Saturday, April 30, 2011

The Last Empty Places, a past and present journey through the blank spots on the American map

Southeast Oregon made this 2010 book by Peter Stark, described on the dust jacket as “one man's love letter to the enduring American wild”. Stark includes four sections: Where the Arcadians disappeared in Northern Maine; The wild lands of western Pennsylvania; The lost country of Southeast Oregon; and The high, haunted desert of New Mexico. I thought, wow, I managed to end up in one of the last empty places in America. I read the section on Southeast Oregon and while he included a little too much on John Muir, who he weaves into the story, for my taste, still he captured some of the haunting essence of this region including a nice section on the Roaring Springs Ranch and the Steens country. It's available at our local library.

Friday, April 29, 2011

The Royal Wedding

Yes, I watched it. I so love elegance and glamor and it was so nice watching good news and people enjoying themselves. It started at 1:00 AM PDT and I got up about 1:30 AM to tune into NBC coverage of the event. I lasted till 4:30 and had to catch the kisses on replay. They say if as butterfly beats its wings in Hong Kong the world feels it (I might not have the words quite right, but the idea is the same.) That was a BIG butterfly over there in London. We all needed that breath of that joyous energy. Amen, amen and amen.

Monday, April 25, 2011

Cows and calves

As we talked to the cowboy at Princeton, his cows kept bawling at him. They are sick of the flooding, too. He says they want to go into the mountains but because the weather's been so cold, the grass hasn't come on good yet.


Jeanne thought we needed new life for spring which we still haven't seen here. So John decided he wanted turkey poults. They're about a week old. He bought them on Good Friday and said we couldn't name them, because we were going to have them for Thanksgiving and Christmas dinner. So he calls them T1, T2 and T3. They live in an old Safeway banana hamper on top of the wash/dryer with a light over one end for warmth. They sing to each other sometimes with something that sounds like doo, doooo, doot, doot, and the other answers doot, doot, doot. John whistles show tunes to them which they like. They get real quiet and cock their heads at him. They are partial to “South Pacific”. Today they had chopped garden salad of chives, dandelion, clover and grass, besides flock starter. They gobbled it up. Fish worms are on the menu tomorrow.

Old Native American Pictographs

Field Day

Last Tuesday Jeanne, John and I took a trip from Burns down through the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge and stopped at the French Glen Hotel for lunch. The weather was sunny and glorious. We saw sandhill cranes, black neck stilts, avocets, pin tails, mallards, cinnamon teals, pheasants, swallows, and ibis, all paired off for the nesting season. On the way back we came through the Diamond Craters which are old lava flows. In Princeton we stopped at the Round Barn Visitor center for souvenirs and talked to Dick Jenkins, the retired rancher who owns the Center. The Round Barn was standing in water so we didn't wade in. On the road just outside of the visitor's center are pictographs in the rim rock by the highway which are thought to be 4,000 to 6,000 years old. A local cowboy stopped to chat since he doesn't see much but cows all day long. He's sick of of the water and the weather, too.He said his horse has been up to its belly in mud.

Wednesday, April 20, 2011

Bullock Oriole Nest

A pair of Bullock Orioles built this nest last year in our elm tree. I listened to the babies when I hung out wash. Then one day they were gone but left this nest behind. It blew down in a bad snow storm this winter. They used hay bailing twine and shredded it somehow. The colors are yellow, blue and orange. The entrance and inside is lined with snippings of John's hair that I throw out on the lawn for the birds to use. It is a bag like structure and woven better than the best of human weavings. It is a work of art. I love looking at and touching it.

New Bees

Sunday John picked up a "nuc" from fellow beekeeper, Phil, who went to Idaho for twenty of them.  Nucs look like half a bee hive and contain several frames of brood with queen.  This queen is an Hawaiian queen and we hope to improve our bee diversity with her. We may loose the two story middle hive which seems weak.  The new hive is the single story one to the left. John put the nuc frames in and filled it with empty frames, gave them sugar syrup to drink and a pollen paddy. The marks on the outside of the other hives are bee poop from this winter. On sunny days in the winter, bees go outside to poop.  They don't like messy hives.


Jeanne & I sited a pair of avocets along Newton Road.

Monday, April 18, 2011


I find people in rural areas are more resourceful than city dwellers who tend to rush to a store to buy what they need, call up the service man to have him fix it, or turn on something electric. I could even go so far as to say city people are real energy hogs. (Well, Basmah, dear you say you want to know what I'm thinking.) Since I'm sort of retired, I have more time to be resourceful. Like now I hang out the wash to dry. Easier when one lives in a dry, desert environment. My Houston friend who is visiting said, I notice you have wash lines. Don't see much of them anymore. No, you don't. But I like the feel of scratchy towels and how good the clothes and sheets smell. My mother always said, the whites get whiter when they freeze. And yes, my wash has frozen. Inspired by my West Virginia friend, Barbeleh, I've begun cutting my own hair. I'd already been cutting my husband's hair since he's not real particular how it looks, and he doesn't want to pay a barber. I have bed springs for hair, and curls are very forgiving. Besides, the last time I went to a hair dresser to have my hair cut, she did so within an inch of my life. When she finished she said “Oops, got it a little short.” In keeping with my exploration of creativity I now explore new hair styles with my own hair. I've also taken to using cotton and linen handkerchiefs instead of paper tissue for the delicate art of nose blowing. I had some from my mother's collection and found more at a yard sale, and I must say, they make me smile. (Yes, you have to wash them and I even iron mine) But they save trees. I also don't wear make up anymore. Maybe a little blush and lipstick for Sunday-go-to-meeting. Do you realize how much women spend on makeup every year? Just to look good to each other? Do men really care? Do they notice? It's all about being resourceful.

Friday, April 15, 2011

Harney Duck

Harney Duck is one weird dude, and it's all my fault. Last year I had a broody hen and slipped a duck egg under her to see if it was fertile. Well, Harney Duck hatched out after 28 days. I hoped the duckling would be a female, but alas, as mother nature dictates a 50-50 chance, he was a guy duck. The hen who hatched him was black and she taught him how to forage like a chicken for the first few days but then abandoned him. So he would follow the other black hens around, quacking his heart out. Of course, they ignored him. But he'd hang out with the hens and still does. When the new rooster came, he challenged him with a chase around the barnyard. Now they have an uneasy truce. Harney lies by the hen nest when one is laying. He challenges me with a couple of deep honks, lowers his neck and comes after me to keep me away from the nester. He arranges the hay in the nest, helping the hen to take care of the brood, which she isn't hatching because I don't have any broody hens. He has no interest in the other ducks. The sole drake left occasionally chases Harney to keep him away from the two remaining female ducks. Harney thinks he's a guard duck, stationing himself inside the door of the hen house at night. He won't allow in the three new white hens (who I call the ugly sisters). Harney paddles around the seep pond in from of the house. At least, that helps him keep clean and his feather primed and oiled. He's of the Saxony breed with a lot of domestic mallard. A handsome guy, but I'll never do that again.

Thursday, April 14, 2011

Sick of the weather

How many times have you said that in your lifeline? I've been trying to restrain myself but now I have to say it: I'M SICK OF THIS WEATHER. It snowed again yesterday, is above freezing today. Factor in the wind, and it is cold. Where are sun kissed spring days, daffodils, happy buzzing bees? Not in Harney County. My old Basque friends say this cold, wet weather is abnormal for here and they've lived here maybe sixty years. Another friend says this is a normal wet spring after eight years of drought. She's lived here 15 years. The water continues a steady flow in the ditches past our place but may have subsided just a bit, hard to tell. The town flooding is subsided some, but people are still on the alert. The cold temperatures help slow the snow melt in the mountains since the temperatures at night have been below freezing. But there's a lot of snow up there yet. The Steens mountains are still a block of solid white. We can see them from our place, and they are sixty miles away. At 9,500 feet that's a lot of snow to come.

Monday, April 11, 2011


There's an odd phenomenon that occurs here when spring flooding comes on and water invades the high desert from snow melt on the flats and in the mountains. Water appears in a place where it otherwise would not have been. It's called subbing here or sub-irrigation, another word I've heard used. Being from the East, I'd never seen it before until the spring flooding this year. The water table appears to be so high the water simply seeps from the ground. The drainage ditch that runs the length of the south side of our house is full and now water appears to be seeping from the ditch into low places in our yard. In the middle photo with what's left of our ducks, the ditch is spreading into Palomino Lake to the west of us. Wet spots on the road are appearing. The top and bottom photo look east. The ditches are full on either side of the road and to the left in the photo you can see the “seep” expanding into our yard.

