Archive for the ‘Country Living’ Category

Expecting the Inspector

Monday, May 14th, 2018

Ten days ago, there was a field of smooth brown dirt where the lawn used to be.  Right outside our north bedroom window.  Now?  Not so much.

It’s even-ness has given way to lumpy and chunky.  I guess those few days of “intermittent rain” were the culprit.  The dirt shifted here and puddled there.  Rocks and broken rhododendron branches (WHAT?  They broke our rhodies?!?) are peeking out.  Hills and valleys are beginning to form.  And… did I see a bit of green poking through?

You can be sure it’s not the first sprigs of new lawn that I see.  We cannot re-seed until we can fill in the trench and we cannot fill in the trench until the Inspector arrives and gives his okay.  (I don’t know why I think of the Inspector with a capital letter.  Actually, an ominous capital letter.  As in Inspector General with hardhat and clipboard.) I think he or she is a State, not a County, Inspector.  And I’m pretty sure it’s an Electrical Inspector we’re expecting.  But I’m not really sure.  It’s one of those the-customer-is-last-to-know things.

If you Google “kinds of home inspectors,” all sorts of sites pop up.  One is titled “More Than 45 Inspector Certifications (free & online for members).” Wow!  Chimney Inspector, Electrical Inspector, Stucco Inspector, Meth House Hazards Inspector, Moisture Intrusion Inspector…  The list goes on and on.

I can’t help but wonder who, if anybody, inspected this house when it was built back in 1869.  Maybe the homeowner, Tom Crellin.  Maybe not.  There might have been the presumption back in those days that a Master Carpenter knew what he was doing.  And, of course, there was no need for an electrical or plumbing inspection.  Life was simpler.  New toilet facilities needed?  Dig a hole; move the outhouse.

Not that I’m advocating giving up our modern creature comforts and safety standards, mind you.  I just wish the process was more timely.  As almost anyone can tell you, Patience is not my middle name!

Yard Art?

Thursday, May 3rd, 2018

Well, I’ve heard of the Ashcan school of art which, according to Wikipedia, “was an artistic movement in the United States during the early 20th century that is best known for portraying scenes of daily life in New York, often in the city’s poorer neighborhoods.”  What was happening on our Croquet Court today wasn’t the Ashcan School.  More like the Outhouse School.

For a fact, it was happening not far from where the old outhouse used to be. Appropriate, I thought.  It could also be termed kinetic – lots of big movement. And noise. And it looked like several things were happening at once.  Dirt coming out of a big hole while sand was going in.  It’s the beginning of our new septic system – a happening right here a stone’s throw from my bedroom window.

It’s one of those love/hate experiences that many of us here on the Peninsula eventually must face up to.  Living, as we do, on a fragile little sandspit with the water table not far from the surface during the rainy times, our septic systems are mega-important.  And, if you need to build one from scratch or even replace one after forty years like we do – mega-expensive.

On the other hand, when your pipes gurgle at you every time you shower or flush and you fear that something may come up the drain at you, the sooner the situation is corrected, the better.  It’s a complicated procedure these days.  There are specialists to hire.  First of all, an expert to draw a plan.  Then the county must approve it.  And then another expert with big equipment and a long waiting list must be engaged to do the work.  It all costs about leventy-leven times as much as it cost my grandfather to dig the hole for his outhouse.

And then, I suppose, there will be repair work to be done in the garden.  But, I console myself that the grass is always greener over the septic tank.  Erma Bombeck said so.  Right now, that’s about the only happy thought I have.  That and the end of gurgling.

One man’s treasure…

Wednesday, February 28th, 2018

The Tree Next Door

Not that our once-upon-a-time neighbors, the Hampsons, were our BFFs.  They weren’t.  But, even so, as I listened to the chain saws and chippers all day yesterday, I was sort of glad they were no longer among us.  John took such pride in those trees – researched to find exactly which ones he wanted and paid close attention to how each one would complement or contrast or visually reinforce.  He spent a lot of time and effort on his garden.

I don’t know if the plan is to take them all down.  I see yellow tape marking most of them, so I suppose they’ll be history by the end of the week.  I hope the big cypress just on the other side of the fence between our properties is not one of the doomed ones.  I like looking at it and I like that it shields the view the houses have of one another.  Just a tad.

Work in Progress

On the other hand, we are glad that something is happening next door.  We have yet to see the new owners – not here, that is.  Dr. Bert Green did visit us (twice!) in November during the two weeks that Nyel was at the UW Medical Center.  We enjoyed talking with him, though we spoke very little of Oysterville.

The Neighborhoods of Oysterville

 

I had heard that they were planning to build an additional wing on the house and I did ask about that.  “More a bump-out than a wing, I think,” he said.  “But that’s really my wife’s department…”  He didn’t mention whose department the garden is. So, the plans remain a mystery – something to look forward to here in the ‘hood as Spring unfolds.

Speaking of neighborhoods… it may come as a bit of a revelation that Oysterville actually has them.  At least according to the Design Guidelines which can be found on Pacific County’s website.  Within the Oysterville Historic District there are five (count ’em – five!) neighborhoods listed!  We are in what is called “The Core” neighborhood.  The others are the “Northwoods,” the “Shoreline,” the “Southwoods,” and the “Douglas Drive” neighborhoods.  Seems crazy in a village the size of ours, but there you have it!

No matter which neighborhood any of us lives in, we are all interested in the changes that have taken place over the years and are curious about what is to come.  That’s just the way it is in a village the size of Oysterville.  I really can’t imagine living in a place where nobody notices or even cares.  Can you?

Borscht for Breakfast?

Wednesday, December 13th, 2017

Gathered at the Water Cooler

Yesterday was a 3-a.m.-to-11 p.m.-kinda-day for the old ducks of the household and, for our chicken tenants, it was a day of slim pickin’s, apparently.  On the assumption that they would be just fine (and they were, lest you worry!) we didn’t head out to the coop in the wee hours before we left for appointments in Seattle.  Nor did we check on the girls in the pitchy night when we got back.

The Well-loved Tetherball

First thing this morning, out I went and found the four girls gathered ’round the empty water trough, impatiently waiting for a refill.  When I checked the food supply in the coop, that cupboard, too, was bare.  And the cabbage tether ball was just about completely decimated.  If those girls WERE laying, which they are not, would the eggs taste slightly like cabbage?  Probably a good thing those nest boxes are still empty!

All is well now, and we can get on with our day.  I apologized profusely to the girls and promised them a new cabbage tetherball.  If I could figure out how to add beets to their game, they could have borscht for tomorrow’s breakfast.  Our Russian Orloff would probably enjoy that – but I’m not sure about the others.

Spied Getting a Retread

Meanwhile… it’s a lot of scurry and hurry around here.  Last minute cleaning, a little decorating, a lot of cooking and maybe, just maybe, we’ll be ready for Marta and Charlie when they arrive on Friday!  Then… let the Season begin!  (It would be really nice to find an egg or two down in that chicken coop for Christmas breakfast – even it DID taste a bit like the offerings from my old friend Peter Popkov’s Russian Restaurant c. 1950s in San Francisco…  But that’s another story.)  Meanwhile, we have photographic evidence that Santa is readying his sleigh.  Bring on Christmas, borscht and all!

Here in Oysterville — Duck for Dinner!

Saturday, December 9th, 2017

Hunters Chris and Larry Freshley

I couldn’t have been more pleased when I answered the door yesterday.  There was my neighbor Chris holding a zip-lock bag of pure Willapa Bay Goodness.  Duck!  All breasted out and ready to prepare for dinner!  It was a déjà vu, of sorts, to the days when he and his brother Larry were kids here and my grandparents were the recipients of occasional gifts of hunting bounty.  Later, it was my folks’ who were on the receiving end.  And now us!!!

There was a time (when we lived in our bay house south of here) that Nyel went duck hunting each fall.  Over the years, our little vestibule had its share of ducks hanging in wait and Nyel’s duck dinners were fabulous.  Too, our next-door neighbor in those days, Dobby, was (and remains) the King of the Duck Hunters and watching his well-trained dogs do their job was one of the pleasures of the fall season.  Nyel and I sorely miss that part of our lives – not the part between bringing the ducks home and seasoning the breasts for dinner, though.  Chris’s arrival with that zip-lock bag was like a visit from a God of the Hunt!

Duck Hunter Dobby

Hunting season here in Oysterville is one of the most nostalgic times of the year for me.  Hearing that pop-pop-pop of gunfire out on the bay is all tied up with the traditions of our Oysterville lifestyle.  My great-grandfather hunted out there – as a necessity, not a sport.  His sons, including my grandfather Harry, the same.  Harry’s sons Edwin and Willard, ditto.  And once-upon-a-time, Nyel.  When I told Chris that we were especially grateful because Nyel’s hunting days are probably over, his (typically guy) response was, “All he needs is a good retriever.”  Music to Nyel’s dog-deprived (he thinks) ears!

I know that some of our neighbors take umbrage with the duck-hunting out on the bay.  I’m not sure whether it’s an environmental/ecological sort of concern or a belief in a no-kill policy or a vegan thing.  I respect their right to those feelings – whatever they are – but this is Oysterville, after all.  Far less populated (if it’s a safety issue) than ever in its history, and a place where hunting has been part of the landscape (so to speak) since the beginning.  When the time comes that none of Oysterville’s residents have deep roots in the community – no genetic tendencies toward hunting on the bay – perhaps that will be the time to speak out.  Meanwhile… let’s hear it for duck dinners right from our front forty!

The Mowing Season

Thursday, September 14th, 2017

Pitching Hay, 1914

In the early nineteen hundreds when my grandfather and a number of others raised cattle here at the north end of the peninsula, they also raised as much feed as they could.  Papa grew beets right across the road in what is now the churchyard — rows and rows of them that my mother remembered weeding all summer long for a penny a row.  And he grew hay.  Meadows of it!

The property involved in Papa’s dairy farm, according to my Uncle Edwin, consisted of several interrelated elements that were scattered over about six hundred acres in an unconventional configuration.  There were other properties of a different kind, chiefly marshland and a wooded hillside to the south that overlooked the bay.  The land as a whole was principally of three types:

  • The bay-front property, mostly meadow with some smaller wooded areas
  • The “town” property, for nearby grazing, for two of the barns and for a garden
  • The marsh, an extensive area of swamp and other low ground, heavily wooded or otherwise overgrown with shrubbery but providing succulent grazing for the cattle.

Meadow Mowing In Progress 2017

The meadow land along the bay was mostly given over to raising hay that, depending upon the weather, was harvested and put in the haymows of the barns (there were two – the ‘little barn’ across from the house, and the ‘big barn’ a bit south of town) sometime before school started.  Helping tramp hay was one of the big events of summer for the younger children.  Not so much for the older ones, as fourteen-year-old Medora wrote in her diary in August 1914:

We didn’t wash this morning as Papa wanted to have us tramp hay.  I did my kitchen work, then read a while.  We put in five loads of hay.  Marvin Bowen helped Sue and I tramp.  The children (Ed, Willard and Mona) were just a nuisance.  The whole Gilbert tribe came to help the last load.  In between loads I read and wrote letters. 

For the years since there were cattle in town, the meadows between bay and the houses on Territory Road have been tended in various way.  My Great Uncle Cecil used to burn his, much to the consternation of the Ocean Park Fire Department.  Nowadays, Nyel has ‘inherited’ the task of coordinating homeowners and a ‘mowing man’ about the time summer winds down.  Last year and this, Mr. Jim Kurtz has been the man of the hour – actually hours and hours.

Jim Kurtz – The Mowing Man

I’m always happy to see the meadows being mowed.  It restores our bay view and reassures us that the gorse and scotch broom and alders that pop up each summer will not get a permanent foothold.  The meadows will restore themselves once again come spring, giving protection to the nesting birds and field mice and other little creatures of Oysterville and the cycle will continue to tie the past and present together in our ever-changing world.

To Bag or Not To Bag?

Monday, August 7th, 2017

The Riding Lawnmower

In our climate, the question of whether to bag the lawn clippings or leave them behind when you mow deserves due consideration.  Some folks say that leaving them on the lawn is actually a good thing, nutrient-wise, and if you mow often, you can’t even see them.  If you can’t mow regularly, though, and the grass is a little (or a lot) long, the browning clippings are quite unsightly.  Plus, walking on the grass in the early, dewy morning hours is a big problem.  Grass clippings cling to your shoes or boots and woe be unto those who forget to leave them outside the door when re-entering the house.

Nyel (Bless him!) has always bagged but it makes the job more onerous and it takes some strength to unfasten the hopper, dump the clippings, re-attach and so forth.  On our big lawn, depending on the time it’s been since the last mowing, there are many, many trips to the back forty to dump.  Lately that process has been eliminated (for health considerations).  So… grassy feet on the journey to the chickens each morning.

Grassy Shoes

This morning I decided (for the umpteenth time) to use the “new” boots that were a Christmas gift a few years back.  The old ones have developed numerous age-related leaky places and really don’t do the trick when it’s wet.  I hate the new ones, though.  They are too small, hard to get on, impossible to get off without help, and hurt my toes (to boot!) but they are (supposedly) my size and the only brand Jack’s carries now.  Ditto Dennis Co.  Plus it’s one of those things that I don’t think about between wearings so I’ve not been serious in my search for a different pair.

It’s been a while since I’ve succumbed to trying those boots once again and, even though they’ve been sitting (or do boots stand?) in the laundry room for many months, I automatically turned each one upside down and gave it a good shake before slipping (read: tugging) it on.  I was only medium-surprised when a half cup or so of chicken scratch spilled forth from one of them.  There’s no way of telling when the stash was put there – I see no other ‘evidence’ of critters in residence — but Nyel is setting mousetraps as we speak.

Boot Stash

Two steps onto the lawn in those owie boots and I vowed to throw them out, ‘new’ or not.  And I thanked my lucky stars that Nyel is once again out of the hospital and home again and feeling better than he has for some months.  Maybe next time he mows, he can bag.  And maybe I’ll expand my quest for comfortable, easily removable boots.  And maybe we’ll trap a mouse.  Lotsa maybes in our lives these days!  I’m glad about that on all counts!

The pleasure is all mine!

Friday, August 4th, 2017

In Carol’s Greenhouse

We were really pleased when Tucker and Carol put us in charge of the birds and plants at their place for a few weeks.  Finally!  We could return just a bit of their many, many caretaking duties with our chickens!  Nyel said he’d scatter birdseed each early morning; I offered to water Carol’s gorgeous potted plants – berries and vegetables and colorful flowers both in and out of her greenhouse.  “Every other day would be fine,” she said.  No one thought “heatwave!”

Things didn’t start well, though.  Nyel was in the hospital the day they left and for most of that first week.  But the gods were smiling on us all.  Tucker and Carol’s son Clark was at their place for exactly the right time period – we couldn’t have planned it better!  So, when we were finally home and could take up our tasks, all was well.  Except Nyel, who is not so spiffy.

Peter Amongst The Lettuces

So, I’ve been doing ‘double duty’ and, I have to say, I am enjoying my experience immensely.  The birds were a bit skittish at first.  I felt them watching me from the trees, but they were shy about showing themselves.  Gradually, they have become braver and this morning I practically had to shoo them away – goldfinches at the thistle feeders, stellar jays and juncos, a robin or two, and a couple of mourning doves, all after their favorites from the wild bird seed Tucker left.

But that wasn’t all the wildlife that greeted me.  In the greenhouse, a bright green tree frog hopped out from behind a tomato plant and we looked at each other for quite a while.  S/he seemed in no hurry to return to protective cover and I enjoyed the early morning company.  And then… a gray squirrel came off the deck as I headed for the hanging basket of fuchsias.  Unlike the frog, though, she didn’t hang around to get fully acquainted.   One quick look at me and she was off, darting behind the big pot of peas next to the boathouse.

Carol’s Fuchsia

I wanted to linger to see who else might arrive but… it’s Nyel’s birthday and we have places to go and people to see (and miles to go before we sleep!).  I almost felt guilty when I got home and described my feeding and watering adventures to him.  It was one time that I really didn’t want to admit that the pleasure was all mine.

About those birds and bees — mostly bees.

Tuesday, July 11th, 2017

Dale Espy – 1916

I wonder if Jimmy Kemmer knows that we were supposed to be brother and sister.  Our grandparents – mostly the women I think – had it all sorted out that Jim’s father, Roy, would marry my mother, Dale.  I don’t think romance was ever on the horizon for the two of them, though.  When they were growing up in Oysterville in the nineteen teens and twenties, mom was the tag-along tomboy and only girl out of the fourteen youngsters of about the same age.

