Thursday, September 11, 2014

Yes We Can!

It's canning season. Every week, I survey my counter and all the baskets and bowls of fruit, veggies from our garden and local farms, spices, and various sizes of canning jars to preserve it all in. At times it seems daunting, but when approached with a "Yes we can" attitude, those pantry shelves fill up quickly with rows of good, wholesome food for the year ahead. Last year we had so much canned food left from my late night canning frenzies of 2012, that I only canned pickled dilly beans. This year, we were out of just about everything, so I pulled Corey in on the fun for a crash course in canning.

We discovered our gas range wasn't very efficient for heating the boiling water bath, and after tearing through a tank of propane making the pickled dilly beans, we picked up a Bayou gas burner for dual purpose home brewing and canning. It turned out to be much more efficient and allowed us to keep the boiling water bath out on the back porch and not with us in the already hot kitchen.

Every time we've had a canning morning, the farm cats have come around to help supervise.

They took the job seriously, from corn relish to peaches as we canned our way through all the colors of the rainbow.

Red raspberry jam with lavender.

Farm fresh peaches in honey syrup.

Golden corn relish.

Bread and butter pickles in vintage style green glass jars.

Applesauce from our tree in blue vintage style canning jars. 
We like to eat it in the winter on lattkes.

Homemade orange marmalade. 
I had always wanted to make this, and decided it looked easy enough on the Pomona's Pectin recipe sheet for me to give it a whirl. My double recipe only used 8 oranges, 1 grapefruit and 2 lemons, and was so simple I wondered why I had never made it before. I'm looking forward to some cheerful looking toast on dark winter mornings.

When the last jar of jam was cooling on the back step, we took a cue from the cats, and sat back for some well deserved rest. In our preparations for winter, firewood and fruit drying are up next on the agenda, and with each task we check off the list, I look forward more and more to cold days and cozy times in our farmhouse.

Tuesday, September 9, 2014

Signs of Autumn

This week, I noticed the mornings are getting chillier, and observed a few signs of autumn appearing around the homestead.

Yellow maples are beginning to dot the hillsides.

The apples are ripe, and ready to harvest.

Leaves are falling in the understory of the forest, leaving branches bare.

Our firewood is starting to accumulate in stacks, ready to be piled in the woodshed we are building.

And the pumpkins, heralds of the season that they are, keep growing more round and orange every day that goes by. 

There is something comforting in watching a season come around again in the same place. I look forward to the years ahead of watching sings of autumn unfold on this land.

Monday, September 8, 2014

Line Dried

The warm days of drying clothes out on the line are coming to an end, but I wanted to pay tribute to the deep contentment that can be found in daily work and the interface between home and the outdoors, with a quote I ran across at MaryJane's Farm:

"...the powerful religion of ordinary life, a spirituality of freshly mopped floors...and clothes blowing on the line." 

~Adair Lara 

The sentiment seemed reminiscent of a Zen proverb I often call to mind:

"Before enlightenment; chop wood, carry water.
After enlightenment; chop wood, carry water." 
Somewhere in these lines, lies the essence of late summer.

Thursday, September 4, 2014

Soaking up the Last Days of Summer

With mornings getting colder, maple leaves beginning to turn golden, and school starting back up this week, we decided summer was fleeting and set out for an evening visit to a nearby swimming hole to soak it up.

We followed Blue River up above the reservoir until we came to some very well-worn pullouts, and picked one that looked like it ought to have a swimming hole down below.

Sure enough, the well-worn pullout and path led to a beautiful stretch of river with pools, rock waterslides and ledges above deep channels for jumping in.

Although I'm sure this place sees a lot of swimmers on summer afternoons, we had it entirely to ourselves, and enjoyed the quiet of evening settling over the sound of flowing water.

For some of us, it was enough just to be out in nature, reading a good book on a warm rock.

For others, full immersion was the only way to soak in the experience.

We fortified ourselves with water, warmth, silence and sunshine for a while before heading home to settle into our evening routine of the school year. It was a fine feeling, being saturated with summer and river water. At some point in their lives, when my kids are recalling summers of their youth, I hope this swimming hole memory comes readily to mind.

Sunday, August 31, 2014

Pressing Asian Pear Cider

With the Asian pears on our trees ripening a little earlier this year, we found ourselves with many full baskets and the question of what to do with them. This is one tree fruit that doesn't keep well in our cellar, you can only eat so many fresh, and I dried enough last year so that we still have plenty. We really enjoyed making different kinds of hard apple cider last fall, and this presented a good opportunity to branch out into different fruit ciders.

With all of the fruit picked off one of the trees, we set aside a weekend morning for pressing.

A friend of ours up the river offered to lend us his "old hippie cider press" which we were glad to use in lieu of an extra trip into town for a rental at the homebrew supply shop. There was nothing fancy about this one, but it was sturdy and would do the job we needed. I found myself enjoying the low-tech qualities of the press, with a hand cranked grinder for the fruit rather than the motorized one on the Correll presses we have rented in years past. It really wasn't that much more work, and allowed for a more peaceful, almost meditative experience.

Once we got into the rhythm of grinding fruit and pressing fruit, the morning flew by, measured out in empty baskets and gallon pans.

When it was all said and done, we had squeezed the rich brown juices out of five baskets of fruit and filled a five gallon carboy and gallon jug for fermenting. There was one particularly delicious Asian pear cider I tried at some point during the year with a distinct fruit character, so I picked out an English ale yeast that promised to be delicate with the flavor.

As we cleaned up from pressing, so did the chickens. Cider pressing is a good time for everyone around here, with the first batch of pressed fruit pulp emptied down by the chicken coop for a fine feast. The rest makes for some lovely layers of compost.

It feels like early fall around here with jugs of cider fermenting in the kitchen, and the rhythmic sound of the air locks bubbling away. We have one more Asian pear tree to pick and press, and then the old homestead apple trees along the driveway. Little by little, the cellar shelves are filling up with bottles and jars, storage crops for the winter and the visible results of earnest labor. When I stand back and look at it, I see the ongoing work of art that is our life, and feel rich in ways that cannot be measured.

Wednesday, August 27, 2014

Changing Course is Possible

Yesterday marked a new chapter for the Elwha River and for river restoration efforts all over the world. With the final blast and demolition of the Glines Canyon Dam, the Elwha now flows unimpeded from its headwaters in the Olympic Mountains down to the Strait of Juan de Fuca. As the largest dam removal project in the United States, this is an especially significant event. There is a wonderful documentary film that was just completed called Return of the River. They are just beginning to screen the film at festivals and have not reached their funding mark, so if you are interested in contributing to the project or want to help make a screening happen near you, here is a link to the website with information and an exciting trailer clip:

As I hear this news of the Elwha, I recall all the times I spent hiking and playing along the banks as a child, I recall an epic overnight backpacking trip as a young adult when I made it out of Elkhorn Guard Station by 9 AM to meet my college advisor for a tour of my internship site, I recall another summer internship for the Lower Elwha Tribal Hatchery doing riparian restoration work to improve salmon habitat and all the hopeful conversation I heard about the future removal of the dams, I recall a backpacking trip with friends when I played along the banks with my own children, I recall hearing bits of encouraging news about the progression of the dam removal from back home, I recall my first sight of a drained Lake Aldwell and walking out along the free flowing river channels, I recall a hike last spring down to Humes Ranch and Goblins Gate with a friend who runs an eco-tour guide service who showed me a close-up view of the elk and birds along the banks through her spotting scope, and will always recall the feeling I had upon hearing the news of the final blast at Glines Canyon Dam. It was a powerful, overflowing feeling, much like a river spilling over concrete rubble and boulders.

This video of  was posted today by one of the film's directores, John Gussman, of the final blast of the Glines Canyon Dam. Although short in duration, it is vast in emotional impact. I must say, it's the best action film I have ever seen in my life.

Monday, August 25, 2014

Hiking Olallie Mountain

In honor of the end of summer, we took a hike up Olallie Mountain on Sunday. Having just been up near Indian Ridge on the other side of the South Fork of the McKenzie, I liked the idea of getting a different perspective and was intrigued by tales of an old lookout tower on the top. We had also managed on Saturday to pick and freeze 10 quarts of huckleberries for the winter and pressed 6 gallons of Asian pear cider from one of our trees, so a purely recreational excursion in the mountains felt much needed and well deserved.

The trailhead at Pat Saddle was a bit closer drive than some of the others, so we were able to get some morning work done around our place and set out mid-day. This trailhead is also shared with the other end of the French Pete Creek Trail, and having only been as far as the creek crossing from below, I am now curious to explore the rest of that drainage from the top. We encountered some folks camped out in their hand-build gypsy wagon with a flock of ducks, so I imagine it's also a nice area for a base camp.

The 7.2 mile round trip trail started out with a very gradual ascent through towering forests, giving way to some steeper sections through meadows near the top. The final switchbacks to the top of the mountain were the steepest, but offered some amazing views of the French Pete Creek drainage. Once we popped out on top, the 360 degree views and the old lookout were a treat to take in.

Although in a state of disrepair, the lookout was beautiful, and easy to imagine in its prime with glass windows allowing full views of the surrounding peaks and valleys.

A guestbook on the table in the middle of the room shared some brief stories of the lookout's other recent visitors.

Through the remaining windows that were not broken out and boarded up, we looked out at the Three Sisters, Broken Top, Bachelor, and Mt. Jefferson far off in the distance.

We enjoyed the sweeping views for a while and rested with our picnic lunch of trailmix, cheese and crackers. Not quite a summer's end harvest feast from days of old, but for a couple of  hikers preparing to jump back into the busy schedule of school, kids activities, and teaching, it was appropriate and appreciated. We savored our lunch in the mountain sunshine and began the descent towards the trailhead and all that Monday morning would bring.

On our hike down the mountain, I paid more attention to the plant life. The word "Olallie" means berry in Chinook Jargon, and this mountain was aptly named. The top of the peak was covered in Saskatoon Serviceberry (Amelanchier alnifolia), and just about every other variety of edible wild berry crowded the edges of the trail all the way down to the trail head.

The Huckleberries (Vaccinium sp.) were positioned right at eye level, so that one could hike along and pluck them off the bushes for a juicy snack without even breaking stride.

The Thimbleberries (Rubus parviflorus) grew low and thick along the ground, tempting passers-by to stop and taste them.

There were a few Salmonberry bushes (Rubus spectabilis) along the way adding their bright orange fruits to the colorful display.

Although bitter-sweet, and not a favorite for everyone, I enjoyed popping a couple of Cascade Oregon-grape (Mahonia nervosa) berries in my mouth. The flavor seemed fitting with the ending of the Summer.

A final majestic view we enjoyed taking in was this ancient Douglas-fir along the trail reported to be the largest diameter tree within the McKenzie Ranger District. After standing on top of a mountain looking out at the Cascade peaks, and standing before this tree, we descended from our hike feeling quite humbled and immersed in the world around us.

I noticed a couple of very fine looking fire rings at the top, and imagine this would make a great backpacking destination as well as a day hike. Who knows, perhaps we can squeeze a fall backpacking trip in before the snow falls in the high country.

 For more information on the Olallie trail, you can visit these USFS websites: