Tuesday, November 18, 2014

Little Sadie and The Sundance Kitten

This past week we were happy to welcome two new members of our homestead. Meet Little Sadie and The Sundance Kitten. They are a rowdy pair of dilute calico sisters who take their job of house mouse patrol very seriously. A shelter had adopted them out as small kittens to an elderly couple, but when the husband recently passed they went back to the shelter and were in need of a new home. Since Della Mae the house cat disappeared in August, the house had been feeling very empty of cats and full of mice, so this was a perfect arrangement for everyone involved. They already took out a mouse within the first few days of being here and discovered the best spot to curl up in our house, right in front of the woodstove.

Here's to rowdy cat shenanigans and no more mice!

Friday, November 14, 2014

To Heat a Home

If you have ever contemplated what goes in to heating a home, you may have thought about your electric company or natural gas company and wondered about the resources the energy came from. You may have thought about things like wind, water, oil or coal.  For those of us who have a woodstove, however, we know exactly what goes in to heating a home. We can measure it out in cords, months of cold temperatures, trips to the woods with a truck, trips with a wheelbarrow to fill a woodshed, and the rate at which the supply of firewood is depleted during the heating season. We can measure it out with the sweat of our brow.  

This year we passed a self-sufficiency milestone of cutting, hauling, splitting and stacking all our own firewood. To give some perspective on this homesteading accomplishment, many people with woodstoves get their wood delivered, and do the work of stacking it. On my old homestead in Elmira, a neighbor who worked at the mill delivered logs and mill ends. When I lived on my own at Empty Gate Farm, I gathered log rounds from trees the city had cut down, cut them up with a chainsaw and split them with a hydraulic splitter.  I managed to put up enough wood to heat my little farm cottage for a year with a little left over. To this day I am quite proud of this accomplishment as a single mother at the time, and wrote this post about it:  
Last year we were just getting settled in on our new homestead and had to get a few loads of wood delivered by friends and local folks. We underestimated the number of cords it would take to heat our house, and this motivated us to take on the task of putting up an adequate firewood supply for the coming heating season. To accommodate all this wood, Corey built a new woodshed a little closer to the house than our current one. The old woodshed became a place to stockpile less seasoned wood for later in the early spring. This was also done out of necessity due to the thriving wild honeybee hive in the wall of the woodshed right by the door. We decided to give them their space until the colder months when they aren't active. Bees need all the help they can get right now, so we felt good about just letting them bee.

To further aid in our firewood gathering endeavors, Corey rebuilt an old utility trailer that belonged to a friend's Grandfather. Between that and our pickup truck, we were able to go out with a Forest Service permit and haul home good sized loads of rounds we cut up from slash piles. From May until October we made many a weekend trip, and I honestly lost count, but with each one we knew we were one step closer to heating our home.

A friend let us use his Husqvarna Rancher chainsaw for the season, which helped us do everything from felling a couple of problem trees on our property to cutting up Douglas-fir logs left  behind by Forest Service thinning crews. We were fortunate to spot a few maples in the slash piles, and accumulated a good stack of hardwood for those really cold winter days ahead.

With each trip out to the woods, we accumulated another pile of logs down by the chicken coop, which Corey would promptly split by hand and stack into long rows to season through the summer heat. We discovered by splitting the wood in smaller amounts over time, there was no need for a hydraulic splitter. We also discovered when friends come to visit from the city and say they want to help with chores, splitting wood is a rewarding activity for all.

There was something deeply satisfying about seeing those long rows stacked up and growing longer as the summer went on.

In September, Corey started construction on a woodshed design we found on the Internet. We re-purposed some wood and concrete footings from around the place so we wouldn't have to buy as much new, and used roofing shingles left over from the house. We used pallets along the bottom for the wood to sit on, and in the middle as a divider to hold it up. It was a good feeling to know we had been able to re-purpose some materials in making the new structure.

Finally, we got it all stacked up in the new woodshed before the rain set in. Even after that, we cut our last two loads in the rain and stacked it in the lower shed to dry out a little more. The honeybees had settled down a little by that point so we were able to co-exist in the woodshed. The temperatures didn't get cold enough for us to need a first fire until late October, and then not consistently until mid-November, so the benefits of our labor were a bit delayed. When the need for the first fire of the year finally came around, it sure was a good feeling to sit around the cheery glow of the woodstove and know we were responsible for our warm house. When it's all said and done, it was a lot of work, but the rewards are very tangible and we know exactly what goes in to heating a home.

Tuesday, November 11, 2014


 by Sylvia Plath

Overnight, very 
Whitely, discreetly, 
Very quietly 

Our toes, our noses 
Take hold on the loam, 
Acquire the air. 

Nobody sees us, 
Stops us, betrays us; 
The small grains make room. 