“Thirteen boys and me!” she used to laugh. “They must have grown very tired of me tagging along!  But mostly I was included in all their adventures.”

Her most vivid memory of trying to keep up was a time when she was six or seven and the last in a long line of kids running through the woods up on the ridge (where Douglas Drive is now.)  “The boys must have disturbed a beehive along the way.  They raced by unscathed but by the time I got there, those bees were mad.  I was stung all over my face!  I ran home but I didn’t cry – not until I looked in the mirror!  I thought my face would stay that way forever!”

Dale with Jim Kemmer on her 95th Birthday – 2006

Of course, it didn’t, thanks to my grandmother’s good nursing skills and mom’s own strong constitution.  I don’t know what the common remedy for beestings was then.  Years later when my own two-year-old son was stung while we were on a picnic, we plopped a handful of cool mud on the sting and that relieved the pain, but I doubt that my grandmother plastered mom’s face with mud.  Or, come to think of it, maybe she did.  My mother grew up to be a great believer in facials.

On the subject of bees – here’s a little bit of folklore to think about from the book, Akenfield, by Ronald Blythe:  Billy was one of the old people.  The old people have gone and have taken a lot of truth out of the world with them.  When Billy died, his wife walked down the garden and told the bees and hung black crêpe on the hive.  My grandfather did this, too.  He said that if you didn’t, the bees would die as well.  Bees are dangerous to some folk and a gift to others.  You’ll get someone who’ll get stung once and perish and another who’ll get stung all over and get cured of all manner of things.  There were a rare lot of bees in the village in those days.  When they swarmed we used to all rush out into the garden with the fire-irons and scuttle and bang away; that brought them down.

Definitely food for thought.

Just a Glimmer

Saturday, July 8th, 2017

Akenfield by Ronald Blythe

The blurb on the back of the book I’m reading says, “You do not hear them talking; you hear them feeling…”  I love that!  And, it’s true.  The book is Akenfield: Portrait of an English Village by Ronald Blythe.  Written in 1967 and published two years later, it is a definitive look at life in an East Anglian village at the beginning of the second half of the twentieth century.

The table of contents reveals the scope of this amazing work which catches the memories of those who grew up in the era of horses, before anything in their lives was mechanized.  The Introduction covers Population and Houses, Work in the Village, and Domesday for 1936 and 1966: the Second Agricultural Revolution.  Twenty chapters follow:

1) The Survivors; 2) God; 3) The Ringing Men; 4) To be a Farmer’s Boy?; 5) Good Service; 6) The Forge; 7) The Wheelwright; 8) The Craftsmen; 9) The School; 10) The Agricultural Training Centre; 11) Officers and Gentlemen; 12) The Orchard Men; 13) Four Ladies; 14) The Young Men; 15) The Law; 16) Limitations 17) The Vet; 18) Not By Bread Alone; 19) The Northern Invaders; 20) The Hour of Death.

There are so many unexpected bits of information in the book – probably ‘useless’ information to most but, somehow, satisfying to me who would like nothing better than to step back in time for a few days to get a greater understanding of how life was here in Oysterville long ago, in my grandfather’s childhood.  “The horses were friends and loved like men,” said one of the old Akenfield farmers.  “The ploughmen talked softly to their teams all day long and you could see the horses listening.”

H.A.Espy Children on Danny, 1924

My grandfather would have understood that.  When his last horse, Countess, died in 1944, Willard began his ‘Family Man’ column (in Good Housekeeping Magazine) by quoting Papa’s letter: “It was a relief for her to be gone,” he says (Countess was past thirty), but she wanted to live and so I wanted her to. She was the last animate tie to the old ranch, when you boys were on it with me.” Her death reminds him, he says, that he is lonesome and old.

Willard went on to say that the letter made him see a herd of four-legged ghosts – the horses Empress, Fanny and Prince, Blaze and Lassy and many of the cows as well.  He remembered that when Papa got sick and had to give up the ranch, he had kept the animals that would not sell and they had died one by one.  Countess was the last and only the summer before had become so feeble that she could not pull the harrow across the garden plot so Papa had unhitched her and pulled it himself.

I think I might have read Akenfield before – maybe thirty or forty years ago.  There are phrases and, yes, feelings (as that blurb said) that I remember.  Pleasant glimmers of a book and of a past almost remembered.