A Frenzied Rush!

A spectacular winter sunrise that my iPhone can’t capture – just trust me. Our sunsets and sunrises have been beautiful of late, and reminds us why we are breaking our backs working our land.

This is the year that our farm will likely reach peak capacity. At this point we reckon that to be a regular flock of 150 laying hens, 150 broilers annually, 10-20 laying ducks, thirty turkeys, our herd of a dozen goats, and eight hogs. We could expand more later on, but that will depend on our learning how to run hogs in our oak woods, of which we have about thirteen acres.

But in our efforts to reach that goal this year – imminently “do-able” – means that all of January we have been in the thick of a good many projects, including ordering a variety of birds to replace existing ones (layers are good for a year or two but then go into the stew pot) and experimenting with different breeds of turkey; up until now we have only raised Bronze Broad Breasted, but this year will also be getting some Midget Whites, Naraggansets, Royal Palms, Blue Slates, and Bourbon Reds. We are also reworking the infrastructure in terms of how they are kept, so we are in the process of building a new model chicken tractor so we can keep most of our layers permanently out on pasture as we expand. That means six tractors and lots of construction.

It takes a lot of cold hands fueled by hard cider to build one of these in the damp of a northwest winter! I got the idea for the design from the University of Kentucky Extension website.

The last day of the month we at last released our latests and youngest laying flock onto pasture. Soak up that January sun Henny-Penny; the weatherman is calling for lots of rain this week!

All the broilers will be for our customers, while we will probably process one of our older flocks of layers this fall to have stewing chicken for ourselves. We also at last had a concrete slab poured in our goat barn to make mucking easier, and had the roof shored up and repaired (new shingles and no leaks! Hooray!) Our tractor finally got serviced and some desperately needed repairs done to it, and we also purchased a set of forks to attach to the bucket. We should have gotten the forks a long time ago, but file this under “who knew” – we had no idea such things existed until I was chatting with Bob’s brother-in-law John in southern Oregon – he worked construction for years, and was the first to ever tell me about the existence of such a tool! It will make loading and unloading feed, hay, and straw much easier for us.

Thanks for the intro to the forks John! This is going to be a life-saver!

Our neighbor Greg tractos in gravel fill before the concrete floor goes into our barn.

The gravel is in . . . 

. . . and now the concrete.

We had never seen concrete poured and smoothed out – it was actually a pretty cool experience! Now just imagine the Romans doing this on their lofty domes without the use of hydraulics!

January was also taken up with pruning fruit trees and spraying them (this time of year with copper – don’t panic! – it’s considered an organic compound), but I don’t spray them much and don’t even bother with the larger older trees; my main concern is for the peach and apricot trees in this region which can become vulnerable to disease due to the damp. I’ve been worried this year because the weather has been mild but wet, making it essential to spray but causing some difficulties in terms of the timing of it. In fact, we did not even have leaf fall from many if not most trees until December 15 this year – that’s how mild it’s been. I have to say I now fancy myself something of an expert at pruning and training fruit trees – OSU offered a fabulous two-hour workshop on how to prune fruit trees by a renowned orchardist who was an outstanding teacher. He actually increased apple production in one of the central Asian “-stans” by 14%, convincing to give up their ancient methods of cultivation in favor of a more productive method. It was one of my best spent two hours in a long time!

In addition, we had to rewire and reconfigure our paddocks this month. This week we put the first two tractors out on pasture, each with 25 gold sex link chickens (brown egg layers). I had to put poultry netting around each coop (otherwise, I promise, all 50 birds would go into one coop!), and then run a wire to keep the goats (who have access to the same paddock) off of the coops (the chicken feed is secure from the goats, but the tarps which cover the tractors offer enticing possibilities for caprine mischief!), so the paddock is divided into two equal portions for chickens and goats at the moment. Then the three of us wrangled the chickens into carriers and put them finally on grass (after 8 weeks or so in our poultry shed).

But there is no rest, so I had to head out a couple of mornings these past two weeks well before dawn to pick up, one morning, about a dozen ducklings at the post office, and then repeat the ritual a few days later when I picked up another laying flock of Rhode Island Reds from the post office. Poultry management entails, of course, a lot more than all of this; in addition to getting the orders set for the year (our broilers will come from a local hatchery this year which makes us happy), the cleaning of tanks where the chicks will live until they hit ground in our shed, the cleaning of waterers and feeders, the checking and set up of heat lamps, all of this takes lots of time and energy.

And of course, this does not include the preparation for the arrival of goat kids starting the middle of February. Goats need boosters before giving birth, and we need to have our ducks in a row concerning birthing and kidding supplies – thankfully Lori and Nancy are in charge of that. On top of that, organizing the slaughter and sale of three hogs required no small degree of planning. But our four girls were harvested on the 29th, and we were quite pleased with their hang weights, which came in at 202, 225, 240.5, and 254.5. We hope the pork will make some people as happy as it makes us. And no sooner did we process them than we acquired our first set of Berkshire hogs to see how they do for us; and in March we will be getting a half dozen hogs of mixed breed from a local supplier. We are now at maximum capacity with our goats, so this year do not plan on keeping any kids; instead one of our farmer friends will be taking all the males but one, to clear blackberries, and we may well end up selling the does, but it depends on their temperament.

Our biggest girl was harvested on Thursday and weighed in at a hefty 254.5 lbs. hanging weight.

Pinky and Rosey are our newest arrivals – pure bred Berkshires that will marble out better than other breeds.

As far as our garden goes, I have somehow managed to trim and mulch the asparagus in a timely manner this year. We still have some meager lettuce, but plenty of leeks and squash stored up, as well as pumpkins and potatoes not to mention sweet potatoes. The leeks are particularly good, but I planted way too many of them last year (three 3 x 6 boxes), and I think even if we eat them nightly (which we virtually do!) just one box would have been enough. The garden is going to be expanded this year to include a “salsa” section – the OSU extension has an awesome recipe for tomato paste salsa made with paste tomatoes, various peppers, onions, and garlic, and we want to can and sell it as a value added product – it is delicious!

We will also be partnering up with Beth Rankin who will take and process our extra  fruits and veggies under our label, so we look forward to selling some preserves and anything else she comes up with this year. I also got a great idea from composting from Bob’s brother-in-law John – he embedded worm bins in his straw and manure pile (which is not too big so as to not get too hot) in order to work down the pile into a nice rich mix of carbon, nitrogen, and plenty of worm castings; so last week saw me moving our worm bins into our compost heap in our garden (oof, yet another kick-butt task!) and we will see how it goes.

All of this has taken something of a toll on our bodies, and there have been days when we have had to simply say No. No, we can’t lay on the cold concrete today, injure our shoulder, and build yet another chicken tractor. No, we can’t unload the truck tonight – put a tarp on it and we will do it tomorrow. No, we’re too tired to cook tonight, we’re going to Mac for sushi. At one point I took several days off to work on a pet project of mine, a sub-linear translation of some of the more important speeches in Thucydides (I got drawn into Thucydides, whom I’d not read in Greek since 2001, while teaching Greek history this fall – the narrative in his history is generally easy, but the Greek in his speeches, as Cicero noted, is nearly unintelligible and needs to be carefully unpacked).

In sum, we have a great deal on our plate this year, and the year started off busy from the get go and it will stay that way as we look ahead: the fruit trees I mentioned, now that we have over 40 to tend, have taken on a life of their own; we need to build a woodshed and a carport; we need to manage and rotate our pasture and paddocks; and we need to fence in our backyard to keep the dogs on property and off our road; in the midst of this, animals and a garden need to be tended and managed. So there has been no rest, no break, and there won’t be one until next November. In between there is a garden to plant, more pigs to raise, goats to birth and milk, compost to manage, 150 broilers to take to Mineral Springs, fruit to harvest, cider to press, and about 20 markets to attend in Mac. Somewhere in the midst of that, in a couple of small classrooms at Linfield, the Romans will once again gain and loose an empire, and the Greeks will fight amongst themselves for centuries until a youthful Alexander puts a stop to it. Something tells me Thanksgiving is going to come fast.