Soft fists insist on 
Heaving the needles, 
The leafy bedding, 

Even the paving. 
Our hammers, our rams, 
Earless and eyeless, 

Perfectly voiceless, 
Widen the crannies, 
Shoulder through holes. We 

Diet on water, 
On crumbs of shadow, 
Bland-mannered, asking 

Little or nothing. 
So many of us! 
So many of us! 

We are shelves, we are 
Tables, we are meek, 
We are edible, 

Nudgers and shovers 
In spite of ourselves. 
Our kind multiplies: 

We shall by morning 
Inherit the earth. 
Our foot's in the door.

Monday, November 10, 2014

Fall's Finery

Fall is making a colorful display in the McKenzie River Valley these last few weeks, illuminating the drizzly days as they set in. It seems to be a particularly good year for fall color with the leaves hanging on the trees a little longer than I remember last year.

Someone must have been thinking ahead when they planted our yard, because there are different contrasting fall colors catching the eye from every direction.

The blueberry bushes that gave us over 30 quarts of fruit this year are now giving us a fiery show of bright red foliage as their last hurrah for the growing season.

The grape vines yellowing leaves are quite stunning against the hillside dotted with colorful maples.

It's always nice to bring a little fall color indoors in the form of colorful, cheery gourds. I always say that although they offer no nutritional purpose, gourds make me happy, and that is just as important. Winter squash may feed the body, but gourds feed the soul.

As the trees go out in a blaze of glory, and we watch the last leaves drop, we know that winter is just around the corner and it's time for things to slow down and regenerate.With more pressing things out of the way, like tending the garden and gathering firewood, we can focus on bigger-picture projects like building a greenhouse, getting the upper hand over the blackberries, and fixing up the trail to the upper part of our property. With less of a sense of urgency, and few deadlines on these types of projects, the work takes on a more relaxing pace. It's a time of re-grouping, planning ahead and letting dreams take shape.

Friday, October 31, 2014


One of my favorite things about Halloween is coming home to a porch illuminated by glowing jack-o-lanterns on dark, rainy nights. I can think of few things that are so cheerful and spooky at the same time. Perhaps this ambiance has something to do with their history. Jack-o-lanterns have been around for quite some time, and are named after a phenomenon of strange lights flickering over peat bogs, also referred to as will-o'-the-wisp.

 The custom originated in Ireland where turnips and beets were carved into lanterns on Halloween to protect homes from the undead and ward off vampires.

The folklore of the jack-o-lantern has many variations across Europe, one of the most notable being the old Irish folktale of Stingy Jack, a blacksmith who outsmarts the Devil from stealing his soul, but is barred from both Heaven and Hell. With nowhere to go, he creates a turnip lantern with an ember from the flames of Hades tossed to him by the Devil and wanders the earth forever looking for a resting place.

May your jack-o-lanterns burn bright tonight and light your way home!

Tuesday, October 28, 2014

Devil's Club

With Halloween around the corner, I thought this plant deserved a post. Devil's club or Devil's walking stick is a plant I grew up knowing, and one you will want to know too if you spend time bushwhacking in the woods. My main association with them from childhood is the pungent smell that filled the creek ravines I played in, and more importantly,"Don't touch!" The spines on the stalks break off easily, really work their way into your fingers and are hard to get out. My association with that smell was so ingrained that a few years ago, when some wildcrafters were using the walk-in dehydrator at the farm where I was living, I recognized what plant they were drying right away and had many fond childhood adventure memories evoked as the aroma wafted around my farm cottage for several weeks. It's a scary plant to be sure, but it still holds a fond place in my heart.

Devil's club (Oplopanax horridus), (Cukilanarpak: Native Alaskan for “large plant with needles”) is mostly found in the moist, cool forests of western North America. Interestingly, it also grows in isolated populations on islands in Lake Superior. They are sensitive to disturbance and slow-growing to reach maturity, so often old growth forests are the place to find them in abundance. If the scientific name doesn't sound horrifying enough, the common name's reference to the Devil gives a pretty good idea of the formidable nature of those thorns. In one Tlingit tale, a piece of Devil's club is tossed behind the hero who is escaping from the moon, and the single piece grows into a thorny, impenetrable wall. A stick of Devil's club hung above the doorway was believed to ward off evil.
Devil's club has a history as a traditional herbal medicine of Northwest Native American Tribes with a variety of uses and preparations, including topical ointments and poultices and an oral tea. It is still used today in the treatment of adult-onset diabetes, rheumatoid arthritis, cancer, tuberculosis, colds, depression, stomach issues, lice, burns, and inflammation. Because it is a botanical cousin of Panax ginseng, it is also known as "Alaskan Ginseng". It also carries powerful spiritual and ceremonial associations.

 Last but not least, this is another plant that pertains to bears. Among Northwest Coastal Tribes, Devil's club was associated with bears. It was believed that they chewed on the roots to heal their wounds from battles. Bears are known to eat the red fruits and spread them around in their droppings, thus propagating the plant.

And here are a few good links I came across about Devil's club: