Light Blogging

Well, I guess if I haven’t blogged since February that would constitute light blogging. What can I say – blame it on an annus horribilis that just got horribilior by several degrees. Also my teaching duties at Linfield have increased and between that and running the farm and working on a couple of books (at the same time), I have had almost no time to breath. We are still working our farm, and even successfully birthed our first set of piglets in July (and by the way, they were adorable!), but these days my energies are focused and channeled elsewhere. After five years, we got this farm thing down to a good rhythm.

If you want to read what I am up to these days you can go to:

I can promise some of you, you will not like it.

From One Year to the Next

Our friend Susan Regan, a retired AP photographer turned goat farmer whose pictures you have seen repeatedly, whether you know it or not, has become a good friend and neighbor to us here at the farm and she took this and the other animals pics in this posting. She has the ability to capture something of the should of animals on film; here Guns gives thanks for his daily bowl of goats milk.

Well, it has been a long sojourn from blogging, and I have little excuse. This fall I was off from teaching and things have been more than quiet. No sooner did I get the cover crop in than the rains came in late September. We had our usual beautiful October weather, but then mid month the weather grew mixed and I took off for a long over-due visit to see friends back in Maryland and Pennsylvania. The weather back east was gorgeous for the most part, and I had a great time visiting for a week with my friend Bob (see the post below!). Then it was back home and into the goop! It started to rain in November and did not stop until Just the past few days in early February. We had 54 straight days of rain, and the days without were not sunny, let me tell you da hoo da hoo da hoo! So lots of rain, lots of cider drunk, lots of raw days in front of the fire, lots of guitar played, lots of books read . . .

LOTS of books! Oh the places I’ve been! Let’s see, there was Mary Beard’s The Parthenon, Barry Cunliff’s The Extraordinary Voyage of Pytheas the Greek, James Shapiro’s The Year of Lear, Stephen Greenblatt’s The Swerve and Will in the World, Adam Nicolson’s Why Homer Matters, the first nine plays by Shakespeare (I haven’t read him in thirty years and LOVE him, so I’m working on his complete works this year – Oh a Joy it is to be a Man of Letters!!!!!), in addition to reading Greek and Latin daily (right now it’s Homer’s Odyssey and Horace’s Satires over morning coffee, with lots of Tacitus over afternoon coffee or an early evening cocktail or toke). On top of that I also taught my course on Ancient Greek History intensively this past January, so I had, as always, to keep up with the reading list for that as well (lots of Homer, some tragedians, a couple of comedies, Thucydides, Herodotus, and some Plato as well, all in four weeks!)

Guns is a sucker for belly rubs. Start behind his ear, then move to the shoulders and he goes down for the count; continue to his ribs and he’s out in under a minute, and, as you can see, loving it!

Once we got through a rainy November we segued into a rainy December. The first week of the month Lori and I headed up to the San Juans and spent a few nights on Orcas Island. The islands reminded me at different times of the Norwegian fjords, the coast of Maine, and the Swiss Alps. We entered in the early evening when it was already dusk and by the time we exited the ferry onto Orcas it was dark; much of our ride on the ferry from Anacortes to Orcas was shrouded in fog, mist, and rain. It was only the next morning that we had a chance to look around and view the surroundings, when we finally got a morning of sun. We drove around the island, which was lovely, though we only had one morning of sun with rain and fog most of the time. We took a brief hike – as much as the rain would allow – and had a chance to walk through some very verdant rain forest with beautiful horse-tail waterfalls cascading along the trail. Then we headed back to our room, and apart from some outstanding meals and awesome hot chocolate at the local restaurants and shops, pretty much stayed huddled near the fire watching the hiemal storms rage against the windows and contend over the grey grizzled waters.

This was about the only sun we saw on Orcas Island, except for the morning that we left! All the same, it is a beautiful little spot.

Sunrise on Orcas from our window on a lovely, brisk December morning.

But we were smitten – I think we both agreed that this is a great place for a winter break. We stayed at the Outlook Inn, an old historic residence that has been around since the late 19th century. It was only upon departure that we got the full scope of how beautiful the place was. Since we arrive in Anacortes in fog and low clouds, we did not realize that the place had as its backdrop the northern Cascades, which are as stunning as any of the Alps. They served as a backdrop for the sound as we headed into Anacortes after having left Orcas, and we could see them throughout most of the ferry trip back to the mainland; it was as though an imposing fortress of volcanic stone had been set up with studied purpose of creating a deeply inspiring vista. To top off the trip, a pod of killer whales accompanied our ship for part of our voyage.

I told you it was like the Alps!

With little time to recover, we soon found ourselves installing new flooring (finally!) in our farm house, as well as painting most of the interior – all of which looked pretty tired, so we were glad to replace it. Besides, we had little else to do around the farm, perforce, because it poured and stormed all of December. No sooner did we get our floor down than my friend Bob arrived for the Christmas holiday – we had fun hosting him and a number of others for Christmas Eve and Day dinner, in fact, I think by consensus it was one of the most enjoyable Christmases any of us had ever had. We’ll see if we can beat it next year, but damn, were it not for Nancy going back east for the holiday, we would have had seven people for dinner (a big crowd for us, by recent Christmas standards). The surprise hit of this holiday season was the cheddar that I made back in October – it finally ripened and aged enough, coated in red wax, sitting in the wine cooler at 50 degrees in our barn, and we were absolutely thrilled with the result. Raw goats milk cheddar is one of life’s purest pleasures, perhaps only second to home brewed hard cider, which, by the way complements the cheese very well.

Sad but true, my two best friends in the world are a boar named Guns and a little Gloucester Old Spot named Snug; you can just get a peak of Bottom snuffling Guns in the back.

From there we segued into a relatively quiet January, though I was quite busy, as noted above, teaching Greek history intensively at Linfield. On the farm side of things, all hell is about to break loose: We finished our pig barn that we built last fall and are hoping that Guns finally completed the task and got Rosey pregnant – time will tell. In late December we brought home two Gloucester Old Spot pigs that we adore, two weaner pigs that we have named Snug and Bottom (I told you that I was on a Shakespeare kick!), that we will harvest in time for a big family reunion that Lori, Nancy, and their family are planning here this spring. We are also about to get another hundred chicks next week that we will raise as layers, and in April are set to get more turkeys and laying ducks. In the interim, it’s pretty likely most of our girly goats will have given birth – seven out of our eight girls should give birth this month. And, as usual in late January and early February, fruit trees need to be pruned and sprayed, and starts need to go in the green house (at least for our cool weather crops).

Smokey sizes me up for a good ramming head butt in between bouts of rain.

In addition we continue to do renovations on our big red barn in order to accommodate our growth and our changing needs – pretty soon it will livable so that we can house farmhands in even more space. That will be great: more farmhands means less work, and more books!

One of the great things about what we do and about Susan’s photos is that we experience, and she captures the spiritual side of animals. Smokey is a particularly beautiful animal and it will be hard to harvest him this summer, but we will soon be breeding our ewes and have lambs on the way.


My good friend Bob Wagoner walks up his street in Huntingdon PA on a fine, brisk October day.

The root meaning of the word community does not bode well. It comes from the Latin verb, communire, meaning literally “to build a wall together”. What is so menacing about that, you might ask? In the ancient world, walls were significant – as they still are today – think of the Berlin Wall, or Trump who promises to build a wall along our border with Mexico. For the Greeks and the Romans, walls were imposing, menacing, weapons of war or even statements about future planned aggression. In the 470s BC after the Persian invasion, Athens refortified its walls, something seen as hostile act by her neighbors who expressed concern over Athens’ future intentions – nor did it help that they were misled by the great Athenian statesman, Themistocles, concerning the construction of Athens’ walls. Aristotle felt walls were an adornment to Greek cities. When I was a graduate student in Athens roaming the Greek countryside, I was struck by how imposing some of the walls were of the demes (small villages under Athenian control) throughout Attica (the immediate territory around Athens) and of Greek cities such as Corinth and Athens, as well as the fortified positions of many of the ancient sites I visited in the course of that year throughout Greece. Knowing very little at the time (relatively speaking) about Greek archaeology, I was sometimes befuddled by fortifications that looked to me more Medieval than Classical, but over the course of the year came to realize that the fiercely aggressive and independent nature of Greek city states made them essential. For all the deep similarities that made up ancient Greek culture – the drinking of wine, the worship of the same gods, their language – they had a deep and abiding hatred and mistrust of one another. Sparta against Athens, Athens against Thebes, Thebes against Sparta – the Greek world was in a perpetual state of civil war from the time of Homer (and probably before), up until the advent of the Romans. A key feature of the great Mycenaean cities (the Greek civilization of the Homeric epics that flourished between 1600-1100 BC), such as Mycenae, Tiryns, and Gla, were magnificently constructed walls with giant “Cyclopaean” masonry. In addition, the Greeks were very clever about choosing naturally well fortified terrain, often atop a steep hill that was then fortified with heavy stone defenses – Acrocorinth, the citadel at ancient Corinth, is perhaps the best example of such fortifications, and I was always struck by the difficult climb it took to reach them. It was a simple matter that fighting was in the Greeks’ blood, and they fought one another for centuries. Even Alexander couldn’t stop it: yes, briefly for a while the Greek world was unified under him as he breathtakingly conquered from mainland Greece to the Indus River. But after his death the Greeks reverted back, albeit in a much-altered political environment, to fighting with one another. It was only in 146 BC, after the final Roman conquest (in an attempt to throw off Roman hegemony), that the internecine strife of the Greek world was brought to a conclusion.

