The water of life

Cloudy and rainy today. About 0.25 inches of rain last night, as measured in my new rain gauge in the garden, and I’m grateful for every last drop.

From the sky to the roof to the horse trough – our simplest form of water capture

I was trying to explain my jerry-rigged water catchment system to a contractor on the phone yesterday. “I have one 750-gallon tank on the southwest side of the barn, and another 750-gallon tank on the northeast side of the garden by the shop. Then there’s a downspout going to a 75-gallon water trough in the paddock, and another downspout that can reach one of the stall water buckets, oh, and the downspout going to the other water trough by the gate where I want to put the frog habitat. And there are some 50-gallon buckets that I can run a downspout to, to catch some more.”

There was a pause. Then he said, “Well, you certainly have a variety of systems.”

Yes, I do. But it’s hardly enough. Our area gets about 20 inches of rain a year, and after twenty years in Las Vegas, that sounds like glory and eternal springtime. But most of that rain falls between October and March, and when the temperature hits 100 in August and the grass in the pasture is drying up, I search the skies for any sign of a wet water-laden cloud. Just about every other year, on average, we have 60 consecutive days without rain. And in an agricultural area, that’s not good news.

The Rogue River belongs to all of us, so play nice

Oregon has a maternalistic attitude about its water. The rain that falls on Oregon’s ground belongs to everyone in Oregon; therefore, you can’t just dig a pond and let it fill with groundwater, or divert a stream to water your livestock. (“Now be nice,” Oregon says, “it belongs to all of us so we all have to share.”) However, you can trap all the water that falls on impervious surfaces, like roofs and pavement. And that, my dears, is a lot.

Try it for yourself — the formula is easy:

  1. Measure the footprint of your roof. Let’s say your house is 60 feet long and 30 feet wide. So your roof’s footprint is 60 x 30, or 1800 square feet.
  2. Multiply  the square footage by the inches of rainfall your location gets in a year. If your house is in Las Vegas, you might get 4 inches per year, so 1800 square feet x 4 inches/year = 7200 gallons landing on your roof.
  3. But you’re not going to capture all of that rainwater — in fact, you don’t want the rainwater that washes all the accumulated dust and bird poop and leaf debris off your roof and out of your gutters. So multiply your total gallons by 0.46, just to be realistic. Your Las Vegas house with the 1800 square foot roof could give you around 3300 gallons of free water a year.
Vernal pools forming in the back pasture after a heavy rain

Vernal pools forming in the back pasture after a heavy rain

As it happens, we have several outbuildings with metal roofs – ideal for setting up a catchment system. Using that formula, I calculated that I could harvest over 45 thousand gallons a year. That’s staggering. That means green grass for the horses even in the hottest part of the summer, and a lovely long growing season in the garden, as well as a potential life-and-property-saver during fire season. IF I can get it set up.

008I’m no engineer, so I’ll need technical help on this. But those resources are available around here. And after living in Nevada, and driving through California, and seeing the miles of starved, depleted, thirsty fields and dying orchards, and reading the reports of projected “mega-droughts” in the West in years to come…I cannot think of anything more important to do here this year.

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The disorderly garden

The vegetable jungle

The vegetable jungle

I pass other gardens on my way to town. They’re neat, straight, orderly, well-behaved. Lovely things. My garden is not like that. My garden is frowsy, overblown, straw in her hair, like a simple country vegetable patch after a wild night with a tropical rainforest.

It’s literally a jungle in there. I went in yesterday with a knife, cold-bloodedly slashing squash vines so I could get to some ripe ears of corn and the place where I remembered I had once planted cucumbers. The cucumber plants were still there, gasping for light, bearing giant orange melon-sized fruits. I picked one to gawk at – who knew cucumbers could look like that?

Yesterday's tomatoes

Yesterday’s tomatoes

I planted nine varieties of tomatoes back in the spring, including six heirloom varieties with names like Black Kilim and Green Zebra. Unfortunately, I didn’t write the names down anywhere, relying instead on the little plastic spikes that came with the plants, that I carefully placed beside each new sprout as I set them out. Most of those plastic spikes are now hidden under layers of greenery, and I will not find them again until the end of the season. That’s when I can say, “Oh, THAT was what I was eating.”

Today's tomatoes

Today’s tomatoes

But it does not matter. Cut them all up, throw them in a pot with fresh onion and oregano and garlic and some of the dried hot peppers from last year, and make a big batch of tomato sauce. Freeze it, can it, and pull it out in midwinter to make a soup that smells and tastes of summer.

I planted yellow crookneck squash because my dad loved them. Three plants, I thought, because one will die, one will get sick, and one will produce a few fruits and that’s all you really wanted anyway, just a taste to remember. Lore says to plant it near corn, so I did that. Fifteen corn plants (the minimum required for decent pollination) and three squash plants have produced a stupendous boggling bounty that would be enough for us to live on – assuming we liked either vegetable in those numbing quantities.

Look, a baby squash!

Look, a baby squash!

I begin to believe the art of cooking resulted from being faced with huge volumes of the same few perishable ingredients. Cooks tell us that squash can be steamed, baked, sautéed, roasted, pureed, and pickled, and it’s a good thing, too – because otherwise you’d never get rid of it. And even then, the damn thing keeps blooming and producing. Let’s see – can we use it for a pie? Yes. Can we grate it and bake it in cakes? Even better. (Because we still have a lot of it, and everyone likes cake.) Finally, we start stuffing and eating the squash blossoms themselves because then there won’t be any more squash, finally, dammit.

In our house, we are treating them as art. The old knobbly squashes are drying by the fireplace, looking somewhat like a basket of yellow bumpy geese. The Fairy Princess (our niece) asked to take one home with her. She said, “I like this one because it’s little and chubby!” She is obviously an artist, too.

I complain, but the squash, in their big-leaved lushness, also keep the earth cool for the other plants. So I can’t really complain too much. It’s just that they want to take over, and I have to go in there and enforce some kind of discipline.

Look. More squash.

Look. More squash.

And the corn…well. This is the first time I’ve planted corn, and now I begin to understand why corn is revered. Corn talks. The corn sisters stand there, swaying and turning their heads in the breeze, and their hands rub together, and they talk. They’re human-tall and vaguely human-shaped, they require enormous quantities of food and water, and they whisper to each other while my back is turned, looking on benevolently like priestesses. Corn is actually kind of freaky, in a good way, sure, but every so often there’s just a little too much looking over my shoulder, if you know what I mean.

Meanwhile, in the next plot over, the bush beans have been delighting me with their diligence and work ethic. They’re neat, tidy, comfy and familiar (not all spiritual like the corn), they play nicely together and don’t try to take each other’s space. I had nine but one died early, poor thing — it had a rough beginning, but struggled mightily throughout the growing season, until brought low by a dastardly varmint. They are also exceedingly tasty and productive; the Fairy Princess was pleased to have steamed green beans (her favorite vegetable) every night of her visit here.

A magnificently iridescent red cabbage

A magnificently iridescent red cabbage

And the bush beans are fun to play with – looking for the morning’s crop is like ruffling a pet’s fur, or checking my cats for the burrs they bring from the pasture to the house. “Hold still, that’s right,” I find myself murmuring, “just a second, got it, okay, let me check here…yep, another couple. My goodness, you have been busy. All right, you’re done. Now, let me look over here at you….” Come to think of it, this may say as much about my relationship to my pets as to my vegetables.

I didn’t feel the same way about the climbing beans, I must say, even though both were Blue Lake varietals. The climbing beans grew beautifully, bounding up the support trellises and putting out profusions of vines and flowers and then…nothing. Except more profusions of verdantly beautiful vines and flowers. I think I got six beans off the entire row before I finally got tired of maintaining them and pulled them out. Whereas I think any of my bush beans would have been ashamed to only produce six beans a day in peak season.

And yes, still more squash

And yes, still more squash

There are lots of lessons from this year’s garden: plant more carrots, but put more space between them; lettuce gets bitter in the heat; red onions struggle, but Spanish Whites and Walla Wallas love this patch; potatoes WILL grow here, despite what people think. The biggest lesson of all, though, is that the care I give this blowsy little patch puts fresh healthy food on our table and on our shelves and in our freezer. And the horses help, too, by providing manure for compost, which becomes soil, which feeds the plants which feed us.

And so the world goes round.

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Catching up…and bringing it home

riff_hap

Riff and Hap back in Las Vegas

Just over two years ago, William accepted the job offer that would bring us to Southern Oregon. That kind of transition is a challenge and adventure for families…but for a small operation like Fox’s Rest, it can be devastating. We knew we’d have to make some big changes. The problem was, we didn’t have any idea what those changes would look like. It was obviously going to be more than just changing the address and hours on the web site or getting new business cards printed.

Well, as of July 2014, we’re still making changes and learning what’s possible — and maybe more importantly, learning what’s not possible and what’s just wildly improbable. And meanwhile, we’re having a blast. Here are some of the highlights of the year so far.

Bringing home the gold

William and Foxy competing at Hocktide

William and Foxy competing at Hocktide

In March, William took the Tymberhavene Equestrian Championship in Gold Beach, Oregon. Then in May, he and Foxy won both the martial course and the palfrey challenge at the prestigious Hocktide Emprise, which gave them the overall championship. Six weeks later, they repeated the win at Summits Investiture, bringing home the title of Outsider of the Summits for the next year. Next up: the Medieval Mounted Playday at Smithfield in Modesto, CA in late July.

Re-homing the new girl

Khallisto Hallan

Khallisto Hallan

In May, the beautiful Khallisto Hallan took up residence at Fox’s Rest, which means we now have two Thoroughbreds, a mustang, and an Arabian. Guess we like those hot-blooded horses. If you want to know more about Khali, just ask — I am happy to talk about her for hours.

Home work

In January, with the help of our friends Vitaly and Alexa of nearby Fenwald Farmstead, we began clearing deadwood and brush from the oak woods. This will accommodate the future hunt and trail course. Much work still needs to be done, including moving rocks, clearing poison oak and poison ivy, pulling poisonous star-thistle, and filling in gopher holes. And because of the poison oak, we can only work on this project in the winter months. But it’s starting to take shape.

Clearing deadwood and building trails

Clearing deadwood and building trails

In March, we put in a track paddock in the front pasture. Based on the research of farrier Jaime Jackson, a track paddock provides horses with a variety of environments for exercise, rest, and play. Ideally, the track paddock also incorporates different types of footings for optimal hoof health. At Fox’s Rest, this enclosure also keeps our two “easy keepers” from accessing too much rich grass during the spring and fall, while protecting fragile wildflowers from eager eaters.

Home-grown and growing

The garden continues to astonish and amaze. I should say “the gardens”, really, since there are several: two vegetable patches, an herb garden, a raspberry patch, three orchard plots, and a planned mushroom garden, plus the wildflower gardens in spring and fall. Add these to the amazing biological diversity of the back woods, and you have the core elements of our future nature programs.

Back on the homefront

Future knight

Future knight

Fox’s Rest continues its work with Horses4Heroes, and we’re happy to be part of the 100 Day Horse Challenge. The goal is to introduce 100,000 new people to horse activities by Labor Day 2014, and Horses4Heroes invites all veterans, active-duty military, First Responders, survivors, and their families to join. If you think you qualify, or if you’re interested in finding out more, drop me a note or give me a call.

 

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The January Man – A 2013 Retrospective

The first snow of 2013

The first snow of 2013

Oh the January man, he walks abroad in woolen coat and boots of leather

The February man still wipes the snow from off his hair and blows his hand

Oak leaves unfolding

Oak leaves unfolding

The man of March, he sees the Spring and wonders what the year will bring…

And hopes for better weather

Wild turkeys in the pasture

Wild turkeys in the pasture

Through April rain, the man goes down to watch the birds come in to share the summer

The man of May stands very still watching the children dance away the day

In June, the man inside the man is young and wants to lend a hand, and grins at each new color

Eddie and Mehitabel lazing on the back porch

Eddie and Mehitabel lazing on the back porch

And in July, the man in cotton shirts, he sits and thinks on being idle

The August man in thousands takes the road to watch the sea and find the sun

September man is standing near to saddle up another year, and Autumn is his bridle

Romping through autumn leaves

Romping through autumn leaves

The man of new October takes the reins and early frost is on his shoulder

The poor November man sees fire and wind and mist and rain and winter air

December man looks through the snow to let eleven brothers know

They’re all a little older

And the January man comes round again in woolen coat and boots of leather

To take another turn and walk along the icy road he knows so well

The January man is here for starting each and every year

Along the road for ever

Going home

Going home

“January Man” was written by Dave Goulder, and performed by Peregrine

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Snowfall

The first winter storm hit with a vengeance.

Heading in for breakfast

Heading in for breakfast

On Tuesday, the lingering warmth of fall gave way to a hard frost, followed on Friday by half a foot of snow.

The work crew heads out to the barn

The work crew heads out to the barn

The water pipes froze Saturday night when the temperatures plummeted into single digits, and then began springing leaks the next day. We carried water from the storage tank to the house and barn, and congratulated each other because we’d remembered to buy a de-icer for the water trough.

A deer searches for acorns beneath the snow

A deer searches for acorns beneath the snow

The roads were sheets of packed snow, and then the fog  — the pogonip — rolled in and left a glistening layer of ice over everything.

Frost on a spider's web

Frost on a spider’s web

snowday 056

A boy and his horse

For all the inconveniences (and there were several), there were still moments of catch-your-breath beauty. We’d be hauling water to the barn for the fifth time that day, and look up to see a spider web shimmering with frost, or the fog rolling in through the pines, and we’d call each other to come share the wonder. Here are some moments to share with you.

Now, if I could just get at those seeds...

Now, if I could just get at those seeds…

Frost turns tree limbs to lace

Snow turns tree limbs to lace

A member of the guard, complete with pike

A member of the guard, complete with pike

008

Leaves limned in ice

Don't lick the pipe...oh, dear.

Don’t lick the pipe…oh, dear.

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Because miracles can happen – with a little help

It is very humbling to be part of a miracle.

In the summer of 2012, we became fosters for a most remarkable horse, through a most remarkable organization.

Captain Jack Sparrow

Captain Jack Sparrow

Most of you know about Capt. Jack — Las Vegas Animal Control found  the abandoned thoroughbred wandering in the Mohave Desert. He was malnourished, thirsty, and most horrifically, had a nail embedded through the center of his right rear hoof. Even though the prognosis was grim, the Local Equine Assistance Network (LEAN) took ownership of  the gelding, determined to give him a chance for recovery or, if that was not possible, a peaceful end.

His story is told beautifully by Karin Larrick, LEAN’s founder, in this video.

Fox’s Rest was Jack’s first home after leaving the Desert Pines Equine Medical and Surgical Center. We had him for three months, and got to witness the start of his miraculous recovery.

Jack playing "grab the flymask" with fellow boarder Hap

Jack playing “grab the flymask” with fellow boarder Hap

After stays at a few other foster homes, and gentle work under saddle with trainer Jessie Mix, Jack was united with a new permanent owner on November 4 of this year. So our bright, funny boy has finally found the joyful home he deserves.

Now Jack’s story has been sent to the Holiday Wishes Grant Campaign, a joint project between Petco and Halo, the pet food company founded by Ellen DeGeneres. The project is donating $500,000 in grants to a variety of rescue organizations, and LEAN may become one of the lucky recipients. (This is not a plea for you to vote on line to raise LEAN’s chances – the campaign will be selecting their own winners from the applications that have been submitted.)

There are two reasons for mentioning this. The first is that Jack is such a fine fellow, and we were so lucky to have him as part of the family, that we want to brag on him whenever we get the chance. Foster-parental pride, I guess.

The second is to promote the miracle that is LEAN. LEAN is not a facility, not a structure, not a place you can go visit. It’s a local network of horse lovers, connected by the Internet. When equines come to Animal Control, LEAN goes to work, arranging for transport, foster care, donations of feed and supplies, and coordination of resources. LEAN is a virtual rescue shelter with actual and tangible results. The model has worked so well that at the end of 2012, LEAN became a federally-recognized 501(C)3 nonprofit organization. And all because one horse lover wanted to connect to other horse lovers over the Internet – and wanted to do something to make the world a little better.

For more about LEAN (and to see many more wonderful pictures of Jack and the other rescued equines), look for them on Facebook. If their work moves you, we’re sure your support would be welcomed.

This is FUN!

This is FUN!

So Happy Holidays, Jack and LEAN. May all your holiday wishes be granted. And thanks for letting us be a part of your miracle.

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And in the end, it was the fox

Sitting in the Land Steward class the other night, I was reminded of how blindingly lucky we were to find our farm here in southern Oregon. One man described how he and his wife searched for six years to find just the right plot of land. A young woman told of waiting six months for the sale of her new home to close, while another couple described the things they’d like to do — assuming they can get the property they want.

