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Saturday, July 13, 2013

Farm Report from Oregon: Regarding Cherries and Other Things

My great-grandparent's former farm in Eastern Washington
Urban dwellers have a rather romantic view of what farming is all about. My family is only one to two generations removed from rural life and so I was taught early on that farming is not all bucolic bliss. I remember that my great-grandparents were greatly relieved when they sold their little ranch and retired on U.S. Social Security. Imagine being 70 and getting up at 5 AM every morning to milk the cows. Or getting down on your hands and knees to weed the strawberries. Once or twice might be fun for a city-dweller but doing farm chores 365 consecutive days in a year gets old fast.

When people migrate from rural areas to cities - a worldwide phenomenon described beautifully in Arrival Cities by Doug Saunders - they have good reasons.  It's a hard life.  But every so often the migration is circular with people leaving the city and going back to the land.

The farm in Oregon - the fields
As I've mentioned before my parents own a small farm in the Willamette Valley in Oregon, USA. Since they retired they have been spending more and more time there.

My parent's farm no longer has cows or chickens or any other livestock. The fields are rented out to local farmers. The house is also rented out.  What they do have is a beautiful old barn and space for a magnificent vegetable garden, a walnut orchard and grapes. It's just enough "farm" for a retired couple to enjoy themselves but not so much that they exhaust themselves trying to make a go of it.

In the summer the farm is a family affair. We go down there from Seattle, my brother and sister drive over from Portland, and my other brother comes up from Sacramento with his brood and we all spend a few days reconnecting. Last year I couldn't make it because of the cancer but this year I will be there come hell or high water even if all I do is sit in a lawn chair.

Every so often my mother sends out a family email about what they are up to in the valley. Her notes are a joy to read (my mom is a very entertaining writer) and she gave me permission to post the most recent one. Here it is with some editing on my part - mostly I took out names to protect the innocent.  As you will see it's a story about refined city sensibilities meeting the reality of "vermin".  Yes, our ancestors would have hauled out the shotgun in no time flat.  Please note that the story is a bit one-sided since the raccoons' names and where they reside are unknown at this time.  So, alas, they could not be contacted for their version of the event.

Regarding Cherries and Other Things
Well, we tried to pick and process cherries last weekend.  OK, we were a
week or so later than we should have been but still it was an impressive
crop and neither of us felt much pressure to race down. In fact, with
retirement, I personally don't feel pressure to race much of anywhere.
So went to B's for a lovely dinner in Portland on the on the 4th, then
directly to the farm.

After clearing out the very ripe mouse and trap from the living quarters
I went out to inspect the cherries - nada - a bust.  Nice crop, then
rain (split them), then a biblical  horde of starlings descended and
stripped the trees - I mean every cherry gone to the very highest branch
on all seven of them.  Tenant's mother reported that she went out to
pick the Bing's one morning and the tree was so loaded with birds that
it was shaking,  Why she didn't turn the hose on them, scare them off
and get the cherries  picked is a bit of a mystery.  My opinion is that
it's the perfect setting for a shotgun with a light load - we are talking
starlings here. But then again there is our performance with the damn
raccoons (more on that a bit later).  Interesting and kind of annoying
but then again we still have cherries in the freezer from last year.

So no shortage of other tasks including the ever popular weeding and
mowing but  did take a couple of  long drives,  one that featured both
the Buena Vista and Wheatland river ferries.  Went back to the Jones
Fruit stand, our new favorite.  They grow an impressive amount of what
they sell.  They have early greenhouse tomatoes, while not the lovely
warm from the garden variety but still much, much better than the
imported ones in the stores and their  early peaches are in - yum. Just
finished off the last bite of a rather nice peach tart with a sweet
almond crust.

The garden was messy, humm - oh, of course raccoons,  digging up
earthworms and in the process a few other things including the new
mulch.  Damn.  Later the same day mom and two babies came strolling
through on an afternoon food run. B goes out to run them off ( the
start of the realization that we need to pick up the pace on our farm
kid chops). One of the little guys doesn't run. Damn, he/she has some
sort of injury and is dragging his hind legs. Mother of the year has
sauntered off ditching his ass. Little guy drags him/herself to the barn
where he shows no interested in kindly human intervention.  In fact we
recall that racoons are related to bears. And we also decide to ditch
his ass hoping  that either mom with return (she did) or that the barn
owl will deal because neither of us wants to - we have become city wienies.

All of my farm people would have had the gun out to dispatch mom and the
kids on the first round and certainty would have figured out how to deal
with the injured baby - ax would play prominently in that scenario. But
we benevolent city guys abandoned the task.  Baby did show up with mom
the next afternoon - so nature will deal with the baby but we still have
mom and her dinning habits because neither of us wants to shoot her.

But where are the damn coyotes when we need them? Actually hoping that
the annoying neighbor's dog decides to take mom on - dogs NEVER win a
fight with a raccoon ,but they always try. Could be a two for one deal -
win, win.

Honestly, we have become hopeless weaklings.

1 comment:

Ellen Lebelle said...

When I was growing up, our neighbors had a raccoon. His name was Oswald. (This was before 1963, so don't read anything into his name.) He was better at chasing skunks than their dog; he didn't get sprayed.