Archive for the ‘Country Living’ Category

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.

Persistence, Thy Name is Swallow!

Sunday, July 2nd, 2017

In the Kitchen Garden

Back in early April, nearly three months ago, the first barn swallows made their annual appearance at our house.  They headed for the area behind the garage known as ‘the kitchen garden,’ which has been their building area of choice for at least forty years – they and their parents and grandparents and, undoubtedly great-grandparents and great-greats, too.  The life expectancy of a barn swallow is four years so we’re talkin’ ten generations here!  How many greats is that?

Maybe in my grandparent’s day that little area was a functional garden, but for the past twenty years it has been the home of the outdoor heat pump unit.  And weeds.  To say nothing of swallow guano.  We sometimes refer to the area as “The Pit.”  The walls of the house more-or-less surround it and, over the years, they have become increasingly yucky.  Peeling paint, mildew, and sad.

So, when a friend who has recently left the painting biz offered his services, we happily asked him to have at it in his free time.  Between the weather and his schedule, the work was completed day before yesterday.  It looks fabulous but the final result didn’t come easily.

On the South Porch

For two-plus months, Farmer Nyel and the Painting Master used every trick at their disposal to discourage our swallow friends from building nests in the targeted area.  But, talk about persistence!  It was a daily argument with three pairs of indignant, fast-flying, feathered bits of determination.  With all the other nooks and crannies and nest-building possibilities around this old house, you’d think they could settle on another bit of real estate.  But no.  Other amorous pairs built in other areas, but not the Kitchen Garden crowd.  Painting project be damned, they were going to carry out the family tradition no matter what.

The day before the final topcoat was to go on, we were away.  It rained so the painter didn’t come by, after all.  The swallows, though, were apparently working overtime, never mind the wet sheen on the pristine-and-pure primer coat.  By the next morning they had built three complete nests!  And they were seriously dive-bombing anyone who approached.

Nevertheless, when the painting job was finally finished, it looked perfect! “Sorry you had to take the nests down again,” I told our always cheerful painter.  “No problem,” he said. “But the birds were pretty aggressive.  They were buzzing right by my ears!”

On the East Porch

“At least there weren’t any babies yet,” I said.  “They probably were all ready to lay those eggs today.”  Did his eyes do a shifty thing?  “There weren’t any eggs in the nests yet, were there?” I ventured.

“Sydney, let’s just have a policy of Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell.”  YIKES!

Yesterday, though, the swallows were back.  One nest was complete and another on the way.  I’m staying far away.  I seriously doubt that they’ll forget this summer for a long, long time.  Maybe not for the next ten generations.

Lest We Think Otherwise

Tuesday, June 6th, 2017

Nest at our Front Door

No matter how vigilant we are, our ‘feathered’ friends seem to be having their way with us.  Much like our current ‘leaders’ in the Other Washington?  Well, the comparison is probably a stretch – a flight of fancy you might say –  but the thought occurs all too frequently.

Take our local visiting barn swallows.  They have been trying for a month or more to build nests on our house.  Usually, we have allowed them to do so in the back-forty just outside the kitchen window.  But this year that area is scheduled to be painted, so every day Nyel hoses down the first nest-building efforts.  And every day, the swallows – three pair and three nests – go back to work within minutes.  Cheeky little critters.  And they don’t get it that they are not welcome.  Not at all.  Public opinion means nothing to them.

Nest Close-up — Hurriedly done?

They’ve also been trying to build on the lintel directly above our front door.  Ditto all the above concerning Nyel and his Garden Hose Discouragement Program.  On Sunday when we were gone for the afternoon doing necessary new car business, those Front Door Swallows managed to build their entire nest.  By the time we got home it was a “done deal” and they were sitting proudly (and threateningly) nearby.  Persistent (if a bit stupid) to the max.

There is some dissention in the main household about taking down a completed nest – it’s a Venus vs Mars thing.  I think that once the nest is complete and the eggs about to be placed within, we humans have to let nature take its course.  Nyel… not so much.  We’ll see how it plays out.  I keep mentioning that the swallow couple have actually made a few compromises – the nest is not exactly over the main in-an-out traffic area.  So far, I don’t think I’m being heard.

Svetlana Checking Out Compost Area

Then there are the chickens.  We have been keeping them in their run, locked away from the rest of the garden during this tender-new-plant part of the year.  But yesterday, here came the Russian Orloff, bold as bold.  An inspection of the run revealed a big hole in the hog wire, probably the accomplishment of our local henhouse hacker, Rocky Raccoon.  The other three girls (perhaps not quite as bright as Svetlana) had not noticed and were still where they belonged.

While Nyel repaired the damage and made things secure, I tried to entice Ms. Svetlana back to the coop, but she was having none of it.  She successfully evaded me from one area of the yard to the next and it took Farmer Nyel to finally trick her back into the run.  I’m not sure if détente with the Russian will last – she’s a sneaky one.

Hummingbird Vigilante

Meanwhile, the hummingbirds have taken to looking for us when their feeder is empty.  They come to windows all around the house – wherever we are, they show up with their hovering trick.  And, as if that isn’t enough, they sometimes tap their beak against the window pane!  Of course, we drop everything and all but salute and click our heels.  I wonder how much sugar we go through in a season.

Peaceful co-existence is difficult here in the Springtime.  We can only hope that it doesn’t escalate during the long, hot summer.  One thing though… it’s never dull.

A Toss Up For Sure!

Friday, May 19th, 2017

Builders on a Break

I’m not sure who’s winning around here – the plant kingdom or the world of winged creatures.  It’s one realm or the other and, for the present time I doubt that we would even be considered contenders.  Except maybe with the swallows.

Nyel has been persistent in his efforts to discourage their nest building.  We are waiting for a few days of good weather to repaint the very area that has harbored barn swallow nests for at least thirty years.  It’s a generational apartment complex out there under the eaves of the old kitchen porch – four nests that have been refurbished year after year.  But not this year – not if Nyel can help it.

Me?  Not so much, though I do agree that the painting comes first.  Explaining to chattering, dive-bombing swallows that they’ll have to find other quarters for this year has been difficult.  I’ve even told them (but not within my husband’s hearing) that they can come back for their next second go-round this year.  “Just find another spot for your first family this season,” say I.  “Then you can come back here again.”  They are having none of it and the war between Nyel vs. the swallows continues day after day.

Accusatory?

This morning, on the other side of the house – right out our bedroom window – it was another story. An Allen hummingbird – all 3.15 grams of him – hovered around our empty feeder for a few seconds as we sipped our morning coffee.  We talked about rectifying that situation but before we could even register the full thought, he was back.

This time, he paid no attention whatsoever to the feeder.  He turned his back toward it and hovered right at the window, looking at us accusingly.  I was sorely tempted to leap up, click my heels, and salute.  And for sure I felt guilty.  The feeder will be up before tomorrow.  I promise.

Thank goodness we don’t have a starling problem.  Yet, anyway.  We learned last week that a recently deceased friend’s house – empty for six weeks now – is soon to go on the market.  It’s a gorgeous place, right on the bay and should sell in nothing flat.  But… the plan has been held up pending the eviction of a scourge of starlings who have apparently found a way in and have taken over the upper story!

Listening to the Grass Grow

Meanwhile… above the twittering and humming and wing-beating outside our walls, I think I can hear that persistent sound of grass growing.  It’s the high whispery sound, not to be confused with the more boisterous accompaniment of buttercups and dandelions and the twang of the bindweed.  It’s the growing season for sure.  Or is that the groaning season?