The same could be said for Rome itself. First there was the Severan wall, built in Rome’s archaic period (roughly the 7th-6th centuries BC), of which only traces remain. Much later they built the Aurelian wall (around 270-5 AD), a fair portion of which still stands, including some magnificent crenelated gates near the Ostia commuter rail station today. The ancient hill towns one finds throughout Italy – Cortona, Orvieto, Assissi, all were sited and fortified with walls for defense. In Pompeii one can still see magnificent walls that were repaired as the ancient Pompeians prepared to join a revolt of Italians against Rome that lasted from 91-88 BC. Roman allies were agitating for greater political rights and enfranchisement since they had done so much fighting for Rome over the centuries, something the Senate stubbornly refused, finally resulting in open revolt that was harsh and bitter. To this day one can see damage to Pompeii’s walls from the Roman assault on it from catapults and other torsion equipment. Moderns don’t need Robert Frost’s ironic phrase that “good fences make good neighbors” to appreciate the mendacity of the claim. For the ancients a wall was both an offensive and defensive entity, a double-edged blade indicative both of fear and of naked military aggression.

In our own lexicon, of course, the term community has very different connotations for the most part. However there is still that sense of tribalism, of a desire to wall oneself off from someone else’s tribe to protect one’s own. Hence the term “online  communities”, which I take to refer to a group of like-minded individuals sharing similar interests. But we have made it more ecumenical to the point where one can even refer to the “global community”, in which the people and planet have clearly shared interests that ranges from a vibrant global economy to a healthy global environment. For the most part the word no longer has the more dismal implications or significance that the Latin verb, taken in conjunction with the ancient ethos and history, need have. It has morphed into an abstract noun that has generally positive implications, though the term can sometimes be abused.

For the past few years the term has been much on my mind, because it is something that I have found elusive – hard to find and hard to define, and even once it is discovered, something that is sometimes quite fleeting. Once found though, it can be deeply fulfilling, even when brief. During our sojourn on the North Coast, in Cannon Beach, I think it is fair to say Lori and I found it – though, as we also discovered, community is something that sometimes one also creates and falls into organically. For us, it all came at once, when we met Mark and Kristin Albrecht, a couple who had retired early for a life on the North Coast, and who were heavily involved in the community there with issues that were also a concern to us: good clean food, promoting or supporting local vendors at farmers markets, and preserving and maintaining a sustainable and clean environment. At various times our interests intersected as we variously volunteered at our local farmers markets, enjoyed fine meals together, and when Lori and Kristen in particular helped to establish a food-only farmers market (River People Market) in Astoria. We also became friends and or supporters of numerous farmers and assorted foodies on the coast, and in this regard I think most fondly of Teresa Retzlav and her partner Packy, who gave us excellent advice about starting up a small farm, and fair warning about some of the issues that we would face. One of the most memorable events I have ever attended was their wedding on their farm near Astoria. Then there was Hank Johnson, a delightful man in his sixties who was himself an outstanding cook and bon vivant extraordinaire who had been the curator of the Portland Rose Gardens, or the couple who owned the cooking school who were originally from Tacoma Park Maryland, or Jeff whose dour demeanor hid that he was not only the most long-lasting organic farmer on the north coast, but that he had also been a ship builder in Norway. Most memorable was perhaps Molly Edison – a delightful octogenarian Tom McCall Republican who believed in the restorative powers of a gin and tonic at five o’clock and who was one of the unofficial mayors of Cannon Beach. We got to know her in her capacity of one of the main coordinators of the food pantry, where we volunteered for two or three years running: once a week for an afternoon Lori and I would go and sort produce, throwing out bad or rotting food, and setting up the pantry to prepare for clients who were in need. It was a wonderful group of ladies, and a few men, who worked the pantry, and we would have a great time together as we helped clients pack and load boxes. And there were other friends and neighbors who were in our circle of friends – everyone knew and enjoyed one another’s company, and we had some pretty wonderful experiences, such as a giant pig roast on the beach one fine fall evening during one of my sabbaticals in which all the local farmers gathered for the most awesome potluck ever. I could continue, but the quirky people who make up the population on the North Coast is the subject of another book in and of itself. We were sorry to leave it, but we were also aware that nothing stays the same. All the volunteers at the pantry were up there in age. Some people, such as Mark and Kristen (and us) have moved on. In an age when movement of people would have been less dynamic the community might have lasted for the lifetime of those who made it up.

Yet we think very fondly of it, because although the time in which we were members of that community was brief, it was a time of transition for us as well, and one of the compelling factors that led me to leave academe. It was not that there was no sense of community (however we might choose to define it) where we were living, both in terms of work and of our immediate neighborhood. I think we felt that both in terms of my department and in terms of where we lived there was, but it was difficult to keep together and was tough. Community, as I think Lori and I would define it for ourselves, consists of people who have shared interests, and, perhaps most of all, time and daily close contact to establish, nurture, and grow the common bonds of affection – to grow fond of someone or some entity that those some ones collectively create. In a neighborhood where people commute, or a university environment where the demands on time are heavy, between teaching, administration, and research and still more research, it is hard to establish that; our department had it, our neighborhood had it – to an extent. But it was hard if not impossible to coordinate something as simple as everyone getting together for dinner. That was a product of stress on people’s time and the workload they carried (or, in many instances, made for themselves). Add to that DC traffic and a close-knit community became almost impossible to create, let alone maintain. There was, too, something to be said for day to day contact and face time – that is why I always felt a sense of community within my department, and think with great affection on all of the great scholars who were and are still active there. I also think very fondly of others at the university who it was my great privilege to get to know – scholars in art history, English, and history, but, fond as I was of the people in associated departments with whom I had contact and got to know, it was frustratingly hard to maintain the kind of close, human relationship the very humanities we studied were supposedly supposed to promote.

Nonetheless, as my dear friend Bob once pointed out to me, we scholars all too often are trained to think not in terms of our commitment to our community, but to our profession. That is why we write scholarly monographs of interest to a few dozen people (if we are lucky), why a general study, even an important one, is not regarded as highly as a tightly focused study. So we talk to, say, other Roman historians about post-colonial discourse in Roman historiography, but not about how the corruption of the late Roman republic reflects our own fraught political circumstances, and how we might learn from one about the other. Perhaps because we fear accusations of bias, or tendentiousness. Specialization was something I long resisted as a graduate student – I chose the field of Classics because I felt it so alive and present around us. You would never know it, though, were you to peruse the current bibliography of classical scholarship, my own included. And this is a real shame: a shame because it does a disservice to our students. As a young professor I had it drummed into me over and over again that good research makes for good teaching. I never saw it – I think it is a mirage invented by pedagogical theorists or by some who saw research and teaching successfully done once or twice and believe in a “one-size-fits-all” model. For me I think it would be death to my profession if I taught my research, and I now tend to go back to basics and to ask myself, why did I love the Classics so much, and why should the students? I try to think in how my teaching will help them to be good citizens, to think independently, to appreciate the deep past that is in fact quite current, of the cumulative knowledge that began, in the written record with Mesopotamia, Egypt, and the Greeks. That, to me, is to help the larger community of a state, a nation, a world.

Part of the problem, I think, too, is the sheer size of the modern university and the basic topographical nature of the modern urban environment. At Maryland they used to talk about the “university community”, but, if there was one, it was by and large atomized, and so really non-existent. If a student dies at Maryland, yes, there will be a notice via email, and students may hold vigil or show some degree of support to his or her family, but at a school of 30,000 it makes relatively little impact. Last year at Linfield a student was murdered in a chance encounter with a man wielding a knife at a 7/11 store. It impacted everyone on our campus of roughly 3,000 students, and I suspect most faculty, as was the case with me, had grieving students in their classroom, friends who had known him. The campus as a collective whole was supportive of one another, and of the student’s parents, and came together as a family would. A year latter, on the anniversary of his murder, the college remembered; a big university probably would not.

Yet, as close knit as Linfield is, and as much as I love teaching there, it is still not as close knit a community as some colleges I have known. By far the deepest sense of community at any college that I have ever experienced was at Bob’s institution, Juniata College in rural Pennsylvania. As an outside observer who has had the privilege of visiting many times over the years, given a number of talks, and gotten to know the dedicated faculty, I would say there are several reasons for this. First, it is a Church of the Brethren college (of which there are six, to my knowledge, in the US); the Church of the Brethren is a Christian denomination that emphasizes peace, reconciliation, and simplicity. There is an ethos of mutual affection – what Cicero would have called caritas – that underpins the collective mindset. One sees this in the emphasis on nurturing students through outstanding teaching in particular. On a more mundane, but perhaps significant level, one also sees it literally in the topography of the college. The local neighborhood of historic houses surrounds the college, and my impression is that many if not most faculty live in it; Bob’s house, for example, is a five minute walk from the campus green. Students and faculty live in close proximity, as do fellow faculty members. At Maryland a dinner party with several faculty members would take several weeks of planning in order for people to check calendars and to cogitate on traffic patterns to avoid snarls on the Beltway. At Juniata Bob could call up a few friends and within a day or two notice arrange a dinner party for six. It seems a small thing, but the simple fact that Juniata is small and that faculty live virtually on campus, that people constantly see and know one another, goes a very long way to creating what I would consider an authentic community. Everyone knows everyone; I was always impressed that, for example, Bob, a professor of philosophy, could tell you who the professors were of chemistry, or economics, and, I suspect, vice versa.

The entrance to Juniata, just a five minute jaunt from Bob’s house.

That is certainly not the case at a large university, for the most part, where people in their particular colleges might know one another very well, but are generally isolated from other disciplines in other colleges, at least in my experience. Moreover people stay at Juniata. Bob has been there since 1965, and there are others, roughly contemporaneous with Bob, sometimes a bit younger, sometimes older, who have stayed as well – something that in and of itself helps to promote and build community through the preservation and continuance of institutional memory. It is a sleepy, beautiful part of Pennsylvania, nestled in the mountains on the Juniata River, so it is easy to see why people do not leave the community. In addition, it is not a research one university, emphasis is, for the most part, on teaching, and I am astonished at how many students are either in or lined up at professors offices each time I go there, this, as opposed to many other university departments that are virtual ghost towns when it comes to the general presence of students at a prof’s door. I don’t want to paint an overly-rosy picture – of course there are conflicts and animosities between people, as there are anywhere, and the “townies” and those involved in the life of the college often clash. But, while someone at the college could speak much more to why there is such a sense of community there, I believe it exists for those three essential reasons: the topography of the town and college, the ethos of the college’s origins, and the emphasis placed not on “publish or perish” but on nurturing young people – this, I believe, is the first and foremost duty of a professor. Those three elements, for one looking from the outside in, are I think particularly striking; they are the threads that weave a tight but generous and open community fabric. At Maryland the anonymity of the students made some horrific behaviors more likely – a bunch of students looting stores, rioting, and setting fires on the main thoroughfare (Route One) after sporting events is more prone to happen in an enormous university setting. You can melt into the crowd and not be seen again; in a town of a few thousand it becomes much more difficult to conceal such behavior.

Here in Sheridan we don’t enjoy the tight community bonds that we did in Cannon Beach or that Bob has enjoyed for half a hundred years at Juniata. But we are working towards it. Part of the reason we don’t is because we are not in town – we are in a rural area and people live far apart – though we certainly have a good and close community of neighbors on our road, and I would say the people here are extremely generous and gracious. Yet little by little we are building a group of friends who are interconnected, as was the case at Cannon Beach, through common interests in quality food, a love of the land, and in maintaining its environmental integrity as best we can. Now of course community can be self-serving in a sense – we tend to one another’s interests an in so doing variously tend and reinforce our own, be it economic, emotional, political, or whatever. At this late date, however, I have had the great good fortune to experience the generosity of our friends and neighbors out of no motive, that I can detect, other than that sometimes generosity, grace, doing a good turn, is something done just for its own sake, because it is the right thing to do and how we should live. There is no particular reason our neighbor Greg should have taught me how to change tractor attachments, or why Karen Hoyt should have shared her recipe for goats milk cheddar, or why Daryl and his wife Kim should take a morning to explain to us the finer points of how to understand the quality of sheep’s wool, or why Beth Saterwaite should give me tips about organic vegetable growing. It is simply what they do – it is in their nature to share and help. That is where the irrational, intangible side of community enters the picture. We were fortunate enough to fall into it in Cannon Beach, almost as if by accident. It is palpable in Huntingdon Pennsylvania. Here in Sheridan, we are gradually building it. Building a metaphoric wall that serves those who have common interests and work towards the common good has, for the Latin purist in me, turned the definition of communire on its head. As it happens, not all walls are as menacing as those found in Attica, Italian hill tops, or as its ancient definition implies.


Summer to Fall

Light posting this summer because we were just so durned busy! And sorry if this comes off more as an illustrated diary than a creative blog post, but after selling countless eggs, putting up innumerable jars of tomato sauce, salsa, and jam, and some difficulties with animals this summer, we are all feeling a little spent, but are now looking forward to the quiet of winter. So what we have here is a running narrative, given in chronological order, of how we spent our summer non-vacation! First, there was a visit to Yamhill River Farm to meet our little boar who will become our breeder, Guns (more on the name later); he’s the little guy resting in the mud on the right with his siblings and mother. That was in June . . .

That was also when the cherry harvest from our trees came in – here Lori and Nancy spend a peaceful afternoon with our dogs outside while pitting them in early July.

That was about the same time that we had the surprise birth of twin bucklings out on pasture to our herd queen, Marguerite, who took the event in stride (we did not!) It was also about this time that we lost our lamb, Bandit, to illness.

But life goes on. A week or so later we attended an event at Belle Mare Farms run by Susan Richmond, who works her fields by horse. The event included a demonstration by her mentor of old time farm equipment.

The cart on which this gentleman is riding is used for stacking bales of hay.

It’s handy since you can attach a conveyor to it that will lift the hay – us? We drive a pickup truck into our neighbor’s field and heft the already bundled bales into our pickup truck using back power and often our knees (hence, “bucking” hay!).

After hauling in the hay, a demonstration followed on mowing.

Susan grows heritage non-gmo, organic grains for feed for our animals, and we are her biggest customers. At the party held afterwards, a number of small farms, us included, highlighted the animals turned food that were fed on her grains. For us that meant highlighting dishes with eggs, chicken, and pork, so we offered attendees ham, frittata, Scotch eggs, chicken liver pate, chicken salad, and ricotta cheesecake with lemon curd. Above, Lori shoes away flies from dinner!

In late July and early August we were flooded with peaches from our little Red Haven, a happy, supper productive little tree in our duck yard. I thinned it and thinned it and thinned it, and we still ended up with a boat load of lovely orange-red fruit, each one absolutely sweet and delicious.

Another project slash experiment this summer was our first batch of heritage breed turkeys. Here we see Bourbon Reds, Blue Slate, Royal Palm, Midget White, and Naraganssets.

There is no pasture for these guys though – unlike Bronze Broad Breasted, they have outstanding flight capacities, and so need to be contained in an aviary we built early this summer; in the future, we may use this for keeping pheasant or quail when not raising these breeds of turkey. Why heritage? All of these are prized for their dark meat. They grow more slowly than Broad Breasted ones as well; with Broad Breasted, we get them in early August and they are ready for harvest in late October or early November. These we got in May and they won’t be ready for harvest until January.

Okay, so now we come to Guns. Why Guns? Well, here he is pictured with his future life-partner, our sow Rosey. So Guns and Rosey.

We brought him home in July and just love him – along with our buck Benny he is the best tempered animal on the farm. Most hogs we have had take a while to warm up to you. This little guy came up to us when we were at his old home and instantly befriended us. We could instantly pet and cuddle him, and give him rubs that would make him go slack. Just rub his right jowl and his left leg gives out from under him and he is flat on the ground enjoying a belly rub. The little guy is part Tamworth (hence the cinnamon color), part Large Black, and part Berkshire (Rosey is all Berkshire).

If you want to know about the garden just go to old blog posts from past years! We got two harvests of potatoes, and reams and reams of dry black beans and cannelini beans too, and the tomatoes and onions were off the charts – note to self: even if you are canning your own tomato sauce for the year and your own salsa, you do not need 50 tomato plants! We put up 50 pints of salsa and an almost equal number of quarts of sauce until we just said to hell with it. The rest are for the pigs. We had a fabulous crop though of Brandywines (which are totally awesome with our own bacon on BLTs!) and this year discovered Black Krims and Green Zebras, which we will add to our favorites list when it comes to tomatoes.

As the fall harvest comes on, I am wondering just how I am going to get these Dills Atlantic Giant pumpkins out of the garden and to the hogs and hens – I wish I had someone in the pic for scale. Just take my word for it, these things are huge, and if I get around to it I’ll post a pic of me posing next to one of these guys later this fall.

My sister and I spent a Saturday at the Carlton Crush, sampling Pinot Noirs from local vintners in Carlton. Here they are hauling in the season’s harvest. This year our own vines produced enough wine for me to put up about two dozen jars of Pinot Noir grape jelly. August and September are pretty harry times for us . . . in fact, June through September is crazed because of all the fruit and produce that comes in then, but it is intensified at the end because nature has a system whereby an enormous amount of fruit ripens and needs to be processed at season’s end.

This year, in addition to salsa, sauce, and jelly, we put up several batches in late August of plum jam from our tree out in front, participated in the local “farm crawl” a couple of weeks ago, helped mentor some younger farmers to get up and running, managed to almost finish another market season (yah! only two more to go!), nursed and continue to nurse and injured lamb (ugh! another lamb issue!) as well as to complete a big portable sheep shelter now out on pasture, and as of Thursday had put up 33 gallons of hard cider, which is now bubbling away in the fruit room of our studio barn. This year I’ll infuse a couple of the seven batches I have brewed with hops, and one with cinnamon stick and clove.

As we look forward to winter, we are prepping for turkey harvest, for the construction of a pig shelter so we can start to breed our hogs, and to taking stock of our first three full years on our property, to think about what is working and what is not. But we are proud to report these days that, with the exception of a few staples such as oil, flour, coffee, and sugar, that an enormous amount of what we consume comes from our land – much more than does not – and that we are able to offer great eggs, chicken, pork, and now goats milk on farm to our friends and clients.

As an undergrad at UMass Boston many years ago who was aspiring to go to grad school and eventually to enter academe, I imagined it was simply not humanly possible to be busier than at that time in my life. Our farmstead has disabused me of that particular error.

Here’s Lucy!

Biff! Bam! Pow! That was the sound of a recent one-two-three punch as our farm got hit by a series of what could only be, at it’s most gentle, described as a series of Cluster-Fornications. First there was the surprise birth of twin bucks by Marguerite, who, unbeknownst to us, was pregnant. This was in early July. At the same time we had a lamb go down and it died, shortly after July 4, in Lori’s arms. Heart-wrenching. Then Benny, our big beautiful buck, went missing. We fortunately found him in our woods, but I had to put on the equivalent of a space suit (my padded Carhart coveralls and a heavy canvass coat) to wade through a 300 foot thicket of blackberries to retrieve him and get him back over to our side of the fence – all of this in warm weather. An Ivy League PhD does not prepare one very well to haul a 240 pound animal through said 300 foot thicket, but we managed. The same day our Golden Retriever, Spuddy, killed yet another chicken. Also the same day we picked up two new Jacobs Sheep. There was nothing for it, either, except to wire up the entire paddock once I got Benny to the other side. After heading to town and getting the necessary equipment it was late in the day and hot, but we were determined NOT to have to haul his ass, which is now substantially heavier than my own, through the thicket again. At 4:00 pm I loaded up the bucket of the tractor with all the necessary materials, including a cooler with a 6 pack of vitamin R (for the uninitiated, that’s Rainier Beer), and worked on the fence and 6 pack until we finished around 6:30, at which time we headed to a friend’s place for dinner. Our friend, Susan, introduced us to Lucy whom she was looking to sell. We were smitten, and Lucy is now our latest addition. Hard lessons, a hard week (nothing is worse than losing animals), but assuaged by the power of this adorable chocolate Nubian and hoppy Northwest lager.

The Nasomah: Our Tragedy, Ourselves.

A lovely but austere memorial to the people who once inhabited the mouth of the Coquille River.

So I was grading finals at the end of May when I got a phone call from Lori: our farm hand Ryan and Nancy offered to pick up chores for few days so we could have some free time before starting the summer season. They didn’t have to ask twice. By noon the next day we were in the car on the way to Bandon, since we had so enjoyed our stay there in November and wanted to explore more of the area, which we did in spades. It was incredibly relaxing, and we had some great meals, probably the best of which was at Alloro, our favorite little wine bar in town, where we enjoyed petite oysters on the half shell with a mild cucumber salsa, calamari with aioli, halibut cheeks with sautéed polenta, braised pork on mashed potatoes with gorgonzola, a fine bottle of wine (an Adelsheim Pinot Gris), and three (yes, three) excellent desserts: crème brule, espresso panna cotta (okay, I had those first two because I had not eaten all day and I adore them both, plus I’m an adult over 50!), and a dense brownie with gelato. We were celebrating the loss of two (yes two) feed bags worth of weight since our last visit: Lori has lost thirty five pounds and I have lost 40-45 (depending on the weather!) We are set to dedicate ourselves upon return to the loss (by both of us!) of yet another 30-35 pounds before we head out of town again in November for our 30th anniversary.

On this trip we had a chance to really stop and smell some roses – it’s what I like about getting to know a place intimately. You start to really absorb the history and sense of place, especially if it is as small as 3000, as it is here – and that is large when compared to some of the other local communities, such as Denmark, Langlois, or Port Orford.

The dark side to all of this is that, sometimes, while the rose attracts by virtue of its color, its blossom, its ostensible beauty, once the nose is pressed it emits a putrid stench. This became something of a theme this trip.

Stone, native plants, and a bare bones narrative about the Nasomah; it is a Spartan presentation that my good friend Thucydides would have admired, a simple history without adornment, a “ktemis eis aiei”.

Let’s start with lunch on our second day. Below is a view from our table.

The food was okay, but the view was splendiferous!

Now Lori and I have been around, from the spectacular coast of Norway to the arid but haunting and beautiful landscapes of Cappadocia, from the rugged and stunning coast of Amalfi to the gorgeous cerulean waters of Delos. We have seen our share of beautiful places. Yet in no place, I think we will both agree, have we ever had a meal with a more spectacular vista than at a lovely little restaurant called Red Fish in Port Orford Oregon, about 30 minutes south of Bandon. Gorgeous, yes?

A view that screams for the visitor to either do yoga and inhale the Prana, or to just sit, have a few drinks, maybe a toke or two . . . or three . . . or . . . huh? . . . what? . . . yup . . . .

And yet consider the history of the rock jutting out directly below us, inscribed on the wooden monument in the photo below.

Ugly, no?

And at Bandon it gets no better. There are two memorials in this small town of just over 3000 residents. Both of them commemorate the native people – the Nasomah People – who lived at the mouth of the river and along the coastal area from around 1600 BC up until the end of the 19th century. To put that in perspective, they lived there from the emergence of the first European civilization, that of the Mycenaean Greeks, and flourished as Greece came and went, as Rome rose and fell, as Islam swept up what remained of Classical civilization in the Near East and Africa and set the crescent in the heart of Andalusia, as the modern nation states arose to a level of sophistication that allowed them to plant banner and cross in the New World. They survived for nearly four centuries the advent of our hyper-aggressive forebears who proceeded to ruthlessly conquer and exploit the resources and peoples of more than half the planet.

This lovely spare monument is directly on the docks at Bandon; as we visited we were accompanied by a harbor seal, a bit of happy relief for an unhappy story. Kudos to those who maintain these beautiful but painful small memorials.

The Nasomah were a band of the Coquille who lived at the mouth of the eponymous River. They lived off the river and coastal waters of the region.

An unhappy narrative, to say the least, about the Nasomah.

Then in the 1800s things changed. First came the British fur trappers, and with them Old World diseases to which Europeans were immune, but Native Americans were not; epidemic diseases started to impact the Coquille population adversely.

Then, on January 28, 1854 the Nasomah were massacred in their village, while they slept, by white “settlers” (a euphemism for invaders/occupiers). They were attacked by gold prospectors, led by William Packwood (I would love to know if our famed senator, Bob Packwood, is a descendant); many were burned alive in their huts. To add insult to injury, two years later, in 1856, the Coquilles were moved north to Yachats (later called Siletz); the relocation resulted in starvation and hardship and the complete appropriation of their land.

But wait, it gets better. In 1887 the Dawes act dissolved the native reservations and gave their lands to loggers, miners, ranchers, and so-called pioneers (a term I have never liked; I believe a more appropriate term would be invaders or conquerors, which would make us colonists and occupiers [see above under “1854”]).

In 1954 the Termination Act was passed revoking their tribal status (and that of all tribes in western Oregon). The following year the Indian Relocation Act was passed; because the Coquille were now landless and without tribal status, their remaining numbers were shipped to various urban centers across the US.

It was not until 1989 that the Coquille became a federally recognized tribe. Since then the Coquille have tried to re-establish their cultural heritage in the area, including building housing for tribal members, building an assisted living facility on the ocean, farming cranberries (for which Bandon is well known), winning the return of over 5000 acres of forest land near the mouth of the Coquille, and becoming the second largest employer in Coos County.

Call it bad Karma, call it poetic justice, call it coincidence, but tiny Bandon has burned down twice in its history since the initial ethnic cleansing of the native population. All of this makes me wonder, though, not about why it was that the white settlers were here in the first place – we know that, but why specifically them. As both a professor and student of Roman history and culture for my entire adult life, it is still a mystery to me, why the Romans, and why us? What qualities make a society so successful and yet so ugly? Obviously hyper-aggression, greed, an embracing of the R-complex region of the brain that celebrates aggression, territoriality, hierarchy, and above all (as we’ve seen in breathtakingly horrific illustration the past couple of weeks) tribalism, tribalism, and more tribalism. But that is true of many societies. I have no illusions that the Coquille was a peaceful tribe living in harmony with nature. Pacifist societies without aggression are simply not supported, as far as I am aware, either in the archaeological or anthropological record – unless they are a tribe very isolated from close proximity with other peoples. Neither the Romans nor the white settlers are special in their aggression per se, yet they are in how the aggression was expressed in ruthless, amoral conquest (and with the pioneers, well, so much for Christianity – anyone for Melos?)

But that still doesn’t answer why: Why were the Romans so successful in antiquity as opposed to, say, the Etruscans, the Celts, the Germans, the Greeks, the Samnites, in establishing an organized system of government in their image and implanting it on European civilization for hundreds of years? And would subsequent European cultures have displayed the same sort of hyper-aggression that led them to conquer and settle the planet had they not emerged from that ancient Roman (and, okay, Greek) tradition of conquest and interminable conflict? Why should it not have been the Chinese, or the Polynesians, or Africans? Why the Anglo-Saxons, the Spanish, French, Dutch and (albeit a late-arrival in the grand colonial tradition) the Germans?

I can’t answer that in this post. But the question has been on my mind of late since I’ve been reading two wonderful books by a socio-biologist named Edward Wilson, who has famously looked at ant and termite society (whose high level of organization has earned them the appellation of “super-organism”), The Meaning of Human Existence, and The Social Conquest of Earth. He makes a compelling case that, in the field of academics, our division of the humanities from the sciences is highly artificial, and arguably impoverishing of our ability to understand fully the human condition. Whether it is the conquest of the Mediterranean basin and much of Europe by the Romans, or the destruction of the Nasomah, the historical condition is an inherent part of our biological nature. The nightmare of history is something, however, that the humanist records, analyzing the proximate and ultimate causes from a human perspective and putting it into a rich narrative account. The biologist is also a historian of sorts, one who would rightly scoff at the notion that the historian can begin to touch “ultimate” causes that drive human events, for the ultimate historical causation of anything rests not in distant events leading up to a singular event; it rests, instead, in our biological history and nature (and by nature, I mean the complex linkage of chromosomes, DNA, and the chemical alphabet soup of which we all consist, and which has evolved us to this point, such as it is). The explanation is to be sought not at the micro-level, e.g., the Romans were drawn into south Italy when the Samnites (an Italic people who lived in south and central Italy) encroached on the territory of Capua, which in turn asked Rome for assistance, which, in turn, led to war between the Romans and the Samnites.

Rather, the answer is to be sought ultimately in the development of the R-complex of the brain mentioned above. But that biological and evolutionary explanation, which is a universal constant that we share in common with almost every creature, by virtue of its chemistry, still does not address specifically, Why the Romans?

I imagine it is in part due to the fact that Rome was the super-organism of its time, one in which altruism was the rule of the day, where individuality was sacrificed for the good of the state in meeting potential threats to it. Granted, it was never a smooth ride: The plebes had to fight mightily with the nobles to obtain some degree of social and political equity; the individual ambitions of powerful warlords such as Sulla, Marius, Pompey, and Caesar, plunged the Roman state into a century of civil war that nearly destroyed it during the first century BC; and the individual ambitions of many a general and provincial commander led to a great deal of instability in the late empire from the third century AD on.

But, on the whole, Romans tended to work towards the common good of the state to the collective benefit of the community, sacrificing individual interests. The ethos is perhaps best embodied in the anecdote concerning L. Junius Brutus the Liberator, the man responsible for expelling the kings from their tyrannical and oppressive rule in Rome and establishing the free republic in 509 BC (according to tradition). When Brutus’ sons conspired to restore the monarchy, Brutus had his own sons arrested and executed. It is the supreme act of sacrifice – the elimination of your gene pool for the good of your state. Blood may be thicker than water, but the Roman ethos trumped it. There is an article, maybe even a book, in all of this somewhere.

And the Nasomah? Perhaps they should just accept their destruction and their few descendants just appreciate the Red Skins logo, and the fat tourists that have transformed their lands to crab shacks, hotels, golf courses and junk shops, as a part of “White Heritage”. All history is neutral and the same anyway. The Native American experience is just the same in this country as the black, or Irish, or Hispanic experience here right? The Stars and Bars is just a flag, no complexity in history or interpretation, right? One size fits all – right? Right?!?!?!

A succulent flower blooms at Battle Rock Park. For me, it is the spirit of the Nasomah, insisting on the preservation of something that is good and beautiful from the life they knew before it was taken from them. Like Vergil, they give lilies with full hands.

You know, if someone is physically lazy and doesn’t want to work – fine. I could not care less – and chances are they are temperamentally suited to something else. Gods love ‘em. But intellectually lazy people – as I crawl towards old age and death I grow grumpier, and my patience for them turns jejune; yet I doubt they would understand what I mean by intellectual indolence anyway. Sociology, science, history, law, economics, in all of their ugly truths are not revealed (so-called revealed knowledge is too passive and indolent for my taste, unless, as with writers, poets, artists, and musicians, it is experienced as a creative art); knowledge, as Socrates and Plato long ago recognized, must be sought, and it is hard work and often unpleasant. And if you read, and try to share your knowledge, hatred and resistance will be the most likely outcome. Just ask the Nasomah, who had to fight – still must fight – for their history and their very small world that they tried and ultimately failed to conserve. An happy note for me to end upon what appears to have become a screed. Sorry – but not too sorry. No, not too. But the temperature reads an ominous 85 at 10am  and I must close. Off to water a piece of occupied territory.


A fresco from a triclinium (Latin for “dining room”) from the villa of Livia, wife of the emperor Augustus, at Prima Porta. The fresco, with its fruit, its trees with vigorous foliage, and birds, exudes with abundance!

When Lori and I lived in Maryland we would occasionally go in the spring to the Ladew Gardens, which, while famous for its topiaries, also boasted a number of rambling, lovely footpaths boasting beautiful flowers and specimen plants. In a shady spot in Ladew I recall coming across a stone with an inscription of a Chinese proverb that read as follows:

If you want to be happy for a week, get married.

If you want to be happy for a month, kill your pig.

If you want to be happy for life, plant a garden.

I never forgot that inscription. I internalized it. I translated it into Latin. I made it a part of my “catch-phrase for comfort” DNA – it lives next to other similar words of wisdom or pithy and sage phrases that live in my brain, wedged tightly between Aeschylus (“Difficult it is for all but the gods to bring anything to fruition, for none is free, save Zeus!”), Marcus Aurelius (“When you wake in the morning, put your feet on the ground and say to yourself: Today I will be met by ignorance, arrogance, greed, and folly”), and a favorite sura from the Qur’an (“The web of the spider is like the soul of the unbeliever, for he lives in the frailest of all houses”). It is a part of the lived personal truth that gets one through another day of history, whose pages are filled with unwise wishes, misplaced passions, lethal foibles, and assorted small-mindedness.

Our circle garden this spring has finally exploded as our roses have now had two years to grow and develop.

Gardens are deeply etched in the human consciousness. The ancient Persians called a garden a paradeisos, a word transliterated into Greek that comes into English as Paradise, a place for their King of Kings to refresh himself. The first human residence in the Old Testament’s creation story is the Garden of Eden. The great Athenian statesman, Kimon, endeared himself to his fellow citizens by making his gardens accessible to the demos. So, too, did Caesar, by giving his gardens as a legacy to the populus Romanus to enjoy. Sallust, one of Rome’s most famous historians and a personal friend of Caesar’s, had a renowned set of gardens in Rome located in the northeastern part of the city. Lucullus, a rich grandee who lived during the late Republic was known for his gardens as well; the empress Messalina, Claudius’ wife, had the Roman senator who owned the gardens in her day executed on a trumped up charge in order to confiscate them, although in a very ironic twist it is also where she was arrested and executed on charges of adultery and conspiracy against her husband the emperor.

The two above images of our chain trees out in front in a lovely mellow evening glow.

Our ancient love of gardens predates even the Bible. Gardenscapes date back to the Minoans, who inhabited Krete between 3000-1500 BC. The Romans loved gardenscapes – from the townhouses of Pompeii to the imperial villas at Oplontis and Prima Porta, vistas of flora with a myriad of birds were depicted in frescos in porticos, dining rooms, and day rooms. The whole idea was to bring the exterior world inside, something reflected in the prevalence of gardens that were nestled inside Roman houses themselves, where the deepest interior of a house almost always opened up into a colonnaded portico that surrounded a garden adorned with statuary and beautiful mosaic and tile fountains. Olive trees, pomegranates, oleanders, rosemary, grape vines, and roses were among the plants found in such courtyards, which sometimes also featured fishponds or long narrow water courses imitating the flow of streams or rivers. I recall the first time I saw the gardens in the houses of Pompeii and thinking to myself, now I understand the corruption of Roman provincial governors.

Our front yard has been glorious this spring.

Indeed, an entire philosophical school, that of Epicurus, was centered on a garden in Athens, and his school where he discoursed with his disciples was simply called “The Garden”. The notion was that the garden would instill a sense of peace and well-being necessary for the contemplation and inquiry of Epicurus’ followers. The Roman author, Seneca the Younger, relates in his Epistulae Morales (letter XXI) that there was an inscription over the Garden that read, HOSPES HIC BENE MANEBIS, HIC SUMMUM BONUM VOLUPTAS EST (“Guest, here you will enjoy a pleasant sojourn; this pleasure is the highest good”). And who would gainsay this effect that the green world has on us when we enter a pleasant garden spot? The Japanese, in their gardens, believe that the various shades of green bring peace and a calming effect on the individual. I doubt this is cultural or a placebo effect enforced by suggestion.

We’ve been busy putting in a series of raised front beds in our garden this year protected with shade cloth and equipped with over-head sprays to keep cool weather crops going through the summer (gods willing!)

I’ve planted two boxes of lettuce this spring, the first is a combination of two types of Romaine, Little Gems and Devil’s Tongue, the second is Butter Crunch.

I could say the same about many of the gardens I’ve visited or planted over time: the Generalif of the Alhambra in Grenada; the Alcazar in Seville (the setting currently for Dorn in Game of Thrones); the small garden I put in place at our house in Cannon Beach and the gorgeous container garden I planted on our big deck at our house in College Park; the reconstructed gardens of the Roman houses in Pompeii and Herculaneum. Taken on a much larger level, as I reflect on it at any rate, it seems remarkable how much need there is for such green space. The garden that was at the center and literally inside of every elite Roman house is, in a sense, a microcosm that speaks to this greater need. On a macro-level it takes the form of large green spaces in our cities: the Boston Common; the National Mall in DC; Central Park in New York; our own city park blocks nearby in Portland. The green space is reflected on every college and university campus in our country, from the large campus green at the University of Maryland where I used to teach to Linfield College in McMinnville where I now teach, and at almost every college and university in between. Humanity seems to need that green space.

This pic was taken a few weeks ago, and our garden, with its peas, potatoes, cabbage, garlic, asparagus, and assorted crops is doing very well indeed!

This year we’ve discovered Rapini, which is delicious sautéed in garlic and olive oil!

In Maryland peonies always bloomed during graduation weekend; out west here they bloom a full month earlier, and were spectacular.

One of our favorite roses has a deep red giant floribunda blossom and is called Oklahoma.

We have an excess of galvanized containers kicking around these days that now act as containers for some lovely flower combinations. In this one we have a fire cracker fuchsia, begonias, gerania, and lobelia.

As I further reflect on it these days, the creation and tending of such a green space played a key role in the life changing decision for me to change up my life radically, relinquish tenure at Maryland, and repatriate myself to Oregon. Looking back, gardening for me became an act of self-realization; it started with a new lawn mower when we bought our house in Maryland. Before I knew it I was putting in a raised bed on the side of our house for tomatoes; I was planting a minor fig orchard around our house; I was landscaping our front with deer resistant shrubs and flowers and terracing the front. I was communing less and less with the ancient world of Tacitus and Sophocles and instead being totally absorbed into the present moment as I tended tomatoes, flowers, and assorted plants. The ancient world invariably draws one in to the milieu of current politics, leaving one feeling helpless, depressed, and enraged; gardening is Zen. It is about the present, about nurturing, about empowerment, about the maximization of happiness. I once wrote an article about Tacitus’ Agricola that garnered a fair amount of praise and citation; it was a tough article to write, one that stretched me to the utmost of my creative and scholarly capacity. It took me a year or two to write and perfect it. How many people read it once finally published? How many people did it make happy? I don’t know. But sit a group down in front of a concoction of eggs, feta, and fresh picked greens, or a pint of hard cider, or a fragrant plate of tomatoes, all from your land, and you will win instant praise and smiles. But a book you work on for years? A generous review here, kudos there, and the expected jackass who loves to tear you down to preen (and who, more likely than not, is misrepresenting your work). Not all, but I suspect most scholarship is a form of madness.

An ancient Roman garden complete with a water feature from the house of Loreius Tiburtinus in Pompeii. The house has always been one of my favorites, and must have been quite a pleasant spot prior to its destruction in the eruption of Vesuvius in 79 AD. How pleasant it must have been to have unrolled a scroll of Vergil’s Georgics, poured a bowl of wine, and enjoyed the mellifluous flow of the villa’s gentle waters on a warm spring day.

Oh to be a provincial governor! Or at least on his payroll! The interior portico with garden in the House of the Vetii in Pompeii. This house has always been one of my favorites, and its interior gardens with its statuary and marble tables and fonts no doubt were lovely!

Gardening is for those of us in recovery – whether from alcoholism, academe, or any other myriad addictions! There is something very real about the calming influence of the green world, of the sound of water if present, of the gentle wind brushing the trees, of the perfume of blossom and leaf, of the song of towie and finch. Those who wander a garden generally experience a relaxing sensation, a relinquishing of diurnal concerns, a slip in blood pressure. I feel it every time I walk our property, which, while mostly woods and pasture, has a fair amount devoted to gardens and orchards. Our farmhouse is situated in such a way that, even in our daily living spaces, the kitchen, the dining room, the living and family room, we are surrounded, by gardens and trees. We literally live in a garden. Yes, Paradise requires sweat, dedication, thinking, and planning. But at the end of the day it rewards with beauty, abundance, and peace. HIC BENE MANEBIS. Be happy for life.



The Fruits of Time

For my friends back East, I’m embarrassed to report that spring has been lovely and mild out here, and we have had beautiful days interspersed with just the right amount of rain since January.

Despite the glorious weather that has come our way I have been in a melancholy mood this week. That is what planting fruit trees does to me. In religious terms I am by nature a Brookist – that is, I follow the essential tenant and teaching of Mel Brooks: “Hope for the best, expect the worst”. But hope, as Thucydides tells is, is an admission of powerlessness, despair, and submission. So it was with some sadness that I put in what I suspect will be the last of our fruit orchards on the property the other night. Why last?

Our ornamental crab-apple was beautiful this year, putting on a cotton candy clock that lasted for a couple of weeks.

As one verges on 52, the dark care that rides behind us through life as only a vague presence starts to come into sharper focus. How long will it take the trees to produce? How vigorous will they be? How vigorous will I be in order to tend, irrigate, and water them in their first years, or to harvest them as the fruit comes on? What will subsequent years bring? Will I be here for them, or will it be the task of another to tend them?

Many of our ornamentals flowered all at once this year, making for an explosive array of purples, pinks, and whites.

The view from our front deck in time for a morning coffee break!

Since arriving on our property I have put in two fruit orchards, in addition to a number of other fruit trees scattered round and about. There is the orchard in the garden where we run the ducks, and now there is the orchard in the chicken yard. On top of that, there are a number of fruit and nut trees we have put in at various places around our house. We have planted a variety of fruit, including an array of heirloom apples, cider apples, heirloom pears, Perry pears for cider, several apricots, two paw-paws, eating cherries including a few Danubians, a nectarine, a variety of peaches, a profusion of plums, two almond trees (from the Ukraine that should do well here), four fig trees (from which I’m already propagating more), and two walnuts. The trees I put in the first year have started to produce: last year we had plums, cherries, peaches, and figs (plus the usual apples from the older trees).

A spring evening at our house and gardens.

Unfortunately this picture simply doesn’t capture the vivid blues of the lithodora and the stark contrast with the red of our Japanese maple. The roses are finally settling in now that they are starting their third year in our garden, and look quite vigorous and healthy, with lots of blooms.

One of our favorite roses is the Rio Samba, that takes first prize this year in our Early Bird category as our first rose to bloom.