Sand bags for the Burns flood

Thursday night the town of Burns declared a disaster emergency and issued a flood warning for about one hundred homes to the north and east of town. Search and Rescue went house to house in the affected area to warn residents to listen for a siren in the event the levee failed on the Silvies River to the north of town. Fortunately, through the efforts of firefighters, law enforcement, many volunteers, National Guard, and two engineers from the Army Corps of engineers to sandbag the levee and cut a relief channel under highway 20, the levee held. The river subsided over Saturday and Sunday. The danger is not over yet because the snow melt has just started in the mountains and pasture flooding is already extensive. I helped tie sandbags on Friday afternoon. The effort went on all day Friday and Saturday. If you've never helped fill sandbags, be it known that it is a back breaking process. We had an automatic hopper that could fill two sandbags at a time, but it still needed one person to open bags, another to hold the bag as the sand came out, another to tie the bags. Many people were shoveling sand into bags by hand – one holds the bag, the other shovels, another ties. The scene was resembled a beehive on a warm day. Seems like we filled thousands of bags.

Friday, April 8, 2011

Sandhill Cranes for real

Here is the photo of the Sandhill cranes that Annie took with her fancy camera. Handsome pair. That is not a lake they are wading in, it is flooded pasture.

Monday, April 4, 2011

Spotlight: Maggie Ross

Maggie thinks about questions very few of us think about. I read her writings with a dictionary by my side, and sometimes that doesn't help because she makes up words to suit her purpose, like apophaticist. She is in Oxford, England now, continuing research at the Bodleian Library. Who knows how long she will reside there and what winds will bow her in another direction. She is partial, however, to the high desert of Eastern Oregon where she's visited us on several occasions. The first weekend in June at the Hay festival she'll be on a panel on the King James Bible with the Booker-winning novelist Howard Jacobson. The following day she will read from her new book Writing the Icon of the Heart: In Silence Beholding, available at  She's been invited to deliver a paper entitled "Behold Not the Cloud of Experience" at the triennial conference of the scholarly Early English Text Society in July. She blogs at – “Voice in the Wilderness, a blog publishing new and old writings of the Anglican Solitary and author, Maggie Ross. Topics include the spiritual life, asceticism, contemplation, discernment, liturgy, environment, politics.” If silence interests you, Maggie is a writer you'll want to follow.

Saturday, April 2, 2011

Fishworms and frogs

Yesterday was too gorgeous to be inside so I headed out to plant a row or two of last year's sprouting red potatoes. The ground is wet and the fish worms wiggled and flipped when I disturbed their homes. The first year we were here there were no fish worms. After two years of chicken and horse manure, kitchen compost and moldy hay, big mother and small baby fish worms abound in the garden soil. I'm not sure if there are any father fish worms. Have to look up the biology of that The bees zoomed and zigzagged around me. I studied one that landed on my sweater. She was small, sleek and golden. The hives are raising new bees. Old bees look a bit battered like the rest of us. I threw out some arugula seeds which grow like weeds. Love those greens and the bees love the flowers. I planted spinach and lettuce assortments in the leaky horse troughs and whiskey barrels. In the evening John and I road our bikes west on Palomino Lane to check out the water. Frogs were singing at din level. How do they hibenrate in the desert soil in the dry years, waiting for the rare wet year that brings on the pasture ponds? I spotted several pair of avocets wading in the water. All this water, frogs and water fowl in the high desert is such an anomaly. Then again, we are on the Pacific Flyway.

Friday, April 1, 2011

April at last

So it's April Fool's Day. Did you ever do the one when you were a kid, “Hey, Mom, I”m pregnant”? I guess we've all done that one. We had a great day yesterday. Sunny, a bit windy and high near 65. I got in a good, long walk my hair blowing around like a whirligig. John looked out our north bedroom window and there was a huge shaggy coyote, biggest one I've seen around here, checking out the pasture near the sheds. Wish I had had my camera ready but the batteries died. John opened the window and roared at him, and the coyote took off running toward the wheel lines. There's a smaller red coyote, we call Wiley, we've seen out in the pasture hunting. This must have been the alpha male. We hear them howling and yipping, like this morning when I went out to get the chickens and ducks up. When I walked outside I smelled juniper. They're in the hills to the north and east of us which is maybe 3 to 5 mills away. After a rain there's the wonderful smell of sage brush, which surround us. Sunny again today. Will try to plant potatoes from the red sprouted ones we have left over from last year's garden. The sheriff's truck went by around 7 AM. We never see him out here, and certainly not that early. Dang rooster's in the yard again. Going to have to clip his wings.