I thought back to late August 2012, when William was preparing to drive to Oregon and start his new job.  “I want to be up there with you before the end of October,” I said.

“You do?” He looked at me.

From a dry lot in Las Vegas...

From a dry lot in Las Vegas…

“Yep, I’ve decided,” I replied. “Me, the dogs, the cats, the horses – I want us all moved in by October 31. I want to start the new year in our new home.”

“So let me make sure I understand,” he said. “I need to move to a strange place, start a new job, learn my way around, and find us a place to move into that will work for the horses, within the next six weeks?”

“Yeah, that sounds about right.”

“Okay”, William said. “I’m on it.”

We laid out our requirements: A liveable house; pasture and shelter for the horses; a reasonable commute to William’s work; and a high-speed internet connection. (Hey, we all have our priorities.) We decided that two acres was the minimum. More would be better, of course, but that would be determined by availability in our price range.

...to a pasture in Shady Cove

…to a pasture in Shady Cove

William headed north to his bachelor apartment; I stayed in Vegas to close down the boarding operation, finish the last of my SCA commitments, and start packing up the house. We were both miserable. (We do not do apart well. ‘Nuff said.)

Over the next few weeks, William put hundreds of miles on his car. He’d work a ten-hour day, then head out house-hunting. Realtor Scott Lewis was a funny, patient companion for some of these trips. I’d review listings Scott sent, and send my picks to William; he’d drive out to do a quick reconnaissance; then if there were possibilities, he and Scott would sally forth.

They saw a lot of places. Some were a little…scary. But we were on a mission. And about three weeks into the search, just as we were getting anxious, the ad appeared.

“This is what Southern Oregon living is all about,” the ad gushed, “Six acres near the end of a private road. Come bring your horses!” There were enthusiastic descriptions of the place’s many features (“His and her workshops! Sunny garden area! Great fishing nearby!”) but the one that stopped me was the phrase “barn is currently being used as an archery range”.

Seriously?

I sent William the ad, asking how we’d managed to miss this one. It turns out that I had forgotten to enter all our “must-haves” into the search engine (we’d have to do without two full baths), and the owners had just that week reduced the selling price, so it was now in our range. Serendipity.

William drove out after work. It was a long commute – almost forty minutes — but potentially doable. The private gravel road turned out to be flat and well-maintained, as opposed to the steep or rutted climbs that were typical of other rural properties he’d seen. The house looked okay from a distance, but then, many houses do. Time to call Scott.

A well-maintained private road...

A well-maintained private road…

Scott made an appointment for the following afternoon, and he and William drove out together. They got out, met the owners, William glanced around the house (“It’s got a roof, walls, floor, running water, electricity. Okay, we’re done.”) then set out to take a better look at the land. As he and Scott walked around the house, the owners’ terriers began to bark excitedly. William scanned the field to see what was causing the disturbance, and spotted…the fox.

They looked at each other for a few moments, then William pulled out his telephone. The first thing he did was to try to take a photo of the fox. The second thing he did was to call me.

“I’m here at the property,” he said calmly. “It looks okay. And, honey,” he continued, “…there’s a fox.”

“A fox.”

“Yeah. I’m looking at it right now. We got here, took a look at the house, then went outside…and then the fox showed up.”

Behind him, I could hear Scott asking, “What’s going on here?”

“Have you put an offer on the house yet?” I asked.

“No, not yet,” he said. “I mean, we just got here. But I’ll call you back.”

...a scenic commute...

…a scenic commute…

He called back that night with details. Just over six acres with pastures, towering Ponderosa pines, and oak woods; some fencing; two workshops, although one was ripe for demolition; a well with a 1200-gallon water tank; and, yes, a long narrow barn that was being used as an indoor archery range. And a fox. Probably several foxes.

I flew up the next weekend to see for myself, but basically, it was already decided. The house was oddly constructed, but perfectly adequate; I did hear it say, somewhat wistfully, “But I would like to be beautiful” and took note of that. The fencing would have to be replaced, and the barn would need to be modified for horses. But the owners were eager to close, and besides, the fox had already given us the sign.

And as we’ve learned, the fox is almost always right about these things.

...and a fox.

…and a fox.

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