 

 

Not Every Man Gets To Go To Corinth!

The historic lighthouse and Coastguard station at the mouth of the Coquille River in Bandon.

Not every man gets to go to Corinth: so states Horace in one of his Epistles, by which he meant it was not the lot of every person to enjoy fully the pleasures of life, since Corinth was associated with luxury and fine living. This past weekend Lori and I had the pleasure, metaphorically speaking, of enjoying the pleasures of Corinth, not in Greece, but on the coast of southern Oregon and northern California. However the gods, being envious of any who are as happy as themselves, did not let our happiness pass by them without a gentle reminder that we are but mortals, and, as Pindar states, “we are what the day gives us”.

A near disaster that, somehow, we averted, hit the farm on our way out of town. It has been too warm for the trees to defoliate yet this season, and, unfortunately, we got smacked by an ice storm – bad enough even when the trees have lost their leaves and their branches struggle against the freezing rain, which is more typical in December or January. Our maples, oaks, and fruit trees groaned under the burden, but somehow, for the most part, weathered the assault okay, though some of our favorite oaks snapped and lost large branches. The freeze hit on Thursday – in downtown Sheridan and places on the valley floor things were fine. But go 320 feet up our hill and they were not. The trees were still held in their prison of ice when Lori and I left the farm for our little three night jaunt, leaving Nancy in charge.

It was a rather hair-raising way to start our first substantial (substantial (!) – we were away for three nights!) time off the farm in two and a half years. I had promised Lori a trip to the southern coast of Oregon, where we had never been, and then down to the redwoods as a treat for our 29th anniversary. Driving through the coast range was not bad, however, and by the time we emerged on the coast at Lincoln City the temperatures were warm and the roads clear.

The view of the vineyard next door on ice!

A decorative plum groans under its burden.

Our garden under ice.

We continued down to Bandon – Lori had never been further south than Florence, parallel to Eugene, and I had never been further south than Bandon itself, parallel to Roseburg. I had taken a day trip to Bandon during sabbatical in 2009 from Yachats (where Lori and I spent a week while she was on business), and was so taken by the lovely stones on the beach from the Coquille (pronounced ko-kwel) River that I wanted to show Lori the place. We so liked the old town and the little port with its docks, restaurants and shops that we decided to stay there our full three nights and use it as a base from which to drive the rest of the coast and the redwoods. The first afternoon when we arrived we walked the beach near the jetty, collecting beautiful, small polished river stones. That evening we scoped out on a map the best way to get to the redwoods and decided that rather than try to drive all the way to Eureka and Humbolt that we would visit Jedediah Smith Park near Crescent City, which is only two hours or so away from Bandon in northern California.

Bandon Beach at twilight.

The trip down the coast was stunning. The capes and headlands, particularly around Port Orford, Gold Beach, and Brookings, were spectacular. Port Orford is in fact the oldest town on the Oregon coast, and one of only six dolly ports in the world where they launch the vessels by crane. The capes around Port Orford, including Cape Blanco, have amazing vistas of the coastline, with enormous Sitka Spruce and Douglas Firs, with also a number of historic lighthouses along the way. While on the north coast there are some great places to see where the mountains plunge into the Pacific – Tillamook Head, Ecola Park, Mt. Neakani and the Nehalem Bay area, down south the vistas are legion, as are the bays that form at the mouths of some formidable rivers – the Alsea, Siuslaw, Coquille, the Umpqua, the Rogue, the list seems to go on and on; some, such as the Coos and Coquille, form magnificent estuaries teeming with birds, shellfish, fish, and seals and sea lions. Then there are the numerous capes that form large bays, such as Cape Blanco and Cape Arago – many dotted with historic lighthouses, which can also be found at the mouths of some of the rivers in the area.

Bandon Beach on a late afternoon in November.

Cape Arago is a place of particular magnificence. Much of the land was purchased in the 19th century by a lumber baron family named Simpson, and the family ultimately donated it to the state of Oregon to be a part of Oregon’s contiguous publicly owned coastline (there are no private beaches or coastline in Oregon, it is all open to public access). Their estate on Cape Arago is now a public park, which includes a gorgeously designed botanical garden that was a part of the property surrounding their original summer house (really a mansion – though certainly not of the scale one would find in, say, Newport Rhode Island). The cape itself is protected by a large reef (aptly named Simpson Reef) and it is one of the best places, because of the gentle slope of the reef that emerges out of the ocean, to see sea lions of all sorts, including elephant seals. In fact, the first notable thing one notices when one gets out of the car at the state park is their barking. We hiked a four-mile trail there that includes a walk through stately and gnarled Hemlocks, Douglas firs, and Sitka spruce, before emerging up one of the bluffs that overlooks the reefs and the hordes of sea mammals inhabiting it.

A view of Simpson reef on Cape Arago on a pleasant November day.

Looking south from Cape Arago.

The view just north of Simpson’s Reef.

A general view of Shore Acres, what used to be the Simpson’s mansion and gardens.

A general view of the gardens from the gardener’s cottage towards the ocean.

The pond in the Japanese Gardens at Shore Acres.

A view of the mansion with its grand trees standing as sentries.

Our trip to the redwoods was equally remarkable. We headed down to the Smith River region to Jedediah Smith State Park, and the trees in the park were breathtaking to say the least, and, in fact, the place defies description. I had never seen trees of that size or age, or, for that matter, a forest so unspoiled or an organism so vast. We drove the seven or eight mile road through the park, and walked the short but majestic Stout Grove trail. One of the redwoods in the grove, by my measurement, was at least 60 feet in circumference. Majestic; prehistoric; spiritual; primordial; magical; transcendent; august; I am not sure I could find the adjectives to describe a thing so vast and ancient and alive all at once. It was a deep privilege to wander in a forest and realize that some of the trees came into being during the reign of the first Roman emperor.

In front of one of the trees on the road through Jedediah Smith to Crescent City.

The root systems on these suckers are impressive to say the least!

Resting against the gnarls of a gargantuan redwood.

Lori hiding from the potential ambush by a Cretaceous dinosaur!

Lori poses next to a tree on the road to Crescent City.

One of the surprises of the trip: two restaurant finds in Bandon. One night we went to Alloro, a place that adverts itself as a wine bar but is in fact a full restaurant. Lori had a lovely plate of oysters on the half-shell with a spiced cucumber salsa and a grilled pork chop on top of sautéed spinach in a very fine sauce, while I had duck confit empanadas and steelhead grilled with a panko horseradish crust on top of a crab stuffed crepe. We enjoyed a fine bottle of Witness, a superlative 2011 Pinot Noir from the Eola Hills reminiscent of a Sangiovese. Dessert was excellent – Lori had a luscious apple tart topped with a crisply sour Granny Smith sorbet, and I had panna cotta in an orange glaze with carmalized bananas and star anise short bread with a limoncello on the side. The next night we went to a lovely place called The Loft. It was arguably better than Alloro by just a notch. We shared appetizers of grilled baby octopus on top of mashed Yukon golds and lamb sliders – spiced lamb in a lovely puff pastry crust. Lori had a great entrée of salmon grilled with porcinis and pumpkin croquette, and I had a wonderful goat cheese tart topped with beets, smoked salmon, and local greens. For libation we enjoyed a 2012 Elk Cove Pinot Noir. Dessert we shared once again – this time we had crème brulee and a chocolatini – a martini of vodka, Godiva chocolate liquor, and Bailey’s.

Okay, so you can tell my priorities: a medium paragraph on Cape Arago, a brief one on the redwoods, and a longer one on what we ate! For lunch we also hit some seafood shacks that were quite nice, and one day the weather was so beautiful that we sat outside and enjoyed a beer with a crab sandwich. It would have been perfect, except that (and here’s a good one for a slice of life) the table next to us was occupied by two old guys who, we suspect, were drug dealers or aging porn stars who were apparently accompanied by four prostitutes/porn stars – don’t ask how we came to that conclusion, you had to be there!

