Monday, October 20, 2014

A Fall Fire Lookout Adventure

Of all the great places around Oregon to have a weekend getaway in the outdoors, I have found fire lookout towers to be one of the finest. Over the last decade I have stayed in a number of them all over Oregon, in every configuration of company. Sometimes I have gone with my family, sometimes with friends, sometimes as a getaway with my adventure partner, and even once by myself, and every single one has been a grand time. I wrote this post a couple years ago about all the adventures to be had renting and staying in fire lookout towers: Sittin' on top of the World.  I was also pleased to find this site recently called, with information on renting lookouts all over the Northwest, including Idaho and Montana:
Out of all of them, Bald Knob Lookout, located at the edge of the Rogue Wilderness, has been my longtime favorite both for the views and reliably good condition, and that's where we decided to have our fall weekend adventure.

The kids hadn't been in a while, so they were excited for the trip. Something I really love about my kids is that they get so excited about a weekend in a fire lookout tower with no electricity and only their books and drawing supplies for entertainment. It feels good to know I'm imparting some values about simpler living to the next generation.

Everyone took some time to appreciate the views when we arrived. You really can't beat accommodations perched up above the treeline with views of all the mountains and valleys as far as the eye can see. One of the things I like about this view is a glimpse through the trees of the Rogue River and some open flats where it rounds a bend. I still have yet to hike the Rogue River Trail and am looking forward to exploring it one day.

It was nice having a break from daily life and homestead chores to enjoy simple things like working together on a puzzle someone kindly left on the shelf. We also took advantage of the amenities like the gas lights and oven by reading ghost stories and eating fresh baked chocolate chip cookies in the evenings. It ended up being warm enough for us to not really need it, but having the heater in October was a definite bonus.

Everyone spent a good amount of time catching up on reading...

And more reading.

Never wanting to miss the opportunity to enjoy a favorite swimming hole, the kids braved the cold waters of the Coquille River in October. Oh, to be twelve and invincible...

When times get busy, it is reassuring to know there is renewal in nature. Getting out and enjoying the peace and quiet, the open expanses, and the beauty of the changing seasons is recharging beyond measure.  It's also nice, from time to time, doing this in a place with a few creature comforts. I would gladly turn down a getaway on a cruise ship or resort spa any day for a few days in a fire lookout tower with my family, away from it all.

Thursday, October 16, 2014

The Flowers of Autumn

"Autumn is a second spring when every leaf is a flower."

~Albert Camus

Wednesday, October 15, 2014

The Trail

I always loved reading stories of pioneers on the Oregon Trail when I was growing up. The idea of packing it all up and heading off into the wild unknown completely intrigued my imagination. I often pretended to be a pioneer when playing out in the woods, and on special occasions at school, we would play the Oregon Trail game in the computer lab, and I was in bliss. As an adult, I have tried to find a good film about the pioneers, but have been sorely disappointed. Finally, I found a gem on Netflix, written and directed by William Parker called "The Trail." With a tagline like "The greatest journey is the one within", it promised to be thought provoking, and I was not disappointed. The film revolves around a young housewife trying to survive a winter alone after being stranded along the Oregon trail. Rather than being a hardcore survival story, or an action movie portraying the dangers of the frontier, it is the story of a woman's internal struggle to survive and re-examine her spirituality and relationship to nature. The way in which it was filmed was simple and artistic, and the scenery was beautiful. I cannot recommend it more highly.

To see the movie trailer and learn more about it, follow the link below:

Tuesday, October 14, 2014

The Things We Find in the Pumpkin Patch

Our pumpkin crop was hit and miss this year, leaving us in need of a couple of good jack-o-lanterns. I remembered our CSA had offered that members could come out and pick a pumpkin from the patch if they missed the farm celebration, so one day after school last week, the kids and I headed out to finally visit the farm that feeds us. Now, you might be asking yourselves why we still get a CSA share when we are modern homesteading and growing our own food, and the answer ties into the heart of defining modern homesteading. With jobs, the kids' school schedule, and other modern obligations, homesteading has to happen in parts. We grow part of our own food, we get part of our food from a local farm CSA share, we go out and forage a part of our food in the wild, and we get part of our food from the grocery store. Now, if you are also asking yourself "what is a CSA?", it is Community Supported Agriculture, which involves buying a share in a local farm in the spring and getting a share box of veggies every week for the growing season. It's an excellent way to support local food and local farmers. I am a huge fan.

As I have mentioned in earlier posts, getting pre-teens excited about going out and doing various family activities can be an interesting aspect of parenting. This is where I have found pumpkin patches to be a magical place. No matter how enthralling the book they are reading, or how wrapped up they are in the goings-on of their friends and who said what to so-and-so; the second you step out into a pumpkin patch, kids remember that they are still kids, and begin looking for their perfect pumpkin as though it were the most important quest in the world. They step right back into the yearly tradition as though no time had passed at all since last year's trip to the pumpkin patch. I felt an added layer of excitement in the whole experience this year finally getting to see Groundwork Organic's farm and new farmstand. They let us munch on some delicious apples and said we could pick as big a pumpkin as we wanted as part of our share. We took them seriously on the offer. After this, my son still insisted his perfect pumpkin would have warts, so we went across the road to another farm where he found the object of his heart's desire. It was indeed the wartiest pumpkin in the patch.

As we watch kids grow up, and repeat the same family traditions with them season after season and year after year, we have a great opportunity to observe the ways in which they have grown and changed and the ways in which they are still exactly the same. The experience may be no different from the previous year, but we are always seeing it through a different set of eyes influenced by another year of living in the world. This is not only true for our kids with whom we carry these traditions, but for ourselves as parents. Traditions provide us with other things as well, like a framework for life, a sense of the dependable, and something to look forward to and mark the turning seasons. They are invaluable.

Every October, we go out to the pumpkin patch to find the perfect pumpkin. We can always expect to return home with that prize, but the other things we find in the pumpkin patch are valuable beyond measure.

Friday, October 10, 2014


Eureka! We struck Golden Chanterelles!

Last weekend we made it out to our mushroom hunting spot and picked our first basket full of wild mushrooms for the year.

I stopped by my Chicken of the Woods log from last fall, and was cheerfully greeted by clusters of the bright orange and yellow fungus that really does live up to it's name.

Although the chanterelles were not extremely plentiful, the ones we found were large and fresh.

It is a fine feeling, indeed to bring home a haul of mushrooms that you foraged yourself, and I can imagine no better place to spend time finding food than out in the woods. It's way more fun than the grocery store, and relaxing to boot. Wild mushroom pizza, cream of chanterelle soup, mushroom scramble and many other delicious things are now on the menu in our house. It may seem like a simple thing to be so happy about, but I can't help feeling like we've struck gold!

Wednesday, October 1, 2014

A Walk in the Woods

In the midst of our hectic fall schedule, we decided to slow things down a bit on Sunday and take a walk in the woods behind our house. I have found that there are few things as rejuvenating as a walk in the woods. We hadn't been up the trail to the top of our property in a while, and we wanted to see if the chanterelles were up, and check on our spring and check out some work the timber company did recently on our neighboring forest land.

It was a perfectly sunny and brisk fall day, and once we made it to the top of our trail, the view of the rolling foothills of the McKenzie watershed was a beautiful sight to take in.

Our spring was looking good, and the repair we made to the line between the two tanks was holding strong. The timber company had cleared up our access road from our property to the spring, so it was a much easier trek up there than last time.

Sometimes it is hard to get 12-year-olds excited about going out and hiking, but I have found that if you make them go anyway, the grumbling will cease around the half way point, and they end up enjoying the excursion.

We made it up to the old road on the ridge behind our land, and with no chanterelles to be seen, we considered it a good walk and headed back down.

Walking back home through our woods, I took a moment to appreciate the wilder parts of the land we call home. These acres of forest on the hills behind our house are able to remain undeveloped and unspoiled in our stewardship, and that is a good feeling. When we were originally looking at the house, the real estate agent told us the last interested buyer was a logger from Alaska who wanted to clear cut the entire forest and resell the land for a profit. I am glad we came along and that didn't happen. I still feel a mixture of humble gratitude, good fortune and happiness in having woods to call our own, and bordering public lands to explore. We may have returned from our walk in the woods empty handed as far as the mushrooms go, but our souls were quite full.

Tuesday, September 30, 2014

Through Another Lens

Sometimes, it's refreshing to get a glimpse of our life through someone else's lens. We had some friends come down to visit from Portland last month, and they had some photographic fun with our homestead and weekend adventures. I take all of the pictures on this blog with an old Olympus digital camera from 2001, and tend to focus in close-up on aspects of our life, so seeing the sweeping "bigger picture" panoramas captured on a newer camera gave a new and fun perspective.

We took our friends huckleberry picking on a narrow ridge, and you can get a sense of that looking from one edge to the other in this panorama. Between picking, munching, and gathering around for snacks, we had a grand time until the rain set in and sent us back home.

I like how the late summer blackberries are as prominent in this picture as the farmhouse.

In this one, our garden seems to wrap around the prayer flags as a central pivot-point.

Here, we have backyard camping at it's finest, right among the gardens, quail coop and fruit trees.

Getting a good shot of the root cellar with my camera has been a challenge, but this panorama incorporated the entire wall of shelves with the beginnings of late summer canning filling the spaces, boxes of jars about to be filled, and all of our home-brewing endeavors. The root cellar is a dynamic place, and if you could see it now, there would be solid rows of colorful canned goods, and in another week, bottles of cider filling the empty spaces.

I especially enjoyed our friend Jeff's "Selfie with Chickens."

We put so much hard work into our homestead, it feels at times like an ongoing work of art. Perhaps the process of photographing and writing about the experiences are what makes it feel that way, or perhaps it is in the added dimension of sharing it with other people. Looking at our friends' pictures, I felt like I was viewing my masterpiece through another lens.