I like to imagine what the orchard in the duck and chicken yard will look like five, ten, twenty, thirty years from now. Will I be here to see it? Will any of us? The day we planted last week was beautiful. We went outside at six AM and weren’t back inside with our feet up until 9 PM (well, for Lori it was 8:30, but I headed to town and grabbed a hard cider to unwind). The day started with a call from the post-office at 6:05 AM: we had 175 broilers on order and I had to scurry out of the house to pick them up and get the day-old chicks set up under heat lamps with plenty of food and water. After morning chores Lori spent the day weeding and renovating our back gardens, while I weed-wacked the cover crop in the garden and tended animals. Then, late in the day, our trees came. There were ten of them, and we wanted to get them in the ground, so after dinner we dug ten holes, planted, watered, and said a prayer over them. The chickens benefited handsomely since every hole I dug exposed dozens of worms and they feasted on everything from red-wigglers to night crawlers.

Our Wisteria bloomed pretty early this year, so unfortunately we will not get to see it blooming at the same time as our Gold Chain trees, but we will take it.

It was a long day, and the only way I was able to get moving to class the next day was by whipping up an ibuprofen omelet (whose ingredients consist of two green gel caps washed down with a swig of OJ – it is essential that the OJ be drunk directly from the container), washed down with plenty of black coffee. But the long days go by fast: it was just a couple of months ago, it seems, that we could not even think of morning chores until 8:00 am, and now I am out at 6:00, with our dry stretch necessitating watering of so many of our veggies now in ground and growing. The body, as it verges past half a hundred years, can still do much, if you are lucky, but not as much and not without costs and consequences. Even “just” sitting on a tractor for a couple of hours can kick your ass – imagine riding a land rover over rough terrain, but there is no power steering. The constant twisting and turning of the wheel combined with the contorted bracing and bending of the body makes for a work out in and of itself, as I experienced the other day when I tilled our garden for the year.

Our garden in a “before mowing” shot, with its rich, luxuriant cover crop of crimson clover.

And the after shot, as it is reduced to green manure that will help build organic matter and tilth in our soil.

Then there is the digging. Despite all the mechanization there is still a great deal of tough work in the spring to prep the garden. This year I fear I mowed and tilled too soon, in part because of a wildly successful cover crop of crimson clover that over-wintered in our garden to build up soil tilth. The clover held in the soil’s moisture so effectively that, a dry spell notwithstanding, the soil was heavy and moist and made for a very clumpy seed bed, even though I went over it with our tiller three times at full throttle. I dug no less than a dozen trenches as I always do to create discrete rows, each about 40-50 feet in length, to make the raised beds and to mark off various sections of the garden this year, all the while despairing at the large clods rather than fine loam I should have been seeing. It’s nothing a layer of compost can’t correct, but cover crop is intended to avoid use of compost and to spare one’s back and pocket book from all the physical work it will entail to cover all 18 rows and sections of the garden this year, and creating fine seed beds for crops such as beans and zucchini will be impossible without it.

A bucolic spring afternoon, with two of our newest arrivals, a couple of Jacobs Sheep named Smokey and Bandit, enjoying their first day out on pasture. Note the new water catchment system we have put on our goat barn this spring; we are expecting a long dry summer and will need every drop of water we can get.

Still, I am happy to be able to say that even with more than half a hundred years behind me these days, I can still put in a good nine hours of taxing physical labor and not be too much the worse for wear the next day – but it is not like 20 years ago, when I could do hard physical work virtually every day, go out at night, and still be ready to work in the morning. The body requires more time for restoration; the saving grace is that Spring time is the worst time in some respects: all the birthing, the baby animals, the rush to prep for market, to put in the garden, to manage the fruit trees, to set up or repair watering systems, makes for a certain hum of constant exhaustion. Then there are the social activities: we had a large crowd here on Sunday and I spent the day cooking, in addition to spreading home grown compost in the upper garden (the worm population in our compost is so vigorous that I had a crowd of hens watching my every move, and occasionally rewarded their patience with the tossing of chunks of compost swarming with worms); the day before that we went to a friend’s farm for their annual Lambfest, only to return to their farm a night or two later to pick up a baby ewe that had been rejected by its mother, bringing our burgeoning herd of Jacob Sheep to four – three lambs and a wethered ram. We will keep some for their wool, and slaughter one or two for their meat. I like to think that our herd will grow, and one day they will graze our lawn and our new fruit orchard.

Our new chicken tractors for our layers out on pasture – so far these are much easier than the old ones we had built. Our first new flock has started to lay with a vengeance; regular sized eggs and up to three dozen a day from those fifty birds.

This year our red rangers come from a hatchery in Tangent and are a special French variety that will reach peak flavor at around 12 weeks. They forage nicely and right now there is plenty of grass for them to eat.

The grand vista of our six chicken tractors – two broilers and four layers! – out on pasture.

Our rooster Cicero (okay, sometimes I call him Tully!) is good at policing and protecting his girls at the moment, and best of all, for a rooster he is relatively polite. I am proud to say he is one of ours that we hatched, a cross between, I suspect, a Gold Sex Link and our Brown Comb Leghorn, Lucius Vorenus.

But I digress. It was during our first spring, summer, and fall here, three years ago now, when I put in the first of our fruit trees. I had intended our first tiny orchard of a half dozen trees as something of a quaint ornament in our duck yard; I put in an Italian plum, a Red Haven Peach, an apple, an apricot, a fig, and a cherry. The apricot died and had to be replaced with a peach, and I had to cut down the apple to size a bit because of some problems in growth. It was last year that we finally started to get fruit on the trees, and had a relatively impressive haul of peaches from our Red Haven. This year the little tree is sporting no less than a hundred small pea-sized peaches, and will need to be thinned. In fact, despite heavy pruning, our mature fruit trees appear to have set pretty impressive crops of fruit this year, and our young cider apples are covered with blossoms.

My friend John Alt down in Sunny Valley (hi John!) gave me the idea for a new system of composting. Take a worm bin – aka a plastic garbage barrel drilled with holes – and implant it in a compost pile to attract worms. I set this system up in December with a big pile of goat and chicken muck piled up around the bins, and it worked great; the pile composted down and down and down and in the end I ended up with nicely composted material.

This was the end result of the system – a compost rich in worms and worm castings that will add rich, beautiful, organic material to the soil, or give the hens lots of snacks and protein. Lori and I knew we were hooked on farming when several years ago we were visiting a friend’s farm in Yachats, and he asked if we would like to see his compost system, and we both looked at each other and shouted “COMPOST!”

The unexpected benefit of growing fruit is how beautiful the trees are. I recently watched Akira Kurosawa’s film Dreams, a series of short episodic pieces, one of which includes a story about a little boy who, during the Japanese festival of dolls, is haunted by the spirit of the peach trees from an orchard his family had cut down. The spirits of the trees accuse him of complicity in their destruction, but he protests his innocence, and insists he loved the trees: “Anyone can buy a peach”, he says, “but not everyone can enjoy the beauty of a peach orchard in bloom”. It is a special privilege that must be honored and respected. To honor the love the boy felt for the trees, the spirits perform an elaborate dance, morphing into the trees in full blossom. It is a wonderful little short story, about respect, beauty, and the pure value of aesthetics.

If I leave anything behind me here on the farm after I am long gone, I would hope my legacy would be a mix of red and white and pink on these wonderful trees. I leave it as an inheritance for all who understand the price of nothing but the value of everything – for the bees, and the lady beetles, and all the derelicts blessed enough to know how to be derelicts when March and April come, to stop digging in their gardens, stand on their hoes, and have their hearts lifted by the spirit of the trees.

Why No Posts Lately?

Posting has been quiet of late simply because we have been so busy. I geared up for school and no sooner had it started than goat kids started to be born right and left. But just to keep people current with what we are up to, I felt a need to post some pics. Below, under each pic, is a little running narrative of what we have been up to for lo the past 8 weeks or so.

First, there were our 11 goat kids, seven bucks and four does this year . . .

Yes, they are adorable, but we are at a point where we will need to sell all of our kids off annually now, and may even need to get rid of an ill-tempered older goat or two. We will continue to breed though, in order to keep the best quality goats in terms of milking, mothering, and temperament, for our herd – plus the homemade feta, chèvre, and ricotta are so damn good, and, we suspect, the milk is morphing our pork into something like super high quality veal. Birthing was pretty uneventful except for our first middle-of-the-night birthing. I went out to check on a goat or two we thought set to give birth at around 2:30 AM one morning and that we had put in their birthing stalls. All was quiet. When I went out to check again at 4:30 AM, surprise! Two goat kids were born to a goat not in her birthing stall, but who we knew was soon due. The mother (Sybil), rejected her buck who was adopted by Catlin, one of Marguerite’s (our herd-queen’s) grand-daughter’s; the doe was doing fine but then went into a steep decline and had to be bottle fed by Nancy and Lori. She was also lame in one leg, but is now, happily, doing well; she may have suffered the leg injury due to her bruiser of a brother, who we will keep as a wether to keep our breeder buck, Benny, company. He has been named Jerry, so we will have Ben and Jerry as our bucks.