On the way home we stopped by Local Ocean in Newport, a seafood market/restaurant in the old part of the city on the docks that has a cream of crab soup that is worth a day drive from Sheridan. We also had a fine plate of mixed Yaquina Bay and Willapa Bay oysters on the half-shell. That was our parting shot on the road home to celebrate the 17th of November, the day 29 years ago when Lori first saw the Oregon Coast on our honeymoon. Too full to get in the car after lunch, we strolled the docks for about 20 minutes, accompanied by the barking of tens if not hundreds of sea lions that inhabit the docks around the fishing boats.

Lori peruses the sea lions on the docks at Newport.

The trip was one that cleared the head and raised the heart. However it also filled me with a tinge of regret. Knowing the north coast so well for many years, it made me realize that we had really missed something never visiting the south coast. But we also left with a certain sense of excitement and exhilaration: Bandon is just over four hours away, and the south coast is close enough and rich enough for us to look forward, if the gods and fates will it, to exploring and enjoying its spectacular beauty for many years to come. Back to Corinth.






Of Winos, Stoners, and Hedonists

Kannabis is a great way to teach undergraduates the third declension in Greek and then (provided they are 21 or older as of July 1, 2015), watch them forget it altogether! (Full disclosure – I lifted this image from a local newspaper!)

 

Okay, altogether in the singular:

Kannabis = nominative (as in, Kannabis gets you high)

Kannabeos = genitive (as in, Have a hit of kannabis)

Kannabei = dative (as in, I am giving fertilizer to the kannabis)

Kannabin = accusative (as in, I am buying kannabis)

Kannabi = vocative (as in, Oh kannabis, you are wonderful!)

 

Okay, good, now the plural:

Kannabeis = nominative (as in Kannabises are pretty)

Kannabeon = genitive (as in, The fields of kannabises are lovely)

Kannabesi(n) = dative (with nu moveable as in, I am giving water to the kannabises)

Kannabeis = accusative (as in, I see the kannabises in the fields)

 

And for good measure the dual (because two is always better than one),

Kannabei = the nominative, accusative, and vocative

Kannabeoin = genitive and dative

 

As some of you may have heard, there is a new cash crop that we farmers can now grow in Oregon that had previously only been legal in Washington state, Colorado, and ancient Thrace. The crops, as you might have by now guessed, is what the ancient Greeks called kannabis, more commonly known as cannabis. It made me struggle with what to title this blog post. Here were some alternatives: We’re all Thracians Now (the title will become clear in the next paragraph). Yes We Can(nabis). We(ed) Won. I’m the God of Weed and Wine (an alteration of one of Tyrion’s favorite sayings from Game of Thrones). But I decided to cut to the chase.

The ancient history of kannabis is a rather sad one. Why sad? Because it was everywhere and the Greeks and Romans used it for everything, from making rope to using it to cobble shoes. But, alas, they did not smoke it. That was left for barbarians, such as the tribes that inhabited ancient Thrace, where, the ancient Greek historian Herodotus tells us, the Thracians used to sit in small huts, throw the weed onto a fire, and inhaled the fumes until they laughed so hard they peed their tunics.

Now, it appears, the northern barbaric tribes that inhabit the Pacific Northwest, have come full circle. The vox populi has firmly rejected the Puritan self-denial of their colonial forebears from New England, and voted to go at warp speed to planet hedonism. But in a sense we were already there. Let me explain.

Is it any coincidence that James Beard came from Gearhart? That Portland and Seattle are top restaurant cities? That the two states are full of AVAs? That we surf? That we have naked bike parades? That our next-door neighbor is a 130 acre vineyard named Pinot Noir (not to be confused with Guy Noir)? That we were and are one of the front lines in the microbrew industry? That makers of hard cider are popping up here like chanterelles in October? That we have a truffle mafia?

None of this, I believe, is coincidence. The richness of the region, its produce, its seafood, its game, its ability to produce great wines, apples, all the hops and grain needed for brewing fine ales and beers, is tantalizing. While not true every year, I recall years at the coast where we could go down to the beach and get dinner in the form of razor clams or crab in the space of half an hour. Growing up we ate deer, elk, and bear rump roast; all of it is absolutely delicious. Salmon was a staple, and from the lakes and bays we had plenty of trout, catfish, perch, sturgeon (fabulous wrapped in bacon and drizzled with tarragon butter), halibut (poor man’s food in the 70s, some of the best fish, and now terribly depleted and unaffordable) and rockfish. Sometimes we even had a kettle or two of crayfish. These days local anchovies and tuna are on our plates as well.

I consider myself a world-class hedonist, literally, and I think many friends and acquaintances would agree. My dearest friend, Bob Wagnoner, and I used to travel to Italy together and spent a fair amount of time there, especially Rome, Florence, and Pompeii. He tells me he was always careful with his money and didn’t care much where he ate until he started traveling with me. Of course, that may have had to do with the fact that he hadn’t traveled in Italy as much as elsewhere, and of course, Italy is a food Mecca; but once we started traveling together – hoo-boy! – the meals we had there. A typical evening in Rome would start with a bottle of prosecco out on a balcony to fill that long period between 5-8 when there wasn’t much to do and we were already worn out with nine or ten hours of walking on cobblestones and through museums. At 8 it was time for dinner. Typically we would go to a trattoria with ochre walls and bad art and a few tables with white table-cloths. We would get a nice liter of house wine, and antipasti that could be anything from olives and marinated veggies, to deep fried zucchini flowers stuffed with cheese and anchovies, to swordfish carpaccio on a bed of argula with a drizzle of lemon and olive oil. We’d segue into a myriad of different pasta or risotto dishes (tortellini in cream with walnuts, risotto with cuttlefish, gnocchi with tomato and butter ragu, take your pick), followed by a main course (a personal favorite for me was always veal sautéed with prosciutto in a wine and cream sauce – vitello saltimbocca, but there was a place in Trastevere that had great turbot poached in wine with roasted potatoes, and in the winter ox tail stewed in tomatoes, onions, and wine), and then dessert (my favorite was always panna cotta, or cooked cream, which is hard to make so that it’s smooth and not rubbery; nearby in McMinnville at a restaurant called Thistle the chef has the technique down perfectly – he also makes a mean steak tartar) and a drop of grappa (grape liquor) to finish. Bob at one point confessed to me that in the years before he met me (20 years ago now, when he was 64 and I was 31), that it would have killed him to spend money on food like I did (not that we ever broke the bank for dinner), and accused me of corrupting him and further accused me of hedonism. Guilty as charged!

Herodotus would not approve. He, along with other Greeks, felt that soft, gentle, abundant lands, along with good living, made for soft people. Much more admirable were the Athenians or Spartans – the Spartans, who lived in a rugged land, trained only to fight, and in their common messes ate a soup made of pig’s blood, vinegar, and salt. When a fellow Greek from the gentle coast of Ionia (modern Turkey), tasted it, he remarked that he now knew why the Spartans were not afraid to die. Greeks prided themselves in their toughness, and soft living was looked at askance with, one suspects, a mix of contempt and envy. The people of the Greek colony of Sybaris in southern Italy, for example, were renowned for their fine seafood and wines. They were despised in some respects, loved in others, but the opinions of others notwithstanding, lived quite well. All of this has been quite well documented by scholars of Greek antiquity, perhaps most notably by James Davidson in his wonderful study of fine living in ancient Greece, Fishcakes and Courtesans. The Consuming Passions of Classical Athens.

But I digress. When I started this blog I promised I would try to steer clear of politics – and in a sense, given that the matter is now settled, I do not consider this a political matter. It is now a legal, public health, and cultural one, much the same as alcohol. However it should not be too surprising that in the state that spear-headed great Pinot Noirs that we would also eventually say yes to tokin’. We gild the lily here in the northwest: the Alpine vistas of the Cascades, the views of snow capped volcanoes, lunaresque desertscapes, or ocean geysers, of sweeping vineyards and fields as green as Hibernia’s, is not intoxicating enough. We must look at them buzzed on Pinot, on a bottle of Dead Guy, or a hit of weed. There is a story that in the early Renaissance, in Italy, as pasta was coming into vogue, a bishop rebuked the Italians for extravagance in topping their pasta with cheese. They were all going to Hell: Lasciate ogne speranza voi ch’intrare!

I imagine the bishop looking at Tuesday’s returns, turning red with rage, thundering like some modern Savanarola before falling into a catatonic fit of apoplexy. Maybe some Lemon Thai Kush would revive him – or at least help him to tone it down.

 

If the Romans Ate Oatmeal

It’s been so warm that it has taken some time this year for everything to start putting on fall color. One of the pear trees in our garden is particularly spectacular this year, but, alas, the picture as usual doesn’t do it justice!

Now that the fall is here and with it the cold weather, we have once again entered oatmeal season. The thing I hate about oatmeal is, well, I hate it. The only way I ever liked it is if it were made with whole milk and had heaps of brown sugar on top – at least, for my taste, three tablespoons. Poof! What was that?!?!?! That was the nutritional value of the oatmeal being negated by all the added sugar.

So for the most part this fall it has been eggs and whole-wheat toast. That is, until a couple of weeks ago. That was when, in shear frustration at wanting to get the nutritional and health benefits of oats that I finally googled savory recipes for oatmeal. Jackpot! There are, I discovered, plenty of ways to enjoy oatmeal without the sugar. So I played around with the recipes, and finally settled on one I could probably eat every day for the rest of my life.

I start with a good base of savory veggies: I sautéed a whole large diced yellow onion and about a pound of coarsely chopped mushrooms in a thin layer of canola oil. When softened I then add three or four cloves of chopped garlic. I sautee it a bit longer, add in about a cup of chopped ham, then simmer it for about five minutes on low. I put that mix in a bowl and set it aside – it lasts for several days in the fridge. I then cook about a cup and a half of our homemade chicken broth. I throw in a third of a cup of whole oats, and simmer it until thickened; I then throw in three or four leaves of kale and about ¾ – a whole cup of the veggie ham mix and ¼ t. turmeric for flavor. Once done I put it in a bowl and top it with a fried egg; sometimes I’ll add a sprinkle of parmesan.

Dinner, it’s what’s for breakfast!

The only thing not from our farm in this dish is the oatmeal and mushrooms. It’s a sugar free breakfast loaded with nutrients and health benefits, and takes me pretty much the whole day until dinner. It’s great to realize that just like any number of grains, you can have something like this without having to sweeten it. And of course, being an avid Romanist, it has occurred to me in the last few days that, in their early history, the Romans preferred porridge to bread. I always found that really off-putting. But if their porridges were more in the nature of soups or stews as opposed to thin gruel made with water and salt, I could see the appeal.

A Face in the Rain

Rain clouds roll in from the coast – between the mild to warm October, and the rains, our garden is still hanging in there. These days it keeps us in chard, spinach, lettuce, peas, fennel, kale, and some still ripening fruit on our fig and apple trees. 

My anual October shot of the vineyard next door, with its grapes long since harvested. Sorry, no sunny autumnal glow this year – still, the dark grey and vivid yellow makes for a beautiful contrast. I give it two more days, since we are supposed to get over an inch of rain and some wind in the next 48 hours.

As noted in the past blog or two, it has become quiet here on our farm. There are still tasks to do – we are trying to incubate our own eggs to ramp up production next year (hatcheries do not sell chicks until February, which would put us into July for egg production, so we are trying to get a jump), I am starting to research bee-keeping for this spring so we can ensure pollination for our fruit trees, and we are still trying to prep a bit for winter by battening down as many hatches as we can.

We have some big projects facing us next year: repairing the shed barn, figuring out some more of the details of pasture management, and fencing in our backyard for our wanderlust dogs. But we did not beat the fall rains, which have visited us daily this month with varying grades of wet. Still, we remain in drought, and I am holding my breath that the next few months will be saturated. We could use it, despite some of the inconveniences it brings, not the least of which is mud everywhere.

I’ll take the mud, the slop, the slipping, the falling, the mess – and the quiet that lets us sit around the table some mornings, just drinking coffee and watching the rain clouds tumble over the mountains, filling the valley with a comforting blanket of fog and mist. It was the first October here that we have not had a stretch of beautiful fall weather, just clouds, dark skies, and life on the water planet. For all that, it is still a place of stunning and dramatic beauty, and that is the only reason for this post.

Meet Hazzel

Miss Hazzel sits on her perch, which happens to be a goat feeder!

This past summer Susan Richmond, our farmer friend in Willamina and our supplier of organic non-GMO feed, was kind enough to give us this lovely Golden Lace Wyandotte. She has the privilege of being the only hen on the farm with a name, Hazzel (after the color of her feathers). Every other chicken goes by Henny Penny, except for our roosters; although we currently have two Barred Rock roosters, one of which is large and clearly dominant. We don’t intend to name them until we see how they behave, because we had such a horrible experience with our first Barred Rock rooster (who attacked all three of us at various times).

Hazzel has an independent streak, along with a number of our other hens, and refuses to stay in the coops. Instead, she lives in the goat barn, which is fine since they help keep down the fly population and can scratch through the manure and straw for bugs – it must give them plenty of protein and nutrition because they tend to regularly lay eggs under and in the goat feeders.

Anyway, this is just my little paean to a simple barnyard animal – the hen – that is both a marvelous and beautiful work-horse. The varieties of these birds are astonishing, and they are lovely as well: Black sex links with their feathers that appear teal when caught in the sun, Rhode Island Reds with their beautiful silky red feathers, Brahmas with their fluffy feathered feet and big butts, the sleek White Leg Horn with its sail fan tail, the Barred Rocks with their lovely speckles. There is no animal that is easier to keep, prettier to look at, and more productive for one’s table. And, they can be as smart as they are stupid: every day when we milk our goats, during which they are fed a ration of oats coated in molasses, there is a contingent of hens who hang about under foot since they’ve become accustom to gleaning what the goats spill.

There is no more excuse for not keeping hens than there is for not growing a tomato plant or two, and if I were king for a day I’d decree that everyone who has a house with a yard must keep a proportional number of birds. So a little plug for this very common bird that is, I suspect, much under-appreciated by the general public. Here’s to Hazzel – long may she lay.

Mighty Aphrodite Again: Goddess of Desire and of Electric Fences

 

Titus Pullo was cock-o-the-walk when he mounted our fence to stake his claim. Alas, I am sorry to report that he was taken out by a Horned Owl at dusk a few nights later – a real shame, since he was the most beautiful of our five roosters.

If we are going to blog about Bacchus we must of course also blog about Aphrodite, so to that end . . .

In the course of Plato’s Republic one of the participants of that work asks Sophokles, the famous Athenian playwright who lived into his mid nineties, whether he didn’t miss Aphrodite, by which he meant, didn’t he miss the physical side of love as he continued into advanced old age. “I feel”, Sophokles replied, “as though I have escaped a mad and furious master”.

Well bully for you old man – you escaped. Meanwhile here on our farm we are stuck with Her and She doesn’t show any signs of leaving. As reported below (and some of this will repeat material from a previous blog for the sake of background), it all started earlier last month when our does started to come into heat and our bucks into rut, turning us from farmers to vice principles of a junior high school, or some equivalent thereof. Goats have some pretty peculiar and not particularly tasteful mating rituals after all.

First the girls: when in heat they flag their tails, drip goo from their vulvas, caterwaul, and tease the bucks mercilessly. They misbehave on the milk stand, become utterly unruly and uncooperative, and preen for the bucks. The bucks for their part are disgusting: they urinate in their mouths and spray it on themselves (as reported here before) then purse their lips to get a whiff of the girls. The smell is unforgettable, and in the fall remains with you constantly – on your clothes, in your nose, skin, hands, and boots.

