was the boat that Gordon bought and is working to restore. This is a 33-foot wooden boat that Gordon is totally redoing in anticipation of using it for a retirement toy and to cruise to Mexico where they love to fish. When finished, it will sleep four in beds (bunks? berths? don't know the terminology, I know the kitchen is the galley and the potty is the head) and another two or three in sleeping bags on deck.
Its current name is "Daddy's Dinghy," but Joan said she was not stepping foot on a boat with that name. It's a pretty stupid name a for a boat that can go on the ocean, anyway, which might rightfully be called a ship, I guess. Gordon is working away to make it great and the new name probably will be X-TA-C. Okay. But if you have any better ideas, let me know and I'll pass them on.
What you should know for good naming karma for this delightful couple: Both Joan and Gordon worked for local electrical co-ops, um, you already know about the hunting and fishing and vacationing in warm spots and raising farm animals. Let's see, they always have a dog. The current one is named Jack. The last one was Rosie. Gone away, I don't know where. The dogs are always big and burley and sloppily affectionate and I can't imagine what they're for. Always on a very short leash, so not much good as a watch-dog. Gordon can make them sit and wait for a bit before they slaver all over you. Maybe the dog is for the cattle or pigs? Joan and Gordon are allowed to rebut my assessment of their dogs or rationalize their existence. Gordon gave one dog to Bea because it was a spaniel afraid of the water, so he must have some practical use in mind. Wait! I bet it's a hunting dog. I'm sure they'll let me know.
Ah, another fact for the naming noodling and demonstrating the jungle aspects of Oregon. Joan decided to sell their 6-year-old bull. Here's what she thinks. Their best cow "threw" (that's how farmers describe it) a beautiful bull calf earlier this Spring. But one or the other male has to go before the calf is old enough that the bull feels challenged. Because the bull will kill the calf. And then one is dead and the other is out of control. So better to sell off the senior bull and let the bull calf have his five years as king-of-the-walk. (Hmm, I think that's a chicken metaphor, and it originally was cock-of-the-walk, but you get what I mean). The cows, apparently, don't care at all. At least that's what the farmers think. The older bull, named Monte is a full-blood Limousin bull. Joan points our that full-blood means that his lineage has to trace back to France on both sides, better than pure-bred. I spent a fair amount of time trying to find something definitive on the Web about the difference, but to no avail. And I couldn't figure out how to screen out all the results addressing Harry Potter and Hermione and Muggles/Wizard combinations. So I got tired of it and quit. Anyway the new bull is officially Monte's Titan (grandfather was Titanic), but Joan says Gordon will probably call him Bully-Boy or something dignified like that.
The third set of "baby pictures" was of the 30 acres they have just bought in Eastern Oregon. It's a grand-looking place just across from the John Day River -- well, across a road and an alfalfa field from the river, but they have river access and irrigating rights, and a little orchard so this could be a fine retirement property. Keep a few cattle and grow some alfalfa to maintain the farm deferral. Then the plan is to cruise to Mexico on the X-TA-C when it's cold as hell in Eastern Oregon. This is close to the John Day Fossil Beds and Bea and I plan to go over there and camp a few days pretty soon, so maybe I'll send along a report then.
The next day I did the Scandinavian Festival in Junction City, so I'll tell about that next. Worth the drive (it was only 15 miles).