In addition to goats there are birds – lots and lots of birds, and we have been, as noted in earlier posts, busy building infrastructure for them. We have eight new ducks (the three white ones are for dinner one of these days), and so will have a few more layers – their eggs are amazing, whether hard-boiled, fried, or used for baking. They all have the run of the garden these days to take care of slugs.

Then there are our chickens – lots and lots of chickens. So far this year we have put fifty new layers (all Gold Sex Link) out on pasture in addition to our older mixed-breed flock of 70 or so. We have fifty more layers (Rhode Island Reds) that will join them in a day or two and that are still in the barn. In addition we have 75 broilers in the barn that will soon go out on pasture as well and will be harvested in late May or early June – we are intent on having our broilers off pasture by July 4 this year. As noted before in other blog posts, the season here for broilers is tight – the weather needs to be temperate and the grass needs to come in, which means your window is pretty much mid-March when the grass comes in to July 4 or so when the grass starts to die back.

On top of chickens are our hogs – which have been a challenge this year due to a few health issues which, I suspect, is due to weather and assorted other factors. We have a mix of Berkshires, Hampshires, and Duroc mixes. This is probably the last herd of swine we will have before we close our system to off farm animals – we are looking to get a pair to breed ourselves, and right now we’re thinking we’d like to get a Tamworth/Large Black cross and mix it with a Berkshire. Our last set of hogs were Tamworth/Large Black crosses, and their bacon, ham, and chops have, as always, an outstanding flavor – pork raised on pasture and goats milk truly is transcendent, and the difference between store bought and pasture raised pork like that between a gassed tomato from Florida that will bounce when it falls from a truck and one you grow yourself; it truly is that dramatic. Our flock of renegades (as we have dubbed those chickens who have decided that there is no way to keep them in a coop) enjoy ranging with the hogs as they root out on pasture so that they can get worms.

Finally of late, there is Khal Drogo, as we have named our sole Jacob Sheep that we got a couple of weeks ago. The wool of the Jacob is a delight to touch, and we are hoping to get a breeder pair and raise a few of our own. It will be a small operation: we’ll probably keep a few ewes over time for wool, and keep the boys for the dinner table – where Mr. Drogo is set to go in time for July 4 lamb chops.

The temperate winter has also kept Tommy a pretty busy mouser!

On top of all else, believe it or not, garden management has been a bit of a frenzy this winter as well. Our peaches and apricots need particular attention in our wet climate, and need to be sprayed and pruned in the winter – I use a mix of copper and dormant oil, both organic thankfully! Pruning is not so bad these days, so long as you keep your trees at your own height and don’t allow them to get too big (and yes, you do have total control over this, but that is the subject for another post!) We also planted lots of starts a few weeks ago, including broccoli, lettuce, kale, chard, and green and Chinese cabbage; last weekend we even planted basil, pumpkins, melons, and cucumbers. The plum tree in the garden pictured above is incredibly fragrant, but produces large red plums that we do not find particularly flavorful (unlike our gold plum in our front yard); a delight to smell in the spring, we will give the fruit to our hogs in late summer.

So there you have it! A herd of goats, a herd of swine, more flocks of birds than I care to count, starting a small herd of sheep, and tending or planting fruits and veggies – all of it keeps us hopping, even in winter. But it has all gotten a bit easier these days since our young helper, Ryan, now lives in one of the apartments we have set up in our big red barn. Having a fourth younger and stronger hand has helped us beyond measure. But that will need to be the subject for another post: the care and tending of plant and animal, even at this early hour, await.


A Winter Break . . .

Jack the snoozy pooch takes a holiday break!

The period from mid November to the beginning of January was our version of a long break, and it flew by: Lori had to do end of the year reports for her business, which keeps her occupied every December going into January; I had to finish up grading final papers and exams at Linfield; while Thanksgiving (yes, it has been a while since I posted!) was the usual frenzied rush of turkey deliveries.

Just before Christmas my good friend Bob and a colleague of his from Juniata, Doug Stiffler, came out for a visit. We packed a pretty grand time into three days, which included a farm tour for Doug, a trip to Portland and the Japanese Gardens with a nice lunch at an excellent sushi restaurant downtown, a little tour of some fine wineries and wine bars, and a day trip to the coast, during which we drove all the way to Cape Perpetua and stopped for lunch at a favorite fish restaurant in Newport.

Doug on the left and Bob on the right stroll through the fifth largest Japanese garden outside of Japan in the world on a cold December morning.

The Tea House with cherry trees in the garden.

It was a wonderful experience going though the Japanese Gardens with Bob and Doug. Bob and I had been there together before, and, in fact, I think that is part of what motivated Bob to have Doug come along – Doug is a prof of Chinese History at Juniata College in PA, and is fluent in Chinese and married to a lovely Chinese woman whose family lives with them in Huntingdon. My last visit to Huntingdon was made memorable by a fabulous Chinese Hot Pot dinner at Doug’s house over Easter of 2012, when Doug and his family also took me on quite the Pennsylvania farm tour.

Every perspective is a postcard in the garden!

Doug, Bob, and I, I think it is safe to say, are kindred spirits – art, food, wine, language, literature, history, travel, farming – we all have a wide range of common interests (okay, maybe Bob isn’t all in for the farming thing the way Doug and I are!). It was great to hear about the cultural and philosophical concepts behind the Japanese Garden, and Bob has a bee in his bonnet that will, I think, make a graduate student’s career some day: he has the notion that major cultural differences between western and eastern peoples can be teased out in part through their gardens. Greek and Roman gardens, as he has rightly noted to me, are designed on the imperative of symmetry, and this was taken up by Europeans with their love of carefully balanced garden lay outs with their squares, their rectangular campuses and greens, the lines, the circles, the artifice of which is easy to unpack and immediately apparent. From the Roman gardens of Pompeii, to the Renaissance villas of Italy, to the green Commons of colonial New England, the artifice is readily apparent.

Bob in a contemplative moment. I don’t want to embarras you Bob, but you are the true definition of a friend.

Not so with the Japanese Garden. From every perspective that you look in a Japanese garden the views, sights, sounds, fragrances, are nearly perfect. Whether it is a swathe of camellias, a hillside of azalea, a meadow of white stone with islands of moss covered rock, a bamboo fountain, koi in a pond against a wall of green ferns and moss, every perspective is nearly perfect; the green, the murmur of water, the quiet, instantly relax. How do they do this? What is it about the culture that gave them a vision to create a style of garden so beautiful, so seemingly chaotic, whereby the artifice is so well hidden? Unlike the Roman based European garden, there is simply no apparent symmetry yet every view is perfect. It is as though the Chaos of nature has been captured but tidied up. As Bob rightly notes, this is perhaps something that could help to tease out fundamental differences in world view between eastern and western society. But I digress!

Okay, I can never go past the Koi pond without thinking of THIS cartoon . . . 

I AM going to get to this place at peak blossom time this year, the Shinto gods as my witness!

The day we went to the coast was pretty memorable – it was supposed to start raining as a precursor to an approaching storm, but the front was slow in arriving and we had clear, beautiful weather.  We saw the precursor of the storm however in the form of some of the biggest waves and swells I’ve ever seen on the central coast. The spray must have been shooting sixty feet ino the air at some points, and the Pacific was washing onto 101 when we took a pit stop at the Whale Watching Center in Depoe Bay, eliciting some poetic observation from Bob about the power of Poseidon. While there we saw a Coast Guard training vessel trying to make it into about the smallest, narrowest, most treacherous harbor entrance anywhere. The seven crew members all stood atop the highest deck and were pitched back and forth by enormous swells. It was positively heart-stopping, and everyone cheered the seven crew members as they raced through the narrow channel, catching just the right wave that would propel them into the safety of the world’s smallest open ocean harbor.

Bob is right – every perspective is a vision of perfection and simplicity, like the cherry blossom at its peak. The Japanese style garden epitomizes the dictum ars est celare artem – art is to conceal art.

I then drove Bob to some family in southern Oregon (Sunny Valley) in the midst of a pretty nasty rain storm which made the driving a bit tough. After spending the night at Bob’s in-laws I headed home for a nice, very quiet, Christmas and New Years. We kept it low-key because we realize that we have a great deal to do this year, since we are trying to reach maximum capacity.  I am happy to report that we did nothing memorable over Christmas or New Years. However, a few days after New Years, Lori and I did go to the coast to catch the annual migration of the Grey Whales. We saw them both at Depoe Bay and at Cape Disappointment, where we actually saw the full tail of a whale as it breached the surface for air.

Just can’t get enough of that garden around the tea house!

The end of the year and New Years was a nice break, but all too short, and followed by . . .