Posted from Lakeview, Oregon, United States.
(Or: Meanwhile, Back at the Ranch)
Hey – dig that crazy map up here! It’s a new thing. Hopefully it isn’t too annoying and gives you a sense of the scope of the trip as we make our way around this hemisphere.
For even more fascinating photos from the ranch (complete with witty captions), see the accompanying photo post.
On the afternoon of Sunday, September 25 (two weeks ago, today) we safely made it through the Oregon Outback and arrived at our place of residence for the next two weeks, an organic farm/ranch in southern Oregon near the city of Lakeview. Lakeview has a population of about 2500 and an elevation of close to 4900 feet, which actually produced some consequences. Geographically, we were on the border of the Warner Mountains and the Southeastern Oregon High Desert, which made for some stunning scenery (and interesting weather) during our stay.
Upon arriving at the ranch we were greeted by our host, one of the nicest and happiest men we’ve encountered yet. And he would maintain that disposition consistently throughout our stay, which of course created a very positive energy around the ranch. His partner has several chiropractic and wellness practices around Oregon, and he was wonderful as well but was out of town for most of our stay. The main house of the ranch was built in 1873, making it 15 years older than the Town of Lakeview. They bought the ranch in 2004, when it hadn’t been inhabited in 12 years and was a complete mess – there were even cows living (and pooping) inside the main house. But they saw the potential and in only a few short years and lots of time and effort made it into a fantastic 350-acre ranch in the high desert outback with fields, fruit trees, and huge organic gardens. At one time they had chickens and cattle, but no longer – unless you count the two farm cats, Batman and Tiger, who meowed a lot.
Our abode for the next two weeks was to be the pump house, which was done up very nicely. There was ample space, beds, lamps, dressers, a sink… but no toilet. Or shower. Those were outside. Our toilet was, in fact, a port-a-potty – but in all fairness it was the nicest, cleanest port-a-potty we’d ever seen. And the shower was pretty nifty. It was private enough and guarded fairly well against the brisk breezes that seem to be a mainstay of this climate. And since this first week was to be sunny with highs in the 80’s, it was really no big deal. But the second week… that’s another story.
Also, it bears mentioning that when we began our trip in early June, our farm stays usually consisted of upkeep and maintenance of newly planted crops: weeding, thinning, hilling, etc. Now that the season is coming to a close, our job here at the organic farm was to harvest and process. This was going to be fun! And easy – much easier than weeding or planting, right? Or so we thought initially. In any case, it was very fulfilling to have come full circle with a growing season even though we have been leapfrogging from farm to farm. And it was nice that we could transfer newly learned skills from one location to the next. When our new host asked if we knew how to dig potatoes, we said, “Yes,” because we learned how to properly in Saskatchewan.
Our first week of harvesting chores included picking peaches, which was fun and easy, and plums, which was messy and difficult because the tree was very tall, the plums are only the size of large grapes, and they were all over the ground making for a sticky situation. We also had to dig potatoes. Lot of potatoes. Probably over 150 pounds of potatoes, which sounds bad enough but since we were still getting used to the high altitude, it was even more tiring than we expected. We made a good team and worked out an efficient system, but we were still bemoaning our sore backs and legs the next morning. If there was a consolation, it was that the potatoes were randomly planted red, white, and blue, so we could celebrate when we came to the next color when digging. (n.b.: Blue potatoes can be very tricky to find in dark soil. And although blue potatoes are the prettiest – they are deep, dark blue, including on the inside – they are not favored for cooking since they tend to be drier and more mealy than, say, a Yukon Gold.) The rest of our outdoor work time was spent cleaning the gardens by removing the dead plants and flowers and raking away the fallen leaves.
Just like our experience in Saskatchewan, whenever it was time to eat we would get a bowl and a knife and walk into the garden. To the best of our recollection, these were the possible menu items every day: apples, peaches, plums (each fruit having several varieties), lettuce, spinach, potatoes, beets, turnips, Japanese eggplant, summer and winter squashes, zucchini, cucumbers, kale, kohlrabi, tomatoes (many varieties), bell peppers, jalapeño peppers, cayenne peppers, carrots, onions, garlic, and an assortment of herbs. As usual, it was an amazing luxury to just choose your organic produce for each meal, and we certainly did not starve over these two weeks. Over the course of our stay, we made beet soup, ratatouille, shepherd’s pie, pasta sauce, cobbler (with a secret main ingredient! See below for the reveal.), and other delicious things – all from the produce of the land.