Our two bucks are so in rut that our woven wire fence has been rendered effectively useless. For the first time they have leaped over it, finding their way to the girls, who we had to keep in the barn for several days to keep them safe and to regulate who does and who does not get pregnant this year. We have decided to give all of our older mama goats (Marguerite, Janet, Leah, Eris, and Pandora) a year off from pregnancy since the first three have been bred two years in a row, the other two just once; besides, we do not want herd explosion, which we are already facing.

Our turkeys are doing very well indeed in our garden this year. We are feeding them less in an effort to not end up with 400 lbs worth of toms this year!

With six does bred, that means we could go from 11 to as many as 23 goats next year, more if there are triplets like last year. We’ve already decided to sell or process any newborns, while the ones who have not been bred we will simply do what is called “milking through” – for those of you unfamiliar with that, all it means is you keep the animal in milk by continuing to milk rather than by breeding again.

Our hens are spoiled these days now that we have plenty of melons and pumpkins in the hopper to chuck at them!

All of this is not as easy as it seems. There is a reason, after all, that She is called Mighty Aphrodite. We, or rather I, learned this the hard way early last month, when I went on night to feed the bucks. The prevailing wind is usually west to east here; one night it was blowing in hot air from the eastern desert east to west. That meant the boys got a whiff of a couple of our girls who were in heat. When I went down to feed them I opened the gate as usual, and normally the bucks follow me because I’m the guy with the food. Well not this night. They bolted and proceeded to chase three of our little goaty girls who were, fortunately, not in heat. But I was fearful that they would hop the fence so I had to wrangle them, one at a time, back down to their paddock.

Okay, now, put on the theme from The Magnificent Seven or something. This entailed wrestling a 200 pound animal that is very strong and frog marching it about 300 feet down to the lower paddock. Wrestling a 200 pound mammalian male in rut and covered with its own urine is an experience everyone should have at some point in their lives. The problem is I’m well past that point. I had to grip their collars with all my strength as the animal struggled every inch of the way. By the time I was done with each I was covered in sweat, the smell of buck urine, and my right hand was so injured it swelled up and I was unable to close it for several days. It’s still sore and now subject to some mild arthritis.

Eventually my repatriation of the bucks was in vain – they figured out that they could simply hop over the woven wire. So we surrendered to the inevitable for a time and let the bucks live in the paddock next to our barn for a couple of weeks – we had been keeping them in the lower two paddocks for purposes of clearing briars and brush. But we couldn’t keep the girls in the barn forever – they need pasture and fresh air and exercise. So two or three weeks ago found me running electric wire along the fence in the lower pasture’s two paddocks. We put the two bucks back down there and they have gotten bit by the electric wire I’ve run and stay well clear of it, so problem solved as nearly as we can tell.

Even Aphrodite is no match for a hot wire – feel sorry for them? Me neither!

A close up shot of Bucky whose face is yellow with . . . yeah, that!

In other farm related matters, we have finished up our first year of market, after which we will start a delivery run to McMinnville every other week to our steady customers. I have now put the garden to bed and am in the process of growing and tending winter crops – so lots of spinach, peas, chard, garlic, and lettuce. The three boxes of leeks will overwinter and they are awesome sautéed with our chard and a smidgeon of diced smoked hog jowl. The weather gods have been favorable this year, so we still have potatoes to harvest this winter not to mention about 75-100 lbs of those I harvested this summer still in storage. The weather has also been good for the cover crop I put in the garden so the crimson clover is doing great.

This is one of five boxes of lettuce I’m trying to over-winter – and yes, it tastes as luscious as it looks. A little drizzle of olive oil, a bit of salt, maybe a squeeze of lemon and it’s all good!

Yesterday I planted a dozen or so fruit trees in the chicken yard – we are hoping to provide shade and food for our hens, so lots of plums, pears, apples, cherries, and an apricot. In addition, we are trying our hand at hatching chicks, so we’ve started to hold back eggs in order to get a flock of our own hybrids started. Walter and Jesse, our Large Black/Glocester Old Spots, have now gone to their reward and will grace our table shortly, so we are just left with the four March sisters who we’ll likely not process until the end of February. It is odd to think, however, how swiftly everything comes to a screeching halt. Just a few weeks ago we were scrambling to juggle the market, chores, harvesting the garden and fruit trees, and processing all of that product into jams, tomato sauce, salsa, and cider. Almost as though there were some sort of divine plan, just as the frenzy subsided, the rains came.

One of my proudest accomplishments in our nearly three years now of being on this property is learning how to grow food year round – not just squash and tomatoes in the summer, but greens in the winter. In fact, it’s safe to say we prefer winter crops to summer – except of course for our tomatoes! In the pic you can see spinach under cover, lettuce, peas, asparagus, kale, and potatoes.

I put in crimson clover as a nitrogen fixer for next year, when I’ll till it in the ground as nutrients for whatever crops we decide to put in the garden.

And now we settle in for the long winter until March. A time to read Classics, to play guitar, to teach, to plan for next year, to enjoy the holidays with good friends, good food, and a good bottle – and to wait for Mighty Aphrodite to do her work as we anticipate the arrival of kids at the end of February. The hogs will die; the next generation of goats will bear new life; more hogs will come in March: we live in a cycle bookended by Aphrodite and Charon, the boatman who will take our coin and escort us over Styx. It is just as Homer said nearly three thousand years ago: The generations of men are as the leaves on the trees; a generation springs forth, grows, withers, and falls, and another comes in its place. We are linear beings in a cyclical world. Let’s enjoy the show.

 

Bacchus, Der Kommende Gott

A good wine starts with a good harvest and favorable conditions for the grapes. The vineyard next door was harvested early this year, and the yields on grapes were incredible.

 

The God Bacchus, or, if you prefer the Greek version, Dionysus, is sometimes known by scholars as “The Arriving God”, often referred to as Der Kommende Gott, which is German for the same thing since a German renowned German scholar of the last century was the first to apply this moniker to Him. (Please note the caps – usually pagan deities do not get caps when referring to them as “god” or “goddess”, but in my opinion Bacchus deserves caps!) The appellation comes from the possibility that Dionysus was not a Greek deity initially, but an import from the East, and is often depicted in ancient art as in procession on a panther or tiger, animals that in antiquity were related to India and the eastern most edges of the known world.

Dionysus arrived early on our farm this year because of the super-abundance of fruit, and being a good hedonist, I always like to honor him by spreading the good news in the booziest way possible, making cider and wine. Call it an alcoholic form of evangelicalism. The ancient Greeks and Romans in fact felt The Buzz to be a manifestation of the God Himself, that you could actually feel the presence of Dionysus in the wine, and that to partake was to ingest the God into you and to experience His actual presence and mystery.

Our two modest vines in the back yielded a prodigious harvest of grapes this year. I spent a Saturday picking no less than 25 gallons of grapes, and was so spent by the task (it’s pretty intense work making your way through the tangle of the old vines to get to the clusters) that I left probably a good five to eight gallons of grapes on the vine. Here they are being pressed for juice that I’ll ferment for a decent home brew that is good but not great.

The God had a long and illustrious history in antiquity. The Athenians honored him with religious festivals, and Greek comedy and tragedy in Athens was a part of religious rites celebrating Him – such as the Dionysia. The Romans moved at one point to suppress Bacchus rites as immoral, but still honored the deity once the state took control of His cult. My personal favorite religious observance in His honor was an Athenian festival known as the Anthesteria, or festival of the blossoms, that took place around February (in the month of Anthesterion). It was called Anthesterion because that’s when the wild flowers start to bloom in Greece, and the festival celebrated the opening of the new wine. It took place over three days, one of which included ritual drunkenness, when the new wine was uncorked and celebrants got quite intoxicated. In fact, the Greeks used wine as a cultural marker: for the Greeks there were two types of people in the world – civilized ones who spoke Greek, and all the rest, who were barbarians; similarly, civilized people drank wine, around which there were elaborate rituals, or they drank beer and other forms of liquor, marking them as uncultured savages.

Of course, the pre-modern world was quite a boozy place, and as one reads one begins to see that intoxication has quite a pedigree. Alcibiades, the famous Athenian statesman, gives an inebriated biography of his friend Socrates in Plato’s Symposium. Philip II, the father of Alexander the Great, was quite the tippler, while it’s dubious whether his son ever went into battle without knocking back two or three or nine. Mark Antony, a notorious drunk, wrote a work titled De Ebrietate Sua (Latin for “Concerning His Drunkenness”), and even showed up at the forum in his capacity as consul with a hangover that entailed repeated vomiting in public. The Latin word for hangover, by the way, is totally awesome: crapula. You could not make that one up! Cato the Younger, the great opponent of Julius Caesar who chose suicide over living under the tyranny of his illustrious rival, was a notorious drinker, and it was said that Cato was the only one who could save the Republic drunk while Caesar was the only one who would destroy it while sober. Caesar’s successor, Augustus, was known to be an abstemious drinker, consuming no more than a pint of wine a day (Augustus and Caesar – what a couple of damn prigs!) Augustus’ successor, Tiberius, was a heavy drinker – his full name was Tiberius Claudius Nero but he was jokingly referred to as Biberius Caldius Mero, which translates roughly to Mr. Imbiber of Pure Hot Wine. When you dined with Tiberius big cups were the order of the day, as was witty conversation. And by gosh by golly, all that wine killed him off prematurely at the age of 78. His mother, the empress Livia, lived to be 86, dying in 29 AD, and attributed her longevity to only drinking wine from Picenum (in Italy). The emperor Claudius (Mark Antony’s grandson, Augustus’ grand-nephew, and Tiberius’ nephew), was so bad a drunk that he couldn’t even remember issuing the order to have his wife, Messalina, executed for adultery and conspiracy.

I may speak rather self-deprecatingly about my ability as a wine maker, but all modesty goes out the window when it comes to my home brewed hard cider. It is, quite simply, the best alcoholic beverage I’ve ever tasted. It starts here with grinding the apples. Note the fermentation buckets in the background – that is what the juice is poured into for the initial fermentation.

As for my own personal history, being a good Classicist, I’ve always enjoyed wine. As a teenager growing up I would drink rarely – my parents carefully regulated any consumption and it was reserved only for special occasions.

When I traveled Europe in 83 though, well, I lived on beer; I was on a budget, often sleeping on trains, eating lots of bread and cheese, and getting plenty of calories from drinking beer (and goodness, I was still so thin!). My boozy peregrination through old Europe started in London pubs – that’s where I first encountered Scrumpy, a slang term for hard cider, which I enjoyed immensely, though I loved the British stouts as well – the bitter quality was invigorating and refreshing I found. My time in France and Belgium was pretty sober, but once I arrived in Spain I encountered Sangria. It was like nothing I ever had – being on a tight budget, it was a joy to be able to go into a tapas bar and have wonderful delicacies washed down with a pitcher of red wine fortified with brandy and infused with fruit; by the time I reached Spain it was hot, I was on my feet 8-10 hours a day sight-seeing, and a couple of pitchers of those a day went down pretty easily. I traveled from Spain to Portugal with a couple of cute Canadian girls I met on the train in Madrid. When we arrived in Lisbon it turned out it was a ntional holiday, and everything but the cafes were closed. I recall a long day with them and an Australian gentleman in an outdoor café in a lovely square and we had about 40 bottles of beer on the table by the end of the day.

Oddly enough, once I arrived from my time in Spain and Portugal in Italy I don’t recall having much in the way of anything to drink, perhaps because Italy was so expensive and I ate on the fly out of pizzarias on the street and rosticcerias where you could get chicken and salads or potatoes. Once in Austria and Germany, however, the beer flowed: Pilsner, Berliner Weiss, Helles, I tried them all many times over. Much to my surprise, however, were the white wines in both Austria and Germany, and to my delight, in Austria, the white wines were sometimes served in small mugs (awesome!), and were refreshing and delicious, since by the time I arrived in the northern countries in Europe it was summer. At the time I had no idea Germany produced such outstanding wines. However my first impression of Germany was not the best – I arrived in Munich and was wandering its charming streets and taking it all in, and wandered into the famous Hoffbrau Haus because I was a young American tourist and was told I absolutely had to go, so I had “ein Mass”, then went to use the facilities when a large German fellow with an amble main of red hair and a whispy beard stormed in, slammed his hands against the wall, and proceeded to vomit in a way that could make Linda Blair in the Exorcist look like child’s play. Oof!

The next step after grinding the apples for cider is the squeezing and pressing of the fruit. I can extract 3-4 gallons on a good day, and much of the time is spent simply sanitizing equipment. I used to joke about how my brew was the triple D (DDD, Down, Dirty, and Dangerous), but some tainted cider cured me of my cavalier attitude towards sanitation – no alcohol doesn’t really kill every germ!

After I spent a couple of months in the Germanic countries I headed to Scandinavia, where I have relatives in Denmark and Norway. Before visiting them, however, I traveled to Finland: the only thing I’ll say about it is vodka, knife fights, and living near Russia are a very bad combination. As far as Norway goes, the booze is too expensive and the people pretty staid and sober, although my second or third cousin Per, who was a Norwegian bachelor dairy farmer and looked like a cute little elf, brewed homemade beer in a large wooden vat in the basement of his house, and I remember him leaning over the vat stirring in Juniper sprigs for flavor. He drew off pitchers of it for lunch and it had a very distinct taste of what I imagine glue must be like.

Denmark was another story. I spent almost all my time with my mother’s cousin Erik in Odense. Erik lives in a story book home with a story book setting – a red brick house with a red tile roof, a huge victory garden, and a lovely canal in the back of the house with ducks and swans that glided down its waters. It was lovely. Every night for the time I was there we ate outside in the garden, and at every meal there was a bottle of aquavit and several beers. Aquavit, for the uninitiated, is Scandinavia’s answer to Schnapps: it tastes literally like liquid caraway seeds and is kept in the freezer at all times; shots of it are consumed and chased by beer. Danes claim that it helps herring to “swim” in one’s stomach. It is a great accompaniment to the open face sandwiches the Danes consume in their infinite variety: shrimp, herring and egg, ham and Havarti, Tybo cheese and radish, liver pate with thin slices of onion, rollepolse (the Danish version of rolled beef), frikadeller (ground pork patties with some sage), lax with butter and dill, and on and on and on. The Danes even drink Aquavit in their coffee in the evening with a bit of sugar in a concoction they call “A Little Black”: you put a Danish kroner (I guess they’d use a Euro now!) in the bottom of the cup and pour in coffee until is vanishes, then add Aquavit until it reappears. Of course, the requisite pastries and cakes are there on the side, or Rod Grot med Flot (sorry, I am not slashing my “o”s!), a porridge of lightly sweetened berries with cream poured on top – delicious!

The final step in home brewing is the bottling – after three weeks of fermentation in the bucket (and I add in a couple of packs of champagne yeast and a couple pounds of brown sugar for every five gallons of cider to produce a nice dry product); I then at bottling add in a syrup of one cup water and three-fourths cup brown sugar to produce carbonation and let it ferment for another three weeks in the bottle. As an historic note, cider was one of the drinks of choice in colonial and revolutionary America (President Adams reportedly drank two tankards of the brew a night); it was driven out in favor of beer by around the 1840s as German and Irish immigrants with their tradition of beers and ales flowed into the young republic. Happily it is making a comeback!

My cousin Erik and I actually took a little trip down the Rhine and Mosel, camping all the way. Of course the Rhine valley is well known to tourists, but the Mosel was an eye opener for me. We drove down a relatively narrow stream with steep hills on either side, vineyards and castles to the right and left everywhere, not to mention a plethora of charming German villages. It was there that I discovered Mosel Wein, wonderful, sweet, crisp, refreshing wine from the Mosel vineyards, and generally low in alcohol, so we would drink several bottles at night with dinner. It was particularly nice since we were there in July and the days were very hot and humid.

