Life These Days

Our young roses in our new gardens we put in have been lovely this year. We are particularly fond of this variety, known as Rio Samba.

We have been blessed – or cursed, depending on your perspective – with glorious but hot summer weather. Hot, dry conditions have prevailed, inundating us with loads of wonderful fragrant melons that exude perfumes of citrus throughout our kitchen and house. Tomatoes, cucumbers, and feta, all off of our farm and combined into a nice Greek salad, have been a staple for lunch and dinner the past two months – it’s particularly good when the juices and olive oil collected at the bottom of the bowl are sopped up with a nice loaf of crusty French bread. The Brandywines, set against the hottest part of our house and property, have been astonishing. The green beans have put on two crops this year, and we now finished eating our crop of sweet corn with the rest going to our hens, goats, and hogs. Don’t even get me started on our awesome Walla Walla onions – even as I speak one is simmering with some chopped hog jowl and will soon be blended with our home grown tomato sauce to make a fabulous pasta amatriciana – an Italian specialty to which I’ll add a pinch of red pepper flakes to give it some heat and a splash of Pinot Noir from a nearby vineyard for character.

Life is very good here in the summer, or, if you’re rugged, any time of year for that matter. The only animal protein that we eat off farm these days is Chinook salmon, which has been as amazing as the fruits and veggies this summer, just like everything else. I’ve started to grill it on a cedar plank on our Traeger smoker with a little rub I make consisting of 2 T. each chili powder, paprika, and brown sugar, with just a pinch of pepper and a generous sprinkle of salt. Done in smoke it transforms the fish into a sensual experience that is probably illegal in most states (and most certainly the former Confederate ones). The sounds that emanate from any who partake can only be characterized as obscene and more apt for the boudoir than the dinner table, to the point where it has become something of a risqué joke. The same could be said of the pork chops from our pigs – of course, they taste more like veal chops because they are milk fed, and guests find themselves apologizing and asking submissively if we mind if they eat the fat too; the chops are that good, simply broiled with salt and pepper for 7 minutes and allowed to stand for five.

And don’t even get me going on our chickens fried in our own bacon grease and lard these days – a once every month experience that is much anticipated (rather like our twice annual over-the-top coq-au-vin). In addition we are on golden plum watch these days, waiting for the fruit to reach that perfect point so that we can make our exquisite golden plum jam. It’s a bit harry though, since we are pressed for time with all of the fruits and veggies now reaching a frenzied crescendo of ripeness: the plums, the tomatoes, the apples, the pears – everything comes at you at once and there is nothing for it but to bear down and process process process. The tomatoes into sauce; the plums into jam; the pears and apples into hard cider.

In the midst of all of this we have had time to smell some roses, and a couple of weeks ago we had a real treat. Karen Hoyt, and her musically talented husband Grant (a very skilled musician!) had a wonderful event on their farm consisting of potluck, wine, beer, music, and a bird demonstration. All of it was amazing, but particularly the birds. Some background: even before repatriating to Oregon I was in touch with Karen Hoyt, since the couple from whom we bought the farm gave her name to us as someone who knew about goats. Over time Karen has been a wonderful mentor in all things goat related, including giving me a bit of a lesson last year in how to make hard aged cheese. We knew she was into birds, but we did not know how much. As it turns out, she helps to rescue raptors and over time has had to keep a few who were unable to be reintroduced back into the wild.

A couple of Sundays ago we were fortunate enough to meet a few of her avian companions, a running pictorial narrative of which follows.

This raptor does duty guarding precious Pinot Noir grapes in local vineyards. Vintners have turned to using raptors since cannon fire can only go off every half hour by law, but keeps birds away only about five minutes. One predatory bird and the Starlings, Martins, and other grape eaters vanish for the day!

Karen rescued this Red Tailed Hawk several years ago – they are quite common in our area, roosting on raptor nests put in by local farmers, and are particularly prominent in the winter.

This horned owl can’t turn it’s neck 360, but it can do a 180, as Karen here demonstrates.

Horned owls are formidable predators of other birds, and those of us who farm poultry decidedly do NOT want them around. The Barn Owl, on the other hand, as shown below, is a different story.

The Barn Owl is a beautiful bird: although endangered in the eastern U.S., we have a relatively healthy population in our area. They are amazing predators, consuming and killing ten times the number of voles, mice, and other rodents than cats. We want them around, and are glad to have them on our farm (see the post from early July).

This animal took my breath away when Karen brought it out, because I knew what it was, and had seen them in action in the wild. The Peregrine Falcon has been brought back from the edge of extinction in the U.S., and we have a pretty decent population out here. One night, while Lori and I were living at the coast in Cannon Beach, we saw a Peregrine take out a Bald Eagle swooping in on a massive nesting site on a large monolith known as Haystack Rock (for you east coasters reading this!) As the eagle was swooping in the falcon dove and hit the eagle, breaking its wing and sending it tumbling into the surf, from which several beach combers rescued it (the eagle was sent to a local bird rehab center [for birds with addiction problems]). The Peregrine is the fastest animal alive, and can reach speeds in full dive of over 200 mph.

On top of that, our pig population continues to grow, and Walter and Jesse have now been joined by the four March sisters (we can’t distinguish between the four, so we just named them after the sisters in Little Women). They have become a bit of a handful in terms of feeding and we are trying out a variety of strategies to deliver them their feed grains and goat milk (Pig Cereal!) particularly in the morning. Walter and Jesse should be ready for harvest in early November, while the March sisters will probably be with us into the New Year. These days I am feeling for all the world like Eumaios, Odysseus’ swine herder in the Odyssey!

The March start a Conga Line (hey, it is DANCING Faun Farm after all!)

Hmmm, what do you think that is? Well I don’t know what do you think it is? Well I don’t know! (Etc.!)

DOG PILE! HAPPY PIGS HAPPY PIGS!

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“And then Eumaios, oh my swineherd!”

Life, however, has not been without its trials. The end of August and beginning of September are particularly demanding here in the Northwest, since everything needs to be done all at once: finishing up harvesting the garden, putting in cover crop, seeding the pasture, fertilizing the few fruit trees that didn’t put on quite enough growth this year (so far), and securing infrastructure for the winter months ahead. Moreover we are now into breeding season for our goats, and this has not been without its trials.

Witness last Thursday night. Lori and Nancy are at the farmers market vending until around 7:00. That means yours truly is in charge of chores and cooking. Part of the chores includes feeding our bucks – who live in the lower paddock on our pasture about 500 feet away from our does near our barn. Recently we started to leave the girls in the upper paddock next to the barn where they hang out so that the baby girls born this year could be separated from the mothers and wean out before being bred. That is to say, their paddock and the bucks paddock are adjacent – no big deal since the girls stay up near their moms well away from the bucks. So I blithely head down with the bucks’ feed buckets – the usual procedure is to open the gate, walk in, they follow, and they eat while you walk out and close the gate behind you. Only this particular night the wind was prevailing from the barn and unbeknownst to me one of the does was in heat. The bucks bolted and I had to run as full a gallop as a 250 lb. 50 something can muster, and rescue the little girls from some pretty randy, smelly bucks (bucks pee in their mouths and spray it on themselves as an apparent aphrodisiac for the females – oh Gawd the stories I could tell).

The first order of business was to get the girls off pasture as fast as possible – not too difficult fortunately. The second order of business was to wrestle the bucks. The animals are big, powerful, and ornery, but I somehow managed to catch and wrestle them, one at a time and frog march them back to the lower pasture. That meant I had to use one hand to control an animal younger, stronger, and more determined than myself. I did it on sheer adrenaline, but by the end I was covered in perfume de buck, sweat, grime, and just beaten up to the point where I could barely move the next day and literally could not close my right hand for several – I had to hold the collars on these animals that tightly to control them, and my hand is still swollen as I type.

But on the whole, it has been a phenomenal year for just about everything here, although we are looking forward to the dark and the rain. We are in moderate drought currently, and a fire near Estacada has produced more smoke in this valley than I ever remember seeing – as a boy or now. And so we crave the time of the October Horse – a time for planting pear trees from which we will squeeze Perry, for slaughtering another set of hogs, for watching trucks laden with the treasure that is our local Pinot Noir. Above all we wait for the marshaling of the rains, that army of countless infinite drops of water that subdues our land forcing it to relinquish in the next year its sensorial tribute, not to emperors or empires, but to us – the slaves who work it.