On our day off in that first week, we walked across the street and hiked up some of the mountains. But we were on alert for cougars, which are known to inhabit the area. (We didn’t see any.) There were also some free-roaming cattle, and we almost had a close encounter which a bull who showed some interest in us, but we managed to get past him without incident. The hiking was steep and slippery because it is so dry. Soil and gravel just slide away underneath your step, so we had to be careful. And of course since this isn’t a park, there were no trails except the few short cattle paths we found. But the view of the neighboring mountains and the desert outback were very impressive. This isn’t the type of terrain most people think of when they think of Oregon.
Our first weekend was a full one – two days of cleaning peaches, plums, and tomatoes, and then making and canning jams and soup! It was like we were on vacation – or at least at home. Our host was very excited about the whole operation, and we were thrilled to help. We made over 17 quarts of tomato soup, 7 pints of plum jam, and about 28 pints of peach jam. But since we had that wonderful abundance of peaches, we mixed it up a bit: some of the peach jam was plain, some had cinnamon, some had curry powder, and some had ginger and allspice. The radio was cranked to the local rock station (which played far too many of those 70s and 80s epic rock power ballads that last 8 minutes each), the cocktails and wine were flowing, and we maybe felt just a little guilty for having so much fun and getting work-time credit for it. But hey, those jams and soups weren’t going to get made and canned by themselves!
But the good times (and daily showers) came to a crashing halt when Mother Nature knocked on the door and we heard about the upcoming forecast. For the beginning of our second week, the daytime highs were to be in the 40s and lows in the 20s. That meant a freeze, which meant we had to kick it into high gear to harvest the perishable food that was left. For two days we were picking the rest of the peaches and plums even if they weren’t ripe yet, all the ripe apples, all the summer squash, outdoor tomatoes, peppers, eggplant, onions, garlic, etc. The underground vegetables like beets and carrots would survive for a while, but it was a furious Monday and Tuesday of picking, cleaning, and finding a place for everything.
Wednesday morning we noticed snow on the mountain tops across the street. Since the high was only 40 that day, we made and canned another 17 quarts of tomato soup, along with 7 pints of pickled jalapeño peppers. Wednesday evening it started snowing on our side of the street. Thursday morning there was a blanket of snow on the ranch. But upon inspection we don’t believe that it actually froze either Tuesday or Wednesday nights; the unique climate and altitude probably prevented that for now. Friday we again spent the day indoors, baking bread and making homemade marinara sauce from the abundance of tomatoes we picked when anticipating the freeze. And we even managed to go into town to catch a movie Friday night at the historic local Art Deco theater (with a balcony) built in 1940. (We saw “The Help” with a ticket price of $4.) Saturday was a pleasant and relaxing day filled with fun conversation, peeling apples and making apple pies, moving farm machinery into the shed for winter storage, and ending with a bonfire.
The two weeks at this ranch flew by. It was really more fun than work, and it was so enjoyable to be around our host. Plus, he was pretty talented with a blender, some vodka, fresh peaches, and frozen lemonade concentrate. The ranch was a unique place and we were rewarded with some special moments. Almost every evening during our walk from the main house to the pump house we would spy several deer in the front yard munching on fallen apples. One night while doing dishes, we witnessed nine deer hopping a fence in order to cross through the yard. We just stopped what we were going and watched. Also, on the clear nights, which was the entire first week and only part of the second, we were able to appreciate the most magnificent star-filled sky. Because of the location of the ranch, there were no bleeding city lights to interfere with the contrast. Also – and this will sound ludicrous because stars are literally trillions of miles away – but because of the altitude and the environment, the stars actually seemed a little closer and a little bigger. We could make out full constellations (not that we really know any of them), and the Milky Way was as plain as day – er, night.
But it is time to continue in a southerly direction. Today (Sunday, October 9) we head west to the coast and then down into California. (It doesn’t snow in California, does it?) In the meantime, we’ve also been reevaluating our plans for the upcoming months and are considering delaying enrollment in Spanish immersion school by a month to work on some other farms along the way. The timing is tricky because of Christmas and New Year’s, so we still have some work to do figuring that out. But for now, it’s “California, Here We Come!”
Quick shout-out to the BSO: we hope you had a wonderfully successful weekend, we are thinking about you, and we miss you!
If you are still reading, thank you. Your patience will be rewarded. The mystery ingredient in Joe’s Mystery Cobbler was… zucchini! If you would like the recipe, please send a self-addressed stamped envelope and $3.95 to: Apollo’s Journey Recipe Offer, Somewhere in California.