“Barbara bought the farm,” Gary delights in saying.
And so I did, and live to tell the tale.
Having year-round access to good organic produce and Gary’s Seattle doctors was the primary impetus for our move from Alaska, but Gary has always dreamed of growing his own food. As for me, a fifty-something woman dreaming of a second career in the great outdoors, I never expected to realize my fantasy. I am “repotting” myself again, as a dear friend tells me.
Blue Moon Stead, as our place is called, is a beautiful spot in the highlands of the Columbia River Gorge on the Washington side, over 120 acres of rolling pasture edged with tall Douglas fir, pine and willow. As we walk the property, snowy Mt. Adams comes into view. Our home is a cabin built in the 1980’s by the owner, who was certainly not by trade a builder. But the foundation is sound, and the cabin is spectacularly placed on the edge of a woods overlooking a two-acre pond. We were lucky to find a sizable farm in such a dramatically scenic setting yet reasonably close in; we’re 90 minutes from Portland and four or five hours from Seattle.
Gary, Ella and I made our way north from Chimney Rock in Eagle Point to Hood River on Sunday the 17th with sleeping bags, clothes, Ella’s bed, and whatever fit in our tiny trailer without overburdening my Subaru. On the way we stopped to see a couple of sweet young Fell ponies for sale. We stayed overnight at Ella’s favorite hotel, where she gets to sleep on the king-sized bed and walk along the waterfront. Monday morning we crossed the Columbia and drove up to the property to get instruction from the previous owners on the water and septic systems and other technical details, and to make Blue Moon Stead our own.
When I moved to Alaska, Gary had everything beautifully prepared for my arrival. Making Brushkana home was a conceptual, emotional process (http://indeep-alaska.com/2011/09/14/making-it-home/). In this case, making the place home started with re-cleaning everything, so we can take comfort in knowing the dirt we live with is our own. I noticed a sickly-sweet fragrance downstairs, and felt dampness as I walked in my stocking feet on the ancient carpet. I assumed it was carpet cleaner; dark spots suggested that among the five dogs and one cat who had been living there somebody wasn’t thoroughly housebroken. Gary soon found that the strange night-lights were actually air fresheners, covering up who knows what past sins.
We left ourselves enough daylight to take a long walk on the property. We couldn’t walk it all, by any means, not that afternoon. But we did find some fence line and a survey monument, and started to grasp the contours of the property. Or so we thought until the next day, when we spent several hours thoroughly lost on our own land. That first night we fell asleep easily to the sound of the cascading creek; after a false start around 3 a.m., overly excited to explore our new home, we fell asleep again and woke to the calls of birds as yet unknown to us.
As a farm, the place has a poverty about it: soil that once supported alfalfa has suffered a reversal of sorts in the intervening thirty or forty years. Largely unfenced, Blue Moon Stead is as yet a poor home for the animals who will bear primary responsibility for improving the soil. Even the barn is not barn so much as theatre, built for the youth theatre camp run by Blue Moon’s recent owners.
The previous owners left a few things we could use and some things we couldn’t, like their dogs’ well-worn couch. When the truck came to pick up their dumpster, I ran out and asked if the driver would wait while we brought the couch out. He had a better idea: he backed his truck alongside the cabin, and we pushed the heavy couch over the second story deck rail into the dumpster.
We spent only a couple of days at Blue Moon Stead before returning to Chimney Rock. It was hard to leave. Ella was ecstatic being here, with the long hikes and a pond to swim in. She even rode in the paddle boat as we made our way through a thin layer of ice to the far reaches of the pond where cattails are encroaching. But with barely functional internet and phone there, we have much to do here.
Since our return to Chimney Rock, Gary has arranged to buy a tractor and has found a buyer for his lovely cabin at Brushkana. He put up his other property on the market (http://indeep-alaska.com/2012/08/31/cheechako-no-more/), and the realtor tells him that “every dreamer in the lower 48” wants the place. I’m shopping for a high tunnel (an unheated greenhouse) so I can plant the turmeric seed I ordered, and so we can get our spring starts going early and grow food year-round. I just finished an online course on raising pastured poultry, thinking I might generate some valuable chicken litter and perhaps have some eggs to sell on the side.
The move is a process, and will take a few more trips. Then we’ll take leave of beautiful Chimney Rock, which has been such a delightful refuge for us, thanks to Aunt Vee’s love and generosity. Some lucky couple or family will buy it and come to know how thoughtfully it was created for comfort, beauty, and the enjoyment of nature.
What will the future hold? Major rehabilitation of the cabin and the soil, for starters. Ponies, certainly, and maybe chickens, ducks and geese, perhaps a few cattle and sheep someday. All will do their part to make Blue Moon Stead a beautiful, vibrant farm. It strikes me as a good legacy, for when I ultimately have “bought the farm”, to have had a role in bringing abundant life back to the land. It will be an engaging endeavor, caring for livestock and fowl who will weed and fertilize, raising crops for the sake of the soil, the animals and ourselves, and doing all this under the sun and clouds, in rain, wind and snow.
Whatever happens, I look forward to sharing our story with you in future posts. Join the adventure! If you wish to subscribe, look for the button at the bottom of this page.