Drinking in the US is often associated with the college experience. I was odd in that by the time I started college in earnest I was married, and given my heavy work load as an undergraduate and what I was studying, simply didn’t drink for years, period, end of story. When you have a professor who makes you read eight books of Homer’s Odyssey in Greek when you are only in your fourth semester of the language, you barely have time to breath. So, a long hiatus until I started to go to Europe again as a grad student in 1994 and 1995. It was then that I made up for the wines I had never tried in Italy in 1983, when I was on a program for art and archaeology at the American Academy in Rome.

I will never forget my first encounter with a Roman white: a friend of mine from the program and I sat down at a little café on a side street just off from the Pantheon. We ordered a liter of house wine, and got what we thought was champagne. It was exquisite: light, crisp, refreshing, and fizzy – what the Italians call frizzante. And we were horrified. It was outstanding: how much was this going to cost? Then we got the tab and settled in – about the whole of $4.00 – so we settled in. Over my years of frequent travel to Italy I became acquainted with some outstanding wines of various character: Montpulciano, Regaliale, Lacrimae Christi, Frascati, Castelli Romani, Est Est Est!, Orvieto Classico, Granano di Sorrento, the list goes on and on and on. Prosecco, that wonderful bubbly produced mainly in the north, became a personal favorite. In my opinion, none of this stuff travels well, except for Vin Santo, a sweet dessert wine served with biscotti. Then of course there was grappa (a strong grape liquor), and a personal favorite, limoncello, a lemon liquor popular in Campania, the region surrounding Naples in the south. The hotel I used to take students to in Pompeii always had a giant bottle of it in the lobby for their guests, often surrounded by filthy shot glasses. I will never make home-brewed wine like the Italians, but I can boast that I have them beat with the limoncello, and even make a homemade cream version of the drink. As one scholar put it to me however, just before I left, just stick your face in the gutter in Italy and eventually some fine wine will flow over it!

And right he was – metaphorically speaking! I recall while excavating the ancient Roman city of Fragellae, about half way between Rome and Naples, wonderful lunches of cold salads like bread and tomato or tuna and beans, with a large jug of white wine passed around. After a long morning of swinging a pick and hauling dirt, sometimes even working a jackhammer (yes, a jackhammer), it was hard to pass up even the standard white table wine that was so cold and delicious.

Greece is another story. Although known for its wines in antiquity, I am not fond of most Greek wines. The stuff you get from around Nemea on the Peloponnese in southern Greece is okay. The Macedonian roses are actually good. Retsina is an acquired taste, though I could tolerate it (and there are some good retsinas). But my favorite Greek beverage is ouzo – I love it. However it does NOT translate well to America. You need a beach on a Greek island on a hot summer day, with plenty of ice and fresh fish. In fact, it is like German beer, Italian wine, and anything else – best there; it just doesn’t work outside of its environment, like training a giraffe to pull a plow – that’s a job for an ox, a giraffe just won’t work. That having been said, I have never seen so much alcohol consumed as at the American School for Classical Studies in Athens during my year there – it seemed as though everyone in my class had livers like Aegean sponges. The favored drink was a cocktail called a Navarino – blood orange juice and vodka.

Once home from Greece and gainfully employed at a public university where I was struggling to get tenure I turned to cocktails on Friday to get through the ordeal. I started to make Manhattans and Martinis for a while, and when we went to the opera wine was our thing. Opera was an all day event on Sundays, and we liked to come home and cook a great dinner accompanied with a fine wine. But hard liquor was never my thing, and I like the civility and conviviality of wine and beer, so it was a brief affair and I’ve not seen either Ms. Manhattan or Martini since the late 90s!

All I can say about life here today is that living in the heart of one of the finest wine regions in the world where we are is awesome. What can I say – it just is! Every week at the market a local winery is featured and I buy their wine and they buy our eggs. I have a collection of fine 2011s – a great year, and plan to snap up the 2014s asap since it was such a great year for grapes.

This nifty little wine cooler is home to my little collection of fine Oregon Pinot Noir, and lives next to my aging homemade feta and a few apples we’re saving for pie this winter. An Anthesteria, anyone?

Of course, just as God thinks in Latin and speaks in Greek (and sometimes Arabic as well!), Bacchus is fluent in grape. He speaks in three dialects, white, red, and rose; and his syntax is alcohol, juice, yeast, and natural sugars. His magic is powerful, erratic, marvelous. And he has followed us from the ancient brews of Mesopotamia, to the famous Falernian of Opimius’ consulship in 121 BC, to the coastal foothills of modern Oregon. He truly is an “arriving” God. And he has come to us once again. The bubbles in my fermentation locks are his muezzin calling us to worship. His thyrsus, garlands, and komos – they comfort us. His logos is written in the scripture and tells us: you won’t be alone this winter, the God will be with you, until he mounts his panther, and brings autumn, with its grape presses, and fermentation, and joy, to another part of the world. And it is also the message of Siduri, the divine wine-maker and brewer from the Mesopotamian epic of Gilgamesh, comforting the eponymous hero over the death of his friend Enkidu: “Fill your belly with good things, hold a child’s hand, and made your wife happy in your embrace, for this too is the lot of man.”

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.

T-Shirts

 

This Latin Day t-shirt has always been my personal favorite for some reason. It was the logo used by my colleague and friend Hugh Lee during Latin Day in 2000 when the theme was Greek and Roman athletics. The Latin is from Juvenal, and reads “A sound mind in a sound body”. Good luck with that after going through the ordeal that was Latin Day!

Such a mundane title! And it sound as though you are advertising! What?!?!? Are you going to start to sell t-shirts with the Dancing Faun logo on them? And if not, what is there to say about t-shirts? Who the hell will be enticed to read this? You’ve given your reader absolutely no compelling reason to scroll down. Maybe it’s time to put down the key-board and start again when you have something of interest to impart!

Oh but these are very different t-shirts, for these are Latin Day T-Shirts.

Okay, you say, I’ll bite: what on Earth is Latin Day? Is it in honor of our Hispanic neighbors? No – not Latino, Latin. As in bo bis bit. As in e pluribus unum, of the genus sic semper tyrannis. We are talking Julius Caesar, not Cesar Chavez. Latin Day was the brainchild of my dear friend and former colleague in the Classics department at Maryland, Greg Staley, back in the 1980s. It was a great idea and a great concept that worked for many years.

But what was it? Well, each year a faculty member in our department was in charge of writing and coordinating a 90-minute show that revolved around some theme of classical antiquity. These included Roman politics, Roman entertainment, women in Classical Antiquity, ancient athletics, and ancient mythology. The show included contests with audience participation, t-shirts handed out to the students, and sing-alongs, all tied to a single unifying dramatic theme; it also entailed writing a lesson plan for teachers for the day. My colleagues will excuse me if I focus on my own experience, but naturally I’m more familiar with that and can speak to it. Let me preface that the event took place on a single day, usually in November, and was, no pun intended, quite a production, that included the incredible and awesome help of a professional actor who I think all of us came to consider a wonderful and close friend, Reid Sasser.

The concept of Latin Day was great: bring roughly a thousand high school students on campus, put on a show, and try to get them stoked up about ancient culture as something beyond stodgy old texts gathering dust in the basement of a library. I think the department did a damn good job at it. I will never forget the first time I did Latin Day. It was 1998 and my theme of choice was mythology. We got surprisingly edgy when it came to writing the script, which I vetted among my colleagues. Now mythology is hard to teach to high school students because, like it or not, ancient mythology is all about begat, which is a polite Biblical term for fornication. Moreover it was in the midst of the Lewinsky scandal – and who could resist?!?!?!?! So I centered the show around the myth of Aeneas and the foundation of Rome by Romulus and Remus; I also threw in a good dose of the myths about early Rome, and, it being around Halloween when I put on the show, we included a costume contest, of which I wish to the gods I still had photos, and I’m sure someone back in my old department still does!

The “Mourning Athena” (a sculpted relief from Classical Athens) served as the logo for my Latin Day; the Latin is from Vergil and reads, “Away, away ye who are uninitiated!” (scilicet into the mysteries of producing Latin Day for 1000 hormonal teens!) If she looks forlorn it may be due to the condition of the shirt – this photo was taken of it AFTER it was washed.

On the whole the show went well, except for the fact that the grad students who did the acting were not all that good qua actors (sorry, but after 16 years, longum aevi humani spatium, the truth must be told!) The most hair-raising part of the whole thing was coordinating a costume contest in which students dressed up as a Roman hero, heroine, or deity, and gave a little spiel about who they were. Why harry? There were some awesome costumes – and the winner was a young girl who put together a marvelous costume of the goddess Ceres (the goddess of grain), right down to her gorgeous blue dress and her necklace of Cheerios! But during the show something unexpected happened – a girl from the German school got up on the stage in a one-piece swim suit with a surf board. She was supposed to be Cloelia, a famous Roman maiden captured in the early Republic by the invading Etruscans, led by Lars Porsena (the Swedish Etruscan!), who subsequently led a heroic escape of Roman youth from the Etruscan camp by swimming the Tiber. Now doing this in front of a group of 1000 where there are about 500 guys, all with raging adolescent hormones . . . well, indiscrete to say the least. Hoots, hollers, and a few “will you marry me’s” were hurled from the audience like they were the primi pila from Caesar’s legions. Oooof. A tense moment to say the least, but memorable as well! Oh yes, well, to answer your burning question, Ceres won the contest – though there were unforgettable entries by a Romulus, a Remus, a Cerberus, and other assorted deities.

This shirt was the design of Judy Hallett, our department chair during most of my years at Maryland, and an outstanding mentor for many a budding Classicist, including myself! The Latin is a quotation from Suetonius’ Life of Caesar attributed to Caesar and translates, “The die is cast” (in reference to his crossing the Rubicon and starting a civil war with his rival Pompey the Great). No, that’s not a light reflection on the shirt – it’s clean, just stained permanently with the dirt from our farm.

I was “artistic director and producer” of the show twice while at Maryland, once in 1998 and again in 2004, and both times I ended the program with a sing-along. The second time I composed a song about the Magna Mater, or Great Mother, a deity “imported” into Rome in the third century BC, sung to the tune of the Battle Hymn of the Republic, a verse of which was as follows:

Now Zeus has a thing for Nereids and is ever on the make,

Dian’ Bacchus Ceres Leto, children at enormous rate,

But with the Magna Mater he will never have a date,

Her hair she’ll wash at eight . . .

The kids loved it, and the most enjoyable entertaining thing about it was seeing how far we could push the edge of the “naughtiness” envelope and even sometimes go all “meta” with parody and self-awareness of the silliness of the whole thing. I think the greatest moment in my years of participating in the event was when Greg had an advertising contest for Latin. Students did parodies of advertisements that were current at the time on behalf of Latin, and at this particular time former senator and presidential candidate Bob Dole was doing an advert for Viagra. Well, one of the schools submitted an entry with a male student made to look like Bob Dole (it was a very good job) with women hanging all over him and he promoted a cure, not for ED (erectile dysfunction) as Bob Dole was doing, but for LD (Latin dysfunction) – it was way over the top, but an absolutely hilarious and brilliant piece of satire.

As an aside, I’ve often wondered just how Classics were taught before the new sexual openness of the 1960s and 70s. How could anyone teach mythology honestly and with integrity, in particular without the benefit of greater scope for talking about human sexuality. It is still a difficult and controversial matter when it comes to its introduction in middle and high school, but there it is.

On the whole, Latin Day was a real raucous, fly by the seat of your pants operation (“Wait, I’m a Latin professor, not a screen-play writer or director or producer” I used to think as the blind panic that was November would approach), in no small part because we absolutely could not go a single minute beyond the allotted 90 because of the bus schedule. Go over and people would start to walk out. I recall one year an absolutely masterful improvisation by Greg who was on head sets back stage with the actor out on stage making it up as they went as it became apparent they were going to go over time the last 10 or 15 minutes of the show – the presence of mind of both Greg and Reid in that instance was indeed impressive, and kudos to all of my colleagues, because they all had moments like that (though that one was particularly memorable).

My colleague and friend Lillian Doherty, now department chair, had this as her t-shirt design for her theme on Women in Classical Antiquity. It is a bit too light and frayed for me to wear now, but still does yeoman’s work by keeping the sun at bay when I wrap it around my head. The photo does not show the sweat stains (ugh!)

It was in the nature of a big party every year, since I think everyone was pretty useless at the end of the day because it was easily the biggest day for our department each year – a huge group effort went into it as one can imagine. The next couple of hours were spent cleaning up the campus theater we used, breaking down the crude sets that we re-used annually, and then heading back to the department for a little after show celebratory lunch. We had the generous support of other individuals on campus who would sometimes get involved, with what I always felt was the invaluable support of Jim Thorpe, a studio artist who designed our t-shirt and program logo which was also used on the programs we handed out. We also received very generous financial assistance from outside supporters.

Alas, Latin Day’s demise came when the campus decided to renovate Tawes Theater, and we effectively lost the only venue on campus that was affordable and viable for the event. However there had been some decline in the years leading up to Latin Day’s end. School regulations were becoming increasingly restrictive, as was curriculum; the expense and budgeting of the program was also becoming increasingly fraught. It is hard to say how much the kids, middle and high school aged, enjoyed or got from the program. When we cleaned out the theater we would find most of the programs discarded, and the occasional shredded t-shirt on the floor. But events like this are the same as teaching in a sense: it is an act of faith and hope, casting your bread upon the water as it were.

Another favorite shirt of mine designed by Eva Stehle – I liked her design so much that I think I have more of these than any other. This one is also from the very first Latin Day in which I participated. 

Over the years I accrued quite a collection of the t-shirts, which we all wore with our suit and dress jackets on Latin Day. I’d end up with one to four shirts in my drawer somehow after each program. In the years leading up to my final departure from Maryland I thought that I was well stocked for a life-time supply of t-shirts that I could wear with sweats to lounge around the house, or to wear when I went for a walk or bike ride in the area. Today, however, a once thriving community of t-shirts that I thought would see me through the remainder of my days – in light blue, burgundy red, white, cream, black – is in rapid decline, something I thought that I would never see.

The t-shirt from my last Latin Day. The design was based on a Greek vase painting and shows Hercules leading Cerberus out of the Underworld.

They have been assailed with the stains of grease, manure, paint, dirt, grass, and hay as I daily wear them in my farm work. They have been nibbled and hoofed by goats, befouled by birds, and torn on fence staples. The underarms are fast wearing and before their final demise I suspect all of them will turn into tanks. The collars on almost all are frayed. The lovely logos are fading rapidly on most. Except for the black ones. The black ones I can only wear inside or in winter; one step into the sun and they become instantly hot and extremely uncomfortable. The lighter white one, the one that sports Women in Classical Antiquity on the front, is the worst, perhaps because I have long since stopped using it as a t-shirt and now use it as a keffeya on my head in the summer heat. I prefer that to a hat, which makes my head terribly hot. I would be surprised if anyone has worn them more than I have – in fact I will make my former colleagues a wager that no one will wear theirs out faster. What the folks down at Sheridan Market make out of them when I come in, in my filthy shorts and sandals these days looking for all the world like a bum or one of the local meth heads after working all day in the summer heat, I can only guess.

It is strange for me to think now how a simple sartorial article can come to represent a life transition and the passage of time, but these days, as they lose something with each wash, they have become dying mementos. Time becomes a little less friendly to them each washing, as they turn to tumbled, faded monuments to a past life, commemoratives of my mid-thirties and early forties. They are in a condition that I never thought to see them in during those “Latin Day” years, a reminder of paths taken, of paths changed, of people once daily in my life, of all of those students on the cusp of adulthood who have now most likely finished college, gotten married, and have children of their own, some no doubt soon about to study Latin in middle school themselves. “Time, Fate, and Suffering instructs me to be content” begins Sophocles’ Oedipus at Colonus, as he ends his wanderings in Athens to take his leave of this world. The simple articles of cotton and dye scattered today in hampers, on floors, fence posts, and resting in dresser drawers, could easily say the same, as could those whom they clothe.